Media, Darling: Bill Harris

Bill Harris is the national TV critic for the Toronto Sun/Sun Media/QMI Agency. Prior to that he was the NBA columnist and Toronto Raptors beat reporter for the Toronto Sun. Before joining the Sun, he worked at three other daily newspapers. He grew up in Cowansville, Que., attended Concordia University in Montreal, and currently lives in Newmarket, Ont., with his wife LeeAnne, their three cats Winston, Darla and Serena, and their horse Dawn.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the

Oui et non. I completed the Communications Studies program at Concordia
University in Montreal, and I figured I’d end up working in TV or radio – not
on air, but doing something behind the scenes, writing, whatever. Turns out the
first place to offer me a job was a newspaper. Funny how that works. But a very
good friend of mine has a theory about “employment natural selection,” meaning,
for the most part, we all end up in jobs that are kind of right for us.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Okay, other than that, I’d say, get into it because you like it, not because
you think it’s your ticket to fame or fortune or even positive reinforcement.
The fringe benefits of being in the media are less and less every year, so make
sure you actually like your job. Otherwise, you know, plumbing school.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?, i.e.: what do
you read/listen/watch?

Every day starts with the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star and about 37 cups of coffee (over 40, I get cranky). Due to my job, I obviously watch a lot of TV. But as for things I’d be watching this season even if I weren’t a TV critic, I’d list things like Mad Men, Veep, New Girl, Cougar Town, Modern Family, Suburgatory, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Community, Revenge, The Vampire Diaries and Nurse Jackie.

Best interview you’ve ever had? Worst?

Best interview I ever had probably was with John Mayer. I’d heard he could be a little difficult, but we had a great chat.
At the end he said, “Could you please make sure to send me a link to the story
you write, because I’d really like to see how this turns out.” Worst interview?
Oh, I definitely have one, but there’s no way I’m saying who it is, just in
case I have to interview them again. (Hint: It’s a “she”.)

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Something my mom used to say: “Never attribute to malice what can be explained
by incompetence.” Of course, she never took that advice herself. But good words.

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
What am I, the answer man?

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Media-PR successes are based on relationships. So don’t lie or exaggerate.
Having the ability to talk openly and honestly with a media person will benefit
you a hundred times over, rather than going for the “quick win.”

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins
This is a hard question, not because there are so few good experiences, but
because there actually are so many. Let’s just say there was the time that
somebody did that thing.

I hate?
New housing developments mowing down every last tree in Southern Ontario. Bye
bye birds, bye bye nature.
I love?
Sitting in the sun, reading, cup of coffee.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent.

Best place on earth?
My backyard.

Dinner guest?
Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher.

The Beatles, Oasis.

Favourite app, or whatever you are downloading these days.
I have a BlackBerry … sigh … no fun for me.

Pool or ocean?
Resort bar.

Voicemail or email?
Here’s your answer: My office phone number rings somewhere in the building at
the Toronto Sun. I have no idea where. The last time it rang, I think some mice
tried to answer it.

Fave Five: The Best Sitcoms You’ve (likely) Never Seen

While many people in our industry like to claim that they’re
“too busy to watch TV”, we somehow manage to fit in the time. From inter-office
debates over whether Vampire Diaries
is good or bad to major Dexter spoiler
alerts (earmuffs!), we love all TV. And even though we’re dedicated
to the hour-long, all-consuming series like Mad
and Game of Thrones, there’s
nothing like a quick, witty sitcom to unwind with at the end of the day. We’re
not talking about 30 Rock or Modern Family, either – too obvious!
Here, presented in random order, are five funny sitcoms you have probably never
seen – but should:

Cougar Town

Wait! Don’t close your browser. We know this
is the show title people love to hate, which is why the writers (like
Bill Lawrence of Scrubs fame) like to insert
witty quips
about how much they, too, hate the show title into the opening
sequence every week. Crappy name aside,
is a great show. Jules (Courtney Cox) and her group of best-buds – including ex-husband Bobby, BFF
Ellie, Ellie’s lapdog husband Andy, employee Laurie (Busy
Phillips), fiancé Grayson and son Travis
drink a LOT of wine, play cool games (Penny Can), avoid creepy neighbour
Tom and treat each other inappropriately. What’s not to love?

Watch episodes here
Happy Endings

While many sitcoms have been touted as “the
new Friends”, we think Happy Endings comes closest to the
chemistry the original six had. Each character is easily boxed up: Alex, the dumb
blonde (played by Elisha Cuthbert), Jane, the control freak, Brad, the metrosexual
(played by Damon Wayans, Jr.), Dave, the douchey bachelor, Max, the macho gay
guy and Penny, everyone’s BFF. And yet, somehow, it just works. Having trouble
getting into it? Go back to Season One and watch as many as you can in a row.
Watch episodes here

New Girl

There’s only so much Zooey Deschanel
quirkiness we can take. Luckily, the stellar cast of
New Girl does a great job
of buffering the cute every week. Newly dumped, Jess moves into a loft with
three guys who have been friends since childhood. They manage to tolerate her
presence and eventually take her under their wing as one of the guys. The show wouldn’t be nearly as funny without Schmidt, the white collar, formerly overweight high-strung womanizer and Winston, a former basketball player turned Nanny
(originally played by Damon Wayans, Jr. in the pilot!). 

Watch episodes here

 Parks and Recreation

Clearly people are watching Parks and Rec, it’s already into its
fourth season and boasts some major star power – Amy Poehler, Rob Lowe, Aziz
Ansari, to name a few. The show strikes a great balance between the characters; our personal favourite has to be
complete and utter disdain for the government that employs him.
Still, not a lot of the people we know are on top of this hilarious show. Get
on this!
Watch episodes here

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23

We know this show is only two episodes in
but we’re already hooked. Krysten Ritter plays the perfect mean girl to goody-two-shoes
character June. Add in James Van Der Beek playing a hyper-version of himself (putting
on plaid to get girls, hating James Franco) and we think this show has the
potential to be great.
Watch episodes here

Rave: Best New Shows for Fall 2011

Whether it’s hilarious Twitter memes, a good book or an exciting new film, we love to be entertained on the fourth floor. And with August on its way out and cooler weather on its way in, we’re looking for silver linings to this change in seasons (other than fall fashion, we love that). What better silver lining could there be than the onslaught of new television shows? Here’s a breakdown of some of the hot new programming we’re looking forward to this fall.

Is anyone else excited about Pan Am? Because we are. Pan Am looks like it’s going to be full of sassy charm set against a mod ‘60’s backdrop. Starring Christina Ricci and Kelli Garner, the show profiles the exciting lives of stewardesses working for the iconic airline during its heyday. The cute royal blue uniforms and plot lines full of jet-setting travel and torrid relationships with handsome pilots have us thrilled for this show’s potential. We think it’s going to be a hit.

Pan Am premieres Sunday, September 25 at 10 p.m. on CTV.

On the other side of the sophistication spectrum lies 2 Broke Girls, a raunchy, odd couple comedy from the producers of Sex and the City. The show explores the lives of two girls trying to make it as waitresses in big, bad Manhattan. Max (Kat Dennings) has been a waitress her entire adult life and Caroline (Beth Behrs) is a former socialite whose billionaire father has just disgraced the family and lost all their money. The trailer had us laughing out loud, so despite some of the naysayers out there, we think this one will be a fun spot of entertainment on a Monday night.

2 Broke Girls premieres Monday, September 19 at 9:30 p.m. on CBS (directly following the highly anticipated season premiere of Two and a Half Men, sans Charlie).

Once Upon a Time stars the gorgeous Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Joshua Dallas and Irish hottie Jamie Dornan. The show crosses between current times and a parallel fairy tale world, so we’re expecting lots of pretty costumes and intricate set designs, allowing us to vicariously live out our childhood Disney princess dreams. The fourth floor is high enough to be a castle tower, right?

Once Upon a Time premieres Sunday, October 23 at 7 p.m. on CTV and 8 p.m. on ABC.

A mysterious woman (Canada’s own Emily Van Camp) comes to town to seek revenge and settle scores with the people who destroyed her family years earlier. Based on Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo, this modernized version is set in the Hamptons. Bring on the bling amongst the revenge plots.

We’re excited for 1) the drama, 2) the beautiful people (Van Camp, Madeleine Stowe, Ashley Madekwe, Joshua Bowman), 3) the gorgeous setting, and 4) did we mention the drama?

Revenge premieres on Wednesday, September 21 at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Being publicity goddesses, we obviously love what we do and are thrilled to see the exciting world of PR highlighted in Free Agents, an American remake of a British series. While the Brits’ version was based at a talent agency, the American version is focused on two executives at a PR agency.  

The show stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as coworkers, on the rebound from a divorce and a dead fiancée respectively, have a one night stand (naughty, naughty!) and try to navigate their professional and personal lives in the aftermath. We’re hopeful Free Agents gets the PR world right and that it entertains us as much as this business does.

Free Agents premieres Wednesday, September 14 at 10:30 p.m. on NBC (before moving September 21 to its regular time slot of 8:30 p.m.).

P.S. We love that there are multiple new shows premiering this fall about PR. Look for Scandal as well, about a former government media relations consultant running a crisis management agency for Washington’s elite and powerful.

Reuniting The O.C. series creator Josh Schwartz and everyone’s favourite O.C. starlet Rachel Bilson, Hart of Dixie stars Bilson as a young doctor forced to take a job in remote Alabama when there are no placements available in New York City. The show also stars Jaime King, Scott Porter, Cress Williams and Wilson Bethel as residents of Bluebell.

Hart of Dixie premieres Monday, September 26 at 9 p.m. on The CW. Yeah, we watch shows on The CW. Don’t pretend you don’t. 

The Right Hand
You’ve gotta check this one out, if simply for the curiosity factor. If you’ve ever wanted a first-hand look inside an
adult film company, here comes your chance with The Right Hand. This new reality series (co-created and directed by Matt Austin-Sadowski, one of our team on the Fourth Floor) is focused on Immoral Productions, its president Porno Dan (Dan Leal), and a fresh-out-of-college production assistant from small town Ontario. Described as “a train wreck in the middle of a circus” we can’t wait to watch. It’s gonna be fun, eye-opening and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The Right Hand premieres Friday, October 7 at 11:30 p.m. on TMN.

Looks like we have some TV to watch this fall. You’ll find us in front of the small screen in between parties and dinners come the end of September.

We’re Not Just Pretty: Carmite Cohen

Carmite Cohen knew from a young age that she’d somehow do something in the entertainment industry, because she was always filled with useless pop culture trivia and seemed to know everything about movies and TV shows.
She grew up in Israel, and spent her childhood in various countries, including Iran, Haiti, Rwanda, Niger and finally, Canada. Movies and TV shows were always a fascination, no matter what language they were delivered in.
After graduating from The University of Western Ontario with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Film Studies, Cohen moved to Toronto and completed the Seneca/York joint program for Radio and Television Production. 
Working (for free!) on commercials, TV and film productions in order to gain experience, she was hired at Alliance Films in 1997 as a production assistant. By 1998, she moved to Licensing and Merchandising, and secured and developed book, toy, apparel and video game deals.  
In 2001, Cohen transitioned to the Home Entertainment department as director of Marketing & Promotions (DVDs were just entering the market – exciting!). She was promoted to vice-president of Marketing, Publicity and Promotions of Home Entertainment in 2005, then joined the Theatrical Publicity and Promotions department as vice-president.
Some of her favourite things: hanging with family and her two awesome kids, travelling, good friends, magazines, The Biggest Loser, a good burger, shoes, New York, and going to the movies, of course!

Alliance Films
How long have you been in your current position?  
Just shy of four years.

How does your company leverage PR?
Alliance has a very diverse slate of films, from commercial fare to smaller art films, so we approach each one as if it’s a product launch and assess its needs. The question we always ask is, “how do we start the chatter and generate as much awareness pre-release as possible?”

Depending on the film, we try to generate opportunities for awareness with tastemaker and word-of-mouth screenings, stunting events, grassroots efforts and promotions, on-campus programs, strategic third party partnerships, and now, more than ever, engaging with our audience through various social media opportunities.

Access to talent and content is the easy way for us to generate press for our films; building a PR campaign that will get everyone’s attention (including media) is always the challenge. But, that’s what makes it fun and if we’ve done our job well, the proof will be in the ticket sales on opening weekend.


What qualities are most important to you when hiring a PR team member?  
Industry experience is a given, but as important: confidence, passion for what you do, the ability to think on your feet, a great personality and a sense of humour. Because, lets face it, when you’re wrangling talent at 3 a.m. on day five of the Toronto International Film Festival, if you can’t laugh about it on some level, you’re in the wrong business.

Who is your mentor or professional in the industry you admire?
I’ve been fortunate throughout my career, having worked in various parts of the film business, to have met some incredibly talented and creative people – marketers, publicists, filmmakers and studio execs. I’ve learned something from all of them. I’ve learned to really listen, be a sponge, and absorb as much of their expertise and advice as I can, and hopefully use it to benefit my own personal and professional growth.

What are your feelings about how PR has been positioned in the media in more recent years, on popular TV shows? 
It’s fun to watch, but I think it’s a little misleading because most times, the job is glamorized and perceived to be one big party after the next. You never really see the grunt work it takes to put together that event. PR has many perks, but the reality of it is that most of the time it’s highly stressful and not glamorous, it’s hard work and long hours, but if you’re committed, you’ll succeed.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for PR pros, both junior and senior? 
No matter what the situation, always be professional and remember that it’s not personal, it’s business and “crazy and unreasonable” come with the territory.

What do you love most about your job? 
I love that I get to go to work everyday and my job is to promote movies! I still get giddy with excitement when I see a new trailer for a film that I’ll be working on. After all this time, it’s still fun, I’m still learning something every day, and I get to do it with a great group of people.

A little more from the fourth floor (a list of your favourite things):
Website: Deadline Hollywood Daily, Huffington Post, InStyle, and for my trashy gossip fix, Perez.
Designer: Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney.
Store: Want, Kitsch Boutique, Zara and anywhere that sells shoes.
Book: They Can Kill You But They Can’t Eat You by Dawn Steel (first woman to run a major U.S. movie studio), Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Snack: Apples with loads of almond butter.
Season: Summer.
Sexy: The look and style of the women of Mad Men.
Inspiration: New York City.
Drink: A really nice Malbec.
Motto in two words: It’s all about convenience (that’s four, I know!).
Idea of perfect happiness: Glass of wine, stack of magazines and a quiet house (even if it’s just for a little while).
Indulgence: Boots.
Celebrity crush: Bradley Cooper.

Favourite tweeter to follow: Denis Leary, Eat This Not That, Dr. Oz, Skinny Jeans, Funny or Die, OMG Facts.