Archive for the ‘Reel Life’ Category

Yesterday I was at the Luminato food event in Queen’s Park. As many of the booths were close to the road I was able to observe about three unmarked mini-vans that each had about 4-5 cops inside and these same vans continued to circle the block and passed me numerous times over a two-hour period. Maybe they were looking for subversive Pad Thai?!?

Earlier this week I was in traffic court (yes, I know, the shame, the shame) and had occasion to be sitting next to a plainclothes cop who was reading through what was about a 50 page booklet that seemed to be a manual for all those law enforcers who would be attending the big G20 bash that we’re apparently throwing this week. It was from the ISU and covered a wide range of topics so, of course, I did my best to unobtrusively read over his shoulder. I was able to read about 8 pages before my case was called. Aside from dictates on attire and washroom breaks, there was one part that did catch my eye.

The police obviously have plans to arrest 100’s and 100’s of people – or are prepared to do so. I know that they’ve denied this previously, but they are definitely going to be using the Toronto Film Studios as their “Prisoner Detention Facility”, as it said so in the manual. I took a drive past there the other day and the entire facility has been surrounded by high fencing and all the entrances have double gates, which is standard for most jails. Remember, these sound stages are HUGE and even one could likely accommodate 1,000 people, depending on how they laid out the beds, toilets, etc. I can only imagine what that’s going to be like for the people detained in there. The Somali refugee camps come to mind…

The manual went on to describe procedure for making arrests and it would seem that they’ve set up some kind of assembly line-like process. Officers are directed to take any newly arrested person to a “Prisoner Transport Bus”, which they will have ready and available in multiple locations around the downtown (more evidence of the number of arrests they’re anticipating). These buses, once full, will then transport the detainees to the detention facility where they will be held.

The officers are told not to accompany their prisoners – which is the usual process to maintain chain of custody for any evidence seized or statements made. Without that unbroken chain, that evidence or statement is inadmissible in court. However, they seemed concerned that if individual officers were to accompany their prisoners to the film jail (Little Guantamo?!) there would be chaos there and, more importantly, it would result in officers being taken off the front line to deal with more potential arrestees.

So, to deal with that they have set up a group of officers that was referred to as the “Prisoner Processing Detail”, whose job it will be to receive the prisoner from the arresting officer along with any evidence seized at the time. Some members of this detail seem to be designated to receive bodies, others to take physical evidence and still others will be there with recording equipment to record any statements made. As this ‘detail’ also needs to stay at the front line, yet another detail, the “Prisoner Transfer Detail” will then take the body, the evidence and the statements and will accompany all of these to the film jail, where they will be processed along with the prisoner, who will then get fingerprinted and photographed.

Now, here’s where it starts to get a little future-creepy. Apparently ALL prisoners will have their images scanned though facial recognition software and from what I was able to read they are planning to have multiple vehicles at the original scene that will be equipped with cameras tied into a facial recognition databases so that they can identify any wanted, or other people who are “known to police”, whose images they will be able to capture in the crowds. (As an aside, it’s not widely known, but quite a number of Toronto police cars now have facial recognition cameras inside the cars that photograph people in the back seat to aid in warrant execution and to prevent people from giving false names).

I’m going to be very interested to see how well this all works because the Canada Evidence Act is very clear on what’s necessary for evidence to be admissible in a court of law. That “chain of custody” I referred to earlier must be completely unbroken, documented and signed for every single time it ever changes hands and has to be sealed in evidence bags, also sealed and signed. As soon as that chain is broken – evidence placed on the ground during a scuffle and picked up by someone else or evidence misplaced and later found – will have the effect of rendering that evidence inadmissible and would usually result in an acquittal for the defendant. If this happens here on any kind of scale it would result in a colossal waste of money in the administration of justice as all the costs of arresting, processing, detaining, and then trying these in court will be for nothing.

The rest of the few parts I was able to read over his shoulder dealt with dress codes (uniforms always), bathroom breaks (only in designated facilities), and food (none allowed on your person but there will be food available at designated locations – the revolution will be catered!). Then my case got called and I had to tear myself away (I, of course, beat my ticket!).

Frankly, the whole thing is Orwellian on a scale that sends chills through me. Cameras that scan the crowd that are tied into facial recognition databases, prisoner assembly lines (my term, not theirs) and mass detention facilities all remind me of many movies that I’ve seen that are supposed to predict some kind of post apocalyptic future. Well, apparently, the future is now and it’s unfolding on the streets of our fair city. And I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling quite helpless as we plunge into an extremely costly summit thrust upon a city that doesn’t want it, and all and fueled by the erosion of our privacy and civil liberties. Thank you Mr. Harper. You really know how to throw a party.

God only knows what they have in those black helicopters that are already buzzing overhead and how much of this technology will linger after this debacle is over remains to be seen. It’s like the Patriot Act without an actual act of parliament. What has happened to our cherished notion of civil liberties? The press may have no business in the bedrooms of our nation but the police clearly have their business just about everywhere else.

This is a sad week for our city and our country. I barely recognize our city anymore and anyone who’s been brave enough to venture downtown will tell you of the chill they feel as Toronto the Good begins to resemble Fortress Toronto. In some ways I feel like our city’s being raped. I know that’s a strong word but what else do you call it when something you don’t want to happen is forced upon you with a degree of violence that leaves you feeling helpless, angry and distraught.

I love this city and I want it back. Harpo – take your G20 and G-out of here. It can’t be over soon enough for me…

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When this story broke I posted a piece that suggested that the Bryant affair has disclosed the unfortunate truth that there are two standards of justice afoot in this fine country. Well, it seems that every body has an opinion  on this story and many of my very articulate and very smart colleagues weighed in with their opinions – many disagreeing with me. The following is my response to their various arguments and is partially written from my perspective as a former Criminal Lawyer:

___________________________________________________

Ok. Ok. The guy was clearly a maniac. Drunk and provocative. And what would I have done? I would have done whatever I had to in order to escape this idiot. All these points are well taken.

However – Bryant’s actions lead directly and causally to his death and in our country, with a very few exceptions, causing the death of another person has various degrees of criminal liability attached to it. It is exceedingly rare to see a situation where someone causes the death of another – intentionally or not – and does not have to answer for it in some forum. While Bryant clearly didn’t murder him there are many other lesser charges that apply when a death is caused without intent. Manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving causing death, vehicular homicide, etc.

If I understand Bryant’s team correctly they assert that he was trying to defend himself in his efforts to get away from Sheppard and I guess what’s nagging at me is the notion that in 99% of cases like this the policy is to lay the charge and then to let the defendant use self-defence as the justification for the act. What happened here was that the prosecutor usurped the court’s role and made his own unilateral decision that this was, indeed, self-defence and then let Bryant off the hook.

We all know that Bryant wasn’t charged lightly or frivolously. When he was arrested, and after a 24 period where I imagine that phone lines were ablaze with the highest of the higher-ups being consulted, the police laid the charges and then turned it over to the courts for prosecution. They did the right thing as Bryant is causally and directly responsible for this man’s death. The fact that he was justified is exactly why they allow various justifications as legitimate defences. As defences. In court. At a trial. Since when does the Crown decide to allow a defence before a trial or in place of one? The Crown always retains the prerogative to withdraw a charge but it is all highly unusual.

I like Michael Bryant. I liked him as AG and I think he’s a good man. The problem is that the optics here are terrible. In my experience whenever I have defended someone who had a lock solid defence like he did and I tried to put that position to the crown I would be told that was why people had their day in court. Withdraw the charge? Extremely rare and usually only in cases where there is absolutely no reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution.

They say that perception is reality and for many the unfortunate perception here is that Bryant received favourable treatment due to his standing. People need to believe in our justice system and today that faith is little more battered than it was a few days ago. Remember that Bryant’s hands weren’t completely clean. He fled the scene to a hotel and only called the police after the fact. He left a bleeding Sheppard lying at the side of the road and did nothing to assist him.

Did those delays and evasions cost Sheppard his life? We’ll never know now. Why wasn’t he charged with Failing to Remain at the scene of an accident? We’ll never know that either but I do now that if I ever left the scene of a fatal accident and did nothing to help that I would be charged forthwith. No question. That’s how our system works – or is supposed to work. Allegations are made, charges are laid and defences are advanced. That’s the beauty of our adversarial process. Two sides meet, advance their theories and somewhere in the middle the truth will out. And for the most part, it works – when we allow it to.

The trouble here is that there appeared to be no adversaries. Bryant’s lawyers worked along with the Crown to turn over evidence and to shape the case before any trial could be held. That’s not adversarial and it’s a big part of why this result seems so skewed. The public has confidence when they see two sides pitted against each other but when everybody appears to be on the same side nepotic whispers abound and perception once again becomes reality.

This is one of those cases where everybody loses. We’d all like to think that we know how we’d react in extreme circumstances but until it happens to you, you really have no idea. Panic and fear can lead us to make some pretty stupid mistakes and I’m sure that if was me that I would have bolted out of there, too. I have no desire to see Bryant behind bars but I do have a desire to have a justice system that has integrity and is respected by the populace at large. We are all entitled to our day in court. It’s just that now it seems that some people are able to subvert that idea and I think that for that, we are all a little poorer today.

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I swear I feel like a kid on the night before Christmas.

I am so excited I feel giddy. I am filled with anticipation and am feeling positively salivary. Now here’s the embarrassing part – what am I so excited about? It’s a consumer purchase bought several weeks ago and slated for delivery before Friday. A consumer purchase? Salivary?

To better understand my excitement you need to understand that I have always been a bit of a geek. I’ve always been comfortable with technology and over the years I’ve stayed abreast of the amazing developments that have shaped our world and our societal experience. I can be very passionate about technology, but not technology for its own sake. I’m a fan of applied technology – that is how we use it to enhance and better serve our day to day lives.

Over the years there has been an explosion of technological development, some of it ridiculous and some of it life-changing. That’s right, life-changing. I have been thinking of some of the technological developments that I have witnessed that have changed the way I live and interact with the world around me. Here’s a quick list of some of those life-changing technologies, in no particular order, and by no means definitive:

• Cable TV
• Touch-tone phones
• The personal computer
• Modems
• VCR
• The Internet
• WWW, e-mail
• Cellphones
• My PVR
• iPods
• BlackBerry/iPhone
• Apple TV
• Digital everything
• Bluetooth
• Digital cameras
• GPS
• Facebook

Each of these technologies has had a profound impact on my ease of living and on the facility with which I interact with the world around me. What an astonishing world we live in.

Recently I was at a concert and found myself shooting live video, posting it live to the Internet, waiting for my friends to watch it and then reading their comments live as they weighed in on the performance. And all that without leaving my seat in the stadium. Astonishing. When I drive now, geosynchronous satellites overhead pinpoint my location with 10 feet, let me know about traffic up ahead of me and warns me if a speed trap is nearby. Amazing.

I think it’s very easy to take all this techno-wizardry for granted. For most of us it’s invisible and we see only the end result and that’s probably the way it should be. But when I think about what these devices are actually able to do it still blows my mind. Satellites. Wireless. Beam me up Scotty.

But it’s when one of the life-changing devices comes down the pipe that I truly get pumped. They don’t come along very often. Sometimes I can see it coming and sometimes it sneaks up on me, blindsiding me when I least expect it. And if there’s any one company that’s been responsible for forever changing our consumer landscape for the better, it’s Apple.

From its inception Apple has got it. They’ve always demonstrated an uncanny ability to redefine various consumer experiences in a way that makes everyone else hurry up and follow. When they first started out they invented the mouse and the graphical interface that later became the mainstay of the Windows experience. Their introduction of the iPod forever changed the way we interact with our music experience. Apple TV redefined the home entertainment experience and the iPhone became the new standard for mobile computing devices. Love them or hate them, these guys got it and they nailed it every time. I should have bought stock.

So imagine my excitement when last February I saw the first online video demo of the upcoming iPad. By the end of that video I was so excited that I was ready to buy. Now, even though I’m a big techno-file I am not what you would call an early adopter. I usually watch as new technologies debut, get their kinks worked out by the marketplace and then get refined in the second generation release. But when I saw the iPad all that logic went out the window.

When I first witnessed the iPad I immediately realized that this device was something in between a notebook and an iPhone – it wasn’t just a big iPhone nor was it a notebook wannabe. The iPad is poised to occupy a new niche in the tech market – it’s a powerful, mobile computing device that provides a superior entertainment experience, makes your world mobile and utilizes an interface that is intuitive and very, very clever. It is going to become the heart and soul of my home entertainment experience and will likely become my daughter’s best friend.

This is so unlike me – to buy a device before it’s even released to the market and then to watch the calendar as I silently count down to D-day (delivery day). But I know this one’s going to be a winner. I have an iTouch and it has been a life-changing device. The iPad promises to pick up where the iTouch left off and then go somewhat further. Now I can hear many of you shaking your heads in disbelief. All this excitement over a small computer? Darn right and it can’t happen soon enough for me. Bring on the change, the evolution is now.

As an adult I don’t treat myself very often. I still love to get new toys although these days the toys I get tend to be much more functional than the train set I was enamoured with in my youth. But still, as adults I think it’s important that we recognize the kid inside of us and go out and buy it a toy. Sure, they’re more expensive now but they’re also much more fun to play with.

So, when the iPad was listed for pre-sale on the Apple web site I was there in a flash, credit card in hand, happy and eager to be one of the iAcolytes. But to make us wait nearly 3 weeks for delivery – well-that’s just mean. I know that the next generation of iPads will be better – they’ll have a video camera, be slimmer and faster but that’s ok. I’ll deal with that when it happens. I’m so certain that this device will hit my life with a wallop that I bought it sight unseen. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

And so now I wait. But with tremendous impatience that is surprising even me. I want my MTV, darn it and I want it now! This device won’t be for everybody but if it’s for you then get ready to have your world rocked. The iPhone is still rocking my world and that’s more than a year later.

So, join me on the technology bandwagon. Embrace change and look forward with the excitement of an explorer discovering the New World. We live in amazing times and don’t ever forget how powerful the forces are that surround our lives every day. We are the citizens of the new millennium and we will see the world changed for us, by us and even, in spite of us. We will bear witness to that change whether we want it or not.

“Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”
Andy Warhol

“Be careful of what you wish for, you might get it”
Colloquial Wisdom

When I was a kid I wasn’t sure of much, but one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to be rich and I wanted to be famous. This twosome, rich and famous, seemed to embody all that I thought I desired in this very early stage in my life. I mean, it just looked like so much fun. Rich. Famous. What’s not to like? Well, as it turns out, both of these acquisitions come with a price, and it’s a steep one.

Rich changes you. Your entire way of interacting with the world around you has changed in scale. Now, this change may or may not be a good thing. Some people do rich very well, and others, not so much. The landscape is littered with lottery winners whose lives have been torn apart after the big win. Divorce. Social alienation. Business failure. No happy dance, there.

But where rich changes you, famous changes everything. Sure, you’ll never have to pay for a cup of coffee again, but welcome to life in the fishbowl. If you have successfully managed to convince the public that you are worthy of their special attention then you better be ready to handle all the other unanticipated, unwanted, and other forms of attention that become part of the deal – like it or not.

And you better be able to stand up to the public scrutiny – often relentless – that is sure to accompany your fame. If you’re found wanting, that same adoring public can turn on you in a New York minute. And a public dismantling of anyone’s life is never a pretty picture. Just ask Tiger.

So, is the fishbowl really worth it?

Some people do fame very well. They have learned how to handle, no, manage, the showbiz machine that has made fame a calculable commodity. They manage the press and, in turn, have their lives left alone. Some, not so much.

Although I’m sure she’s laughing all the way to the bank, ask Kim Kardashian how it feels to have every pound she gains chronicled on the front page of every supermarket tabloid around the world? Ouch is still ouch.

Kim, of course, is one of the new breed – people who are famous just for being famous. The public appetite for worthy icons had grown to such a fever pitch that we are now willing to put some people up on the pedestal just because they’ve managed to catch our attention in some… er… memorable way.

Anybody who stars on The Hills can tell you of the benefits of being in the right place at the right time. Spin-off shows, public recognition and, of course, the merch, the merch, the merch. Just ask Lauren Conrad, now of LC Fashion, about how to do it well and ask Heidi Montag about how to become a caricature of yourself for everyone to see. And those implants seal the deal. Unbelievable what some people think are a good idea.

When I was younger I went through a phase where I was quite enthralled with the idea of being around celebrity. For many years I haunted the Film Festival in the hopes of adding to my ever-burgeoning autograph collection. But after all the screenings and all the parties and all those famous people, I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t meet your heroes; they will only end up disappointing you.

I remember one year I was dating a Publicist whose job it was to babysit a big, big star who was in town for a few days during the Festival. As her official date I was occasioned to spend a great deal of time with her and this big, big star, who I had previously regarded as an amazing acting force. And he is an amazing actor, unfortunately for me he wasn’t a very amazing human being. This publicly heterosexual star stepped off his private jet with his hands stuffed down the front of his 16 year-old male travelling companion’s pants.

And the groping never stopped.

In the limo, at the restaurant (under the table, of course), everywhere the cameras weren’t, and everywhere that I was. The gay thing didn’t faze me (or really surprise me). It was all the child sexual abuse, and his attitude about it, that really got me. Although he was officially 19 years-old, the boy-toy at one point quietly confessed to me that he was really only 16. I have all the time in the world for gay folks; I’m just not that hot on paedophiles.

And now this actor, whom I had previously respected, is ruined for me. I can no longer watch anything with him in it without thinking of that leer on his face as he fondled his freshly pubescent companion. Ruined. And don’t ask me who it is. Let’s just say that year it was one of the Usual Suspects

Don’t ever meet your heroes. Double for rock stars.

There is now a multi-billion dollar industry that has cropped up that is devoted to nothing but keeping us informed on everything that is any small way notable about people who are famous. Shows like ET, Access and a hundred others, and websites like TMZ.com and Perez Hilton and too many magazines to mention, have made the star’s business, their business. And quite a business it is, too. Billions are now spent promoting, chronicling and dissecting every last piece of minutiae that comprise the life of celebrities.

And boy, we can’t get enough.

The other day my 10 year-old daughter nonchalantly told me about the difficult decisions that are currently plaguing Miley Cyrus. Not Hannah Montana – Miley Cyrus, the actress who plays her. Apparently, she’s putting an end to the Hannah Montana juggernaut and is having trouble deciding where to board her horse. I asked Hyla how she knows all of this and the dismissive answer was “the Disney web site, of course!” which, according to Hyla, is quite a reputable news source. “Of course it’s true, Daddy. It’s on the Internet!”

Somewhere along the way, the line between publicity and news got a little blurry. Newscasts now regularly report the doings of celebrities right along with the car crashes and other trials that fill their airwaves. And we are salacious in our appetite for more as insatiable demand creates an abundant supply.

Now, I know the difference between entertainment and news but I’m afraid that my daughter doesn’t as well as I’d like. The big studios have become very adept at marketing their stars like commodities and have learned how to feed this machine quite effectively. They want that line to be blurry, for us to think that someone’s dalliance is, in fact, news. It is not.

We want to emulate celebrities because they seem to have what we don’t – successful, glamorous lives filled with lots of sex with really good looking people. And somehow we’ve acquired the notion that if we do like them, we’ll be like them. We won’t. Ever. And that’s probably a good thing.

A number of years ago I decided to get as far away from the world of celebrities as I could. I deliberately avoided situations where there would be celebrities present and declined invitations to same and feel my life is all the better for it, that I’m a better person for it.

Have you ever been around someone really famous? If so, you’ll be able to attest to how completely stupid normally very together people get when around someone famous and that is something I don’t miss at all. People do some pretty unseemly things to get near celebrities and I don’t want to be around people who bring out my worst qualities. My fawning days are over.

At the end of the day we must remember that these people don’t have superpowers. They are once ordinary people who managed to get our attention somehow. Talent is a great thing to respect but it doesn’t call for the deification of its originator.

I do worry for my daughter, though, who barely owns a single piece of clothing that isn’t branded somehow by Barbie or Hannah or whoever. It makes me so crazy that this is what she looks for in her consumer decisions. Not quality. Certainly not price. But branding. The more High School Musical, the better.

In his Inaugural Address, Lincoln talked about inciting “the better angels of our nature”. My experience has been that most celebrities bring out the worst angels of our nature. Even Tiger has become a repository of derision. I do everything I can to help Hyla see the cynicism behind the dogma she so happily consumes but I fear it will never be enough. At the very least I can teach her to be critical.

Rich would still be nice but, famous? Not so much. I’ll take a life, please. Andy can have his 15 minutes back. I don’t want it.

And we can all hold out hope for the timely emergence of those better angels…

CityTV suddenly fires 60 senior on-air and production staff and axes almost all their local news

What a shame. What a tremendous loss for our city.

CityTV has long been a beacon for Toronto, showing us our triumphs and our failures on an epicly moving landscape. I was at the party for the launch of CityTV in the early 70’s and mostly I remember how incredibly excited everyone was. There was a palpable feeling that this station was going to be different. And different it was.

Spurred by a desire to innovate and forced to be inventive as the result of a constant cash shortage, City transformed the way we saw our Toronto – and the way we watched TV.

I remember in the early days you never knew what was going to happen on the air. On-air personalities were given broad discretion to do it differently, the camera was always moving, and many early shows were live, meaning that some pretty audacious stuff got on the air. Led by media visionary Moses Znaimer, CityTV took the gloss off of our city and got down and dirty with the rest of us.

Early offerings included Boogie, which was the bold forerunner to Electric Circus. There was Forum, which featured live debates, often quite audacious, and shows like the New Music that forever changed the face of music on television. Indeed, the New Music would later morph into MuchMusic, which also trail-blazed the way for a whole new era of entertainment TV.

In my youth I used to spend a lot of time down at the station, which in those days was at 99 Queen E., on the other side of Yonge, and I’ll never forget the energy that rippled through the place on a constant basis. Everybody who worked there loved their jobs even if City was one of the most infamously cheap employers in the industry. You didn’t work at City to get rich, you worked at City to be a part of the evolving brave new frontier that was the ascension of TV in the 70’s and 80’s. You worked there because you believed in what Moses what doing and you wanted to be a long for the ride.

Even though it didn’t pay much, at City you got on the air – whether you were ready or not. Some of the more famous City personalities today have been with the station for over 25 years and we have grown along with them. Gord Martineau, Kevin Frankish and Anne Mroczcowski have all been there for 25 plus years and are considerably more polished now than they were way back then.

And it wasn’t just the on-air style that shook things up – where the building became the set and everything and everybody were part of it – it was what they put on the air. The Baby Blue Movie forever changed the standards of what is permissible to air on a public station. City Pulse News did away with the anchor desk and put it’s broadcasters right into the thick of the action and shows like Fashion TV and Sex TV have become ubiquitous in markets all over the world.

It was always a dream of mine to work at City, to be close to that marvellous energy. I was childhood friends with Jay Switzer, who would go onto become the President of City during it’s biggest growth boom, and my parents were close with the Swtizers, who lived a few houses away from us. They were a TV family through and through. Sruki Switzer, the father, literally invented the technology that made cable TV possible and his wife, Phyllis was one of the original three founders of City TV.

City was always in my blood and as a neophyte film maker I used every excuse I could think of to hang around down at 99 Queen E. I just wanted to be close to that unmistakable energy, to be around people who loved what they did and who knew that they were making a difference. In later years I would do a fair bit of business with City, whose penchant for innovation matched some of my fairly audacious ideas, and although I did interview there once for my dream job (and didn’t get it!!) I never successfully leveraged any employment out of the grand dame. Pity. That would have been fun, indeed.

But, like all good things, City eventually grew up and the little station that could became the cash-box that was a well run station in the new millennium. Over the 90’s CityTV grew exponentially. They launched station after station, taking broad advantage of the new CRTC rules which allowed for cable speciality channels. Overnight there was Space, SexTV, CP24 and about 20 other niche stations that are still making their shareholders very rich. And that, of course, was the beginning of the end.

City couldn’t hide its burgeoning revenues from the street and in the early part of this decade they were snapped up by broadcasting giant CTV. At the time, CTV seemed to recognize the inherent uniqueness of their new property and pretty much ran things as per usual. City looked a little slicker but it was still a “little” station. However that couldn’t and didn’t last and in 2007 CTV was forced by the CRTC to divest itself of 5 City stations across Canada due to rules that prohibit any one entity from owning more than one broadcast station in any one market. And who ponied up $375 million for this broadcasting plum? Good ‘ole Rogers Media.

Now, even though Rogers was led by it’s own media visionary, Ted Rogers, their styles couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. Where City was wild, Mr. Rogers was conservative. Where City dared to boldly go, Rogers preferred to tread more cautiously. And aside from their local Cable 10 operations and the ownership of OMNI, Toronto’s multicultural channel, Rogers had little experience in running a national broadcast presence. And it didn’t take long for the axe to start to swing.

Immediately, the first to go was Speaker’s Corner, a marvel of television democracy that let any body grab some air time – and just for a loonie. In many ways Speaker’s Corner was an important symbol of City’s guerilla status. Famous for launching many careers – the Barenaked Ladies, Mike Myers and Scott Speedman all got their first exposures on the Corner – Speakers Corner suggested all that was right about what CityTV was doing and stood for. Often irreverent, frequently shocking and always entertaining, Speaker’s Corner fulfilled Moses Znaimer’s central philosophy that suggested that television was for every one and every Saturday night at 6:30 you could turn on your TV and see some extraordinarily democratic TV.

Many observers who watched the axing of Speaker’s Corner had a pretty strong premonition of what would be next. Slowly, over the next two years, City gradually became more and more polished until you couldn’t automatically identify which channel was CityTV when you were flipping through the channels. Rogers moved them out of their shrine to TV, the marvellous and innovative building at 299 Queen W., and slowly began dismantling everything that was special about the little station that could. The old CityTV used to feel a little like Improv TV, where anything could, and did, happen, and the new , emerging CityTV became slicker and more polished until it’s current, almost unrecognizable, state.

After Rogers began cleaning house, all of the original staff, who had poured their very best years into that station, gradually began to go, becoming replaced by Rogers’ bean counters. By early this year there was practically no one single holdover from the early days still on the executive roster. And today, the axe fell again.

In a bold and unsettling display of corporate power, Rogers gave pink slips to 60 of some of City’s most recognizable faces. Veterans like Anne Mroczkowski, Laura DiBattista and Pam Seatle were all given their walking papers – effective immediately. Their bios were unceremoniously yanked from the web site and many of the veterans who we have come to know and love were summarily dismissed. City’s mantra used to be Movies, Music and News, and they did all those things very well but today Rogers announced that it was cutting the Noon News, City at 5 and all the weekend newscasts, as well, putting a final dagger into the heart of a once thriving mediatropolis.

I have been watching the devolution of City for some time now and over the past few years have had a number of conversations with some of the senior staff there about what the future held for CityTV. None of them were very optimistic and all were already looking afield to greener pastures. And while they were losing their jobs, I was losing a friend. City has been an integral part of my life ever since I can remember and it feels like something important is missing today from the fabric of this city. One of our best and most insistent voices has been silenced.

A few years ago I was down in Bogota, Colombia, where CityTV has a flagship station – also called CityTV. This incarnation was templated off of the original City paradigm and when I walked into the studio it was like walking into a time warp – but in Spanish. It was the same half-cocked craziness that used to make every City broadcast seem like an episode of SCTV. I stood amidst the chaos and revelled in the energy I felt and it was immediately apparent to me that our CityTV had lost its edge, in comparison. They were doing it the way they wanted because they seemed to understand that the very energy they were producing there was what made City different. It’s what made City special.

I have been sadly watching the slow death of my old friend for several years now and I think that the loss of the old CityTV is a much bigger loss for our greater City of Toronto. We used to have pride in CityTV. We liked that it was imperfect because we were imperfect, too, and in some way City’s irreverence and pluckiness came to symbolize greater Toronto’s more irreverent character and nature. When we turned on City we were looking at ourselves and all the imperfections and roughness made us feel a little bit better about our own less polished overtures.

People were in tears and in shock as news of the cuts rippled through the industry. Suddenly, everyone seemed to viscerally understand what others had been observing for some time from afar – that CityTV was no longer the maverick it used to be and that it was now certain that some things seemed destined never to be the same again.

Today some very nice and very capable people lost their jobs but I’m afraid that the City of Toronto has lost a lot more. If CityTV was tele-democracy in action then its new, evolving, more corporate image means that we are losing an important voice in our entertainment and cultural landscape. CityTV used to speak for all of us – in a language that we all understood – and it gave a voice to that most ambiguous of entities – our city proper. We live in a more heavily branded, more corporate world than we ever have before and without a voice for the underdog I fear that the corporatization of our media infrastructure will soon be complete.

And as those old familiar faces are escorted out the door by unsmiling security guards, Toronto is losing a lot more than a few newscasts. We are losing an important part of our civic identity. Yes, it’s true, that we won’t have CityTV to kick around any more and I, for one, am feeling very sad for us all.

Goodbye old friend. You’ll be missed…

So, what do you think? Lots of opinions with little consensus. Weigh in here…

Read my opinion on the Bryant case – And Justice For All…

Forward Motion…

Posted: May 25, 2010 in Reel Life
Tags: , , , , , ,

On a recent night when sleep was eluding me I found myself surfing through the ridiculous number of channels that I get on my satellite TV. And somewhere up in the 1200’s I came across a broadcast of an Indie concert featuring a club show put on by James McKenty and the Spades. I had never heard of them but within seconds my finger stopped clicking and for the next hour I sat mesmerized as James and the Spades tore a new hole in the roof of whatever club that was. Putting out an impossibly full sound for a 3-piece band (a la The Who, U2), these guys just rocked out and I loved every minute of it.

The other standout was the audience. Mostly comprised of impossibly young 20-somethings, these kids danced and jumped and shouted and generally tore the place up. After you got past the music and the devotion of the audience what you were left with was the energy. You could feel it coming off the screen in waves. James would summon a holy ball of rock energy, serve it out into the audience and then wait for them to dutifully send it back to him – which they did, amplified in spades (!). Wow.

As I watched, I started to drift back in time to my 20’s when I was a fixture anywhere that great live music could be found. I used to go to clubs all the time to hear new bands. I would scour indie radio for the latest and was always up for discovering, and then following, any new band that proved worthwhile. God, I loved doing that. I can still remember the feeling I used to get as I would get lost in the music, as I became a willing partner in the very same kind of energy exchange that James was indulging in.

And I became very good at scouting out new and upcoming talent. I can remember buying tickets to go see UFO at Massey Hall in the late 70’s – but not because I had any desire to see UFO (which I didn’t). No, I was there strictly for the opening act which I had discovered some months before. They were a relatively unheard of hard rock band from Australia and they were called AC/DC. As the opening act. At Massey Hall.

I sure wouldn’t have wanted to have been UFO that night as they were completely eclipsed by Bon and Angus and the boys as they pumped out one decibel buster after another. To this day I think the roof at Massey is a few inches higher than it was before that night. I never saw UFO. There just didn’t seem to be any point. And besides, I had tickets for Cheap Trick who was playing Maple Leaf Gardens the same night. After AC/DC my friend and I jumped into a cab and tore up to Carlton St. for part 2 of our rocked out night.

As the years went by those club shows gave way to bigger venues. Clubs begat arenas which begat stadiums and so on. And of course, the bigger the venue, the more dissipated the energy and when the energy ebbed, so did my connection to it. I suppose it was a sort of natural evolution but it didn’t have to be that way.

There’s no question that as I’ve gotten older I’ve also slowed down somewhat. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a more mature adult I recognize that there’s a real benefit to a slower approach. You notice more, savour more, appreciate more and generally have a more connected experience. But watching those kids rock out to James and his Spades brought back the visceralness of those experiences. In a small, sweaty, smelly club you weren’t there to listen to the music, you were there to have an experience. A full body, Vulcan mind-meld, neo-spiritual experience. Whew. Heady stuff.

In the past few years I’ve gone through several periods where I felt stuck in one place. I knew what I wanted to do but for the life of me couldn’t seem to summon up the will or the energy to make it happen. Getting stuck isn’t a lot of fun because as you sit there, trying to summon up the pluck to move forward, you can feel the momentum draining out of your body as you struggle to make a move forward.

Stuck. Struggle and stuck.

Momentum’s a funny thing. It can be hard to create but once unleashed it can be hard to rein in. I have been thinking of times in my life where I had significant momentum and the pace of my achievements during those periods were breathless. So where does momentum go to die? What happens when inertia decides to pack it in?

For the most part I’ve really enjoyed getting older. Life is a lot less work these days and for that I’m very grateful. James, his Spades and his audience were still in their early 20’s and they had that momentum 100 times over and it was exhilarating to watch them, being young, being angry, being ready to live their whole lives, still in front of them. They’re not stuck, they’re alive in the fullest sense of the word.

I wouldn’t trade my current age for a younger one – not a chance. But I wouldn’t mind regaining some of that momentum I used to have. When did coasting become the status quos?

The one exception to this slightly flaccid state of affairs occurs when I spend time with my 10 year-old daughter, Hyla. Hyla is the antithesis of my slower pace. She never stops, never tires and has so much momentum that sometimes it spills over into her life and makes a big puddle on the floor. When I’m with her my own speed shifts up a few notches – just by osmosis. It can be tiring but it can also be rejuvenating and during those times I find myself feeding off of Hyla’s energy like a hungry vampire.

James, the Spades, and the audience really got my attention that night because they took me back to an earlier, different reality. It was a time when the whole world was in front of us and the rules just didn’t seem to apply. Heady stuff, that.

I recorded the entire concert that night and plan on watching it again. Who knows? Maybe some of that inertia will rub off on me and lift me onto higher ground. I don’t need to go all out anymore but I also don’t need to be completely stopped, either.

I miss that momentum, the rush of the feeling that anything was possible and that it was all there just for the taking. And as I move forward I’m going to try to add a little momentum every day because it’s just so damn zesty! Just ask any shark – if they stop moving forward they drown and I’m not up for being any one’s dead shark.

Today I will seize the moment, I will watch Hyla and think of James and then I will dig deep down inside to summon up that spark for a return engagement. Don’t go quietly into that good night. Stand up. Shout out. Dance and dare to dream. You don’t have to go fast all the time but complacency is surely the devil’s tool. And in those moments when stuck seems like it’s all you can do, dig deeper, because it’s in there and it’s yours for the asking. And there’s no time like right now…

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