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Preview: The World’s Biggest Family explores the impact of sperm donation

I have two younger sisters, and they were/are enough of a handful. I can’t even imagine having over 600 siblings. And yet, that’s exactly what award-winning director Barry Stevens found out, and is documented in an upcoming CBC Docs POV episode.

“The World’s Biggest Family,” bowing Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC, follows the documentary filmmaker and screenwriter as he tracks down several of his half-siblings. But as much as it is learning more about those who are related to him, Stevens’ project is a critical look at the practice of anonymous sperm donation, including doctors who have used their own sperm and lied about it, anonymous donors with mental or physical genetic illnesses that are passed on unknowingly to several of their kids, and donors who discover they may have hundreds of kids, despite being told by sperm banks that there were strict limits.

“The World’s Biggest Family” kicks off in 1884 Philadelphia to explain how sperm donors were first conceived, before switching tacts to his own tale. Stevens’ parents wanted children, but his father was unable. Enter an anonymous sperm donor who was used to conceive Stevens and his sister. A secret kept for decades, they didn’t learn the truth until their father died. The advent of DNA testing popularized by Ancestry.com and 23andMe led Stevens on a journey of discovery, not only to uncover more siblings but who his biological father was.

Through interviews with his half-siblings, Stevens delves into the feelings of people who always felt like something was missing in their lives, felt like they didn’t fit in, and struggled with emotions like anger, sadness or happiness upon learning the truth.

But the project doesn’t just deal with Stevens’ family. He meets Rebecca, who learned she is just one of possibly more than 19 children who was fathered by the same Ottawa fertility doctor; and Angie, who discovered the sperm she and her partner had received was donated by a man who failed to disclose his mental and physical health issues.

“The sort of idea that it can be done with a few shakes of this wrist and nothing else, there should be a bit more to it than that, I believe,” Stevens’ sibling, Graham, says during the documentary.

I agree.

“The World’s Biggest Family” airs as part of CBC Docs POV, Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Image courtesy of Bizable Media.


Wall of Chefs’ Noah Cappe sounds off on the new season

I’ve typed these very words before on this website: a reality TV show host can make or break a series. Luckily for Food Network Canada, they’ve got the right one in Noah Cappe. In addition to guiding viewers through outrageous vittles on Carnival Eats, Cappe is the man who keeps things moving on Wall of Chefs.

Broadcast Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada, Wall of Chefs truly is ab ingenious concoction. Each week, a quartet of home cooks from across the country enter a gleaming kitchen set to compete against one another in a trio of tests: creating a crowd-pleaser, a chef’s fridge challenge and a restaurant-worthy dish. The judges? Just 12 of Canada’s top celebrity chefs. It’s a tall order, but highly entertaining.

“I remember the moment I was pitched the concept,” Cappe says on the line from his Toronto home. “I still view myself as a viewer rather than a celebrity on Food Network Canada. I remember saying, ‘I would watch that show.’ Real people putting their food in front of some of the biggest chefs in the country? That alone is such a fun concept.” Throwing in the $10,000 weekly prize, challenges and a rotating wall of chefs just added to the allure.

Like Corus’ other property, HGTV Canada, Food Network has assembled a whos-who of on-screen talent that has become the face of the channel. As with Bryan Baeumler, Scott McGillivray and Sarah Richardson on HGTV, Mark McEwan, Lynn Crawford, Christine Cushing and Rob Feenie have become household names thanks to their culinary prowess and series on Food. Names that are quickly becoming known to Food fans because of Wall of Chefs are Chef Hugh Acheson and Chef Todd Perrin, the latter of whom deserves his own show.

“During my travels east, I had eaten at Mallard Cottage but didn’t know Chef Perrin at the time,” Cappe says. “My goodness. Chef Perrin is among a handful of chefs the country is going to see for the first time and fall in love with. Every time Todd Perrin said something my jaw was on the floor. My god, is this guy quick.”

Anyone who follows Cappe on social media knows he’s busy with multiple things on the go. A recent trip out west—observing COVID-19 safety measures—and screening films for the Toronto International Film Festival are just two recent ventures. Earlier in the pandemic, Cappe wowed with his own kitchen skills, deep-frying various snack foods and constructing a mouthwatering cake adorned with Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. I feel like Cappe would fare pretty well if he swapped spots with a home cook on Wall of Chefs.

“I think that with an editor who was kind and with my wife as my sous chef—a.k.a. do most of the heavy lifting and let me stand in front of the camera and take the credit—I could make it to the second round,” he says with a laugh.

Wall of Chefs airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Image courtesy of Corus Entertainment.


HGTV’s Family Home Overhaul debuts at “exactly the right time”

When the pandemic hit, it threw television into disarray as productions were delayed as the sector scrambled to be safe. But finished series were affected too. Family Home Overhaul, HGTV Canada’s latest series, was originally slated to debut back in April, but that was scuttled to Sunday. Host Cheryl Hickey is totally fine with the switch.

“I think this show is needed more than ever right now,” Hickey says during a phone interview. “We need a show that reminds you that your neighbour might be going through something you don’t know about. It’s about compassion and giving outside of yourself and it is airing at exactly the right time.”

Debuting Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV Canada, Family Home Overhaul is exactly what it sounds like, with a bit of a twist. Instead of homeowners pledging to have their homes renovated, they have been put forward by others in their community. These selfless families have put others before themselves, and the program—and its stars—is giving back.

In Sunday’s first episode we meet Sarah and Kevin, who are deeply involved in their community and volunteering worldwide to train medical practitioners on the unique needs of child patients and coaching sports for disabled kids and adults. The parents of two boys, Landon and Hayden, 12-year-old Landon has required round-the-clock care his whole life because of a rare developmental disorder. The result? Their older home is falling into disrepair and has workarounds that aren’t working at all. Enter Kortney and Dave Wilson, who work with Hickey to refresh the home and bring it up to date.

Each week, a pair of HGTV Canada’s talent join Hickey, including Scott McGillivray, Tiffany Pratt, Sebastian Clovis, Kortney and Dave Wilson, Brian McCourt, Mia Parres, Kate Campbell and Dave Coleman, Sarah Keenleyside, Joey Fletcher and Dave Kenney, Samantha Pynn and Tommy Smythe.

Hickey may be more known for her hosting duties on ET Canada, but she dives into the fray on Family Home Overhaul, helping with the renovations, conversing with homeowners and designer/contractors and speaking to the homeowners’ friends and family, building a picture of who these people are and why they deserve others’ giving back.

“I jumped at the chance to do this,” Hickey says. “Everything that I do starts and ends with family. I started a business called Cheryl’s Home and Family and if you follow me on social, it’s all about my family. So it made sense. The idea of giving back, to me, was just such a beautiful idea, I was all for it.”

Family Home Overhaul airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV Canada.

Images courtesy of HGTV Canada.


Nations at War returns to APTN for stories of North American conflict

Nations at War is about the conflicts Indigenous groups have had between each other and outside forces throughout North American history, but the goal of the program—returning for Season 2 on APTN this Saturday—isn’t to celebrate the violence. Rather, it’s to show how damaging it is.

“I want people to realize that war is the least effective and worst option to resolve any issue,” says Tim Johnson. “It is almost always instigated by someone who is looking for an easy path to success or is really desperate.” Created by Johnson, the first season of Nations at War outlined how a continent of nations became dominated by three. The sophomore go-round of 13 instalments examines the impact of migration and the arrival of newcomers on those nations.

Nations at War is the kind of program that should be part of Canadian school curriculum. I learned more about how First Nations groups were pushed out of their land by Europeans in one 22-minute episode than I did a whole course of Canadian history in high school. Narrated by David Lyle—and featuring experts like Simon Fraser Professor of Archaeology, Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn—reenactments, stock footage, breathtaking CGI and stunning music, Nations at War gallops at a breakneck, exhilarating pace. I headed to Google several times during a screener of Episode 11, “Broken Promises,” for more information.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” says producer and Métis filmmaker Jason Friesen (Health Nutz). “Tim is very enthusiastic and a knowledgeable person about history. It got the wheels turning for me, creatively, and we all need to know more about our history.”

Johnson did an incredible amount of reading in preparation for Nations at War. Growing up in Halifax, his junior high history classes recalled the Mi’kmaq peoples of the Maritimes. For him, Canadian history meant Indigenous Peoples, followed by the invasion of the English and the French. When it came to creating Nations at War, it was all about telling the human story, and the more obscure or interesting the better.

“Jason and I sat down with my bullet-point list and said, ‘OK, why is this story good?'” recalls Johnson. “Jason is Métis, so one of the things he said was, ‘I want to see Métis stories.'”

As Nations at War tells, for the majority of human history, North America’s population was entirely Indigenous. Then, in the early 1600s, Europeans began to establish colonies along the Atlantic coast. These settlements became gateways through which millions of people would eventually flow west, creating demand for new land.

Europeans weren’t the only people creating chaos as they settled across North America. The Ojibwe and Lakota were already on the move, and their migration created a domino effect which provoked conflict and cultural change, as peoples who already called the west home fought to defend their territory.

“I want people to tune in and have those moments of, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’ Googling it and opening things up to conversation,” Friesen says. “People get certain ideas about what they’ve read or been told in the past, and the way we present it gives many different perspectives.”

Nations at War airs Saturdays at 7 p.m. Eastern on APTN.

Images courtesy of Athan Merrick.


Two new hosts enter the tent for Season 4 of The Great Canadian Baking Show

From a media release:

A new team will enter the tent to host season four of CBC audience favourite THE GREAT CANADIAN BAKING SHOW. Comedians, actors, writers and Second City alumni Alan Shane Lewis and Ann Pornel will join returning judges Bruno Feldeisen and Kyla Kennaley to cheer on 10 new Canadian amateur bakers. Based on the hit British format and produced by Proper Television, production on the fourth season is currently underway in Toronto for broadcast and streaming on CBC and CBC Gem in winter 2021.

Canadians had a healthy appetite for season three of THE GREAT CANADIAN BAKING SHOW, with the series reaching 1.2 million viewers each week on CBC TV and ranking as CBC Gem’s most-watched factual entertainment series during the 2019/20 season. Audiences looking to satisfy their craving in advance of the new season can catch up on the first three seasons on CBC Gem.

Based on the beloved British format, THE GREAT CANADIAN BAKING SHOW brings together 10 amateur bakers from across the country to compete in a series of themed culinary challenges that celebrate their diverse backgrounds, families and communities. Competitors on the homegrown series have the opportunity to go up against Canada’s best bakers, while also competing against themselves as they strive to achieve their personal best. Each episode features three rounds including the Signature Bake, the Technical Bake and the Show Stopper. After the bakes are tasted and critiqued, the judges decide who will become the week’s Star Baker and who will be sent home, with the final three bakers competing for The Great Canadian Baking Show title.

THE GREAT CANADIAN BAKING SHOW is produced by Proper Television in association with CBC and Love Productions. The executive producers are Lesia Capone and Cathie James, and the series producer is Marike Emery.