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Zaib Shaikh says farewell to Little Mosque on the Prairie

After six seasons — rare longevity in Canadian television — CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie ends tonight with the “Best of Times” episode.

“The show came into a landscape where nothing of its kind existed, and leaves the landscape having changed it,” said star Zaib Shaikh in a recent TV, eh? interview. “Now it’s up to another show, or a different take on this conversation, but the impact is still clearly being felt on a positive side.”

“The forces of negativity and fear still exist,” he added. “It’s amazing the show got in six seasons in that climate on a global level, where it stands out as a positive in the conversation between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Shaikh points out the show’s purpose “was never to be a message. Its purpose was to have Muslims as characters — ‘look they’re people too.'”

Growing up Muslim in Toronto, he hadn’t seen a character that reflected his own experience before taking on the role of Amaar, the Toronto imam who relocated to Saskatchewan.

“That fish out of water perspective really worked well for the show on a comedic and entertaining level,” he said. “Now he leaves the show a proud member of the community, married into it. He’s not the pompous prick he was coming into it.”

Even with a primary goal to entertain, Shaikh believes the show couldn’t have launched anywhere but on CBC, especially at a time when 9/11 was fresh in the audience’s memory. He believes in a way that the Canadian show was able to begin a conversation that couldn’t happen in the US while they were still in trauma from those events.

“In Canada our supposed tolerance and congeniality led to the idea it could get done here,” he said, saying “that speaks to the country’s values.” Creator Zarqa Nawaz “had a hope — maybe it was a naïve hope” that the show would work, and CBC agreed.

“As a business model it’s a risky take on entertaining, on getting eyeballs,” Shaikh said before pointing out it debuted to 2.1 million people in 2007.

He calls this sixth and final season “a gift to our fans,” and has himself reaped the benefits of the high-profile role, having just filmed Midnight’s Children with Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie. “I don’t think I would have gotten that kind of experience if I wasn’t on a show like Little Mosque.”

Listen to the entire Zaib Shaikh interview, including his thoughts on the necessity of supporting the Canadian TV industry, here.


Arctic Air’s director/producer Gary Harvey on moving forward and giving back

Executive producer and director Gary Harvey has just come off a solid first season for Arctic Air — the most-watched debut season for a CBC drama series in 15 years. While he waits on news of a season two, he answered some questions about his career, his unusual role as a director/showrunner, and how giving back to the industry is a survival mechanism.

What do you think it was about that show at this time that caught the attention of an audience?

(Creator) Ian Weir always meant for Arctic Air to be a bit of a throwback to the classic adventure series. Imminent peril is obviously a big theme throughout and we deliver on those types of stories. There is also the environmental dilemma faced by the north and we touch on that through the relationship between Adam Beach’s character Bobby and the Ronnie Dearman character, played wonderfully by Brian Markinson.

We tend not to hang our stories on sex or violence episode to episode, although we don’t shy away from it when appropriate. I have been surprised by some of the audience’s responses describing the show as family viewing. It always seemed a bit darker than that in my mind but perhaps we’re tapping into something that is counter to our expectation of family viewing today.

Having said that, the show is also fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I think all those elements have resonated with audiences.

I also think that opening a window on a physical environment few people “south of 60” have experienced vis-à-vis the NWT has been a big piece of the puzzle. The north is a very interesting place, exotic in many ways. During my first trip to Yellowknife I knew how big it was going to be for the audience to experience as much of the world of the NWT as possible. I think we were quite successful delivering on that promise.

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David Barlow on the Toronto Screenwriting Conference & the past and future of Canadian TV


David Barlow (King, The Border, Seeing Things) is one of the speakers at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference on March 31 and April 1. He tells TV, eh? about his early big break, how storytelling has changed over the years, and his wish list for Canadian television.

First, tell me about the Toronto Screenwriting Conference – what do you hope to convey there, and what do you hope to get out of it? What role do conferences like this play in career development?

Bill Mustos, the moderator for our panel on procedurals, has posed the key question: “What distinguishes your series and makes it different from other procedural series?”

It’ll be interesting to hear four different producer/writers respond to this question. It’s really a fundamental consideration when embarking on developing a procedural series, given the deep history of the genre and the competition with the number of procedurals on air.

I’ll talk a bit about The Border and King, two distinctly different procedurals, and how the creators of those shows tried to create fresh and specific personalities for their series. And I’ll probably throw in my two cents worth about what makes for a successful series.

What do I hope to get out of it? Well, selfishly, I usually learn more than I impart at these conferences. The basics of screenwriting are comparatively simple, it’s the execution that’s complex and demanding. No matter what side of the podium I’m sitting on, I always welcome the opportunity to hear how others address the challenges — what methodologies they use, what questions they ask themselves — it’s like taking a refresher course. What’s more, having to describe my own approach forces me to reflect on my own process. A little self-analysis can be a good thing.

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WGC Nominee Aubrey Nealon on Flashpoint’s “Day Game”

Aubrey Head Shot

Leading up to the Writers Guild of Canada awards on April 23, TV, eh? will be posting a series of interviews with some of nominees. Aubrey Nealon was nominated in the TV Drama category for the “Day Game” episode of Flashpoint — one of four nominations in the category for the series, and his first ever TV script.

Can you describe the episode “Day Game” and how it fit into the Flashpoint season?

In “Day Game,” Team One is confronted by a bitter ex-cop named Gil whose life went off the rails when Parker rejected him from the force’s top unit, the SRU. Determined to prove himself, Gil orchestrates a heist at a stadium so that he can step in and save the day. Naturally things go violently haywire, and as the Team arrives to restore order, Gil gets Parker in his clutches. As the Team scrambles to rescue their boss, Parker is forced into a tense negotiation with a desperate and vengeful Gil. With his life on the line, the usually unflappable Parker erupts in an outpouring of pain and self-doubt that’s been building all season, leaving him questioning his ability to do his job.

What about this episode are you particularly proud of?

This was the first TV script I ever wrote, so I’m pretty proud that it got made at all. Like, someone put it on TV! That’s really cool.

But in terms of the writing itself, I did enjoy creating the character Gil, a guy who is intimately familiar with the SRU’s techniques and tendencies, and holds a deep, personal grudge against Parker. He makes for a fun and formidable opponent, I think — because it’s almost as if he’s watched the show before. He plays with the Team’s expectations about how critical incidents unfold, which allows me to play with the audience’s expectations about how Flashpoint unfolds — all while staying true to the spirit of the show.

What does this recognition mean to you?

A couple years ago I crashed the WGC awards party (paying the full $100 non-union entrance fee!) so that I could corner the Flashpoint showrunners, Mark and Stephanie, and grovel for a job. This year, thanks to this recognition, I’ll get into the party much more cheaply, and Mark and Stephanie will be obliged to talk to me whether I grovel or not.