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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television
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Don’t panic: Good advice for galactic hitchhikers and the CBC

CBC’s early fall numbers are in and they don’t look good.

First the caveats:

  • Ratings are only one metric of success (albeit one advertisers and therefore networks care about)
  • Reported numbers are overnights, meaning they don’t include people who watch later, and are statistical estimates (though this is true for every show on every network)

The cold, hard truth remains: CBC’s numbers are low. Their stalwart performers such as Murdoch Mysteries and Heartland are lower than usual. Shiny new shows have debuted lower than the shows they replaced.

It’s fall, which means American shows with their giant marketing machines are dominating the Canadian networks, as they usually do in the fall.

Comparing apples to apples, the scripted numbers are just lower on CBC this fall, a fall some of us hoped would see the emergence of a new CBC, with a new leader at the helm and some risky new programming peeking out amid the familiar faces.

But that’s the thing about risks, right? They’re risky.

Murdoch Mysteries was earning 1.4 million at the same time last year. This year, in its 8th season, it’s hovered just above and below the million mark. But keep in mind this year it’s against newcomer Gotham, currently the #6 show in Canada and more than doubling Murdoch’s numbers. Last year it was against 9-year-old Bones, which earned only a couple hundred thousand more. Murdoch can handle the competition and still get around a million viewers to watch the night it airs.

Not every dip is so easily explainable by the fact that viewers are first watching the sexy new show everyone’s talking about. Mercer and 22 Minutes are up against  quiet behemoth NCIS, as they were before. I suspect they’ll recover at least somewhat as the season goes on, and they’re still reaching more people than CBC’s imports and new series.

The Honourable Woman and Janet King didn’t make a big splash. The latter didn’t make even a little splash. Canada’s Smartest Person seems to be a hit in the app store but not necessarily in its broadcast timeslot.

More disappointing is how CBC’s dark, serialized Western Strange Empire is faring. 319,000 in the first week, 312,000 in the second. I’m not surprised; Intelligence is the last dark, serialized drama on CBC I remember and it was cancelled for low ratings. So were the lighter, less serialized Cracked and Arctic Air, yet they got better numbers.

But Strange Empire seemed to signal a CBC that was willing to take that cable-like leap again, eyes wide open to the difference in tone and structure from anything else on their network. They had to know that they have no ideal lead-in, and that the captive audience watching their promos may not be the audience who would watch a show that’s more Deadwood than Heartland.

They have  sci-fi co-production Ascension coming up as well as The Book of Negroes miniseries, both of which may or may not fit into an overall vision for a new brand that moves away from more populist fare to shows a private broadcast network likely wouldn’t touch.

But populist fare is … popular. And one show doesn’t make a brand. And most new shows fail. And sometimes the value of cachet balances out the value of ratings. And always on CBC the season will be allowed to air in full without the threat of cancellation, and I would rather have one season of wonderful than a syndication package of nothing special.

For CBC to move toward a new programming vision, if that’s what they’re attempting to do, they’ll need the time to make that transition and possibly the will to sacrifice ratings in the short term.

To mix my movie metaphors: patience, grasshoppers. Don’t panic.

Cameras roll on Season 3 of Orphan Black

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From a media release:

Space, Temple Street Productions, and BBC America announced earlier today that production has begun on Season 3 of the critically acclaimed original Canadian series, ORPHAN BLACK. Season 3 sees the return of the phenomenal, Golden Globe®-nominated Tatiana Maslany, who has portrayed an astonishing, nine, distinct “Leda” clones to date, as well as the male “Castor” clones revealed in the Season 2 finale, played by series regular Ari Millen. Season 2 of ORPHAN BLACK reached a total of 832,000 viewers and more than 3.7 million unique viewers each week. Throughout its Season 2 run, Space was the #1 specialty network in audience across all key demos in its timeslot. The 10-episode, one-hour drama shoots in Toronto, on location and in studio, until March 2015, and is set to premiere in Spring 2015.

Returning in a lead role is Ari Millen, who plays the newly discovered male clones; Mark, the Prolethean cult follower and Rudy, a prisoner of war. Also back this season is Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s fiery foster brother Felix; Dylan Bruce as Paul; an army officer working for secret forces in the clone world; Maria Doyle Kennedy as Sarah and Felix’s duplicitous foster mother Mrs. S; Evelyne Brochu as a Dyad scientist and Cosima’s lover Delphine; Kevin Hanchard as Art, a detective caught in the clone trap; Zoé De Grand Maison as Gracie, a Prolethean escapee, and Michiel Huisman as Cal, father to Sarah’s daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler).

ORPHAN BLACK’s second season brought new, more treacherous, enemies to light, culminating in a shocking finale with the reveal of the new male “Castor” clones. Season 3 plunges the clone sisterhood into unexpected territory with the realization that they’re not alone. Just when they thought they knew their enemies and allies, Season 3 reveals our clones are more vulnerable than ever before with the highly trained, identical male-soldiers complicating matters. And though Sarah, Cosima, Alison and Helena realize they are stronger together than they are apart, this season will put that bond to the test.

Adored by fans and critics alike in more than 170 countries, ORPHAN BLACK earned a Peabody Award and an outstanding 10 Canadian Screen Awards in 2014. Lead actress Tatiana Maslany has received two, back-to-back Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Actress, a TCA Award for Individual Achievement, a Young Hollywood Award, a Gracie Award, and nominations for both the Golden Globe® and People’s Choice Awards.

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Review: Republic of Doyle revs for the last time

Jake Doyle has a way of attracting a lot of attention, and it’s mostly bad. So, as Republic of Doyle sets a course for its series finale, it’s no surprise that Jake is surrounded by danger and uncertainty.

“Dirty Deeds,” written by Allan Hawco, threw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix–and I believe there would have been one involved in the prison fight if it was possible–by having Jake in prison and surrounded by men he and Malachy had helped put in there over the course of their careers. Kudos to Hawco and the producers for snagging Jason O’Mara in the role of dim bulb but oh-so-good-looking Seth Rankin. Last seen on The Good Wife, O’Mara was able to flex his comedic muscles as he elicited Jake’s help in a tit-for-tat agreement: if Jake helped keep Seth’s girlfriend, Molly, safe outside of prison then Seth would hand over some of the diamonds he had stolen to pay for Jake’s bail.

Throw in Taylor Gossad (who wants Jake dead), a prison superintendent (played by Megan Follows) who wants Jake to find out how drugs are getting into the prison, and Jake’s plate is pretty darned full. Add in the fact no one knows where Sloan has gone with all of the Doyles’ money and Leslie is in a coma and things are looking dire for the bestubbled P.I.

Speaking of Leslie, she may have ultimately been saved from Taylor’s long, deadly reach, but what was the deal with the gift-wrapped box the killer was carrying when he entered her hospital room? Tinny was there to put the collar on him before he cut Leslie’s throat, but no reference to the package was made before the episode ended. I can only imagine it pops up in the coming weeks.

Placing Leslie in a three-week long coma was a ballsy move and I’m glad it didn’t last longer. That means things will move at a brisk pace; she’s awake and can finger Blake Brogan for the death of Mayor Clarke, so he’ll need to move fast to keep her quiet. Speaking of brisk pace, fingers crossed Jake gets out of prison soon too. Having him in there is a nice departure setting-wise, but a contained Jake is a less entertaining Jake. It means he’s tooling around St. John’s in the GTO.

Favourite quotes

  • “Seth Rankin, of the Rankins. Not the band.” Oh Seth.
  • “I had to hide the key in my bum to get it in here.” Oh, Seth!
  • “Stay out of trouble, which I know is like asking you to take a vow of silence.” Malachy knows his son all too well.
  • “Des, we’re not making out in front of a coma-striken Leslie.” Tinny, always the voice of reason.

Republic of Doyle airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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Review: Wek and Vij bring new fire to Dragons’ Den

With nine seasons under its belt, you’d expect Dragons’ Den to be a little, well, long in the tooth. Less than fiery. Lacking bite. You would, however, be wrong.

The secret to the veteran CBC show’s success is its skill at being able to mix a feisty bunch of outsized Type-A personalities on its panel of Canadian entrepreneurs. I must admit that I was a little worried for the franchise after Kevin O’Leary and Bruce Croxon exited, the former to focus on Bell Media projects and ABC’s Shark Tank where he’s been doing double duty with former Canuck Dragon Robert Herjavec. O’Leary, the Simon Cowell of the reality show, would be hard to replace.

So producers didn’t bother trying to find someone to fill O’Leary’s expensive loafers with the same personality. They went glitzier. A little more rock ‘n’ roll. With hair. Enter financial whiz Michael Wekerle and celebrity chef Vikram Vij, who capably fill those empty spots on the panel. Wekerle–a.k.a. Wek–is a sight to behold. With his shiny, patterned suits, tattoos, blonde hair and gravelly voice, he commands attention in Wednesday’s first new episode. He’s quick with a quip and a comment and prefers to go last in his bids to budding entrepreneurs.

Vij brings a West Coast calm to the panel–the ying to Wekerle’s yang–but don’t let his soft demeanour and smooth tone fool you. This is a man who has built a culinary empire and isn’t afraid to let you know how he truly feels. Two dudes found that out the hard way when they attempted to get some cash for their new tablet-form energy drink.

“Are you trying to kill me?” Vij asked after reading the chemical ingredients. “If I had to drink this … I’d barf!”

The new duo get along just fine with veteran panelists David Chilton, Arlene Dickinson and Jim Treliving. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t take long for Wek to bond with Treliving over the energy drink pitch. Wek was worried the stuff would be bought by kids and mixed with booze and was vocal about it. Treliving admitted he hadn’t thought of that and backed out of the deal.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom with regard to pitches in Wednesday’s return. Everyone but Vij was tossing out offers to a woman who had come up with a mining outfit tailored specifically for females on the crew, a brilliant idea. Not so brilliant? A rake that refused to stand on-end as advertised and a pillow that wrapped around the wearer’s head like a fuzzy helmet so one could nap anywhere. The creator of that admitted he had been “really tired” when he came up with the idea.

Dragons’ Den airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Omnifilm programs at MIPCOM

From a media release:

Omnifilm Entertainment and its distribution entity Omnifilm Releasing will bring to MIPCOM new programming completed over the past year, as well as several projects in advanced development.

Returning with six successful seasons is ICE PILOTS NWT, a 73 x 60 docu-series for History Television, which follows the wild adventures of renegade Yellowknife airline Buffalo Airways and the determined crew that risks everything to haul passengers and cargo in the unforgiving North. Ice Pilots has been a homegrown success story for History since season one, showcasing the unique characters and environment of Canada’s North. The syndication-ready series already airs in 62 countries, with a large following in Australia, Scandinavia, the UK, Germany, Eastern Europe and the US.

Omnifilm has also just completed its first series shot and posted entirely in Ultra High Definition 4K resolution. NAMASTE YOGA is the world’s premier yoga television series, an immersive 52 x 30 fitness experience that features stunning visuals, original music, and authentic yoga sequences. Seasons 3 and 4, (26 x 30) produced this summer in 4K/UHD, are being brought to the international market for the first time and have recently premiered in Canada on the ONE: Body, Mind Spirit Love channel. Previous seasons have successfully aired internationally for several years.

Omnifilm Releasing is also featuring JADE CITY, a new 12 x 30 docu-series for Discovery. This newest addition to the “Northern mining” factual television subgenre follows intrepid characters Claudia and Robin Bunce, owners of a large jade mining claim and jade tourist shop in remote Jade City in Northern BC. They shotgun beer, ride ATV’s, have cook-outs… and oh yes, they mine million dollar boulders of jade for a Chinese market that values the green gemstone more than gold! Jade City has already been sold to Foxtel Australia and Viasat.

In partnership with Betafilm, Omnifilm Releasing is bringing 3 seasons of ARCTIC AIR (34 x 60 min) to MIPCOM. In the latest season, ARCTIC AIR takes on a search-and-rescue contract with each mission bringing new and unexpected challenges. Avalanche rescue missions, aerial bombing runs, police chases, and outlaws aboard a DC-3 – just another day at ARCTIC AIR.

Omnifilm is also presenting several new factual series in development at MIPCOM, including BEAR STORIES, a half-hour docu-series following a family that rescues and rehabilitates bear cubs and releases them back into the wild in remote northern British Columbia, as well as a half-hour cooking/comedy/competition show. In addition, Omnifilm is developing a new series with Mikey McBryan, the talented star of ICE PILOTS NWT.

On the youth programming side, Omnifilm is relaunching an updated version of their award-winning youth series, MAKE SOME NOISE, which takes full advantage of online content sharing and social media.

Omnifilm’s drama development slate of hour-long renewable series includes DARK WITCH, a provocative adaptation of Nora Roberts’ New York Times bestselling trilogy; CORRECTIVE MEASURES, based on a series of Arcana graphic novels about a mysterious prison for criminals with superpowers; PACIFIC SPIRIT, a family series set at a marine mammal rescue center, developed for CBC in partnership with the Vancouver Aquarium; BEOWULF, based on the epic poem, and developed for TMN/Movie Central; and STEEL BEACH, a high octane drama set five minutes in the future in a new “wild west”.