Sex toys for seniors. Donald Trump. A bombastic former felon possessed of a British peerage.
All of this may be storming onto Canadian TVs by springtime, when a new weekly show for older viewers co-hosted by the former media mogul Conrad Black is slated to begin airing on the “multi-faith, multicultural” VisionTV channel. “The Zoomer – Television For Boomers With Zip” is an hour-long chat show to be produced by Moses Znaimer, the former head of Citytv.
Shot before a live studio audience with some prerecorded segments, the show features Lord Black and co-host Denise Donlon at a round table laden with newspapers, books, and a decanter of wine, discussing current affairs with three other guests.
In a so-called "sizzle reel" that is being used to shop the show to international programmers, Lord Black gleefully shares his opinions on the corrosive effect of Hollywood, CIA bumbling in Iran, and bias against the elderly. And while he praises the United States for championing democracy and free economic markets, he also mounts one of his favourite hobby horses, savaging that country’s legal profession. (He returned to Canada last May after serving 37 months in the U.S. prison system on convictions of fraud and obstruction of justice.)
“The United States, which calls itself the land of the free, has 6 to 12 times as many incarcerated people, per capita, as other advanced democratic countries,” he says in one segment of “Black Talks!,” a signature first-person essay delivered straight to camera, apparently from the comfort of his ornate home library.
“The legal profession is a cartel that legislates endless herniating masses of new laws and regulations and accounts for a scandalous 10 per cent of GDP: $1.6-trillion annually. Prosecutors enjoy an absolute immunity, even when they are caught willfully withholding exculpatory evidence. And there are a staggering 48-million Americans with a criminal record – none of whom are allowed in this country. The U.S. is not now a society of just laws, and Canada should not have an extradition treaty with it.”
Both Ms. Donlon and Lord Black also conduct other interviews with high-profile guests. In the pilot episode, Ms. Donlon, a former broadcast and music industry executive, hears about the sex lives of seniors from Suzanne Boyd, the editor of Zoomer magazine. Later, Lord Black and celebrity developer Donald Trump, dialed in via Skype, share disdain for the mounting U.S. national debt.
The famously voluble Lord Black may strike some viewers as an unlikely talk show host. In one clip, he unwinds a characteristically long-winded question about the national fiscal implications of an aging population – taking 36 seconds to do so, and dropping in the term “struldbrugs,” from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, for good measure.
But he also pokes fun at his public persona, with remote scenes shot outside of the studio. In one, as he boards a Toronto streetcar with Ms. Donlon, she shows him the fare box and says: “The money goes here – no tipping!” Looking a tad bewildered, Lord Black surveys the inside of the vehicle and asks the driver, “Where’s the business class?”
In another scene, Ms. Donlon, practising yoga, whispers to Lord Black: “You might want to loosen your tie.” The camera then pulls back to show him in a suit, but barefoot, with his legs crossed in a basic yoga position, looking bemused as an unseen instructor coos soothingly about a “third eye.”
The show is the brainchild of Mr. Znaimer, the majority owner of ZoomerMedia, which has interests in television, print, radio, and Internet properties serving audiences 45-years-old and up. The company is currently waging a public relations campaign to ensure its flagship VisionTV retains the special status of being a channel that every cable, satellite, and IPTV provider must carry on its basic lineup. Zoomer has suggested the channel itself may face “Doomsday” if it loses the so-called mandatory carriage designation and the guaranteed subscriber revenue that comes along with it.
The Canadian broadcast regulator will hold hearings into the matter in April.