All posts by Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.

Highway Thru Hell slides into Season 3

It takes a special kind of person to want to drive tractor trailer loads of supplies along the notoriously dangerous Coquihalla Highway during the winter around Hope, B.C. But it takes an even more special kind of person (some may say “nuts”) to pull crashed tractor trailers out of the ditches along the Coq. Meet Jamie Davis, whose company, Jamie Davis Heavy Rescue, has been doing it for over a decade.

Davis and his motley assortment of drivers, mechanics and staff are back behind the wheel for Season 3 of Highway Thru Hell–returning to Discovery with 13 new episodes tonight–and the stress and danger has been doubled for the grizzled road veteran. A drop in business in B.C. meant Davis needed to explore other options, leading to an opportunity for his company to patrol Alberta’s Highway 881 and 63, the former the only lifeline between Lac La Biche and Fort McMurray in the newly discovered oil fields.

“We had to take a gamble and move to Alberta,” Davis says. “It was do or die. We moved to Fort McMurray, as well as having locations closer to Lac La Biche and now we’re in Edmonton. Long-term employees have stuck through me through thick and thin and they have the gumption to just do it.” Doing it is a tough, long slog. Hours are spent pulling shattered rigs upright and coordinating with law enforcement and firefighters to re-open the mountain or tundra thoroughfares as quickly and safely as possible. Davis teases viewers will see how stressed even longtime staffers get during the course of Season 3.

The road to Fort McMurray presented a particular challenge for everyone because of its remoteness–a closed highway means no groceries or fuel make it there not to mention the heavy equipment needed at the oil fields–but the conditions are harsher with winter temperatures plunging to minus-46, wreaking havoc on both man and machines.

Davis is still amazed over the popularity he and his crew have gotten over the last two seasons of Highway Thru Hell. The whole TV thing started innocently: driver Adam Gazzola was helping a guy whose truck broke down and they compared jobs. Gazzola told the dude, who revealed he worked in the television industry, that he drove a heavy rescue truck for a living and that driving the Coq in the winter was a gong show. The TV guy’s boss? Mark Miller, the man whose Great Pacific TV production company is behind such shows as Air Dogs, Untold Stories of the ER and Daily Planet. A series was born.

And despite Highway Thru Hell‘s success–the 2012 debut is still the No. 1 series premiere in Discovery’s history–fame isn’t their goal.

“That isn’t our business,” he says. “Our business is towing.”

Highway Thru Hell airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery.

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Interview: Canadian TV’s “that guy” takes on new role

Matthew Bennett is the “that guy” of Canadian television. You know, the dude who whenever you see him on the small screen you yell, “It’s that guy!” That’s Bennett. Most recently spotted on the Toronto shot U.S series The Strain, he portrayed Daniel Rosen on Orphan Black (and met a bloody end at the hands of Helena), he has a recurring role on Murdoch Mysteries as U.S. government spy Allen Clegg. Other roles include spots on Rookie Blue, Flashpoint, The Listener, Cold Squad and Stargate SG-1.

The veteran actor laughs when he discusses the similarity in the roles–in almost all he’s worn a suit and acted like a jerk–but gets serious when the topic of being a working actor in Canada comes up. Gigs for guys like him, even with roles stretching back to 1991 under his belt, don’t come every day, meaning seeking out other creative outlets.

Enter Straight Kill Films, a company he and fellow actor Matt Wells have teamed to create. As the Toronto native tells it, the duo want to offer the opportunity for fledgling actors and actresses to get into the business by appearing in their feature film Straight Kill. Not only that, but they’re looking for people to contribute to the soundtrack, the makeup, the costumes … everything. In short, Straight Kill will give those involved a crucial leg up to a career in the Canadian television and film industry while building a community.

We got Matt to reflect on his career, where he thinks the Canadian television industry is headed, as well as give us the details on how people can get involved in Straight Kill.

On your Twitter page, you describe yourself as a “professional that guy.” Was that something you’ve noticed over the course of your career?
Matthew Bennett: It’s funny, it’s actually something that I realized just recently. When you’re involved in the business it’s sometimes difficult to get some perspective on what people see. I think it was about a year ago when Cold Squad was in re-runs. I was flipping around the channels and I would literally see myself three times in an hour on different shows. That’s when it clicked in: ‘Wow, I have this body of work that I hadn’t recognized.’ I was always looking at something else.

Not a bad resumé of recent work, with roles on Orphan Black and Murdoch Mysteries and going back to Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve been very fortunate. And when you go back and look that them, the roles have a common element to them, and I guess that goes with being ‘that guy.’ I usually end up in a suit and doing things that aren’t too great. And I usually end up dead too. [Laughs.] I am a master squib taker at this point.

Why do you think you’ve gotten these types of roles?
I think it’s a number of things. I think it’s certainly my delivery. I’ve always, I’ve felt, been known as an actor who can handle dialogue. When I was in my 20s there were these guys in their 30s and 40s who would go out for what I called ‘Captain Exposition parts,’ where you advance the plot through straight exposition and they would usually come in these chunks of dialogue. And I became known for being able to do that.

I think that I look right in a suit, I can handle the dialogue and I guess there’s just something about me that says ‘death to all those around me.’

Which type of role do you like better, the recurring or the guest star?
I realized when I was on Cold Squad that the best role was the guest star because the main storyline revolves around you. Recurring you may not have as much to do in the episode but it’s great to come onto a show and establish an audience share and get known for that. I’ve been very surprised by the reaction to Murdoch Mysteries and the number of people who come up to me about it. He’s such the bad guy, and the bad American to boot.

clegg

But are those roles tough because you never know when the next gig will be coming along?
Absolutely. I’ve been doing this for 22 years and I’m unemployed right now. That’s the reality of the job and it is very difficult to adjust to. I’m not really sure what’s happening in Toronto right now but I do know that not a lot of us are auditioning. It creates a great deal of stress. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of work.

I’ve seen the industry change a lot over the last several years. Canada is not producing the volume that it once did. Distribution is changing. They are trying to figure out what works and being very careful about what they do make.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? How would you fix it?
I don’t know how long this model can continue. You look at Amazon, where they are making TV now, Netflix. The specialty channels really seem to have a stronghold on good product and product that is being rewarded on award shows. I don’t know if any networks in Canada are going to make House of Cards. I haven’t seen this country take risks like that. It seems to be a lot of similar shows that come out of this country, you know. Models that work.

But the business is changing and people are moving away from the cable box and watching more TV on their computers. That changes access. You could create your own TV show and distribute it to the world. You don’t have to go through the traditional mechanism anymore.

Speaking of non-traditional mechanisms, you and Matt Wells are certainly doing that with Straight Kill Films.
I think so. It was this idea I had a couple of years ago, the idea of building an audience first. If you look at the analytics of any film or television show you create the project and then aim for that 18-34 audience. But our idea was to build the audience and then shape the project around that.

In the YouTube clips you both talk about community and Toronto. How are you getting the word out there about involvement in Straight Kill?
We’ve hired a woman named Sarah Dawley, who has experience with social media while working for Bell Media. She’s working with us. Our website is up and moving forward. We’re launching on Sept. 6 and we’ll be targeting high schools and universities and building the audience share. We’re also looking for talent. One of our ideas is that there are a lot of actors in this city and not a lot of them get work. There are some exceptionally talented people who I feel will never see the camera. That’s just the system. I have been fortunate enough to get through that gauntlet and to have a career.

This is a world-class city that I think needs to be presented on a world stage.

You set Straight Kill in St. Jamestown. Can you talk about that area a bit?
It’s in the Sherbourne and Bloor area, and it was built in the 1960s to house young professionals that were going to be working downtown. It was an idea that never really took off. It encompasses nine city blocks and has 17,000 people living in it. You enter St. Jamestown and you are surrounded by high-rises. It’s an amazing and unique pocket and when you walk through there is is absolutely  a community unto itself. There are a lot of new Canadians, a lot of working-class people … there is a whole mix of people.

Now, if you go two streets east of Sherbourne, behind the subway station there is a tunnel. If you go through that tunnel there is a pedestrian bridge over Rosedale Valley Road that takes you into Rosedale, which is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the country. St. Jamestown is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country and they are literally a stones’ throw away. That’s the placeholder for this film, two kids from very different cultures and they need each other to survive.

OK, so what happens on Sept. 6?
The script is done and we’ve had investor interest. We are looking for the leads for this film–two male and two female–and the majority of the other roles. The older generation characters will be anchored by known professionals. We are also looking for soundtrack. We’ll be hitting the high schools and universities to look for opportunities there.

Head over to Bennett and Wells’ YouTube page to find out more about Straight Kill and how you can get involved.

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Comments and queries for the week of Aug. 29

Not sure if I am doing this correctly, but how does one apply to be on Til Debt Do Us Part? Is the show still currently running?–JS

Unfortunately, Gail Vaz-Oxlade doesn’t have any new seasons of Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess or Money Moron in the works, but when/if she does, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, you can get some guidance from her website.

I hope [TSN’s five national feeds] means the TSN Jets channel is going to merge with one of the feeds so I can finally watch more Jets games.–Alicia

Good news Alicia, you are getting your wish. A quick query to TSN and I was told that the 60-plus regional Jets games are headed to TSN3, meaning you no longer have to subscribe for that extra service.

This is somewhat of a technical question. I’ve noticed that, while recording, a few of my programs are being cut off with a minute or so to go. It seems the channels are not keeping the show run within the time slot that is set for the show’s running time.

This is problematic as, if you are recording two programs in the following hour (and your PVR only records two at time), you would need to record the following hour to get the entire program.
Have spoken to Bell (our cable provider) and it is not their doing, and they replaced our PVR, just in case that was a problem. It was not.

Is this a tactic to make it necessary for viewers to watch the programs live? Or just something they didn’t take into consideration? Glad to see you are up and running again. –Kat

Thanks Kat, we’re glad to be up and running again too! I totally get your frustration, and it’s becoming an increasingly common occurrence. You sit down to watch the show you recorded on your PVR and suddenly the last few minutes are cut off. VERY frustrating and I feel your pain.

And you are absolutely right as to why shows go over by one to several minutes: networks want you watching the end of their show live rather than the beginning of a rival network’s program. The result? PVR chaos. I have two suggestions that you can try to solve this problem. The first is to edit your recording to add a couple of minutes to your record time, something that I do. The other fix? Go back to your cable company and get a PVR that records more shows at once. Of course, that will cost you.

Got a question? Contact me at greg@tv-eh.com!

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Interview: Steve Anthony reflects on MuchMusic’s 30th anniversary

I distinctly remember where I was on August 31, 1984: tuned in to the debut of MuchMusic, the upstart music video station launched by Moses Znaimer. I watched as veejays J.D. Roberts and Christopher Ward burst through a screen of some sort and began talking. Unfortunately, a glitch in the sound meant I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it didn’t kill my excitement for the channel.

For years Ward, Roberts, Erica Ehm, Michael Williams, Steve Anthony, Master T and Laurie Brown were my guides to the newest singles by the hottest bands. Sure, I was more into the hair bands of the 1980s (the above image of Poison’s Bret Michaels with Anthony brings me great joy), but I appreciated all music, especially when it was served up via video form.

On Saturday, the channel celebrates three decades of being on the air with the retrospective 30 Years of Much. We spoke to Anthony–who is back at Much’s 299 Queen St. West headquarters as host of CP24 Breakfast–about his memories of working at MuchMusic.

MuchMusic launched in 1984 and you joined the crew in 1986. What was it like joining this group that Moses Znaimer had put together at the time?
Steve Anthony: Just as the thing that makes Moses the visionary that many people refer to him as–these days they would call him an architect–he would draw up the blueprint for this thing and then he would go, ‘OK, I need an electrician, I need a plumber, I need a lighting guy or girl,’ and then he would find these people and say, ‘Go!’ That was it. Once he had his blueprint down, he didn’t change them a lot.

I was told what my role was and I was successful. My attitude would be to be carefree and I had this reverence and that’s one of the things that he wanted on this channel. That’s where I fit in. I knew that I would not be replicating the things that Michael Williams would be doing. When you talk about a team effort, you’re all heading in the same direction but you each have your own skill sets. It was like basketball. Everybody on the court has their own style and does their own thing but it’s together that they try to beat the other guys.

You had already built up a career in Montreal on radio and then moved to Toronto to work at Q107. What made you decide to move from behind the microphone and in front of the TV camera?
I discovered when I got in front of the camera the impact that the visual message had. It’s so much more powerful than just the audio message. Don’t get me wrong, I love radio. I adore radio; it’s where I’ve come from.

I never had a five- or 10-year plan, but I imagined that I would inevitably get on TV. It just seemed like a natural evolution because I’m very animated and I like being in front of a crowd. But I didn’t know what the timing of it would be. I had just gotten to Toronto and had spent a year doing radio here; I didn’t think it would happen that fast. I’m flattered and very happy that it did. It was thrown into my lap and I seized the opportunity.

What I liked about you on-air was the handful of paper in your hands and the relaxed way you had of speaking right to the camera. Did that come naturally, or was it something you worked on?
I wish I could say I worked on it, but the fact is I just wasn’t very good. [Laughs.] Let’s face it, real television people were able to stay focused and didn’t go off the rails. It just became part of who I was.

Did you guys feel like you were doing something special or were you just trying to survive?
Our mandate was to keep people entertained between the most entertaining thing on television, which was music videos. The youth were hungry for videos. We weren’t told what that had to be. Over the mosaic of the day, Moses knew that we would all bring a scope of Canadian culture to young people.

What do you think of the current incarnation of Much?
It’s evolved into a much more professional product. It knows what it wants to be and is very smart about it. It is still relevant to young people. They still address what viewers want, and that’s being on top of the latest comedy, the latest in music and the music videos.

30 Years of Much airs Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on Much.

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Discovery takes flight with two new specials

discovery

From a media release:

Move over stars and socialites of TIFF – the superstars this September are Hercules and Jumbo! Discovery buckles up for a Sunday night in-flight extravaganza with back-to-back original Canadian specials 747: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE and MIGHTY PLANES: HEROIC HERCULES. Premiering Sunday, Sept. 28 beginning at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT, the first hour tells the definitive story of the planet’s most iconic plane – the plane that has shaped the world of travel more than any other – the 747 or Jumbo Jet. Then at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT, a special two-hour installment of hit series MIGHTY PLANES takes viewers on a journey with the most flexible airlifter in the world – the C130J Hercules – fresh off the Lockheed Martin production line.

Descriptions of 747: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE and MIGHTY PLANES: HEROIC HERCULES as follows:

747: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE
Sunday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT
It’s the most famous passenger airplane ever to take to the skies: the Boeing 747 or Jumbo Jet. With exclusive behind-the-scenes access, never-before-seen archival footage, super life-like CGI and gripping dramatic reconstructions – this one-hour special reveals just what makes the 747 one of the most ground-breaking and awesome aircraft in the sky, a jet that has carried the equivalent of 80% of the world’s population. Travelling to Boeing’s Seattle HQ, the biggest building in the world – 747: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE reveals the mind-blowing technical effort that goes into putting together a 747 – millions of parts, six storeys high, and wings the size of a parking lot. Then, meet Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot who flew Air Force One for President George W. Bush on the morning of 9/11.

MIGHTY PLANES: HEROIC HERCULES
Sunday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT
The Hercules is the most flexible airlifter in the world. With more than 70 variants, the C130J or “Super” Herc is the newest model in the longest continuous production run of any plane in aircraft history. This medium-range bird is the tactical cargo and personnel transporter for the U.S. Air Force, and serves multi-mission capabilities. Its many jobs include: special operations; search and rescue; aerial refueling; medevac; natural disaster relief missions; fire fighter; maritime surveillance; and hurricane hunter. In this two-hour special, MIGHTY PLANES takes flight with the delivery of a brand-new C130J fresh off the Lockheed Martin production to the Little Rock Air Force base in Arkansas. Then, meet Tim Nguyen, a Lockheed Martin Aviation Engineer who has dedicated his life to protecting the mighty Hercules from attack. He journeys to Little Rock to visit the very Herc that saved his life 40 years ago during the fall of Saigon.

747: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE is produced by Handel Productions in co-production with Arrow Media U.K. Canadian Screen Award-winners Alan Handel and Tom Brisley are executive producers.

MIGHTY PLANES: HEROIC HERCULES is produced by Exploration Production Inc. Gemini-Winner Kathryn Oughtred is Executive Producer.

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