Best Laugh of the Day…

…comes from my friend author Harley Jane Kozak at Lipstick Chronicles.

Those of you who recall my family’s holiday incident, “The Death of Santa,” earlier this month will not be surprised to learn of its domino effect. Last week my 8-year old daughter found an old note from the Tooth Fairy.

“Mommy,” she said, studying it, “this printing looks like yours.”

I said nothing. My daughter looked up at me.

“It’s you!” she yelled. “Again! Every fairy is you, every Claus is you – is God you?”

“No, no,” I said quickly. “I’m not God.”

Free Mystery Scene

For next few days, the fine folks at Mystery Scene are offering to send out sample copies of their excellent magazine to anyone who wants one absolutely free. All you have to do is visit their website and request a copy — there are no strings attached. Be sure to tell'em that Lee sent you.

Is Flashpoint the Turning Point for Canadian TV?

Since we're talking about Canadian TV here lately…
During the writer's strike, CBS and NBC looked the the Great White North for replacement programming. CBS snagged the Canadian series FLASHPOINT and NBC grabbed THE LISTENER. 

FLASHPOINT did modestly well and is coming back for more episodes next month, THE LISTENER hasn't aired yet. But Globe & Mail TV critic John Doyle seems to think FLASHPOINT already marks a significant turning point for Canadian TV: 

FLASHPOINT changed everything. It benefited from the paucity of new shows available in the United States, thanks to the Writers Guild of America strike, but as soon as it became a hit, it brought the Canadian TV industry alive with hope and ideas. It also got better, episode by episode. And it showcased great Canadian actors to Hollywood and the world.

I think it may be too soon for the Canadians to assume FLASHPOINT is a major game-changer for their industry (or a certified hit on American TV).

It's certainly not the first time a Canadian show has been tried on U.S. primetime. CBS has toyed with Canadian content many times over the years…first with their "Crimetime After Primetime" latenight  schedule of Canadian shows (NIGHT HEAT, ADDERLY, DIAMONDS, etc) in the 1980s. They occasionally tried out the shows in primetime without success. And in 1994, CBS carried DUE SOUTH in primetime for a couple of seasons but it failed to spark a wave of home-grown Canadian programs on American airwaves (to be fair, it wasn't a true Canadian series, though. FLASHPOINT is set in Toronto….DUE SOUTH was a twist on McCLOUD, bringing a Canadian Mountie to Chicago).

Five or six years ago, UPN aired the popular Canadian series POWERPLAY…and cancelled it after just one disasterously low-rated airing. And, more recently, Lifetime briefly aired the Canadian vampire series BLOOD TIES to little notice.

It will be interesting to see if FLASHPOINT can hold its own now in a much more competitive environment than it faced during its initial airing…and if lives up to all the hopes the Canadian TV industry seems to be pinning on it

Spying is Hard Work

The Washington Post reports that the CIA is offering Afghan warlords Viagra in return for their help battling the Taliban.

"You didn't hand it out to younger guys, but it could be a silver bullet to make connections to the older ones," said one retired operative familiar with the drug's use in Afghanistan. Afghan tribal leaders often had four wives — the maximum number allowed by the Koran — and aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could "put them back in an authoritative position," the official said.

TV, eh?

Canadian TV writer Denis McGrath laments the current state of the TV biz up there:

The business model here — buy U.S. shows at dumped fire sale prices, and show 'em at the same time while you paste on your commercials — was always a far more fragile model than the one in the USA. But as the model that made their piggyback-industry possible crumbles, all the signs point toward the mandarins here taking in exactly the wrong lessons, and doubling down on a dying strategy.

As I have mentioned in past posts, Canada isn't particularly well-known for the quality of their home-grown, episodic dramas. But that doesn't mean they aren't producing a lot of them — the problem is, many are American shows that are merely shot in Canada for the tax breaks. Or, as blogger Will Dixon pointed out:

[…]as far as 'defining' us, service producing US programming is certainly high on the list of things we do as an industry…and the Stargates' definitely fall into that category (which is kind of an unfair rap against them because even though the vast majority of cast, crew, writers, showrunners are Canadian, it's primary investors and broadcasters have been American – MGM and US's Showtime and then SciFi channel). Thus, most people up here don't perceive them as distinctly 'Canadian' shows.

STARGATE, THE X FILES, THE COMMISH, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, PSYCH, and SMALLVILLE (and the first season of MONK) are just a few of the many American shows that have been out-sourced to Canada. Although the shows were shot entirely in Canada, and 95% of the cast and crew were Canadian, nobody considers them Canadian series…because they were created, developed, and financed in the United States, where they had their initial airings. 

The unfortunate truth is that without American out-sourcing of TV production to Canada, the TV industry up there would be hardly an industry at all…and that's not good for the future of Canadian TV.

The Company

Last night I finished reading Robert Littell's THE COMPANY, a 900 page novel about the CIA. It read like 300 pages. I blazed through the book and really enjoyed it…despite its many faults. 

What I liked was the epic scale (the story covers 50 years, from the end of World War II to the mid-1990s), the historical and geographical details, and the byzantine workings of the espionage game. That's really where Littell excels — you feel as if you're reading fact not fiction. He clearly has indepth knowledge of what he's writing about.

Where Littell stumbles is with repetitive, cliche-ridden dialogue (eg: "This is turning into a fucking can of worms," The Sorcerer muttered. "I think we're barking up the wrong tree — we maybe ought to give some thought to taking our business elsewhere" or "There was someone once, but too much water has passed under the bridge.") and heavy-handed attempts at romance. It's immediately clear which women the spies will fall in love with…and repetitively done (every time a spy gets involved with a woman behind enemy lines, he falls in love with her and, if she survives, he marries her). 

Littell also has a troubling fixation with female nipples, describing them often and usually in the same way. He has one woman's nipple torn off during a torture scene and, more than once, describes the nipples of the young girls who are being preyed upon by a child molesting spy chief. 

But cliches and nipple fixations aside, this was one of the best spy novels I've read in years. Now I'm going to watch the TV mini-series to see how the adaptation was done. I am curious about the creative choices the screenwriters made to streamline the plot and pare the novel down.

Chance Meetings

I can't go to Costco without running into family, friends, neighbors or people I've worked with. It's like our town center. Today I ran into my brother-in-law and my niece, one of my neighbors, and actor Jeffrey Combs, who I worked with on MARTIAL LAW (and who I bumped into last year at customs at LAX coming back from Europe). We chatted together at my Costco power table and ate our power hot dogs. We discussed the possible SAG strike, the pluses and minuses of working overseas, and the how the TV biz is changing. He's a very nice guy — it's a shame that he's always playing villains. So my quick errand to Costco turned into a two hour trip, but that's okay. I love chance encounters like that. Now I'm sitting in the parking lot at Petco while my wife and daughter look for a sweater for our dog… 

Mysterical-E is Tied In

Gerald So's column at Mysterical-E today is an appreciation of media tie-ins. He writes, in part:

A common misconception is that tie-ins are poorly or quickly
written, and while some have seemed that way to me, as my reading
tastes have matured, I've been able to choose better-written material.
What makes me personally pick up a tie-in novel or comic book these
days? The author has to have some experience writing for the original
medium and the new one, as Monk novelist Lee Goldberg has with USA
Network's Monk. Because Goldberg has written for the show, and because
he is a novelist in his own right, he's well suited to bring Monk to
the page.

some ways, tie-in writing is more difficult than creating characters
and a story from scratch. Tie-in writers have to deliver the best of
both worlds: what the existing fan base enjoys about the original
concept and what the new fan base expects from the new concept. For
example, Tod Goldberg's first tie-in, Burn Notice: The Fix
delivered the wry spycraft from the TV show but also delivered an
intricate plot better suited to a novel than to TV's usual 44 minutes.

Thanks, Gerald!