‘Republic of Doyle’ to end; CBC adds a western, WWII spy series by Laura Kane

May 30, 2014

Source: Waterloo Record

TORONTO — CBC's Republic of Doyle is set to wrap after its upcoming sixth season, but creator and star Allan Hawco says the end of the show had nothing to do with budget cuts at the struggling public broadcaster.

Hawco said he and producers made the decision halfway through filming the fifth season because they were "tapped out creatively."

"We realized among ourselves that we had reached our conclusion," said the Newfoundland-born actor. "We felt if we were lucky enough to get an order for Season 6, let's go out before someone else asks us to or our audience becomes fatigued."

The CBC announced its 2014-15 schedule at a flashy presentation Thursday morning, in which it relied on old favourites such as Murdoch Mysteries and Dragons' Den, while adding 12 new shows including a female-driven western and a Second World War spy drama.

Executive vice-president Heather Conway said in an opening speech that the fall lineup reflects a "change of direction" at the CBC, which is reeling from a $115-million budget cut and the loss of Hockey Night in Canada to Rogers Media.

"I am very optimistic about where we're headed," she said. "I know that in an instant-everything world, asking for your patience is probably unrealistic, but your support as we take a few risks and try some new things is very greatly appreciated."

Among the CBC's new offerings is Camp X, from the creators of Flashpoint, about covert agents training on the shores of Lake Ontario. Inspired by true stories, it's set to air next winter.

In the fall, viewers can expect Strange Empire, set in 1869 along the Alberta-Montana border. Featuring female heroes — most of the men are mysteriously gone — it's from Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik, the showrunner behind Durham County.

Also announced was the animated series Pirate's Passage, starring, produced and co-written by Donald Sutherland, and the miniseries The Book of Negroes, based on Lawrence Hill's award-winning novel.

The schedule will also feature Schitt's Creek, a new half-hour comedy co-created and starring SCTV alum Eugene Levy and his son, Daniel Levy, as well as comedian Catherine O'Hara.

Doyle, starring Hawco as charming Det. Jake Doyle in St. John's, will conclude after a 10-episode season. The show's ratings slipped last season after a move to Sunday nights, but it remained a strong draw for CBC.

The show garnered an especially strong following in Newfoundland. Hawco smiled as he recalled how, when he boarded his flight from the province's capital this week, a flight attendant gently demanded he drop his bag and give her a hug.

"I'm kind of a little bit emotional talking about it," said Hawco. "I've had nine times where I've wanted to take it back today, but I still believe it's the right way to go."

Hawco said it had become more difficult to scrape together financing in recent years, but not because of the CBC. The CBC's contribution, while essential, was only one of "10 or 11" funding sources for the show. He didn't rule out the possibility of a feature film in the future.

Sally Catto, executive director of commissioned and scripted programming, said while budget cuts have had numerous impacts at the CBC, they played no part in the decision to end Doyle.

"It's kind of a situation where you want to leave the party at midnight, while you're still on a high, and not be there at two in the morning when it's over — not that it was headed that way any time soon," she said.

Catto said the CBC is "definitely not playing it safe," pointing to shows such as Camp X, Strange Empire and Schitt's Creek as examples of edgy, Canadian-driven series that wouldn't make it onto a private broadcaster.

"I would argue it's the perfect time to take risks. When you're under this high pressure, sometimes the best creativity comes out of it. This is our opportunity to really reset. We don't have hockey anymore. We have to think differently in terms of financing and in terms of partnering," she said.

Cara Gee, a star of Strange Empire, said the "groundbreaking" show about women fighting to survive on the frontier is a bold choice for the public broadcaster.

"It's a really interesting direction for the CBC to take a chance with a show like this because it's unlike anything else that's on TV right now, and it's so dark," she said.

International shows bound for the public broadcaster include Australia's Secrets and Lies and the BBC's The Honourable Woman, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Hit shows including Murdoch Mysteries, Heartland, The Rick Mercer Report and 22 Minutes are set to return. Vancouver restaurateur Vikram Vij and Bay Street executive Michael Wekerle will join the new season of Dragons' Den.

Canada's Smartest Person, a game show testing Canadians' intelligence in unusual ways, will air Sunday nights, hosted by Jessi Cruickshank and CBC Radio One's Jeff Douglas.

Comedian Jonny Harris will adventure through small-town Canada in Of All Places, putting on original standup comedy routines for locals based on what he learns about the town.

CBC announced in April it would cut some 657 jobs over two years, blaming a budget shortfall on poor TV ratings, a softened advertising market and stiff competition from private rival networks.

It lost the rights to Hockey Night in Canada in November to Rogers Media, which paid a whopping $5.2 billion for a 12-year deal.

On CBC Radio One, the lone change was to cut down Michael Enright's The Sunday Edition from three hours to two, to create a new time slot for western-based The 180 with host Jim Brown.

Thursday's presentation emphasized CBC's digital offerings, including a new comedy website called Punchline, featuring original videos and Buzzfeed-style lists such as 8 Great Excuses Not to Go Out, and its music website cbcmusic.ca.

In an interview, Conway denied recent rumours that CBC Radio Two was headed for online-only distribution, although she said executives are exploring more options to share music online.

"I don't know anybody in the radio business who isn't looking at what digital radio looks like," she said. "There is absolutely no imminent plan to put Radio Two online, but there is strategic thinking around: 'What are all our radio assets going to be in five or 10 years?'"

Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News, said that CBC's morning shows have grown in popularity in recent years to become No. 1 or No. 2 in nearly all Canadian markets.

She said of the 657 job cuts, about 133 were journalists. McGuire expressed regret that the cuts had affected some smaller communities such as Thunder Bay, Ont., which recently lost its afternoon radio show.

But she said cuts needed to be made so that the broadcaster could continue to invest in investigative journalism.

"I've maintained that investment and the money to do those kinds of original stories," she said. "Whether you look at Ashley Smith, or the Boy Scouts story, or the foreign workers story … We're really leading the way on that kind of journalism and we see it as our obligation."

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