One of the most interesting segments of CBC’s spring upfront announcement was the network’s return to spotlighting the arts. What began earlier this month with televised HD performances of The Stratford Festival’s King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra and King John continues in October with the high-intensity Crash Gallery, evocative Exhibitionists and, in November, the inventive Interrupt This Program.
The trio of televised entries—along with online series in The Collective, Canada in the Frame and The Re-Education of Eddy Rogo—represent a re-focussing on something the CBC was known for years ago, but had dropped from schedules because of eroding ratings. Viewers’ tastes were changing, and a one-shot aimed at a ballet dancer on-stage just wasn’t cutting it. Those cyclical tastes have evolved yet again, and CBC is jumping in with both feet.
“As niche broadcasting has grown and as more arts online have exploded, it’s a natural place for us to come back,” says Grazyna Krupa, executive in charge of programming, Arts, CBC Television. “It makes complete sense for us to say, ‘Let’s figure out what works on television and expand what we do online as well. Let’s experiment a little bit and explore how audiences celebrate art in a new way.'”
That all begins Friday with Crash Gallery, a unique twist on the competition reality series. Shot in Vancouver and hosted Sean O’Neill, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s associate director of adult programming and partnerships, Crash Gallery pits three homegrown artists from diverse backgrounds in 30-minute head-to-head competitions. Their task? Create fresh art based on a theme in front of a live audience who vote their favourite work onto the next round. Friday’s debut pits puppeteer Jeny, illustrator (and past Top Chef Canada finalist) Pierre and painter Leilani, who—in the first round—are tasked with creating the theme of love onto a large canvas using paint-filled toy water pistols. After one artist is eliminated, the final two battle for supremacy by crafting a sculpture constructed of glow sticks.
“Crash Gallery felt fresh and new, and it’s immersive,” Krupa says. “We found we enjoyed being drawn into it like our children with Art Attack. The Crash Gallery artists get this immediate good vibe from the crowd. It’s more like an experience than a reality show. You’re not going to walk away from this psychologically damaged.”
Exhibitionists—hosted by artist, educator, actor and playwright Amanda Parris—consists of segments that currently exist on CBC.ca and introduces viewers to emerging and established Canadian artists from across the country and what they’re up to. Grupa says anything is game, from GIFs to Stephen Dunn, whose Closet Monster won Best Canadian Feature Film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
World art is brought to Canada via Interrupt This Program, which Krupa describes as having an Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown feel in telling the stories of street, spoken word, writers and performance art in such cities as Beirut, Athens, Port-au-Prince and Kiev.
Krupa isn’t peering at this plan through rose-coloured glasses, acknowledging that—like anything else on television—ratings will be the final word on this programming stream. The Canadian arts community is excited for the opportunity to be showcased by the public broadcaster, especially less-celebrated works by costume designers, architects and set designers beyond the traditional art categories.
“I want viewers to feel odd, amazed, proud and engaged,” Krupa says. “I want them to get something out if each program, whether it’s knowledge of art or a sense of adventure, and a celebration. These are, for the most part, joyous programs that lift your spirit and that’s what the arts do.”
Crash Gallery airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Exhibitionists airs Sundays at 4:30 p.m., and Interrupt This Program airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. (beginning Nov. 6) on CBC.