Could a late-night talk show boost CBC? by Bill Brioux

Apr 25, 2014

Risky, but where else to showcase Canadian talent?

Source: Regina Leader-Post 

The CBC is in crisis. Funding has been slashed, hockey revenues will soon be lost and hundreds of employees face elimination.

Yet the public broadcaster, like any network, still needs content. Could a nightly talk show be one way out of the wilderness?

“Are you out of your mind?” asks the one man who should know: Mike Bullard. The 56-year-old Toronto-native spent six years in late night in Canada as host of CTV’s Open Mike with Mike Bullard. A brief fling in late night with Global did not go as well, with Bullard being counter-programmed into oblivion with CTV’s acquisition of a red hot U.S. import: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

“You’d have to be nuts for suggesting even another American (late-night talk show) right now,” says Bullard, who, for the past four years, has hosted the noon hour radio show Beyond the Mic on Toronto’s NewsTalk 1010.

Even an avid late-night follower like Bullard says he can’t keep up with all that is offered now in the crowded time slot. He always records David Letterman, leaving room on his machine for either Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel. Conan O’Brien, he notes, “has dropped completely off the radar.”

Still, with the cancellation of CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, there will be no national TV talk show where Canadian talent can go to promote their films and TV shows. Without a talk show — aside from the supper hour entertainment magazines — there’s no platform on which to build a Canadian star system. Stars from the current boom in Canadian television — shows such as Orphan Black, Motive, Remedy, Murdoch Mysteries, MasterChef Canada, Rookie Blue, Republic of Doyle and many others — could fill any talk-show couch. U.S. stars shooting TV shows in Canada — currently Billy Bob Thornton (FX’s Fargo, shot in Calgary) and Laurence Fishburne (NBC’s Hannibal, shot in Mississauga) could also add star power.

The show killer, Bullard says, is the inevitable comparisons to the U.S. talk shows. With their bigger budgets and rooms full of Harvard grads as writers, it is simply impossible to compete. Bullard’s way around that — were he asked to try again — would be to shake up the format to look less like a Tonight Show clone, suggesting he’d be up for a half-hour interview series.

Another way around the U.S. comparisons, suggests two other Toronto radio personalities — “Humble” Howard Glassman and Fred Patterson from SiriusXM and — is to model the Canadian effort on such U.K. hits as The Graham Norton Show.

“He didn’t try to do the Letterman/Carson/Leno format,” says Norton fan Glassman. “That’s the model we should look to in Canada.”

Norton’s show is fun, laid back and informal. There’s a party atmosphere as big name guests such as Matt Damon, Lady Gaga and Donnie Wahlberg appear to be enjoying mixed drinks during the broadcasts.

Switch beer for Irish whiskey and a Canadian talk-show format could be born.

English CBC can look even closer to home for inspiration: Tout le monde en parle has been a top-rated talk show on Radio-Canada since 2004. The series has topicality (guesting this week: Ginette Reno after her Canadiens’ anthem triumph) and informality. L’union fait la force, a long-running game show hosted by Patrice L’Ecuyer, also has that relaxed and fun Graham Norton vibe.

All three of those shows air new episodes once a week, not nightly, which may be a more affordable option for CBC. The public broadcaster does have one great advantage on its nightly schedule, however: an opportunity to showcase a talk show at 11 p.m. each night opposite newscasts.

The right host, of course, is key. There are plenty of funny Canadians, but hosting a talk show takes a unique skill set. Russell Peters would kill at the monologue but may not be much of an interviewer. For CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi, it could be the other way around. Sketch comedians such as Mark Critch and Shaun Majumder, as well as Spun Out star Dave Foley, could also have what it takes, as could CBC comedy stars Ron James and Gerry Dee. Martin Short can do anything but might not welcome the pay cut.

Here are 10 other suggestions to host a Canadian talk show:

Rick Mercer: an obvious choice and a proven draw who might not want to give up what he already sees as the best job in television. Mercer would have plenty to offer as an interviewer and could bring a Graham Norton chumminess to the hour.

Samantha Bee: The Toronto native is ready for her own showcase after a decade contributing to The Daily Show. Could CBC afford her?

Steve Patterson: The Richmond Hill, Ont.-native hosts The Debaters on CBC radio (and briefly on TV) and has plenty of standup cred from touring and Just for Laughs.

Darrin Rose: Rose has hosted Match Game for a couple of seasons on Comedy, can handle a monologue and is quick on his feet.

Mark Little: A fresh face making an impression weekly on Mr. D, Little has plenty of comedy cred from Yuk Yuk’s appearances as well as sketches on Funny or Die.

The Trailer Park Boys: it would have to be really late at night, with a coarse language warning, but Ricky, Julian and Bubbles would be like no other talk-show hosts. If not CBC, a chance for some original Can-Con at their new home on Netflix?

Jay Baruchel: The Goon star’s commitment to Canada has already had an impact in film. As a talk-show host, he’d help bring expats such as Seth Rogen and Michael Cera to the couch. But can he do a monologue?

Brent Butt: the star of Corner Gas — who once hosted the Junos — has an easygoing, relatable comedy style that would play well in late night.

Ed the Sock: Don’t discount the sock. He has a longer track record in late night than anyone else on this list mainly at MuchMusic and City. Plus man-behind-the-sock, Steven Kerzner, can crank out content on even a CBC dime.

Tom Green: He once guest-hosted Late Show with David Letterman and more recently has hosted Internet talk shows from his living room — a format even CBC could afford.

© Regina Leader-Post