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Motion Picture Purgatory: GLADIATOR COP (1995)

One of three(!) ’90s Canadian action flicks about dudes fighting in underground duels with Alexander the Great’s stolen sword, GLADIATOR COP is one of a handful of Lorenzo Lamas vehicles excreted out of the Great White North during the decade. Rick Trembles clangs steel with this HIGHLANDER-esque post tax-shelter effort in his latest Motion Picture Purgatory. Rick sez:

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Cathode Ray Mission: THE QUIZ HOUR (2013-)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

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Late-night television is a crapshoot. Channels of all sizes and budgets will often show whatever cheap films and television reruns they can scrounge up. Sometimes, actual Canuxploitation is shown. The talk show is another late-night fixture; since Canada fares poorly in this genre, the shows often make for great train-wreck viewing. This is the “fun” side of late night television, the stuff that passes through the nostalgia filter. Mention Geoff Peterson, Svengoolie, and/or The Masturbating Bear to people, and at least one person will actually know who they are.

Late night television also contains brokered and/or paid programming, which is rarely as much fun. Night owls know the drill – JR Digs’ latest vanity comedy/talk show hybrid (if you’re watching Global), televangelism, televised poker, infomercials, sex hotline ads, Liquidation Channel, infomercials, psychic hotlines, the odd cooking or car show, infomercials, and – did I mention this one? – infomercials.

One genre of brokered programming stands alone, a genre more heinous than any infomercial – the televised quiz show. THE QUIZ HOUR (CHCH, 2013- ) is Canada’s newest televised quiz show, and it’s…something. It’s not something good, or even watchable, yet THE QUIZ HOUR is already ripe comedy fodder for Cathode Ray Mission.

The Basic Formula
There’s not much to THE QUIZ HOUR. It’s literally one man in front of a camera, for at least an hour. Sometimes, a close-up of “The Money Jar” is seen, through relatively primitive on-screen graphics. Both 900 and mobile numbers are displayed throughout the program, as well as the alleged “prize amount,” and sometimes the names of “winners.”

THE QUIZ HOUR is one big come-on. The games are either basic memory puzzles, or basic word puzzles. One of the games asks callers to find a word with x number of letters (e.g., “hare,” “wolf,” “pudu,” “lion” for four letters), written in a y-letter-row grid. Once a letter is used, it can’t appear again in that column. THE QUIZ HOUR uses a whiteboard to display the word puzzles, while The Money Jar spins on a turntable. High-tech shit!

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Cathode Ray Mission: LINGO (1987-88)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

LINGO(Global/syndicated, 1987-88) is, at first glance, a footnote in the history of Canadian game shows that featured a format later became successful elsewhere. While not as fondly remembered as BUMPER STUMPERS (Global/USA Network, 1987-90), or THE NEW CHAIN REACTION (Global/USA Network, 1986-91), however, the show’s initial run serves as a warning to both American production companies and Canadian game shows.

One might think LINGO is just five letters and bingo. If it was, I wouldn’t make a Canuxploitation article out of it. 

The Basic (B-A-S-I-C) Formula

I refer to Wikipedia and Chuck Donegan’s Illustrious Game Show Page for full LINGO details. In essence, LINGO is bingo, with five-letter words forming the crux of the game. It’s a show best explained by actually watching an episode.

Michael Reagan, the adopted son of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, hosted for the majority of LINGO‘s run. Reagan lasted from September 28, 1987 to February 21, 1988. Officially, Reagan left to promote his book, ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. In reality, Reagan had a contract dispute with Ralph Andrews Productions, prompting Ralph Andrews to take over hosting duties for LINGO‘s final five weeks.

On-camera announcer Dusty Martell left with Reagan. Margaux MacKenzie became the new announcer, until LINGO dropped out of first run.

The Backgrounder

LINGO was one of many 1980s game shows filmed in Canada, but meant for an American audience. This list includes BUMPER STUMPERS, THE NEW CHAIN REACTION, JACKPOT, the 1980-81 LET’S MAKE A DEAL, PITFALL (syndicated, 1981-82), THE NEW LIAR’S CLUB (Global/syndicated, 1988-89), LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT (Global/USA Network, 1986-87), THE LAST WORD (Global/syndicated, 1989-90), SUPER PAY CARDS! (CTV/syndicated, 1981-82; CTV, 1973-75 as PAY CARDS!), and SPLIT SECOND (syndicated, 1986-87).

For a game based on five-letter words and bingo, LINGO works well on television, and has many revivals and international versions to its credit. America is most familiar with GSN’s 2002-07 and 2011- versions. LINGO is big in The Netherlands — its version began in 1989, and continues to this day. Quebec’s version, hosted by Paul Houde, aired on Radio-Canada from 1998-2001.

The 1987-88 LINGO promised decent prize money for a Canadian game show — up to $112,000 — and the set looked nice and big, in the manner of 1980s game shows. Compared to efforts like BUMPER STUMPERS, JACKPOT (Global/USA Network, 1985-88), and THE NEW CHAIN REACTION, LINGO was a rarity — a Canadian game show with a solid concept, and decent prize money.

Co-hosts/announcers Dutch Martell and Margaux MacKenzie were eye candy, meant to satisfy Canadian content regulations. This was a quirk of Canadian game shows — if the host wasn’t Canadian, a co-host was tacked on, and given camera time. Martell and MacKenzie weren’t terrible at their jobs, but it’s not like they had much to do beyond sponsor plugs.

Let’s Watch (W-A-T-C-H)

A clip from the first episode. It’s the first trip to the bonus round, or “No Lingo Round.” Since this is the first episode, the rules are explained in detail. Reagan isn’t a bad host, while Martell’s delivery is stilted. The board and the words are generated by a Commodore Amiga.

 
The second clip, near the beginning of the 65th episode. A team tries for $16,000 in the No Lingo Round. The 65th episode is where many North American affiliates jumped off the LINGO train.

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Cathode Ray Mission: The Original Global Television Network (1974)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

Instead of covering a specific cult show, this edition of Cathode Ray Mission will look back at the messy birth of a big Canadian media player–the first three months of programming at the Global Television Network. Global, in 2012, is one of Canada’s four major over-the-air broadcasting entities, fighting against CTV, CBC and CityTV for ratings supremacy. But things weren’t always this way.

Global was formed by Al Bruner and Peter Hill’s Can-Plex Ltd., in 1970. Bruner, a former big band singer, remade his name as an advertising manager for Toronto’s CTV affiliate, CFTO. CHCH founder Ken Soble lured Bruner to Hamilton. Bruner built CHCH into a money machine, as the station made huge yearly profits.

Both Bruner and Soble dreamed of a creating third national Canadian network together, until Soble died in 1966. Bruner actually convinced the Canadian Radio-Television Commission to give Can-Plex Ltd. a licence for a regional televised program service. Global was envisioned as a national network, but settled for a studio in Don Mills, Ontario and six retransmitters.

On January 6, 1974, Global held a four-hour special to commemorate its launch. Less than three months later, Global almost died.

The Basic Formula

Global’s 1974 debut resulted in 25 original shows — at least, according to Jim Bawden of The Toronto Star. Foreign programming, and feature films from “all over the world,” made up the difference.

Here is part of Global’s initial 1974 slate. Some shows don’t have years attached to them; I couldn’t identify when those shows ended.

  • CAVEAT EMPTOR, a consumer affairs show
  • EVERYTHING GOES (1974), a talk show. Initially hosted by Norm Crosby, singer Catherine McKinnon became a co-host early in the run. Ken Finkleman, Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short were among its writers
  • FLICK FLACK WITH WILLIAM SHATNER, a film-related interview series
  • FOUR FOR ADVENTURE, a travelogue. Four Quebec filmmakers visited South America, talking to Canadians who worked in that continent. Also featured a recipe each episode
  • GLOBAL NEWS JOURNAL, a public-affairs documentary series
  • GLOBAL POST, a five-minute business update
  • MY COUNTRY, where Pierre Berton talked about…well, his country
  • SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS (1973?-74), a satirical news show produced by Don Harron. Harron, Catherine McKinnon, Patrician Anne McKinnon, Barbara Hamilton, Jack Duffy, Bill Luxton, Les Lye, Howard Jerome Gomberg, Geoff Scott, Barry MacLoughlin and Ken Shaw were the castmembers. Gordon Pinsent and Billy Van made guest appearances
  • SUNDAY NIGHT HOCKEY, which televised Toronto Toros WHA games. Peter Gzowski and Ken Dryden (yes, that Ken Dryden – Dryden sat out the 1973-74 NHL season) were involved with the initial broadcasts
  • THE BRADEN BEAT (1974), an “on your side” consumer affairs show hosted by Bernard Braden
  • THE CANADIANS, a Stanley Burke-hosted show about the lifestyles of famous Canadians
  • THE GREAT DEBATE (1974-?; 1983-84 on CHCH), where Pierre Berton and others debated controversial topics
  • THE WORLD OF WICKS, an interview show hosted by cartoonist Ben Wicks
  • THIS PROGRAM IS ABOUT SEX (1974), with Dr. Sol Gordon
  • WHAT’S HIS NAME?, a game show where Catherine McKinnon, Don Harron and Jack McClelland attempted to guess the identities of famous Canadians
  • WITNESS TO YESTERDAY (1974 on Global; 1974-75? on TVOntario; 1998 on History Television), where broadcaster Patrick Watson “interviewed” an actor playing a major historical figure

The Weird Bits

Global initially disdained local advertising, and allowed only eight minutes of commercial air time. The point of the program service was not to be local. Many of Global’s original shows were made by independent producers, in an effort to keep costs low. Global aired news updates between programs, which was a new concept at the time.

SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS had a distinct Ottawa flavour, which wasn’t suprising, given that it was the brainchild of Bushnell Communications executives Stu Griffiths and Roy Fabish. Bushnell Communications, at the time, owned CJOH. SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS was initially a CTV pilot; Global, desperate for content, bought the show’s rights.

There was a faint whiff of nepotism in SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS — Don Harron was married to Catherine McKinnon. Patrician Anne McKinnon, though an actress and singer in her own right, was Catherine McKinnon’s sister. In addition, Bill Luxton and Les Lye were well-known for WILLY & FLOYD (CJOH/syndicated, 1966-88). SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS was a CJOH show in drag.

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Cathode Ray Mission: YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION (1979)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

For this column, we’ve decided to do something a little different and look at a Canadian TV show that  straddles the line between “cult” and “mainstream hit.” Mainstream hits are obviously not Canuxploitation, and YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION (CJOH, 1979; CJOH/CTV/Nickelodeon, 1981-87, 1989-90) was a mainstream cable hit in its day. The show is most fondly remembered in its half-hour format on Nickelodeon. It was literally the primordial slime from which Nickelodeon was born.

What some YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION fans don’t remember is the show’s formative years, as an hour-long Saturday morning variety hour. Early YTV viewers might be familiar with WHATEVER TURNS YOU ON (CTV, 1979), YCDTOTV‘s half-hour primetime variant.

The Basic Formula

YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION takes its cues from ROWAN AND MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN (NBC, 1968-73) — short sketches, catchphrases, recurring characters, and heavy repetition. What sets YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION apart from LAUGH-IN is its casual contempt for authority, and its insistence that child amateurs perform the comedy. Les Lye, the sole adult male castmember, appears in all incarnations of YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION/WHATEVER TURNS YOU ON.

Viewers who watched Nickelodeon and/or CTV in the 1980s likely know what the show’s sketches are like. Nickelodeon’s signature slime comes from YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION. If I type the words “Barth’s Burgers,” readers of a certain age will likely wonder what Barth puts in them.

A Dixieland jazz arrangement of “The William Tell Overture” identifies YCDTOTV, the way “The Liberty Bell” identifies MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS (BBC1, 1969-73; BBC2, 1974 as MONTY PYTHON). Other elements ganked from MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS include the Terry Gilliam-esque opening credits, a public-domain theme song, and that casual contempt for authority.

The Weird Bits

The 1979 and early 1981 versions of YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION barely resemble the Nickelodeon version. CJOH originally formatted the show as a variety hour — sketches, disco dances, call-in contests, live transitions, and “music videos” of various origins. Video game competitions took the place of the disco dances, in 1981.

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