Source : Playback Magazine
CBC and CanWest are banking that high drama and sitcoms will help them catch up to first-place CTV in the coming season, and have revealed fall schedules heavy on scripted laughs, sci-fi and, in the case of the Ceeb, a parade of Canadiana specials and MOWs.
All three nets unveiled - to varying degrees - their plans for 2005/06 earlier this month, starting with CBC's very modest press conference on June 2, where newly installed boss Richard Stursberg gave an oddly familiar talk about audiences.
"There are big changes coming at CBC TV," he said, pointing to the new, drama-heavy schedule. "It is absolutely important for us to build both relevance and revenue, and that means building audiences."
Which sounds something like the controversial plan he oversaw at his last job, as head of Telefilm Canada, to improve the box office of English-Canadian movies. Stursberg says he wants to double the Canadian content on CBC over the next three years, adding more movies, minis, dramas and comedies to primetime.
"It's no secret I'm a very big believer in audiences," he told Playback. "And I think that making things that entertain Canadians is absolutely fundamental to everything we do."
It is also a reversal of the party line often heard from CBC and programming czar Slawko Klymkiw - that ratings take a backseat to serving as a public broadcaster. Klymkiw has since changed his tune, remarking during a walk-through of the coming season that "a public broadcaster is legitimated by its use."
To that end, the Ceeb will make four major changes in the coming season: putting more "high impact" drama in primetime, reworking its news, boosting its kids and sports programming, and increasing the net's regional presence in certain markets.
The half-local, half-national Canada Now format will be dropped in St John's, Edmonton and Montreal, replaced with hour-long local news. Last year's reality experiment/hockey replacement Making the Cut has been benched and performing arts mainstay Opening Night is down to half a season. The sitcom Ciao Bella, part of last season's attempt to build the early primetime slots, is also gone.
Sunday and Monday nights are now dedicated to a parade of drama specials, such as the long-awaited Trudeau prequel from Big Motion Pictures and the Shania Twain MOW by Barna-Alper Productions. Also due this year are Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story, the six-hour mini about Rene Levesque and the four-hour war drama Il Duce Canadese, a leftover from 2004. CBC says it will release a more detailed schedule in September.
"Great shows effectively scheduled are the key to gaining larger audiences for Canadian programming. That's our job," says Stursberg.
But media buyer Kim Dougherty of OMD Canada isn't convinced it will work. "I think their odds are about the same as they are every year," she says. "I don't think anything dramatic is going to change when you look at the other schedules the networks have presented. I don't think it's possible for them to grab any more ratings."
CBC is dressing its schedule in an effort to curb the drama crisis, which may give Stursberg leverage in his bid to boost the net's share of the Canadian Television Fund. He wants it raised to 50% from about 40%.
Comic Rick Mercer has given up his Monday spot, which last season put him up against CTV's Corner Gas, and will instead crack wise about current events on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. It is the third time his show has moved in three years. The renamed Rick Mercer Reports will now lead into a new run of hockey mockumentary The Tournament and the sort-of new Da Vinci's City Hall, again from Barna-Alper and Chris Haddock.
The Tournament shares its timeslot with What It's Like Being Alone, another holdover from last fall's schedule, by animation whiz Brad Peyton. Da Vinci's, meanwhile, will have to prove itself against CTV's simulcast of Lost, one of the biggest breakouts of '04/05.
CBC's Fridays are still heavy on comedies such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Air Farce, and Hockey Night in Canada is penciled in for Saturdays, assuming the lockout ends.
"I talked to [NHL commissioner Gary] Bettman last week and they're very, very focused on getting a deal done, and sooner rather than later. I'm very hopeful we'll get something in place very quickly," says Stursberg. If not, CBC will stick with Movie Night in Canada.
Like CBC, Global has its work cut out for it, as its shows have been all but completely pushed out of the top 20 by CTV, which last year bolstered its already strong position with drama smashes such as Lost and Desperate Housewives.
Global and its CH sidekick hope the new wave of audience demand for scripted programming will continue this year, and have put much of their '05/06 money into dramas and sitcoms.
"The pendulum has swung back to the importance of the writing," says VP of programming Adam Ivers.
Parent company CanWest MediaWorks bought 11 dramas and nine comedies at the L.A. screenings in May, and had previously picked up the Canadian-made hours ReGenesis, from Shaftesbury Films, and the teen-aimed (read: Degrassi rival) Falcon Beach, by Original Pictures and Insight Productions.
ReGenesis will air Mondays at 10 p.m. following what is expected to be the strong lead of Prison Break, simulcast with Fox. It will play opposite CBC's drama block and CTV's simulcast of CSI: Miami. ReGen - about investigations into science gone wrong - bears a close resemblance to the CSIs.
"It's a good lead-in but I don't know," says Dougherty, skeptical about the outbreak of science and sci-fi shows. "I don't think it's going to come down to personal preference for the show. I think it's going to come down to what are the options on Monday night."
She also thinks CanWest was wise to buy sitcoms. "Everybody says comedy or sitcom is a dying genre and I truly don't believe that. Had viewers in the past been presented with a decent sitcom we would have watched it."
CHUM Television may have scooped the hottest comedy of the year - Chris Rock 's Everybody Hates Chris - but Global has some contenders too, most notably My Name Is Earl with Jason Lee.
Falcon Beach is still shooting and will join the schedule, somewhere, later in the season. The network has also lured home-remaker Debbie Travis away from HGTV and into a new 10 x 60 reno series, Debbie's House, airing sometime in the spring. (Travis, however, still has one season of her Facelift yet to air on HGTV, and is still attached to its real estate show Buy Me.)
The Jane Show, also from Shaftesbury, hit a roadblock when it was denied CTF cash earlier this year, but is still in the works for '05/06, according to a CanWest spokesperson. The oddball sitcom, starring Teresa Pavlinek, is looking for alternate funding.
Global has cancelled its econo-drama Train 48, but is keeping its most reliable reality shows, including the next Survivor, The Apprentice and its spin-off with Martha Stewart.
"Our challenge right now is to continue to rebuild the CanWest stations to a level they were at not too long ago," says Ivers. The net has been a distant second since losing several top U.S. shows, including Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond. "What you see in the summer is some deviation, some lighter fare, some original content that will bridge the time from late May to early September, when viewing habits tend to change."
Global and the CHs also have Head Cases and Fathom, thought to be promising, and returning hits such as House, Las Vegas and the underwatched but much-loved Arrested Development, which moves from Sunday to Mondays at 8 p.m.
Ivers is optimistic that Global, which had two of the top 20 shows in '04/05, will make gains in the coming season. "I don't want to start putting numbers on it, but I can tell you we'll be in a better position" this time next year, he says.
Dougherty thinks the net could claim four or five of the top 20. "They've got some solid shows, no question."
CTV also spent a lot of money in L.A. and in Canada, but the net is keeping almost all of its new product on the shelf for now. Only five new titles are on the fall schedule, starting with the crime yarn Close to Home (Tuesdays at 8 p.m.), the sci-fi Invasion (Wednesdays at 8 p.m.), the supernatural Ghost Whisperer, the fertility clinic drama Inconceivable (Fridays at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.) and the sitcom Twins (Sundays at 5 p.m.). The Geena Davis starrer Commander-in-Chief will wait for a spot along with the horror The Night Stalker, Criminal Minds, The Evidence and many others.
Three new Canuck shows will also have to wait their turn. The soapy ski-themed Whistler, meant to replace The Eleventh Hour as CTV's prestige drama, is still looking for funding after losing its bid at CTF. The new sitcoms Alice, I Think from Slanted Wheel and Omni Productions and Jeff Ltd., with former Eleventh Hour star Jeff Seymour as a lovelorn marketing exec, are also waiting as midseasons alongside new runs of Instant Star, Comedy Now! and Comedy Inc.
For the fall, Corner Gas and Degrassi: The Next Generation stay put on Mondays, where they will square off against Global's Arrested Development, CH's Fathom and CBC's new drama block. Toronto-shot Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye moves from Saturday primetime to 4 p.m.
"A successful broadcast schedule wins when Canadian programs and their stars stand shoulder to shoulder with American hits," says president of programming Suzanne Boyce.
CTV also has a pile of MOWs due this year, including biopics of Conrad Black, CFLer Terry Evanshen (see story, p. 14) and war correspondent Clark Todd.
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