CBC wants more women by Gayle MacDonald

Nov 24, 2007

Source : Globe & Mail

The network hopes a sexy hockey soap and a daily lifestyle show draw them in

CBC Television unveiled its most aggressive winter schedule in decades yesterday, introducing a mixed bag of 12 new shows, many clearly aimed at attracting a younger, more female audience.
Launching on Jan. 7, CBC laid out a schedule that includes a new single-mom sitcom called Sophie, a new reality show, The Week the Women Went (all the gals in a rural Alberta town vamoose for a week and the men cope), and a daily daytime lifestyle program, hosted by the original Designer Guys, Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman.
It's part of a strategy that Kirstine Layfield, CBC-TV's executive director of network programming, said will "diversify" the CBC audience, which has traditionally skewed male because of the public broadcaster's emphasis on sports and news programming.
"We're trying to be more inclusive," Layfield said. "This is our opportunity to include women more aggressively into the mix. Women are huge followers of drama. With our entertainment programming, we're trying to balance it out and have programs everyone would want to watch."
CBC's new winter dramas include MVP, a steamy soap that could appeal to both sexes. The network is calling MVP "a keyhole look" at the "sexy and scandalous world of a fictitious professional NHL hockey team of hunky players and their gorgeous girlfriends, wives, lovers and puck bunnies." The cast includes Kristen Booth and Lucas Bryant, and it airs on Jan. 11.
The Border is a hard-hitting drama (Jan. 7) focused on an elite Immigration and Customs Security squad, charged with bringing order amid trafficking, terrorism and corruption.
The cast includes James McGowan, Sofia Milos, Graham Abbey and Nazneen Contractor.
A quirky new dramatic series, jPod, will make its debut on Jan. 8 starring Alan Thicke and David Kopp.
Based on Douglas Coupland's cult bestseller of the same name, jPod chronicles the often shocking adventures of Ethan Jarlewski and his four co-workers at a game-design company who routinely deal with Chinese gangs, boneheaded bosses, sexual swinging, British royalty and gore-laced video games.
Layfield, 39, said she and her team have worked hard since she joined CBC two years ago to "shorten the amount of time it takes to get something to air. We understand what audiences are looking for, and we want to deliver it as soon as we can. Producers are no longer as frustrated with us, and they get to work on programs that will resonate."
She added that a protracted American writers strike could be a boon for the financially challenged public broadcaster. "What a great time to be launching new things. Our audiences will have the ability to focus on these new shows and learn about them. It's so much easier for them to do that when the competition [CTV and Global] is a little bit behind."
The female-friendly bent is an interesting demographic shift for the CBC, which has historically let archrivals CTV and Global duke it out for the all-important women aged-25-plus viewership, coveted by advertisers because this group makes the bulk of household purchases.
Sophie, which stars Natalie Brown, is about the successful businesswoman who seems to have it all, but finds herself jilted while she's eight months pregnant.
Layfield said she personally championed making a Canadian version of The Week the Women Went, which originally aired for one season on the BBC.
As a working mom of two young children, she found it fascinating to look at what happens when every woman from one town (Hardisty, Alta.) "picks up, packs up and leaves. And to follow the drama, humour and calamities when the men are left on their own to cope with housework, jobs, child care etc."
The Steven & Chris Show, which kicks off on Jan. 14, will focus on home decor, fashion, beauty, cooking, entertaining, health, fitness, relationships and the odd celebrity interview.
Also airing in March is a four-hour miniseries called The Englishman's Boy, adapted from Guy Vanderhaeghe's Governor-General's Award-winning novel. It stars Michael Therriault, Bob Hoskins, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Eisner and R.H. Thomson.
The sequel to the 2004 political thriller H2O, called H2O II: The Trojan Horse, will air in the spring. Paul Gross (who co-wrote the miniseries) reprises his role as Tom McLaughlin, the former Canadian prime minister who watches from the sidelines as Canadians vote to join the United States.
Test the Nation returns for another special, with hosts Wendy Mesley and Brent Bambury. As well, Canada's Next Great Prime Minister returns with host Rick Mercer.
CBC also announced that it has acquired the rights to both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune from CBS Paramount International Television.
Both programs will begin airing on CBC Television next fall.