CBC's 'new direction': more drama, reality TV by Gayle MacDonald

May 30, 2007

Source : Globe & Mail

Public broadcaster pokes fun at its 2006 flops and promises new shows will satisfy 'changed' viewers

After years of so-called high-impact miniseries that largely left viewers cold, CBC Television has unveiled a slate of fall shows that it says reflects a new belief that audiences like to be given time to really get to know TV characters.

At a jammed hall at its Toronto headquarters yesterday, the public broadcaster unveiled a 2007-08 TV schedule that was less stuffy and more ebullient, with a sexier slate of longer-running shows.

Kirstine Layfield, executive director of network programming, promised a "new direction at the CBC" and acknowledged that "the audience had changed.

"People like to meet characters. They like to fall in love with them, and stay with them for a while. Our goal is to increase the number of people coming to the CBC," Layfield said, adding that in 2006 the network enjoyed its best prime-time season in five years with shows such as Little Mosque on the Prairie, Dragons' Den, The Rick Mercer Report and Test the Nation: National IQ Test consistently pulling in one million weekly viewers.

The network's 2007 tag line was "flying higher," and Layfield promised the crowd that "the love affair is just starting." She unveiled nine new series to her schedule, including the steamy Henry VIII drama The Tudors, as well as a new reality show, No Opportunity Wasted (NOW), from The Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan. "Viewers are coming back to CBC."

Clearly buoyed by the mid-season success of last year's ethnic comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie, the network kicked off its fall launch by introducing Mosque's cast members. Host George Stroumboulopoulos joked that the CBC now planned several Mosque-inspired changes at the network including a new name for Coach's Corner - Coach's Koran.

Where last year's presentation was sombre and serious, this year the CBC even poked fun at some of its 2006 programming flops, including the ratings fiasco The One: Making a Music Star, which Stroumboulopoulos said he dreamed of hosting into a third season but would have been grateful if it had made to five single episodes.

Layfield laid out a prime-time schedule top-heavy with longer-running series such as the family drama Heartland, set in Alberta's Rockies, a series based on Mordecai Richler's novel St. Urbain's Horseman, the investigative drama Torchwood and the sweeping miniseries The Tudors, a Canadian/Irish co-production that stars a randy young King Henry played by Jonathan Rhys Myers and Toronto-born Henry Czerny as the Duke of Norfolk.

Little Mosque on the Prairie, a half-hour comedy about a group of Muslims trying to fit in to life in small-town Saskatchewan, will be back for 20 episodes in season two. And the network plans to introduce seven additional dramas - now in the pilot stage - in January.

CBC also plans to dish up more reality programs, including a spinoff of Test The Nation: Watch Your Language and Garth Drabinsky's performing-arts star search Triple Sensation.

Back for a second season is Chris Haddock's acclaimed drama Intelligence, with Ian Tracey and Klea Scott. Torchwood is a new drama that follows the covert investigators of the Torchwood Institute, a renegade criminal-investigation group in Wales.

CBC's documentary unit will air a 13-part genealogy series, Who Do You Think You Are?, in which well-known Canadians (Don Cherry, Chantal Kreviazuk, Shaun Majumder) set out to discover their family roots.

Mia Farrow will host a program on Darfur, while several new The Nature of Things specials will examine global warming.

Layfield called 2006 a "year of building" at the CBC. She and her boss Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president, English Television, said they're gunning for 2007 to be the network's best for ratings in 10 years.

© Globe and Mail

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