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Radio One’s Because News brings laughs to primetime TV

When it came to creating Because News, Gavin Crawford looked across the pond.

“When we were first figuring out what will it be and what will we do, I was like, ‘Let’s steal the British ideas,’ because those are the shows I like,” Crawford recalls. Created by Crawford, Elizabeth Bowie and David Carroll, the long-running Radio One program recently made the jump to a new platform.

Airing Sundays at 7 p.m. on  CBC (and Saturdays at 11 a.m. on Radio One), Because News features host Crawford and a rotating panel of comedians, sketch performers and funny people who make games out of the week’s news.

Last week’s radio and TV episode welcomed Andrew Phung (Kim’s Convenience), Jennifer Whalen (Baroness Von Sketch Show) and comedian Martha Chaves, and poked fun at Halloween amid the pandemic, COVID-19 itself and the U.S. election. Best known for his work on The Hour Has 22 Minutes and  The Gavin Crawford Show on The Comedy Network, we spoke to the Second City alum and Gemini Award-winner about adding TV cameras to Because News, how the show is written and tight-turnaround times.

Did you always hope Because News would become a television show?
Gavin Crawford: When we first started doing the show, I always thought there was a possibility if it worked out it could translate, just simply because there are so many British ones that fulfill those same things. When we were first figuring out what will it be, what will we do, I was like, ‘Let’s steal the British ideas,’ because those are the shows I enjoy watching. And so we always tried to model it that way, that it would be modular. Then, I guess, partly because it’s me and I like to do voices and characters, we would end up making things like fake movie trailers. But I guess I always had in the back of my mind, if CBC ever wants to do cross-platform stuff, it’s something they could actually manage to do.

Was it you and Elizabeth Bowie who developed the show together?
GC: Yeah. Basically, Liz and David Carroll came to me and said, ‘We’ve got a green light to make a pilot of a news quiz, and we think you’d be a good host for that. Is that something you’d want to do?’ Once we had established, ‘OK, it’s going to be me,’ we tried to figure out what we wanted to do. In my experience of watching those shows, I wanted it to be about the comradery of the panellists.  wanted us to be able to tease each other. I don’t want the answers to be necessarily that hard or important. I don’t want to try and solve a refugee crisis. We want to take the ball of news that everyone has and have fun with it where we can and make fun of the people in power. But, in a weird way, they are less game shows than they are talk shows.

I always tell the panellists, ‘You don’t have to get the right answer. You can say wet socks and a cat, for all I care. Let’s be able to take the time to riff with each other and take up ideas and improvise, the way that a lot of the people on the show are improvisers and comedians.’ So that’s what we like to do and to try and make sure that there’s enough space for that.

How difficult was it to take this show that’s made for the radio and translate it to TV? 
GC: There are definitely difficulties that you don’t have on radio. But it wasn’t too hard, because we made a conscious decision not to reinvent the wheel. I like the show the way it is, and if it was on TV, I still want it to be that. The hardest thing was how do we get people in a studio together, with the pandemic, knowing that we have to space everybody eight feet apart?

There are little technical things like how do you just keep a comradery going when you know they’re going to cut to a wide shot, and it’s going to look very wide. Those are things that you have to think of. And then there are weird technical things. If you show a graphic or TV, everything has to be triply sourced and thrust through legal. The hardest thing is clearing everything from the team of lawyers, and being like, ‘We need this clip of Trump saying this funny thing.’ Whereas on the radio, that’s a five-minute job. And on TV it’s a day and a half.

I listened to the most recent episode on the radio and noted there were a few segments there that weren’t on the TV episode.
GC: The radio is always five minutes longer, so just from a time standpoint, there’s always going to be an extra round or something on the radio that doesn’t make it to the TV. I don’t actually mind, because it gives you a reason to see things on different platforms, as opposed to a show that would be the same from one to the other, and you just pick and choose where you listen to it.

You record and film the show on Thursday, and then you’re turning this around to be ready for television broadcast on a Sunday. 
GC: It’s a very quick turnaround. That’s why those British panel shows look like that because they’re very quick. You don’t get a lot of time to edit it and things like that. There’s a number of things that I’d love to be able to do that we just can’t do time-wise. So, we try to filter in what we can do. But it’s tricky because sometimes the news doesn’t even set itself until Wednesday night. And you’re pulling graphics on a Tuesday afternoon. And of course, everybody wants the most heads up they can get on everything.

You’re having to keep on top of things happening in Canada and around the world for the show. Do you ever just feel overwhelmed?
GC: Oh yeah. I call it Bad Mood Tuesday, where after a weekend of combing through what’s going on to see what we’ll have the next week, I’m always in a bad mood on Tuesday. Then we try and lift ourselves out of it. ‘OK, what will put us in a good mood?’ And then we get to joke around about things, and the other writers come in, and then we’re like, great. I feel that’s maybe how the audience also feels. Our job is to be like, ‘OK, well, here’s your good news,’ Sunday night or Saturday morning when all these things you’ve been hearing about all week. Here’s the way you can hear about them that maybe doesn’t make you want to hide in the woods.

Because News airs Saturdays at 11 a.m. on Radio One and Sundays at 7 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: CBC’s Year of the Goat spotlights the farm’s curious creatures

Back in 2018, Markham Street Films made the excellent “Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit,” for CBC’s documentary stream. Detailing the behind-the-scenes drama in the Canadian Cat Association and competitions to name “Best Cat,” it was a lot of fun to watch.

Now Markham Street Films is giving goats their due in a splendid follow-up.

“Year of the Goat,” airing as part of CBC Docs POV on Saturday at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem, it follows five families as they prepare to show their goats at competitions around Ontario. The goal? To land a spot in The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the holy grail of agricultural fairs.

Described as “livestock monkeys,” “dogs that give you milk” and “too smart for their own good,” by three of the human interview subjects, viewers catch up with the Vickers family first. Based in Guelph, Ont., the Vickers breed goats as a hobby. Next up is the Yantzi’s who call their farm in New Hamburg, Ont., home alongside four breeds of goats. Then it’s off to meet the Emons, just outside London, Ont.; the Holyoakes in Peterborough, Ont.; and the Kerrs in Newburgh, Ont. All detail their reasons for having goats in the first place and share their thoughts on the animals.

Then the meat of the story: how goats are judged in fairs, categories, the qualifying process and the ultimate trip to The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Aside from preparing them for competition, it takes a lot of hard work making sure the animals are fed and watered, cared for and treated when sick. What do judges look for when handing out ribbons? It’s all covered here.

As with Markham Street’s past doc on cats, “Year of the Goat” offers viewers a lot of information delivered in a very natural, entertaining way. From what they eat to the different breeds (why La Mancha’s have tiny ears is fascinating), directors Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox capture the energy and curiosity of the subject matter brilliantly.

I kid you not: you should check this out.

“Year of the Goat” airs as part of CBC Docs POV on Saturday at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Jann co-creators Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier on the success of the show and writing Season 2

CTV’s sitcom Jann is an undeniable critical and ratings success. Its first season garnered rave reviews, millions of viewers, and a 2020 WGC Screenwriting Award for Best Comedy Series.

However, there was a time when the show’s co-creators and executive producers, Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier,  were unsure if the series—which stars singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a highly fictionalized version of herself—would work.

“It was a real act of faith at first,” says Harper, explaining that Arden “was very funny and very talented” but unproven as a comedic lead. There were also some concerns about the show’s unique blend of tones: part entertainment industry satire, part slapstick comedy, part family dramedy.

“It’s not a comedy in the conventional way, it’s a little bit more cable, I think,” says Harper, who also acts as the series showrunner. “There’s a bit more of a blend of very silly comedy right up to, hopefully, poignant, dramatic moments. We’re trying to kind of have our cake and eat it, too.” 

Harper and Gauthier got their cake and more when CTV quickly greenlit the series for Seasons 2 and 3. But having a hit show creates new worries.

“You immediately put pressure on yourself,” Gauthier says. “Like, ‘Can we do it again in the second season?'”

The answer to that is a resounding yes. The first four episodes of Season 2 have provided some of the series’ funniest moments as chronically narcissistic Jann works to win back her family after ditching them to go on tour last season. Her hilarious quest has featured a wrestling match with Sarah McLachlan (who guest-starred in the first episode of the season), some bizarrely unconventional couple’s therapy with girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), and a disastrous camping adventure with sister Max (Zoie Palmer) and mom Nora (Deborah Grover).

On Monday’s new episode, “Drop the Single,” Jann is in for more uncomfortable situations when Cale (Elena Juatco) pushes her to record an electronic dance track and she shares a talk show couch with a very unimpressed k.d. lang. The instalment also features some of the show’s patented family drama as Dave (Patrick Gilmore) brings the baby to visit his mom.

We recently chatted with Harper and Gauthier about their approach to writing the new season and what to expect in the show’s second half.

Season 2 has been excellent so far. Did you find it easier or harder to write than the first season? 
Jennica Harper: Easier. When we were breaking the stories for Season 2, I was just so excited because it became clear who the characters are and we had the casting. When we wrote those [Season 1] scripts, we hadn’t cast anybody yet, other than Jann, of course, and now that we know those actors and those characters, it was a lot more playful. 

Leah Gauthier: For sure. And as we watched [the actors] as we were making Season 1, we were like, ‘What are these characters naturally great at that we can pick up on in seasons following? Is this character really good at panicky situations? Has this person come up against Jann as a buddy or as an enemy? Where can we expand on what organically happened on its own and lean into it?’ Because the Charley character, she becomes sort of a social influencer in Season 2, and that was because we were watching Alexa [Rose Steele] in real life, and were thinking, ‘This woman is very interesting and her social media following is huge’. That’s the kind of thing that we sort of lean into and pull from real life, that’s kind of what we’re doing in these later seasons, and I feel it’s more fun to write. 

JH: Another example was with Nora, Jann’s mom, who’s played by Deb Grover. There are these moments where she’s kind of sassy, not just this sort of sad person going through her early stages of memory loss, and we loved that.

How does an episode of Jann begin in your writers’ room? 
JH:  We essentially develop a story arcs document for the season, and that’s something that Jann, Leah, and I do together. Traditionally, that would be the three of us going to Jann’s house in Calgary for a few days and just talking about the shape of the season, because it’s serialized, and what the theme is before we figure out what some individual funny story would be within that. For example, in Season 2 it was about whether Jann could make things up to the people she pissed off and also Cynthia and Jann giving it a go and her relationship with Cale, with Cale being someone who has a lot of ideas that Jann is uncomfortable with.

The three of us developed a road map for the season and some story ideas that could go with that and had them fleshed out. So when we get together with the rest of our writers, we’re presenting our thoughts for the whole season, ‘What do you think?’ Then we ask them to respond and help us refine that and start talking individual stories. That’s not necessarily typical on other shows. Sometimes you just show up and there’s a blank page and you kind of have to figure out one by one what the episodes are going to be. But we kind of come in with some of that work done, so that we can really be running when we have the writers together.

Where do you come up with some of the crazier situations that Jann gets herself into? 
JH: We pull from Jann’s personal stories for sure, anytime we’re chatting about something that kind of works. For some of the family storylines, we have more relatable stories [from our own lives] that apply. But there’s also a lot of what-ifs. You know, ‘What if Jann and Cynthia went to couple’s therapy and maybe this person isn’t even a therapist?’ There’s a lot of just pitching jokes and story ideas in the writers’ room. 

LG: Our writers’ room is a really comfortable space. Everyone feels really comfortable to pitch any idea, even if it’s crazy. Sometimes people will start with, ‘OK, this is a bad pitch, but what if Jann is hanging from her crotch on a barbed wire fence?’

And Jann is game for doing whatever. She understands that the physical comedy lands really well. She’s really helpful because no one is scared to say, ‘I was thinking we’d put you in boxer shorts and you drag garbage cans out the front’ because she’s not ever gonna shut it down. 

JH: She actually pitches it sometimes. She’s the one in the camping episode that really ran with the idea of having an emergency situation in the woods. She went all the way. She went, ‘What if I use a sock?’ That was in the script for a little while, and then we thought this is bizarre for even us. But I think the show works because she is fully committed to looking ridiculous. 

LG: And she’s such a good sport. In the last episode, when she’s on that inflatable pink couch, she was flipping around upside down and sideways on that thing, and she’d just had her gallbladder removed about 15 days before. That’s how committed she is to doing whatever it takes to make people laugh. She’s a true hero. 

Speaking of the inflatable pink couch, how much of the physical comedy is specifically scripted and how much of it is just finding funny situations that allow Jann Arden to be Jann Arden?
LG: For the pink inflatable chair thing, it was scripted that she was stuck in it and she couldn’t reach her pop and she knocks the pop over and says, ‘What a waste.’ But then she kept going, like flipping up and back. That was just her going for it. 

JH: We try to create the space, like you said, for her to run with it. And sometimes we realize later and add it. Like in Episode 3 with the fall out of the rickshaw, Charley pulls up outside the school and Jann is texting and she gets out and she falls, and it’s very funny. 

LG: That was her own stunt. We put a pillow underneath the black mulch, and then we [told her], ‘You’re good.’ 

JH: Yeah, ‘Just fall like you mean it!’

LG: And she did. 

I love Jann’s relationship with Cynthia. I’m a woman of a certain age, gay, and in a relationship, and it’s rare to see characters and humour representing my demographic.
JH: When we were recently talking about Season 3, Leah said how important it is that we feel we are writing a woman in her 50s and living her best life. I mean, obviously, Jann is not actually living her best life yet, but there’s sort of an aspirational quality to it. You know, we want to see women in relationships, we want to see women in sexuality. That’s really important to us and we feel it’s really underrepresented. I think people who haven’t watched the show maybe don’t know how progressive it is.

LG: We’re writing Season 3 now, and in one of our Zoom writing rooms, I said to everyone, ‘As we’re wrapping up our first drafts, can we look back at them with an eye for the moments where Jann can be very proud of herself. ‘ She’s a woman in her 50s that is not done. She’s not over, we haven’t forgotten about her, she’s still excited about stuff, she still gets to do really cool shit, the game’s not over. I want people to watch this and go, ‘I can still do lots of stuff. I have so many days ahead of me that I can do some great things.’ 

And Jann is so helpful in those rooms, too, because she’ll just tell us a story from her real life and we’ll just be like, ‘Got it. Hot flash, girlfriend, laying on the bathroom floor. Cool, it’s in the show!’ 

You’ve had great guest stars this season, including Sarah McLachlan, and in the next episode, k.d. lang. How was it to work with them?
JH: Intimidating. I was very excited, but there were definitely moments where I couldn’t believe this was happening.

LG: Jennica was freaking out. 

JH: I was, in my calm way, freaking out. No, it was very cool, and they were so different. Sarah was really like, ‘Let me do the silly stuff, I’m totally excited about this,’ and k.d. was more reserved, but I thought it was hysterical how she, just with her facial expressions, absolutely nailed the ‘I can’t, this woman is ridiculous,’ vibe. 

LG: She’s very cool and calm, that k.d. lang. She drove herself there and dressed herself, nailed it, and then drove home. 

What can you preview about the second half of the season?
JH: A big thing that’s ramping up is Jann and Cale’s adversarial business relationship. It’s going to really come to a head.

LH: I’m excited about [an episode where] the sisters go on a road trip. I really like the sister dynamic, so putting them in a car together and sending them off was really fun. That’s Episode 207, and I’m really looking forward to that. 

Can you tell me anything about Season 3?
JH: We plan to shoot after the new year, so a little later than normal. We’d normally be shooting now. We’ve already scripted the whole season, we’ve got drafts of the whole thing. We’re revising and punching them up a bit, but we have a story to tell, so we’re pretty excited. 

Jann airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Preview: Disasters at Sea returns for a second helping on Discovery

You know what you’re getting into when you tune into a show called Disasters at Sea. Yup, things going terribly wrong for ships on the water. And yet it’s addictive stuff. Like Mayday and Highway Thru Hell, Disasters at Sea is as much about the why as it is the what.

Returning for its second season of six hour-long episodes this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Discovery, Disasters at Sea kicks off with a Canadian angle: the 2006 sinking of B.C. passenger ferry Queen of the North. The ship struck an underwater ledge off Gil Island while carrying 101 passengers during an overnight journey. Immediate and deadly, Queen of the North sank quickly; all but two of the passengers were rescued by Gitga’at First Nation residents in Hartley Bay.

So, what went wrong?

After countless trips through the same passage without incident, what was different this time around? Via interviews with survivors, then-Captain Colin Henthorne, and experts like Christopher Hearn, Director of the Centre for Marine Simulation at the Marine Institute at Memorial University in Newfoundland, the answer is revealed.

Using stunning CGI to tell the tale, as well as dramatic re-creations and testimony, Disasters at Sea is superior storytelling.

Future episodes cover the catastrophic loss of the fishing vessel Arctic Rose, made mysterious by the fact that only the captain had time to put on his survival suit; and a routine ferry trip turns deadly when the MS Norman Atlantic burst into flames, trapping more than 300 passengers on board and killing more than 30.

Disasters at Sea airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Discovery.

Image courtesy of Bell Media.

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Preview: T+E’s Paranormal Night Shift tells tales of job site bumps in the night

I can always count on the fine folks at Blue Ant Media to come through with spooky new Halloween programming. Following on the heels of Hotel Paranormal, Scariest Night of My Life and Paranormal Survivor is a brand-new Canadian original.

Paranormal Night Shift, bowing Saturday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on T+E, tracks down tales of folks working late at night when they have otherworldly experiences. Produced by Bristow Global Media, the first of 13 upcoming instalments introduces viewers to Tim, a late-night radio DJ and producer working in the American Midwest. It was only his first night when Tim experiences weird things like giggles, thumps on the studio door, footsteps above him and visions of a child in the shadows. Then things get really scary.

Then it’s Heather’s turn. Heather, who was the former owner of The Looking Glass in Toronto, had heard the rumours the property was haunted but dismissed them. Heather picked up on a strange vibe almost right away and was in the building just after 2 a.m. when the heating and cooling system started knocking. Footsteps followed and Heather investigated. What greeted her drove Heather out of the business.

Featuring first-hand accounts, paranormal expert interviews and dramatic recreations, my only complaint isn’t the shaky camera work, fake security camera footage or jump-scare audio cuts on Paranormal Night Shift. Those are part of the haunted documentary genre, so I expect them. No, it’s the narrator’s faux whisper. Every time he spoke, I was pulled out of the story. It’s a shame the producers didn’t just have him speak normally because it really is distracting.

Paranormal Night Shift airs as part of T+E’s Creep Week lineup, that includes fellow new series My Paranormal Nightmare: Be Very Afraid and Paranormal Captured, along with marathons of Paranormal Caught on Camera, Haunted Hospitals and Hotel Paranormal.

Paranormal Night Shift airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on T+E.

Image courtesy of Blue Ant Media.

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