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Rewind: Radio Active

By Dexter Brown:

Fellow prisoners, welcome back to the wacky world of Upper Redwood High, as Rewind takes a look back at Radio Active.

Teen sitcoms are all the rage these days. Between Nickelodeon’s iCarly and Victorious and Disney’s ANT Farm and Shake It Up!, kids can’t seem to get enough. Homegrown stations YTV and Family Channel are also producing their own, including the likes of How To Be Indie, Mr. Young and Debra!, most of which have been sold overseas.

While the market may currently seem lucrative, it hasn’t always been that way. Teen sitcoms on networks such as YTV and Nickelodeon were rarities just a few years ago. They were often lost among a sea of absurdist cartoons like Angry Beavers and Animaniacs. Canadian kids networks concocted the likes of Angela Anaconda and Stickin’ Around for the 90s absurdist cartoon era.

While the 90s were dominated by cartoons, Nickelodeon did find success with Clarissa Explains It All and YTV later found similar success in Radio Active (1998-2001), a show about a bunch of students who run a high school radio station, which was also named Radio Active.

Radio Active was based on the 1995-2001 Canal Famille (now Vrak.TV) show Radio Enfer and it also aired on Nickelodeon. Both shows were early examples of the teen sitcom renaissance which soon came into full force shortly after the shows’ runs.

Radio Active‘s humour holds up fairly well and with only a few dated posters and an old Macintosh really holding back as a relic of the 90s. The show follows a group of high school students who had to maintain a C average to keep the radio station alive, so they would often try to help each other study and grew to be a tight knit group of friends. They were a rather quirky bunch and their antics throughout the show’s run included using the school radio system to help a fellow student pass an oral exam and broadcasting gossip over the radio.

As with many Canadian shows of the time, some elements felt a bit unpolished. In the pilot you could see the end of a set wall and a bit of what looks like a camera or light on screen. It also had only a handful of sets and lacked extras such as other students and teachers to the point where you might start to wonder if the stars of the show were the only ones in a really, really small school.

Despite that the characters felt well rounded and distinguishable. Kevin was a bit of an egotist and brought most of the physical comedy to the series. He was ball of energy and not all that smart. Morgan was down to earth and had a bit of a sarcastic vein in her. Sarah, Morgan’s younger sister, often came in rolling in on roller skates, squeaky and was rather quiet annoying. Tanya was a sweet and naive bookworm. Eaton was money hungry but boring. And spiky haired George was a weirdo, often calculating some sort of odd conspiracy theory. As the series went on Kevin and Eaton were replaced by Blair a buff, popular but dimwitted athlete and Roger a lanky smart guy.

Even while watching the show in its original run I felt there was a great age disparity between the actors. In the TV world, actors in their early to late 20s often portray high school students. In fact Vanessa Lengies, the actress who played Sarah, still plays a high school student on Glee.

While the kids of Radio Active didn’t feel as if they mere caricatures, the school staff fell more into that pitfall. Mr. Noseworthy was the one who usually fit into whatever teacher role the plot needed and was genuinely a nice guy who often went on with stories from his youth. Ms. Atoll on the other hand was simply a ruthless authority figure.

With the similar theme of high school broadcasting, Radio Active could be compared to the some what similar current teen sitcom, What’s Up, Warthogs!. While Radio Active followed the zany world of high school radio, What’s Up, Warthogs! follows the antics of a high school TV news show. Considering that this was a sitcom, the Warthog’s news show plays out more like Weekend Update than your typical evening newscast. As Canadian television production has gotten arguably better since the late 90s, it could be said that it has rubbed off on What’s Up, Warthogs!. The show has more believable sets than Radio Active and the production value seems miles better. The same can’t be said in the writing department; the jokes feel more set up. The overall humour of the series seems a bit different than Radio Active choosing to go more for silly and absurd things.

The situations  in What’s Up Warthogs! don’t feel exclusive to a school environment as did most of the ones in Radio Active. In fact you might wonder if these kids have class at all. For example, the episode of What’s Up, Warthogs! I caught involved opening a time capsule and a character attempting to travel back to the past. It’s a scenario that feels like it could be applied to virtually any mainstream sitcom, in one way or another.

See how What’s Up, Warthogs! stands up to Radio Active by catching up with Radio Active or discovering it for the first time yourself with YouTube.


Rewind: The David Steinberg Show

By Dexter Brown

This week Rewind revisits the golden age of the variety show and looks back at The David Steinberg Show.

The David Steinberg Show (CTV, 1976-1977) was Canada’s stab at a variety show but this one had a quirk — it was a show within a show. It is often compared to The Larry Sanders Show and It’s Gary Shandling’s Show — and even The Muppet Show. While technically a sitcom, The David Steinberg Show consisted of large segments of a fictional variety/sketch show which would often be watched by those in a nearby diner. As this particular diner also happened to be across the street from where the variety show took place, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see celebrity guests from the show pop in to talk about whatever it is that’s on their mind. This could range from the variety show, its sketches and even Steinberg himself. It was a unique concept and one that was integrated quite well.

David Steinberg hasn’t been a stranger to TV. He was a frequent guest on the Carson-era Tonight Show and occasionally hosted the short-lived The Music Scene. Since his stint on CTV and the American incarnation of The David Steinberg Show, he has guest hosted Saturday Night Live knockoff Fridays and has directed sitcoms ranging from Designing Women to Living in Your Car. Some may also remember him from his TV Land interview series Sit Down Comedy with David Steinberg which aired from 2005-2007.

Looking back at the show, you could spot a few actors who would later make up the cast of SCTV. Martin Short, Joe Flaherty and John Candy of SCTV fame all made appearances during the show’s run.

Visually, the show wasn’t anything particularly special. The sets and animated intro felt very 70s and aside from the mildly convincing diner, the sets for the most part seemed nonexistent and uninspired.

Considering that variety shows are rare finds on television today, CBC’s The Ron James Show is probably one of the closest things to The David Steinberg Show today. While The Ron James Show doesn’t feel quite as much of a show within a show as The David Steinberg Show did, it does feel like a hybrid of two distinct TV genres. The Ron James Show is a mix of Ron James’ famous stand up and a sketch comedy show, somewhat like a less politically focused Air Farce. The Ron James Show is often tied together with a cohesive theme which is introduced in his stand-up monologue and continued into the assorted sketches that take place during the show. It’s a bit reminiscent of how the early episodes of Seinfeld used Jerry Seinfeld’s stand up to set up the theme for the sitcom to come ahead.

While I couldn’t argue that either The David Steinberg Show or The Ron James Show is particularly good, they both represent examples how Canadian television could twist tried and true television formats and bring something new to them. Unfortunately both stumble out of the gate and provide a fairly underwhelming television experience overall. The half an hour run time seemed a bit too short for The David Steinberg Show‘s ambitious concept. You might get lucky in the time allotted and get one sketch with a monologue and spend a bit of time in the diner. An hour might’ve given us sometime to see some great sketches within the fictional show and get ample time in the diner to see the characters do their stuff. The Ron James Show, I felt, suffered from long and tedious stand-up bits when I wanted to see some sketches, but when the sketches arrived, most of them were underwhelming.

Relive The David Steinberg Show or try it out for the first time yourself by picking up The Best of The David Steinberg DVD on Amazon.


Victoria Duffield is a Cross Country Fun Hunt treasure

By Chris Lackner

Canadian kids can bring singer home by nominating their own local fun spot

Canadian kids are being challenged to put their community on the map by winning their hometown a national reputation —— and a special concert performance.

With the help of the country’s youth, host Jordan Francis is uncovering Canada’s coolest spots on CBC Television’s Cross Country Fun Hunt. Between now and December, under-16 youth from across the country can submit their local fun spots at cbc.ca/kids/funhunt. The winning location will earn bragging rights as Canada’s most fun place to visit, and a special concert featuring Francis and Victoria Duffield.

“Kids across the country are going to be looking forward to a fun finale, so I can’t wait to put on a great show for them,” the 17-year-old Duffield said in an interview. “It’s going to be an amazing celebration!”

The TV series, from Apartment 11 Productions, airs every Saturday morning on CBC, and is based on Francis’s cross-country road trip. Francis visited communities across Canada and took part in activities suggested by — and, in many cases, voted on — by kids.

The Toronto-born Francis (Camp Rock) called the adventure the “trip of a lifetime” and said it opened his eyes to the diversity of youth from coast to coast.

“Canada is great. It’s huge! Just don’t stay in one province because it has so much to offer,” he said in an interview. “These Canadian kids . . .they’re crazy, they’re amazing. I did some wonderful things (with them).” Francis’s travel itinerary, as chosen by kids, exposed him to new experiences — from rock climbing in the Rockies to lobster fishing in the Atlantic.

The online contest for Canada’s top fun spot is far from over. During the TV run, kids under 17 can continue to submit a destination by posting videos, photos and writing about the activities they love to do there. They can also enter secret codes from the TV episodes to win a trip to the Fun Hunt concert. Those who enter before Oct. 31 are also eligible to win an iPod touch. In December, fans will vote on 20 top destinations, and the winning entry will earn one child — and their community — the special concert set to air on CBC in March.

“I’m really excited to find out where I’m actually going,” Francis said.

Duffield, who released her debut album, Shut Up and Dance, this summer, echoed his sentiments: “I can’t wait to see what all the people vote (for) as the most-fun,” the Abbotsford, B.C.-native said. “I haven’t seen all of Canada so this could be a treat for me, too. But, who knows, maybe it will be close to where I live!”

Francis also recorded a song for each episode, released weekly on iTunes. The soundtrack will be performed at the grand finale concert and eventually be released as an album.

“All my experiences were definitely influences (on) my songs,” Francis said. “Seeing how diverse the different provinces were definitely gave me some inspiration to add different sounds I wouldn’t normally use.”

Where is Canada’s most-fun spot? With the help of Canadian kids, we’re about to find out.

The CBC’s Cross Country Fun Hunt airs on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m. PT, 10 a.m. in Newfoundland)

Chris Lackner is a writer and media consultant with Holmes Creative Communications. His work as a journalist has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post and Montreal Gazette.


Arctic Air discussion & screening in Vancouver October 16

From Praxis/WGC:

In partnership with Praxis, the Writers Guild of Canada presents a discussion and screening with the screenwriters behind Arctic Air, moderated by Diane Wild (hey, that’s me!).

On Tuesday, October 16, series creator Ian Weir will join showrunner Bob Carney and screenwriter Sarah Dodd to provide insights into the vision and production of the CBC drama.

Arctic Air premiered to record numbers for a CBC drama in 2012. The broad based adventure series takes the excitement of shows like ICE PILOTS NWT and gives it a drama sheen. We’ll hear about the logistics of piloting a show set in Yellowknife from Vancouver, and how the show developed and changed in its first season.

When: Tuesday, October 16, 7-10 pm

Where: SFU Harbor Centre, Room 7000, 555 West Hastings St., Vancouver

Admission is free. Seating is first-come, first-served. Please arrive early to ensure a seat. For more information, email praxis@sfu.ca.