Join Greg and Diane every Monday as we debate what’s on our minds. This week: Our thoughts regarding CBC’s 2015-16 broadcast schedule.
When you take into account that CBC is the network that lost the rights to NHL broadcasts and had to make extensive staffing cuts all in the span of one year, what was unveiled last Thursday is nothing short of miraculous. Far from a “woe is me” attitude, CBC’s upfront featured GM of programming Sally Catto, executive vice-president of English services Heather Conway and executive director of unscripted content Jennifer Dettman, smiling, joking and using words like “ambitious” to describe the Ceeb’s upcoming lineup.
Many say the network is so low it might as well throw caution to the wind and swing for the fences with its programming. And while I don’t totally agree with that thinking, I’m mightily impressed with what the CBC has planned for the coming year, especially when it comes to arts programming.
Gone are cable-ready fare like Strange Empire and the long-running Republic of Doyle, but Murdoch Mysteries, Coronation Street, Heartland, X Company, Rick Mercer Report, 22 Minutes, Dragons’ Den, Mr. D, Schitt’s Creek, Canada’s Smartest Person and Just for Laughs are all back to serve as a backbone to intriguing new stuff.
I’m bullish on the espionage drama The Romeo Section, especially after spending 15 minutes chatting with creator Chris Haddock about it. I’m also excited about This Life, the English version of Nouvelle Adresse, the tale of a fortysomething single mom who is diagnosed with cancer. Bruce McCulloch’s Young Drunk Punk gets a second window broadcast on CBC, so viewers will get another look—and the series a bigger audience sampling—at life in 1980s Calgary. Keeping Canada Alive is an ambitious snapshot at this country’s health care system as 60 camera crews visited hospitals, clinics and trauma centres across the nation showing a day in the life at these institutions; Thursday’s teaser contained several “reach for the Kleenex” moments.
The Nature of Things will be followed by a new documentary series called First Hand, designed to introduce viewers to Canada’s most talented factual filmmakers. As a doc fan, I’m particularly excited about this new initiative.
But CBC’s secret weapon to the fall may very well be three new programs under its Arts silo. Crash Gallery is a competition series pitting four artists against one another with a live audience picking the winner. Exhibitionists spotlights Canadian artists of all types and Interrupt this Program delves into the art created in countries where war and political unrest are an everyday occurrence. Art—like good television—is supposed to initiate discussion and opinion, and these three promise to do just that.
Will this lineup turn the tide over at the CBC? That may be too lofty of a goal, but I certainly think they’re headed in the right direction.
Greg is so much more optimistic than I am. I’m apparently alone in feeling like Charlie Brown and every year the networks are Lucy holding a football full of shiny new shows.
CBC does know how to put on a good show, and their upfront last week was a good example. It amounts to a lot of rah rah over a slate of programming that’s either old hat or unknown. If you’ve seen Murdoch Mysteries and Dragons’ Den you pretty know what to expect of Murdoch Mysteries and Dragons’ Den next season. If you haven’t seen the new shows, you can only rely on what people who are paid to get you to watch are saying.
Still, amid budget cuts they’re admirably stretching their programming dollars as far as they can go. They renewed low-rated Mr. D at least in part because Rogers is now a partner and will be airing Bruce McCulloch’s City show Young Drunk Punk, which hopefully gets a bigger audience with CBC’s bigger reach.
While CBC doesn’t compete with the simsubbing private networks for American rights, they have a new regime goal of acquiring the best public broadcast programming from around the world (aka England and Australia). Remember last season’s acquisitions such as The Honourable Woman or Secrets and Lies? Of course you don’t. No one watched them … or if they did, it was on Netflix.
CBC is jamming their season with presumably low-cost reality shows both highbrow (the return of more arts programming, a health care special) and appealing-to-the-masses lower-brow (Fool Canada and Hello Goodbye, which sounds like the credits to Love Actually). Nothing wrong with that, but little to suggest break-out hit either.
Will a niche audience be enough for CBC this season?
The answer to that seems to be no, at least on the scripted drama side. Remember last season’s Strange Empire? CBC took a gamble on the cable-esque western by creator Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik but cancelled it when their audience more attuned to Heartland than Durham County didn’t flock to it.
This season they’re bringing back CBC veteran Chris Haddock, whose Da Vinci’s Inquest was a long-running winner but whose more recent Intelligence was unceremoniously cancelled after two low-rated seasons, leaving a couple of bridges burned: between Haddock and old-regime CBC and between fans and CBC. Some of us were a little annoyed at Haddock himself for ending it on such a cliffhanger given the low ratings, but that bridge was strong enough to survive and I trust a Haddock show to be a crazy fun ride. Also I hold out hope that like Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays (which CBC plans to bring back in fall 2016), an Intelligence revival isn’t completely out of the question. Only mostly out of the question. So all that is to say Haddock’s The Romeo Section is the show I’m most excited about, tempered by doubts that CBC will stick with it if it earns a cable-like audience to go along with their declaration that they were chasing cable-like shows.
This Life (previously announced as New Address, the translated title of the original Quebec series its based on), is the latest in a string of attempts to recreate the magic of a French-language series. CBC had a pilot for 19-2 but passed on it, leaving it for Bravo to pick up, and the less said of Sophie and Rumours‘ ratings the better. Which isn’t to say I think they should give up the effort to mine for gold in their Radio-Canada stream — only that I look forward to This Life and hope it breaks the streak, but I’m not kicking at that football just yet.
Keep in mind we’ve seen none of the new shows, so any enthusiasm or skepticism right now is based on faith in the creative talent or marketing hype or both. The only way to truly judge a new season is by watching it. Stay tuned.