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Here comes the Sunday; John Oliver targets television’s “week spot”

- April 27th, 2014

John Oliver, Last Week Tonight

One only can assume the difference between “daily” and “weekly” will not be lost upon John Oliver.

So this should be a breeze, right?

I’m just kidding. In some ways, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver may be harder to put together than The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, because the choices of what to include may be tougher.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which debuts Sunday, April 27 on HBO Canada – the same date as HBO in the United States – is being billed as a weekly satirical look at the events of the previous week. So, it’s kind of what The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report do now on a nightly basis, snugly stuffed into a once-a-week format.

Oliver, of course, previously was a regular contributor to The Daily Show, as the “senior British correspondent” beginning in 2006. Then Oliver really proved his mettle in the summer of 2013, as he filled in as host of The Daily Show for eight weeks when Stewart was off directing a movie.

Oliver, who also has a recurring role as Professor Ian Duncan on the sitcom Community, obviously was impressive enough hosting The Daily Show that HBO snapped him up. Sometimes timing is everything.

It was in December 2013 that HBO announced it had hired Oliver for this new weekly gig. But then just a few weeks ago in early April 2014, David Letterman suddenly announced he’s retiring from The Late Show, and Stephen Colbert has been hired as Letterman’s replacement, starting some time in 2015.

You just wonder, had HBO not hired Oliver, would he at this moment be the No. 1 candidate to take over Colbert’s time slot?

Well, at least John Oliver has to put on a tie and perform in front of the cameras only once a week now.

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

From Jon to John; Oliver takes over from Stewart at Daily Show desk

- June 7th, 2013

stewart

All The Daily Show is doing is adding a letter.

From Jon to John.

John Oliver (pictured above left) is taking over as the host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, starting Monday, June 10 on The Comedy Network and CTV. Relax, not permanently.

Jon Stewart (pictured above right) is going to spend the summer directing a feature film. Oliver, a British comedian who has been part of the team on The Daily Show since 2006, is stepping in – or sitting down, as it were – for the big guy.

It’s funny, when I first heard about this, it made me think of an old episode of The Larry Sanders Show that involved Stewart, in a guest spot playing himself.

Larry (played by Garry Shandling) was a talk-show host, a la Johnny Carson or David Letterman. The setup was that the network was trying to work in Stewart – who at the time was a young up-and-comer who didn’t have The Daily Show yet – as a guest-host on Larry’s show.

But Larry kept nabbing all the good guests for the nights that he knew he was going to be working. Stewart was being left with people such as Sally Struthers, because, according to Larry, Stewart would be great “flirting” with her.

Larry commandeered certain guests under the guise of them being “personal friends.” When Stewart asked, “So, Hootie and the Blowfish are personal friends of yours?” Larry distractedly replied, “The Blowfish are. Hootie seems aloof.”

Tonally, there are a lot of similarities between The Larry Sanders Show, which aired from 1992 to 1998, and The Daily Show, which – as hard as it is to believe – goes all the way back to 1996 (Stewart took over from original host Craig Kilborn in 1999).

Oliver’s segments always have been among the funniest on The Daily Show. There is a barking certainty to his delivery that rarely fails to make me laugh.

Oliver also has played a semi-recurring character on the sitcom Community, and he has had a few standup specials as well.

Perhaps the funniest and smartest thing I’ve seen on TV in recent months was a Daily Show segment Oliver did about gun-control legislation. He went to Australia to interview people who had passed gun-control laws back in the 1990s, but were politically ruined because of it, even though the laws have worked remarkably well.

When they explained to Oliver that they had pushed for gun-control laws because they thought it was the right thing to do, and they knew if the laws passed it still might ruin their political careers, Oliver’s gap-jawed reactions were priceless. That would NEVER happen in the United States, he explained.

Being a correspondent on The Daily Show and hosting The Daily Show are two different things, of course.

Oliver has said – probably not entirely as a joke – that he knows the ratings are going to go down, first because it’s summer, and second because he’s hosting. His ambition is to not ruin the show completely. In his mind, that will qualify as success.

Privately, I’m sure he has higher goals than that. For fans, it’ll be fascinating to see another funny Jon – make that John at the Daily Show desk.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

The Amazing Cult on the March to the Jeselnik Offensive; TV must-sees for this week

- February 17th, 2013

Amazing Race cast - season 22

 

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Feb. 17:

 

1) The Amazing Race

Why you should watch: So, everybody keeps trying to tell me what a “small world” it is. So how is it that this series is entering its 22nd season (participants are pictured above) and they still keep finding exotic places to visit in different countries? Ex-NHL player Bates Battaglia is one of the competitors this time.
When: Sunday on CBS, CTV

 

2) Cult

Why you should watch: In the series debut, investigative journalist Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis) begins to delve into the dark underworld of a TV show called Cult, and its super-devoted fans. Yes, it’s one of those show-within-a-show things.

When: Tuesday on CW, CTV Two

 

3) Killing Lincoln

Why you should watch: Narrated on-screen by Tom Hanks and starring Billy Campbell in the title role, this two-hour historical drama isn’t a biopic, but rather focuses specifically on the assassination of the 16th president of the United States.

When: Sunday on National Geographic Channel

 

4) Leverage

Why you should watch: In the series finale, Nate (Timothy Hutton) takes a case linked to his son’s death. But when the job goes bad, Interpol interrogates Nate and tries to figure out not only what went wrong, but also what he really was seeking.

When: Monday on Super Channel

 

5) March to the Top

Why you should watch: A documentary about emotional and physical rehabilitation as 12 injured Canadian soldiers attempt to work together to climb the 20,305-foot Island Peak in Nepal.

When: Full-length version Sunday on Documentary Channel; one-hour version Monday on CBC

 

6) Come Date With Me

Why you should watch: An offshoot of the series Come Dine With Me, this new foray sees four eligible suitors try to out-dine, out-shine and out-date each other for the heart of one hottie. You know, just like every night in all bars.

When: Wednesday on W

 

7) The Jeselnik Offensive

Why you should watch: Comedian Anthony Jeselnik has produced some of the most fearless, or offensive, or hilarious Tweets (depending upon your point of view) that I ever have read. You may have seen him on some of those celebrity roasts. Now he gets his own series.

When: Tuesday on Comedy

 

8) Revenge

Why you should watch: The Graysons host their annual Labour Day party – my God, these people throw a lot of parties. Meanwhile, Jack and “Faux-manda” embark upon what is sure to be a stress-free honeymoon.

When: Sunday on ABC, City

 

9) The Good Wife

Why you should watch: Tensions flare when Will and Diane ask Alicia and Cary to face off against them in a mock trial. Hey, remember “Mock Trial with J. Reinhold” on Arrested Development? Now that was funny.

When: Sunday on CBS, Global

 
10) Once Upon a Time

Why you should watch: While Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle), Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Henry (Jared Gilmore) seek out Mr. Gold’s son in New York, Regina (Lana Parrilla) attempts to track down one of Rumplestiltskin’s most treasured possessions back in Storybrooke.

When: Sunday on ABC, CTV

 

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Sean Cullen of Rocket Monkeys says today’s cartoons can’t simply “ape” the past

- January 8th, 2013

rocket monkeys - inside 2

You can’t have a cartoonish attitude toward cartoons any more.

They still can be funny. For example, that’s the point of Rocket Monkeys, a new Canadian animated series that debuts Thursday, Jan. 10 on Teletoon.

But as was pointed out by well-known Canadian comedian Sean Cullen, who is the voice of Gus on Rocket Monkeys, cartoons have come a long way since he was a kid, both creatively and technologically.

“When they used to make Scooby-Doo in the ’70s, kids would see it once and then they’d never see it again,” Cullen recalled. “Now you get it on DVD and watch it 100 times in a row, so it has to be better quality.

“It can’t just be, ‘Oh, it’ll go by so quickly that no one will know that Scooby’s foot disappeared.’ I used to watch Rocket Robin Hood. Every once in a while, someone’s arm moves. It was very basic.

“I watched a lot of cartoons when I was a kid, but they were quite stilted, and stiff, and the stories were quite predictable. These days some of the best writing for comedy and for speculative fiction is in animation. Some of the people we work with on Rocket Monkeys are some of the most talented writers in Canada.”

Besides Cullen’s Gus, Rocket Monkeys also features voice work from Mark Edwards (Wally) and Mark McKinney (Lord Peel). The series follows the cosmic exploits of primate siblings Gus and Wally, who inexplicably have been charged with carrying out important missions in space.

Cullen’s real-life face can be seen regularly these days on Match Game, which airs on the Comedy Network. On that show, Cullen is one of six panelists. But Cullen’s character on Rocket Monkeys is the one in charge. Just ask him.

“Gus is kind of the boss, if there is a boss of either of them,” Cullen said. “He’s the more bossy, pushy one.

“He’s the hero, or he sees himself as the hero, telling everybody how to behave. I kind of model his voice on Charlton Heston. Everything is so dramatic.”

Of course, Charlton Heston had a love-hate relationship with apes. But that’s a much darker tale (not a much darker tail).

Rocket Monkeys is all about fun, and sometimes the best fun can be had by taking something seriously.

“I think humour has taken leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, and animation has benefited from that,” Cullen said. “You realize how much more sophisticated humour has become. For example, The Flintstones (which first aired in primetime in the early 1960s) was aimed at the same kind of audience that in recent years has watched The Simpsons.

“The fact is, when adults take an interest in animation, it becomes better. It’s not just something for your kids to watch and to take up their time.

“And also, people finally have clued in that there’s a lot of money to be made with programming for kids.”

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

Match Game? A Darrin Rose by any other name is Jason Sudeikis

- October 13th, 2012

Darrin Rosejs2

The first match that struck me on the new Canadian version of Match Game was how much host Darrin Rose looks like Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis. Check out the above photos, Rose followed by Sudeikis. I mean, seriously.

Moving past that, this 21st-century Match Game – which airs Monday-to-Friday on the Comedy Network, starting Monday, Oct. 15 – brought to mind a line I heard recently on the season premiere of the Fox/Citytv sitcom Raising Hope.

Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) was pointing out to her mom (Melanie Griffith) what a bad parent she was. Sabrina relayed the story of being left alone at age 12 for a weekend while mom flew to Las Vegas with her boyfriend.

That caused mom to bellow, “Hey, you don’t know Richard Dawson because he’s dead now, but he used to be a BIG DEAL.”

Dawson was, in fact, a big deal on the original version of Match Game in the early 1970s. Arguably, that was TV’s second golden age of game shows, the first having occurred in the 1950s.

The evidence all around us suggests we currently are not in a golden age of game shows. That means this new Match Game is different and exposed, which can be good or not so good.

Having seen an episode, I just hope that moving forward, everyone calms down a little bit. There are people here with great senses of humour, but you can’t force wacky.

Also, the panelists – the permanent ones being Debra DiGiovanni and Sean Cullen, with a rotating cast of four others per show – always should remember that you consistently have to try, really try, to come up with matches, rather than just going for laughs. The humour comes naturally when both contestants and panelists are giving it their best effort.

That’s something the late great Richard Dawson knew.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv