Everything about Reality, Lifestyle & Documentary, eh?

Discovery Canada renews Thunderbird Entertainment’s Highway Thru Hell for an eighth season

From a media release:

Thunderbird Entertainment Group Inc. (TSXV:TBRD) (“Thunderbird” or the “Company”), a global multiplatform entertainment company with offices in Los AngelesLondonVancouverOttawa and Toronto, is pleased to announce the hit series Highway Thru Hell has been commissioned for an eighth season on Discovery Canada. The new season will consist of 17 inspiring episodes and begin airing in late 2019.

Highway Thru Hell follows the heroes of the highway as they fight to keep some of the most economically important and inhospitable trucking routes in North America open to traffic. The current season airs Tuesday nights on Discovery Canada. Highway Thru Hell is Discovery’s most-watched factual series, dominating Canadian entertainment specialty channels in its timeslot.

Thunderbird has produced more than 100 episodes of Highway Thru Hell and its spinoff series Heavy Rescue 401. The series can be watched in over a dozen languages in more than 170 countries worldwide.

Series executive producer Mark Miller, who is also the president of Thunderbird Entertainment, attributes the success of Highway Thru Hell to its cinematic storytelling and rich character development. “This series has raised the bar for factual documentaries around the world. In addition to attracting top ratings on Discovery in Canada, it is also a worldwide staple on Netflix,” he explains. “Viewers connect with the day-to-day struggles of these heroes of the highway, which makes their stories highly relatable and visually entertaining.”

Highway Thru Hell has consistently attracted impressive audiences, ranking as a Top 10 series on entertainment specialty television in Canada for total viewers and the A25-54 demographic. The series has made Discovery Canada the most-watched entertainment specialty channel in its timeslot among total viewers as well as the A25-54 and A18-49 demographics.

Highway Thru Hell is produced by Thunderbird Entertainment Group Inc. in association with Discovery Canada. Wendy McKernan is the producer and Neil Thomas the series producer.


CBC digs deep for a monumental history of music in From the Vaults

As Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC has—literally—a treasure trove of an archive from which to pull footage and information. With over 90,000 reels to draw from, it was a monumental task. But it paid off with the network’s latest project.

From the Vaults—bowing Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC—isn’t an update of the wonderful 1982 miniseries Heart of Gold. Where that three-hour special, narrated by Donald Sutherland, only explored Canadian singer-songwriters, From the Vaults uses music to tell the stories of Canada and the world through not just homegrown talent but international ones who visited CBC’s studios.

“I think the CBC has been trying to find a way to share their archive with Canadians,” says executive producer Sam Dunn. “It’s this massive, titanic, vault of material that not only exists in the basement of Toronto’s [CBC headquarters] but major cities across the country.”

Dunn’s Banger Films serves as producers of From the Vaults and CBC couldn’t have picked a better partner. Banger Films has produced a plethora of top-notch documentary films and TV series in Super Duper Alice Cooper, Metal Evolution, Long Time Running and Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. Teaming with the CBC was a no-brainer, Dunn says. He and co-executive producer and Banger Films partner Scot McFadyen love working with archival material and being storytellers and embraced the opportunity to cross decades and musical styles. They and their staff know music and how to tell a story but were nonetheless overwhelmed by the sheer amount of source material.

“We were completely daunted,” Dunn says with a laugh. “We couldn’t just go down there and pull a tape off a shelf because it was like throwing a pebble into an ocean.” The solution? They reached out to people they knew in Canada: music writers, musicians, folks who had a great knowledge of the archive and had worked at the CBC for years. The team slowly began piecing together performances that stood out for people. A key appearance by The Who in a student union building. A special hosted by Harry Belafonte documenting his travels across Canada.

Sammy Davis Jr. on the set of his CBC special, Parade.

The next step was to structure each of the six one-hour episodes. The CBC, Dunn explains, didn’t want them divided by genre, decade or regions of Canada. The solution? Use a theme that says something about Canada and our culture.

Narrated by Amanda Parris and Tom Power, Episode 1—labelled “Land of Opportunities”—recalls musical acts that used this country as a stepping stone or key component in their career. Though he was a world-renown entertainer and member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Sammy Davis Jr. would never be able to headline his own television show in the U.S. because of his skin colour. He came to Canada to do it, hosting a special called Parade. Singer-songwriter Joan Baez, meanwhile, performed and was interviewed at the CBC during the Vietnam War; and reggae legend Jackie Mittoo and blues singer Muddy Waters sought the freedom to explore their talents on Canadian soil.

From the Vaults not only spotlights music and musicians but the network as well. Footage is culled from several past projects like Adrienne Clarkson Presents, Let’s Go, Nightcap, Pilot One, Take 30, Talent Caravan, The Tommy Hunter Show and The Wayne & Shuster Hour, providing a history of the CBC and its ongoing relationship with the arts.

“Up until The New Music and the emergence of MuchMusic the CBC was the only place in town that would show music on television,” Dunn says. “I think the other factor is that we’re talking about a CBC at a time when it a little more like the Wild West out there. It’s a credit to independent-minded producers who were really determined to create the kind of shows they wanted to see on the network.”

From the Vaults airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


Preview: History recognizes Remembrance Day with superior 100 Days to Victory

I’m a bit of a history buff, particularly when it comes to the First and Second World Wars. I’ve watched dozens of documentaries, miniseries and films, and have visited sites of battles in France. I thought I knew almost everything. Not even close.

Airing on Remembrance Day on History, 100 Days to Victory unveiled two hours of material I’d read scant details about. Produced by Bristow Global Media and Electric Media in association with Corus Entertainment’s History and narrated by Peter Outerbridge, 100 Days to Victory—broadcast Sunday, Nov. 11, at 9 and 10 p.m. ET/PT on the specialty channel—tracks the final 100 days in the First World War. The program is a stunning achievement in television, combining words from historians and recreations of crucial battles to tell the story of Canada’s important role in the conflagration.

The opening minutes set the scene. It’s early 1918 on the Western Front and German forces are making a final push to crush the Allies and win the war. French Marshal Ferdinand Foch and British Field Marshal Douglas Haig, desperate for a victory, turn to Canadian General Arthur Currie and Australian General John Monash for advice. Between them, the pair devises a brash and ingenious plan to rout the enemy using a combination of forces in a whole new way.

Along the journey, the producers introduce the background of each of the four military leaders; where they came from, their military backgrounds and personalities. And, using actual letters and diary entries written by military leaders and everyday soldiers in the trenches, the program provides a well-rounded description of what was happening and going through everyone’s minds. Historians like Dr. Tim Cook of the Canadian War Museum, Prof. Elaine McFarland, Patrick Watt and Mat McLachlan offer a detailed play-by-play of each battlefield move.

In the second instalment, Allied forces smash through Germany’s impregnable Hindenburg Line—a five-trench, fortified, 600-kilometre horror bristling with barbed wire, machine guns and booby traps—with daring Canadian Corps advances planned by Currie.

Remembrance Day, for me, is a time of reflection. And, by watching programs like 100 Days to Victory, I’m able to put myself in the shoes of Canadians who fought to defend this country and salute them.

100 Days to Victory airs Sunday, Nov. 11, at 9 and 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.

Images courtesy of Corus Entertainment.


Richard Crouse is enjoying the Pop Life

Richard Crouse has made a career out of interviewing people. The veteran film critic is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel, CP24 and hosts The Richard Crouse Show on Newstalk 1010. He’s a staple of TIFF and asks the questions we want answers to when it comes to actors, actresses, directors and anyone else involved in the entertainment business.

Now, with a bottle of wine in hand, Crouse does it in Season 3 of Pop Life. Airing Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV News Channel, Crouse welcomes guests from around the entertainment world to sit, sip and converse about their lives, careers and pop culture.

We turned the tables on Crouse by asking him questions about Pop Life, how it’s tied to an old gig and the secret to good interviews.

I’ve never heard the story about you being a bartender before you started out and getting into conversations with people. Why did you think that would translate well into a TV show?
Richard Crouse: When we started putting the show together, one of the things that was really important to me is that the show was different than other things that were on. The idea of doing a talk show isn’t remarkably different. The idea of even having a theme as we do on the show, wasn’t remarkably different, but I wanted the feel of it to be different.

I always thought that some of the best conversations that I ever had were when I was a bartender. I would sit, talk, and now I’m lubricating people with alcohol while I was doing it. People were relaxed, the conversations went to unexpected places, and I just sort of let my mind drift back to those days. It was a long time ago but I did it for a long time. I loved it. I loved bartending, I liked meeting people, I liked the conversations. I learned more about interviewing people, I think, while I was serving them drinks than I ever did in any other way. I thought, ‘Why not try and translate that to television?’

I mentioned it, and they said, ‘Well, let’s build you a bar then.’ Now we have a bar that’s on the old Canada AM performance stage. That’s also where they shot Definition and Headline Hunters. Part of the movie Network was shot there. That place sort of reverberates with history.

How do you decide who’s going to be on the show, and then how do you decide who’s gonna be on the show together with each other?
RC: We look at who we have access to, who we can bring in, and look at their stories. If they have a fascinating story, someone like from our first season, Jeremiah Tower, was a guy who’s not a household name. He was the chef who created California cuisine, and at the height of his fame—he was one of the first rock star chefs—he disappeared. He just said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ He disappeared for years. More recently, Ken Jeong from this season. He talked about his story that people know about, I think. You know he was a doctor and then went into stand-up comedy. What was less known, and what we managed to get on the television show, was the thing that made him change. Not that he just wanted to do it, but there was a push. I wanted to know what that push was, and he talked about that.

We found people that have incredible stories and can tell them well. And then from there, it became, like the Ken Jeong interview, it was all about reinvention. So then we went out and we found people who had completely changed their lives. A woman who was homeless when she was a teenager and is now one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs. We’ve got a guy who was so crippled by anxiety that it was difficult for him to leave his home, and now he teaches improv and does stand-up. We try and bring together people with really human stories that people will want to hear.

I’ve found over the years, it’s a real skill to be able to kind of go away from the notes. Ask a question that pops into your head and more importantly, just let the other person talk.
RC: Listen. Listen. That is the thing that is probably the single most important part of doing an interview like this, is to listen and see where it goes. I not only interview people for Pop Life. I prepare in the same way when I do all these interviews. There are notes that are made that make my producers and everyone feel comfortable that we have notes and questions, the interview will have some kind of structure. I’ll probably use one of those questions, and it’s usually the first question. And then we’ll see where it goes from there.

For me, it’s about listening. It’s about not being afraid to deviate from the notes that you’ve made. I think to be able to do that you have to show the person you’re interviewing the respect of knowing as much as you can and being able to follow the interview wherever it’s gonna go.

That’s scary, though, isn’t it? Obviously, they’re not there to see you, but they’re there to see you guide the way that the conversations going to go.
RC: Yeah, and you’re absolutely right. They’re not there to see me, and that’s why I often say, and I say it on Pop Life too when we do the panel segments of Pop Life, I’m just a traffic cop. Nothing more than that at this point. My job is to kind of stay out of the way and if necessary, get the conversation back on track.

Pop Life airs Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV News Channel, Saturdays at midnight ET on CTV and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. ET on CTV News Channel.

Image courtesy of Bell Media.


Colin and Justin return to their roots in Great Canadian Cottages

Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan’s recent Canadian television programming has seen them up to their elbows in rotten wood, bugs and questionable style choices in three seasons of Cabin Pressure. In that series, the duo purchased and renovated their own cottages while offering tips and tricks to DIY projects.

Now the pair is back with a new series—Great Canadian Cottages, debuting Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Cottage Life—that harkens back to their early days in the business.

“This is really us going back to Colin and Justin, Stage 1,” McAllister says over the phone. “Our background is newspapers and magazines and we’ve interviewed stars and celebs about their homes. We’ve always been in the market to listen to people and share their stories. We’ve done it in print media for years but this gave us the opportunity to do it on-camera.”

McAllister says Great Canadian Cottages is a natural evolution from Cabin Pressure. In that program, episodes followed their story from destruction and renovation to completion. Great Canadian Cottages turns the cameras on other cottage owners as they explain the inspiration for their getaways and digs deep into the nuts and bolts of building outside of big cities. There are also experts on hand who weigh in on some of the construction choices made. In Episode 1, that includes the windows utilized in a shimmering glass block built for a professional photographer so he could make the most of natural light.

Each 30-minute episode finds McAllister and Ryan telling the stories of distinctive cottages with amazing architectural flair, uncovering the carefully crafted design features of each home and learning more about the geographic regions they are built upon. (Fans of the pair can meet them in person at the 2018 Cottage Life Show in Toronto this weekend. Click here for more details.)

There have been plenty of surprises in Season 1. Among them are a getaway made out of straw and clay that has no 90-degree angles and the abode built by former Toronto Maple Leafs great Wendel Clark. It turns out the gritty goal scorer has a knack for gardening and a flair for fashionable homes.

“He’s a real bruiser, so we figured [his cottage] would be like a sports bar with a giant TV,” McAllister recalls. “We get to this beautiful house and gardens that you would pay money to visit. Wendel and his wife, Denise, are the most humble, down-to-earth lovely people. He talked us through the house they made, the garden that they do themselves with their own four hands. And he talks about transitional furniture and just bloody owns it.”

“Colin and I walked away from that saying, ‘If a hockey player can become an interior designer, do you think an interior designer can become a hockey player?” he continues. “I think it’s time for Colin and Justin to take up the puck!”

Great Canadian Cottages airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Cottage Life.

Image courtesy of Blue Ant Media.