Friday, 28 August 2015

Montreal gets another live morning TV show - sort of

Every weekday morning I switch TV stations back and forth between City's Breakfast TV and the Global Morning News. So imagine how surprised I was when I quickly passed by CBC and noticed what I thought was Daybreak host Mike Finnerty. I circled back and sure enough there he was with the complete Daybreak crew simulcasting their morning radio show between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. So I was not seeing things. It turns out that this was kind of soft launch of a very novel idea - something that is not uncommon in the United States and is done by some shows here nationally.
What a great idea!  Because we generally hear them only, radio personalities do not necessarily have to be attired the same way as their TV counterparts. Will that change for the Finnerty crew?  It was an interesting dynamic to be sure.

Finnerty is a terrific interviewer and for viewers it is really nice to put some faces to names.
Below is what they published on their website:
Starting this Monday, you'll get to go "behind the scenes" on CBC morning radio.
Daybreak, your local morning show, will broadcast between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on CBC Television. You'll be able to watch Mike Finnerty and the team as they bring you all the local news, guests and information you need to begin your day in Montreal.
Broadcasting Daybreak on television is about giving you, our audience, more ways to find us.
This will not replace your experience of listening to Daybreak in the morning.
The show will still air from 5:30 a.m. ET to 8:30 a.m. on Radio One. We're simply providing you another way to access the program. You'll see the Daybreak team broadcasting from Studio 20 in La Maison Radio Canada.
We'll also provide continuous local headlines and weather on screen.
Daybreak on the radio
We're using some pretty interesting technology to make this happen. Cameras have been installed throughout the Daybreak studio and control room.
These cameras are voice-triggered and follow whoever is speaking at any time.
The system works remotely with human intervention, leaving theDaybreak team to do what it does best — make great radio.
Computers Daybreak
So this Monday, Aug. 24, you have one more place to tune in to your favourite morning show – CBC Television. You can find Daybreak on CBC Television, CBC Radio (88.5/104.7FM), streaming online or on your CBC Radio app.
Make sure to check us out and as always, we want to hear from you. To let us know how we're doing, you can email me at or leave a comment.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

So You Think You Can Dance Top 10 Tour Montreal January

There are not too  many live shows I look  forward to seeing more than the So You Think You Can Dance Tour, which will roll into Montreal for the third successive year on Thursday, January 28. Instead of the Bell Centre, though, they’ll be at the 2,200 seat Theatre St. Denis.

The Top 10 finalists of SYTYCD, the 13-time Primetime Emmy® Award-winning show that sparked America’s fascination with dance, will captivate audiences once again this fall and winter.   Celebrating its momentous 12th season and its exciting new Stage v. Street format, the dancers will make their way across North America performing in 70 cities. The Season 12 tour lineup includes the following Top 10 finalists: Team Stage’s Gaby Diaz, Edson Juarez, Jim Nowakowski, Hailee Payne and Derek Piquette; and Team Street’s Megan “Megz” Alfonso, Eddie “Neptune” Eskridge, Virgil Gadson, Jessica “JJ” Rabone and Jana “Jaja” Vankova. 
Hailee Payne

Of course the show airs Mondays (8:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed) on FOX and CTV. They are now down to the final six: Hailee, Alfonso, Jim, Gaby, Virgil and Jaja.   The tour kicks off on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, TX and crosses the United States and Canada with 70  stops. The first leg of the tour will wrap on December, 29 at the Taco Bell Arena in Boise, ID. The dancers will then return for the second leg of the tour in Canada in January 2016.

Tickets go on sale to the public beginning Friday, Aug. 28. Visit for more information.

Let me tell you, there is hardly a more electrifying feeling than being in the audience for one of these shows. Consider that only a few months ago these very talented dancers were virtual unknowns. Now they are superstars. The shows I have attended never let me down and I loved watching how wild the spectators went for their favorites. I have also had the good fortune of getting to meet the top 10 in person  for interviews.

The folks at 19 Entertainment and dick clark productions have a real winner on their hands. Sadly for us, So You Think You Can Dance Canada was cancelled by CTV after only four seasons in 2011. Their tours, the  last one at the Bell Centre and prior to that Place des Arts, were pretty exciting as well.

SYTCD   recently received eight 2015 Primetime Emmy® Award nominations, including Outstanding Reality-Competition Program and Outstanding Host In A Reality or Reality-Competition Program (Cat Deeley), in addition to nominations for Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Hairstyling For A Multi-Camera Series Or Special, Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction For A Variety Series, and Outstanding Makeup For A Multi-Camera Series Or Special (Non-Prosthetic). SYTYCD’s exceptional costume team of Marina Toybina and Grainne O’Sullivan also won an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Variety Program.

“I am thrilled with this season’s new Stage vs. Street format and the brilliant, fresh talent we have discovered,” judge, executive producer and co-creator Nigel Lythgoe said in a statement. “These dancers have inspired the choreographers to create remarkable dance numbers each week, truly showcasing individual talent. I am excited for your favorite dancers to bring their inspiration and routines to even more cities on this year’s nationwide tour.”

Take a look at this video and enjoy!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Breaking News: P.F. Chang's Montreal locations sold to owners of Cage Aux Sports; Toronto locale closes

There is good news for fans of P.F. Chang’s. Groupe Sportscene, owners of among other things the very successful Cage Aux Sports franchise, has purchased the two Montreal area locations---one at Rue des Jockeys next to the former Blue Bonnets and the other at Carrefour Laval.

Last April the Canadian operation of P.F. Chang’s, run by Interaction Restaurants and CEO Michael Aronovici, filed  a Notice of Intention to make a proposal to creditors in order to obtain the courts` protection so they could gain time to find a strategic partner or a buyer.

The Toronto location in suburban Don Mills has been sold to Cara Foods and will no longer be a P.F. Chang’s. They will convert it into one of their other brands, possibly a Milestones, Montana’s or Kelsey’s.
Jean Bedard
I spoke to Jean Bedard, the CEO of Sportscene, who was very excited about this new venture. He recently returned from the head office of P.F. Chang’s in Phoenix where he got the go ahead to change the branding and adjust the menu. For starters, it will not be called P.F. Chang’s China Bistro – simply P.F. Chang’s. “We have more Asian cuisine than Chinese,” Bedard said. “The word ‘Chinese’ might make some associate with Chinese buffets. It is not necessary.”

For now Bedard’s goal will be to solidify the two Montreal area locales, which already have a loyal following. “The Cage has been around for 30 years,” he said. “We have resources. I must admit up until recently I did not know P.F. Chang’s was in Montreal. It needs brand recognition. I have always loved the place. When I take my family to Florida, that is the first place we go and eat. I have been to both of our locations. They are well operated and I think by adding them to our existing 200 restaurants will be a bonus.”

In the next week or so both Montreal area locations will be closed for three days in order to prepare for the rejigged menu, which will still have all of the staple favorites like chicken lettuce wraps,  Mongolian beef, crispy honey chicken, double pan-fried noodles and more.

Bedard said that once he is satisfied the two Montreal area locales are doing well, he will look towards expansion. He already has his eye on the South Shore,  downtown, the West Island, Quebec City and Gatineau. “After that we will look outside of Quebec,” he said.

In terms of continuity, the operating partners of two locations – Emile Haykal and Elie Sucar – will remain in place. That is great news as they know the business well.

As for Aronovici, he should be commended for bringing the storied brand to Canada.  “When it becomes evident that you cannot achieve your stated business objectives, the best thing to do is move on.,” he told me. “We had a lot of headwind on this project. The US dollar got much stronger, driving up many of our costs. The price of oil dropped badly hurting the Alberta economy, the economic situation in Montreal is worse than we had expected and the real estate market in Toronto is extremely hot driven by Western based casual dining chains looking to expand and the list goes on. Such is business. On to the next challenge!”

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Renato Zane takes over as the new boss at City Montreal

There is a new sheriff in town at City Montreal. More than a year after Bob Babinski left the TV station as head honcho of on air activities, his place has finally been filled by industry veteran Renato Zane.

I sat down with Zane at City’s McGill College Avenue’s headquarters. He is by means no newcomer to Rogers Media, having worked for the company for an impressive 32 years out of Toronto and Vancouver. For he and his wife Patricia, Montreal turned out to be a nice opportunity as their daughter Lisa studied at McGill and settled down here. They also have a son, Davide, who resides in Toronto.
Renato Zane with Catherine Verdon Diamond,

Babinski was the true poppa of City Montreal, personally selecting all of the staff who would lead Breakfast Television and Sportsnet Central. Talent-wise, he did a formidable job as Alexandre Despatie made a seamless transition from Olympic athlete to morning show co-host along with Joanne Vrakas. Wilder Weir is a true “star” as live eye reporter and host of Sportsnet Central while Catherine Verdon Diamond delivers traffic and weather with flair. News reporter Laura Casella is solid. Currently on maternity leave, her replacement Aalia Adam has shown great initiative with her special series on Montreal’s municipalities and boroughs. Let’s not forget Elias Makos, who offers up insight into social media no other media outlet in the city can hold a candle to. Behind the scenes, producers like Melanie Porco and Kelly Albert are top notch. Check out Aalia's fan page at

“We really want to connect with our communities,” Zane said. “Our Live Eye really gets out there. Wilder was recently at a swimming club and I was pleasantly surprised to see how many families came out at 6 a.m. to be part of a live broadcast. That is how we must continue to build a following. I hope that as a whole we at City can continue to improve our content so we can be truly reflective of what Montrealers expect from a morning show.”

Sportsnet Central Montreal, which airs Thursday evenings at 6:30, remains a work in progress. Babinski originally hired TV vet George Athans as the producer. But last spring Athans and reporters Sean Coleman and Kelly Greig were let go. The latter two bounced back nicely; Coleman with CTV Sports on weekends and Greig as the new morning reporter at rival Global News. Athans already had a successful business of his own.

“For now we do not have the resources to do in-depth documentary style reports as before,” Zane says. “It is more of a talk format with panelists discussing the topics of the day. It is still very much a show that is evolving. By the end of September we will have a better idea of where we ae going. We’d  like to involve more points of view, perhaps from minor sports organizations.”

I suggested  to Zane that Sportsnet  NHL play by play caller John Bartlett and studio host Chantal Desjardins be integrated into the program as they are right in the thick of things.
Because I have a television in the kitchen, I among those people who thrives on watching morning TV while I eat my breakfast. In the case of City, you can actually live stream Breakfast Television from any device. I watch both BT and The Global Morning News, switching back and forth and catching up on clips later from their website. We are so lucky as Montrealers to have quality shows like this that make an effort to connect with the community, yet the  ratings are very weak.

Initiatives like the  one Adam took to do her series  on municipalities and boroughs can only help bring in new viewers. “That series was completely Aalia’s idea and I completely support it,” said Zane. “We’d really like  to do more of those type of things. There is a bit of fatigue among viewers regarding negative broadcasting.”

As for Zane himself, he spent the previous three years as the director of news and public affairs for  Omni TV in Toronto. Prior to that he had another three year run as general manager of City and Omni TV in Vancouver. For the first 25 years of his association with Rogers he was a jack of all trades, serving as a reporter, anchor, producer and news director.

The days are long in this new job of his. He gets up in enough to time to start watching BT Montreal at 6 a.m. and makes his way from his downtown apartment to the studio by 8 a.m. so he can observe the final hour of the program in the trenches. There is a daily meeting to review the day’s show and plan the next one, individual face to face meetings with members of his staff of about 20 and a lot of back and forth with head office. He usually heads home  by 6 p.m.

“I am excited to be here,” Zane says. “When my boss Jordan Schwartz asked me to come to Montreal last fall to meet the team I felt right away that there was an exciting dynamic. I actually started this job here in late spring, going back and forth, and we settled here in July.”

Friday, 21 August 2015

Our Grade 1 reviewer Nathaniel gives thumbs up to Marvel Universe Live!

After writing a preview piece  in The Suburban for the much anticipated Bell Centre presentation of Marvel Universe Live!  I thought that the best person to review it for me would be a colleague with a young son. Enter our production guru Oliver Sutton and Nathaniel, who enters Grade 1 at Royal Vale School this year.
That's Nathaniel in disguise.

Marvel Universe Live!  Continues with presentations  in both French and English. French shows are  Aug. 22 (3 pm and 7 pm) and Aug. 23 (11 am). English shows take place Aug. 22 (11 am) and Aug. 23 (3 pm).  It features the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man. Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow, Wolverine, Nick Fury, Storm, Green Goblin and Red Skull among the 25 heroes and villains who arein constant battle during the two hour show.

“There were a lot of kids in costumes,” Oliver reported. “Looking through the crowd I could see many little ones dressed as Captain America, Spider-Man and Ironman. Some  were in full costume  head to toe and some in masks and t-shirts.”

Oliver notes that the special effects were magnificent. “They had lazers smoke bangs lights, music,video and total sensory overload,” he said. “The fight choreography was highly impressive.”

Who was the fan favorite?  Ironman, according to Oliver and Nathaniel. “There were big cheers when  he entered the scene,” he said. “Wolverine was popular too.”
A scene captured from Oliver's seat.
With cars skidding around, motorcycles zooming and jumping, this was a  great experience for kids and parents alike. “And the original stories presented for each of the characters was well  done,” he said. “There was so much action we did not know where to look sometimes.”

The  Hulk was gigantic at eight foot five tall, greeted as well very enthusiastically by the crowd.

Nathaniels review? “ Two thumbs up,” he said.

The show is being described in some reviews as “Disney on Ice, with motorcycles instead of skates,” and clearly geared towards a younger audience.

Marvel Entertainment launched this bold idea a year ago and it is taking arenas across North America and Europe by storm, attracting fans of all ages. Like Comic Con, many spectators tend to come in costume.

The Spider-Man scenes were described as the most spectacular, spinning webs and flying through the air just like the motion pictures and cartoons.   

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Montrealers Nic and Sabrina end their run on The Amazing Race Canada

The Montreal presence on CTV’s The Amazing Race Canada is over after   Nic La Monaca from Anjou and  Lachine’s Sabrina Mercuri became the fifth team eliminated.  

The Montreal-based couple were in “jeopardy” early in the leg, struggling at the crime scene Detour, before their race took a turn for the worse when Nic was last to complete the CPR Road Block. In the end, Nic and Sabrina were the last team to reach the Pit Stop at Bell Park in Sudbury where they were greeted by host Jon Montgomery and eliminated from the race. 

“I’m not disappointed…you always think of me before you think of you, and I love you for that,” said Sabrina about her relationship with Nic.

“The bond that we have is never going to be broken,” added a heartfelt Nic, a graduate of the English Montreal School Board's Lester B. Pearson High School Sports √Čtudes Program.

Despite a 10 year age difference – Nick is 22 and Sabrina 32 – this looks like one rock solid couple. If anything can test a relationship it is this type of experience.

I spoke to Nic and Sabrina today. They joined me by telephone from Toronto where they are doing the media rounds. “Testing our relationship was certainly not the reason to do the show,” said Nic. “We know our boundaries. If anything this validated our love for each other.”

Because the show will still be airing for several weeks, there is a lot the couple did not want to say. “Life will kind of get back to normal,” said Sabrina. “While we cannot talk too much, this experience was very stressful and difficult. Nobody can ever imagine. You cannot understand by just watching the show for one hour.”

Having interview Montreal physicians Brett and Holly, first year contestants, I know all of the intimate details of what the contestants go through. For starters they cannot tell anyone in their family where they are nor communicate with them during the shoot.  When they check into hotels, the phones, TVs and radios are disconnected. No newspapers are permitted. Just some magazines. A guard stands outside the room and they do not mingle with their competitors when filming is not taking place.

Nic and Sabrina.
Nic is now busy coaching youth soccer for Les √Čtoiles de L’Est in Laval. He also returns to class full-time in September at Concordia, where he is studying political science. Sabrina works in human resources for an engineering company.

During the show Nic actually had one challenge that involved soccer. Competitors had to get the ball in the net while blindfolded. He was unable to complete the task and the couple actually took a two hour penalty to skip the experience. That choice almost got them eliminated two weeks earlier. “That was a tough one,” said Nic. “The thing is that challenge ended up not being about skill, but rather communications.”

One of the interesting developments of course when you are on a show seen by millions of Canadians each week is the recognition factor. “We do get recognized,” said Sabrina. “It is quite flattering.”

The most recent  episode will encore this Saturday, August 15 at 8 p.m. ET/PT and Sunday, August 16 at 5 p.m. ET/PT on CTV and CTV GO – and is also now available on demand at CTV GO. All-new episodes of THE AMAZING RACE CANADA air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV and CTV GO. Episodes 1–5 are also now streaming on CraveTV™, with new episodes available a week after the broadcast premiere. Previous seasons are also now streaming on CraveTV.

On the next episode (Wednesday, August 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV and CTV GO), teams race to Canada’s heartland, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where the Road Block has some teams bouncing ahead of the pack, and others falling behind. Tensions drive Brian and Cynthia to the edge, and at the Detour, some teams are spinning in circles, while others jump through hoops to stay in the race.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

KlezKanada 2015 to conclude August 23 with Theodore Bikel tribute

Another edition of KlezKanada will take place August 17 to 23 at Camp B'nai Brith in Ste. Agathe and Dr. Hy Goldman,  who founded the event with his wife Sandy, could not be more proud. 
Each summer KlezKanada’s Laurentian Retreat draws people from around the world to Camp B’nai Brith. On the shores of a calm lake, nestled amongst the beautiful Laurentian mountains, participants celebrate the tradition, innovation, and continuity of Jewish/Yiddish culture. Intergenerational, interdisciplinary, and international, KlezKanada’s Laurentian Retreat has grown into one of the leading Jewish cultural events in the world. KlezKanada features an all-star faculty, world-class concerts, and a KlezKabaret that  keeps participants singing and dancing late into the night. There are also films and classes on Jewish history, culture, Yiddish language, and literature, workshops for instrumentalists, singers, dancers, and visual artists of all levels, creative programs for the whole family, and so much more!
Dr. Hy Goldman

This year KlezKanada will conclude  with its  Der Groyser Kontsert - A Tribute to Theodore Bikel on Sunday evening, August 23 (7:30 p.m.) at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in NDG. The evening  will showcase four generations of the most highly acclaimed musicians on the international Jewish music scene – all paying homage to the career of masterful performer, singer, actor, raconteur and author Theodore Bikel, in support of the KlezKanada Youth Scholarship Fund.
Born in May of 1924, the legendary Bikel led a unique career spanning over seven decades. An Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner, he was perhaps best known as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, a role he performed on stage over 2,000 times. As a folksinger and storyteller he recorded over 30 albums and  captivated audiences on virtually every continent. A true Renaissance Man, he viewed his work and life in terms of survival, saying, “You must explore your roots in the past in order to pinpoint your place in the present or to be entitled to a future.”  
Theodore Bikel
“Bikel was scheduled to appear and perform at the concert and when I spoke to him in Los Angeles about a month ago he was looking forward to it,  but he was gravely ill and it was 50/50 whether he would be able to appear  in Montreal,” Dr. Goldman explained. “Well, he died a week later to our sorrow. Incidently he was a member of KlezKanada’s Board and had already performed in 2007 and 2011.”

Born and raised in Montreal, Dr. Goldman moved to New York in 1946. Drafted into the U.S. Army, he was sent to Japan and South Korea before receiving his discharge 18 months later. The GI Bill of Rights enabled him to attend university, and it was there, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, that Goldman began his flirtation with music. He organized musical events, but also a pep rally that starred Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
“I used to be a pretty good singer, but I realized that singing was not what I wanted to do. I decided to become a doctor,” Goldman recalled.
Yet the music bug never left him. In the 1980s, when Goldman was involved with Montreal’s Akiva School, arranging concerts and other fund-raisers, he brought in Boston’s Klezmer Conservatory Band. The group played a type of music with which most of the public was still relatively unfamiliar. He initiated his summer klezmer festival eight years ago.
Dr. Goldman is an Associate Professor of Paediatrics and Biology at McGill University and an Emergency Room pediatrician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. KlezKanada, though, is a 12 month obsession leading up to the actual evengt,
“KlezKanada makes Jewish music and the arts accessible to everyone,” says Dr. Goldman. “It gives people a chance to learn about Jewish history and their roots in a contemporary way, and discover who they are.” The curriculum includes world-class concerts, workshops for instrumentalists, singers, dancers and visual artists of all levels, films, literature, language and culture, and children’s and teen programs. When you come to KlezKanada you have a supermarket of activities to choose from.”
Klezmer’s roots date back hundreds of years in Eastern Europe. Itinerant musicians would travel from shtetl to shtetl playing events, Goldman said. There are Romanian, Turkish, Greek and Russian elements in klezmer, but the essential part comes from synagogue music.
 “Music is a very important part of the human condition,” Dr. Goldman says. “Ongoing research shows music’s role in the brain. I think music can heal in a way that’s difficult to determine. It provides an atmosphere where that individual is relaxed and less preoccupied with his or her ailments.
The extraordinary line up for August 23, coming together for that one-night-only, includes Grammy award-winning klezmer supergroup The Klezmatics; Montreal's own Yiddish hip-hop sensation Josh Dolgin (aka Socalled); New York's finest post-war klezmer tribute band The Tarras Band; the golden-voiced Shura Lipovsky from The Netherlands;pioneers of the post-Soviet klezmer renaissance, Efim Chorney and Suzanne Ghergus of Moldova; and – pulling it all together as MC – Yiddish author and bon vivant Michael Wex.
Tickets are $50 for the orchestra and balcony  and $36  and available at Oscar Peterson Hall Box Office or through at 1-855-790-1245. For more information go to