City: Bland name, brand comedy

It was a dark day in Canadian TV when Citytv cancelled Murdoch Mysteries back in 2011. Five seasons is a long run for any show but with ratings and creative juices still fresh, the decision seemed like part of that eternal mystery: why are Canadian series so expendable?

Rogers executives grumbling about the cost of producing original series pointed to one possible answer. Their then-recent purchase of the FX brand seemed like another. Canadian broadcasters like to spread their original programming across all their channels to cheaply fulfill CanCon requirements, but Murdoch and FX went together like peanut butter and purple. Luckily, CBC stepped in to the rescue and Murdoch continues on its merry ratings-grabbing way there.

Fast forward four years and City — as they’re now simply known, in a branding move I have to assume was to make themselves entirely un-Googleable — has a small new slate of original programs with a definable tone.

They define that tone as “intensely-local, urban-oriented, culturally-diverse television programming.” Um, sure. [P.S. -ly adverbs don’t take hyphens after them. Signed, Intensely Grammatically Nerdy.]

Forget about the odd OLN series such as The Liquidator that pop up on the mothership network — for their first-run series, City seems to be carving out a niche in comedy.

Now I’m not saying all their comedies are winners, or that their scheduling and marketing were stellar, but the two seasons each of Seed and Package Deal were valiant attempts to fulfill the urban-oriented part of that brand verbiage, anyway. Before they claim “intensely local” and “culturally diverse” for their scripted series, instead of their programming as a whole, they should probably be more blatant about setting and have cast photos that aren’t exclusively or predominantly white but … quibble.

This season, City seems reborn with the delightfully off-centre Sunnyside and Young Drunk Punk out of the gate, and a partnership with CBC that will have them airing Mr. D after it’s been on the public broadcaster. They don’t seem to be ponying up more money for original programming, but a focus on half-hour shows and partnerships gives them more to spread around, at least, while remaining focused on their brand.

So with my rose-coloured, intensely urban glasses on, City seems determined to prove that Canadian comedy isn’t dead – despite what some people say. Now all they need is for one of their brand-name shows to be the kind of hit they had with Murdoch Mysteries.