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TV, eh? Rewind: Twitch City

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By Dexter Brown

For our first look back at TV, it only makes sense to look at a TV show about TV. So grab a box of Frooty O’s, turn off Rex Reilly and snuggle up with your favourite cat as we present Twitch City in the first of our Rewind series.

Twitch City (CBC 1998-2000) may have been off the air for just about 12 years now, but already it feels like a relic of television’s past. While the satirical sitcom’s sharp writing, quick wit and laugh track-free scenes are commonplace for most modern-day network sitcoms, Twitch City does feel ancient in some regards. The show’s numerous references to some long-forgotten television shows, along with the old-school graphics for the opening title sequence, do more than enough to prevent Twitch City from holding as much of a timeless quality as much of the other memorable shows from the same era.

Twitch City nearly instantly comes across to viewers as the anti-Friends, anti-Seinfeld and anti-Caroline in the City, a play off of the single young friends in the city type sitcoms that were popular throughout the 90s. Gone are the bright apartments in a sprawling metropolis and the carefree 20- or 30-somethings. They are replaced by a grungy, dark dwelling somewhere in Toronto and a television-obsessed slacker.

Choosing to make television a centrepiece of the show, it only seems fitting that it is portrayed as an insipid wasteland. Surprisingly, some real-life television personalities make cameos in the show. They seem to unwittingly allow Twitch City to poke fun at them as vapid and vacant, like noise lost among itself.

One of the more memorable episode of Twitch City, the particularly surreal “The Planet of the Cats” — a spoof of Planet of the Apes — consisted of making light of the sci-fi genre, choosing to satirize the over-the-top acting and dialog and the tense drama by merely replacing the invading life forms with cats.

Strangely enough some of the scenes in “The Planet of the Cats” are eerily reminiscent of ABC’s remake of NBC’s 80s sci-fi show V. So strange in fact, it almost felt as if Twitch City got ahold of the scripts of ABC’s V some ten years before it aired, replaced the alien overlords with cats and filmed it in a townhouse in downtown Toronto.

The show, and particularly “The Planet of the Cats,” could be argued to share the humour of the recently canceled surreal sketch show Picnicface from The Comedy Network. Both built their foundation on low-budget absurdist humour but being developed several years later, Picnicface was willing to take absurdist humour to a whole other level.

With only a dozen or so episodes aired, you can’t help but wonder if Twitch City was on the wrong network at the wrong time as the show’s dark, surreal and absurdist humour seems to fit much of what aired on The Comedy Network in the past decade. Perhaps it may have lived a longer life there in the 2000s, as opposed to sharing time on the same schedule with shows such as The Fifth Estate and The Nature of Things.

Today, the CBC has decided to move away from more niche programs such as Twitch City despite a recent shot at a cable-like program, Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays. While that show was critically acclaimed, it suffered greatly in the ratings. More mainstream shows such as Mr. D proved popular with the public and the network has since come off of one of its highest rated seasons ever.

Want to relive Twitch City or try it out for the first time yourself? Check out Twitch City episode “The Planet of the Cats” on YouTube right now.

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Call Me Fitz renewed, Todd & The Book of Pure Evil and That’s So Weird cancelled

Random news sourced from (sigh) Twitter:

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Daegan Fryklind (The Listener, Being Erica) to moderate Vancouver TV Writing Seminar with Larry Kaplow

Just announced:

Vancouver writer Daegan Fryklind will moderate TV, eh?’s TV Writing Seminar with Larry Kaplow (House, Body of Proof) on Sunday, May 6.

Daegan has written for The Listener, Being Erica, The Guard, jPod (Leo Award winner in Dramatic Writing for the episode “The Final Shot”), Robson Arms (nominated for a WGC Award for the episode “Misery Inc”), Falcon Beach, and Cold Squad as well as the animated series Yvon of the Yukon, Something Else, and What About Mimi? She was co-writer on the feature Edison and Leo. Daegan is currently in development on two dramatic series, one with CBC/Lark and one with Space/CTV/No Equal.

Participants will learn practical information on breaking in, pitching, story structure, the writing room, dealing with notes, writing for production, as well as developing their own work. The registration fee of $250 includes a networking lunch and coffee breaks.

Larry Kaplow is an Emmy-nominated television writer/producer from Los Angeles, winner of the 2005 Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Television Script, Episodic Drama, for the House episode “Autopsy.” He attended the University of Rochester for English and New York University’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Fiction, and began his television career as an assistant on Clueless and Chicago Hope before writing for Family Law, Hack, K-Ville and Body of Proof, in addition to six seasons with House. Kaplow has lectured at USC, NYU, Duke University, Johns Hopkins, and the National Association of Broadcasters, among others.

For more information and to register for the seminar, visit the event registration page.

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WGC Award nominee Graham Clegg on Murdoch Mysteries’ “Kommando” episode

Leading up to the Writers Guild of Canada awards tonight, TV, eh? has been posting a series of interviews with some of nominees. Graham Clegg was nominated in the Drama category for the “Kommando” episode of Murdoch Mysteries.

Can you describe the episode “Kommando” and how it fit into the Murdoch Mysteries season?

“Kommando” embroils Detective William Murdoch into the increasingly macabre mystery of who is hunting down and killing an elite squad of Canadian soldiers who have recently returned from a training mission in Africa. The episode is somewhat darker in tone from others in Season 4, but it mirrors Murdoch’s demeanour in the arc of the season; he’s just lost the love of his life, the romance is gone, and yet through it all he proves that truth can help heal almost anyone. Well, almost anyone. Actually, hmmm, one or two people. I mean, hey: given the subject matter it ain’t gonna end all sunshine and roses. That would just be wrong. But there is an upside, believe me.

What about this episode are you particularly proud of?

The episode is set in the year 1898, and yet the story elements can be linked to the “upcoming” Boer War, World War 1 and World War 2, up to modern day and beyond. That’s the great thing about writing for Murdoch Mysteries; you’re writing about the past but the stories can often comment about the present and future.

What does this recognition mean to you?

It’s fantastic to be recognized by my peers and be honoured with my 5th WGC nomination. “Kommando” was my first script for Murdoch Mysteries and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been included in such an innovative story department and production.

And finally (imagine my best Joan Rivers impression): what will you be wearing to the ceremony?

All I can tell you is that I’m not going “kommando.”

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TV, eh?’s lament for the CBC that could be

Before the CBC announced which shows would be returning next season — and by process of elimination, which wouldn’t — I was making the joke that my recommendation would be “keep Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays, poach Call Me Fitz, and change the network name to DianeTV.”

There are a few truths in that jokey non-answer:

  1. I don’t love a lot of Canadian television shows. That’s no slam on our homegrown industry — I don’t love more than a few currently airing shows at any given time.
  2. I don’t voluntarily watch anything else on CBC (ie not for the purposes of keeping up to speed for TV, eh? on some of the other fine-but-not-my-taste shows, or not because I’m trapped in a sports bar during the Stanley Cup playoffs).
  3. Everyone wants a CBC that reflects their individual tastes. Everyone is doomed to disappointment.

There is no way to talk about the current cuts without being highly subjective, coloured by our own favourite shows and expectations for a public broadcaster. But next year’s CBC lineup is not what I want to watch, and not what I want from a public broadcaster, and not just because they cancelled my favourite show.

I want a public broadcaster that doesn’t have to rely solely on ratings, that can take risks on the kind of challenging and creative programming private networks won’t touch. Unfortunately in Canada, “programming private networks won’t touch” narrows the field down to “Canadian shows that might be a hard sell to a US network.”

The 2012/13 lineup is a safe lineup, exactly what many of us expected given the magnitude of the recent cuts to CBC’s budget. Anything with a pulse was renewed, even a fading pulse. Anything that could play to a broad audience … the kind of audience a country’s private networks should be serving, only Canada doesn’t have any private broadcast networks who believe creating content is more important than simulcasting content.

I look back at some of my favourite Canadian shows, the ones I named as my top 10 of the last 25 years, and I see Intelligence, The Newsroom, Twitch City, Anne of Green Gables, Made in Canada, Rick Mercer Report and “some years of This Hour Has 22 Minutes” on my list. That’s 7 CBC shows in my top 10, many of them creative risk-takers.

The list was compiled long before Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays aired, but it would now make the cut too. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut at the new CBC, so I will have to be grateful for this lovely mini-series that entertained me and spoke to me, that I found funny, poignant, and important (but not in a boring pretentious way).

When it was clear that Michael would have, as co-creator Matt Watts liked to joke, no more than “boutique ratings,” critics remarked that HBO Canada would be a better fit for the series. That may be true, but that’s a sad statement on where we’re at in the Canadian television landscape.

Specialty stations such as Movie Central/The Movie Network and HBO Canada, stations few Canadians have access to, are currently the only fitting home for shows Americans don’t want access to and that aren’t populist enough for a gutted CBC.

There should be a place on a public broadcaster’s schedule alongside more popular fare for a critically acclaimed cult show and, yes, even a dipped-in-maple-syrup-and-riding-a-moose reality series such as Battle of the Blades.

We can write our MPs or protest about cuts to the CBC, but their woes (and mine) are part of a bigger issue. Our Canadian television industry as a whole does whatever it can to not produce Canadian television, leaving our public broadcaster to try — and fail — to appeal at all times to all people.

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