Plenty of laughs and good times Wednesday at the CanWest Global 2008 upfront, as advertisers and reporters were wined and dined in style at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. There seemed to be a cheery atmosphere in the well-appointed press room, with cheeky HGTV bastards Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan from Colin & Justin's Home Heist killing with their zany 'here's looking up yer kilt' antics.
"Canadians are so not polite!" said Scotsman Justin, who was asked about our famous reticence. He told a story at the press room Q&A session about one Home Heist makeover where he just went for it and painted a woman's house all yellow and black. She showed her displeasure by dressing up as a bumble bee, complete with black and yellow garbage bags for a costume topped off with deelyboppers. He called us all a bunch of wee timorous beasties or something, I'm still waiting for the translation.
Another Justin, Bruening (top photo, with your truly in front of the Knight Rider KITT car) was one of a smattering of Yankee stars airlifted across the border for the event. In past years, Global has tried to keep pace with CTV's upfront star power by walking the likes of Ryan Seacrest and Howie Mandell across their stage. CTV claims they didn't even try to get any big names to come this year, insisting the plan all along was to wave the flag and salute their Canadian productions. The folks at Global were a little more candid, admitting that House star Hugh Laurie and several new 90210 stars were wooed to no avail. The fact is everybody in Hollywood is working this June as U.S. networks and studios gird against a possible strike by the Screen Actor's Guild come June 30.
Hence all the Canada First happy talk at the CTV and Global upfronts. And, hey, lookit this--both networks--who are also currently begging the CRTC for cable carriage quarters and dimes--are also up for license renewal this summer! What an incredible coincidence! It's a wonder we didn't all have to wear toques and eat back bacon at the upfronts, eh?
Fortunately, Knight Rider doesn't rev up for another two weeks, allowing Bruening and the series' real star, one of three shiny new Shelby Mustangs (fresh from a car show in Philly) to do a little cross border promotional blitz. Indiana-native Bruening was just one happy fella to be making his first trip to Toronto and couldn't have been more gracious on a chance encounter with autograph seekers on the street behind the Elgin. He says Knight Rider, which was tested as a TV-movie this season, will be darker, less campy as it revs into series mode. He's off to a real Ford test track to sharpen his road handling skills before launching back into production.
Global also trotted three of the stars from the latest "Fans vs. Favorites" edition of Survivor: Parvati Shallow (who won the million bucks), Oscar ‘Ozzy’ Lusth and James Clement. Lusth seemed pretty blase about being caught boinking on infer-red cameras this season. I couldn't help thinking this would have been front page news three or four years ago, not so much today.
Popeye-armed contractor Mike Holmes from Holmes on Holmes also took questions about his new, two-part HGTV documentary, Make It Right: New Orleans. Holmes says he got to hang with volunteer homebuilder Brad Pitt in the still ravaged Louisiana city and declared him an okay dude. "I have new respect for Brad Pitt," said Holmes, who will probably wind up with the contract to build the giant new nursery.
Holmes was sickened at the devastation and squander he encountered in New Orleans, spotting a dead dog lying in the street in neglected regions just blocks from the revived tourist centres.
Dr. Travis Stork, one of the real MDs featured in the new daytime series The Doctors, also paid a house call. His medical advice series is spun off from and produced by that bossy gas-bag Dr. Phil, who also got one of his kids as job on there as a co-host.
One of the stars of The Guard, Steve Bacic, participated in the one-on-ones, as did stylish Ngozi Paul from 'da Kink In My Hair. Shot in B.C., The Guard is back with 15 new episodes, and Bacic let me in on a little secret: some big name Canadian star who was once featured on 24 is coming on board as a new Mr. Bossypants. Since there have been about 900 Canadian actors on 24 the past six seasons, that really wasn't much of a scoop.
Always friendly Global News anchor Kevin Newman stopped by to shake hands and say how happy he was to be based in the nation's capitol (and that much closer to his parent's home in Mississauga).
There were a few missed opportunities at the Global launch. Would have liked to have seen Mandell brought back to explain his new NBC simulcast Howie Do It (a Punk'd-like series) or Dave Thomas to talk about The Animated Adventures Of Bob And Doug McKenzie, an upcoming, 15-part animated series. Would have also been good to hear from Toronto-born Will Arnett, one of the voice stars of the animated mid-season comedy Sit Down, Shut Up. At least there wasn't an angry mob of Canadian actors picketing outside the CanWest event as there was last June.
Like CTV, CanWest put a lot of emphasis on its multi-platform strategy. Besides their one-two punch in Global and E!, they've got dozens of specialty channels thanks to that Alliance-Atlantis deal. There was also plenty of noise about deals to place much of the new and returning programming acquisitions on broadband applications. Hopefully this helped distract advertisers from Global's craterous ratings during the dark days of the U.S. writer's strike this past winter.
There were no E!-shaped cookies at the event, but the glamorous Global P.R. crew did spring for plenty of yummy bar munchies afterwards.