Conrad Black puts the z-z-z in Zoomer

Zoomers Denise Donlon and Conrad Black

I wasn’t feeling the zoom heading into Monday’s premiere of The Zoomer, the new talk show on the former V channel featuring one-time Press Baron/convicted felon Conrad Black.
Executive produced by former City-TV guru Moses Znaimer, The Zoomer is billed as “a talk show spotlighting the baby boomers point of view on world events.” That pretty much sounded like every panel show on CNN, CBC News Network and every other news outlet. More codgers sitting around wining about Miley Cyrus’ ass. Pass the remote.
Black is out to restore his image after some time in the slammer. Big mistake, I say. He should play this up, it would make him look badass. Call the show Convictions, because Black has ’em.
His old image is not so hug-able. Many Canadians see him as that guy who took a British peerage over his Canadian passport. I’m told he can be charming and impressive in person, but on TV he sometimes comes off  as a pompous, self-serving gasbag. This guy makes Donald Trump look like a humble landlord.
Nonetheless, I was surprised by how much I warmed to the first episode. I appreciated the simple, well-lit set (although the sound was tinny and uneven). The theme music, which sounded like those old Christopher Reeves Superman movies, was cool. Little touches like using those fabulous old Philco Predictas as station break info screens was a nice touch. The producers didn’t try to show off or gimmick things up, sticking rather to a format that dates back to This Hour Has Seven Days.
A big plus was Denise Donlon as defacto host. Still live-TV smooth after years as a corporate player, the former MuchMusic veteran neatly steered His Lordship and others back to the topic at hand and kept everybody at ease and in focus.
Still, parts of the show seemed a little meta in this age of The Colbert Report. There was an expert on human aging on the panel, for example, whose name is Fossell. You have to admit that’s funny.
Panelists were asked if they’d like to live to be 120 (some experts are predicting that could soon be possible). Two very elderly ladies were asked about this and said hell no, kill me now. That was a nice sharp slap of reality.
I watched and thought this is a show my mother, who is well into her eighties, would get a kick out of–except she could never find the Zoomer channel with her remote, not even if Znaimer held it for her and spotted her the first hundred channels.

Black welcomed his old friend Brian Mulroney onto the show

Black seemed more like a guest than a regular on the panel. “Most people are afraid of dying,” he huffed, bringing the mood sharply down at one point. He kind of hung around like Marley’s ghost. Quoting from Jonathan Swift didn’t change that impression.

The producers wisely included Ronnie Hawkins at the table, always TV gold. The Hawk didn’t disappoint, spitting out his charm-dog southern-isms (“It was gone like Juu-lye snow”) as if he’d just moved to Canada instead of 57 years ago.
Then Ronnie had to leave because he had a gig. Whaaa?? That boy is busier than a dog licking two pots.
Molly Johnson stepped in and warbled a blues-y ballad. 
Then back to more table talk. I learned that The Queen still makes personal phone calls to subjects on their 100th birthday. Black noted she now has to dial up seven thousand people a year. Back when she started in the early ’50s it was 237 or something–Black had the exact number. She’ll have to call herself in 13 years, he quipped. We are amused.
Then things shifted to a taped bit between Black and special guest Brian Mulroney. It was a bit like when Letterman has Bill Cosby on–these boys go way back. They probably came in on the same Airbus.
The fun part of this segment was seeing two tough guys who are old enough to say what they want and just let it rip. Mulroney was charming and candid as he gleefully stabbed Harper in the nuts again and again. Black set him up like Bud Abbott in his prime.
They looked like the old coots in the balcony from The Muppet Show but they still have that “whip any man in the house” fire in their bellies. They tore apart Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values the way nobody else dares. Mulroney’s blue peepers lit up as he declared Justin Trudeau to be “no Stephane Dion”–no pushover for Harper. He said Trudeau was no Harper, either, which he felt was the kid’s biggest asset.
It kind of made me nostalgic for when politicians said things.
The problem is Black can’t have Mulroney on every week. Next week is Bob Rae but in a month or so he’ll be down to Mel Lastman.
Black concluded the interview by suggesting viewers could watch more of his exchange with Mulroney on-line–which probably made dozens of pacemakers explode.
Black concluded the first episode with an editorial
Next up was an editorial moment with Black. He sat in some sort of library on a big, overstuffed couch. It was all very mayor Tommy Shanks.
Black wheezed on about how the U.S.”is not a society of just laws.” I half expected Garth Drabinsky to walk on like Bobby Bittman and blurt, “right on!”
Hey, it’s Black’s soap box, but somebody should tell the guy to sit up straight and tuck in his suit jacket. He looked like an unmade bed or like he was melting. 
Black made some good points about how there are six to 12 times as many people in prisons in the U.S., per capita, than in Britain or Canada. Fine, but if you’re going to piss all over the U.S. justice system, don’t look like you just woke up.
The good news was that this segment was buried at the end.
As the credits were rolling, a guy in a white zoot suit walked over and started chatting with Black. If it was Znaimer, he was channeling those old “Spy vs. Spy” comics in Mad Magazine.
This was hilarious and should be played up way more on the show.
Kudos to Znaimer for putting old people on television. It’s a smart idea. The audience is generally old; the average age of two of CBS’s biggest hits, The Big Bang Theory and NCIS is 50 and 60! These are the most-watched TV shows in Canada.
And therein lies Black and Znaimer’s biggest challenge. Boomers are already watching zoomer TV channels–they just know them as CBC, CTV, CBS, NBC, Global, CNN, PBS and 500 other call letters. 
Then again, if people really are going to live to be 120, maybe Moses is just getting a head start.

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