Tag Archives: Discovery

Discovery heads into a new Frontier

Allan Hawco is up front that Frontier is not “an Allan Hawco vanity project.”

He says that a couple of times during the course of our chat about Discovery Canada’s first foray into scripted television. Yes, he’s set to co-star in the six-parter about the fight for wealth and power in the North American fur trade of the late 18th century, but he’s not the lead. That honour goes to Jason Momoa. Instead, Hawco will remain largely behind the scenes, serving as an executive producer alongside his fellow Take the Shot Production partners, two of whom—Rob (on the right in the above picture) and Peter Blackie—actually conceived of the project.

“There are so many stories to mine from history around the world, especially here in Canada, that has never fully been exploited,” Hawco says. “That’s just bizarre to me. I think there is a real appetite from Canadians to hear their stories told in an interesting and thought-provoking way.” Hawco, who starred, directed, wrote and produced Republic of Doyle for six seasons describes Frontier as being the story of the birth of capitalism in North America, and the greed, blood and power that went along with it. Frontier begins with The Hudson Bay Company, which has a monopoly on what’s happening during the fur trade in the region that will one day be Canada. Smaller factions seek out their own piece of the pie; Hawco portrays Douglas Brown, who plots alongside his brothers to steal some of the HBC’s thunder.

Rob Blackie explains the idea for Frontier came about thanks to a chance meeting at MIPCOM between business parter Alex Patrick and Discovery’s Edwina Follows. The network’s interest in having more dramatic, scripted programming lead to the brothers kicking around ideas for a time period history-based series; they presented Follows with two projects and Frontier was greenlit.

‘It’s an interesting, super-violent part of Canadian history that not a lot of people know about,” Blackie says. “As soon as we started researching it, we were shocked at how little we knew and how conflictual the time period was. The deeper we got, the more interesting it got.” Momoa plays the series’ anti-hero, a part-Irish, part-Cree man named Declan who works with a gang and becomes an unlikely host to a boy named Michael who has been living on the streets of London. Other cast includes Alun Armstrong, Landon Liboiron, Zoe Boyle and Jessica Matten.

Production just wrapped filming in England and has set up shop in St. John’s until a Christmas hiatus. Then it’s on to Louisbourg, N.S., to film at the famous fort and Morrisburg, Ont., to capture action at Fort Wellington in February.

“Winter has an inherent beauty and, if you can capture it, an amazing production value,” Blackie says. “And it’s true to the story. Winter was an important part of the fur trade.”

Frontier debuts on Discovery Canada and Netflix outside of Canada in 2016.

(Photo credit: Duncan de Young on set of Frontier.)

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Canada’s Worst Driver careens into Season 11

You’d think that, after 11 seasons on the air, host Andrew Younghusband would throw up his hands and drive away from Canada’s Worst Driver. After all, instead of slowly improving the way this country’s drivers are, they seem to be getting worse. Then again, Worst Driver is more about entertainment than education, no matter what Cam Woolley, traffic expert and former OPP sergeant; Philippe Létourneau, professional high-performance driving instructor; expert driving instructor Tim Danter; and registered psychotherapist Shyamala Kiru may say. And ratings don’t lie: Season 10 was the most-watched show on Discovery.

Returning Monday to Discovery, Younghusband gamely welcomes nine Canadians and their nominators to the series’ top-secret driving location—not really, it’s Dunnville, Ont.—where they’re put through the paces for the next eight weeks before one is saddled with the dubious title of Canada’s Worst Driver.

This season, challenges will be faster, and all take place in a super-charged Dodge Charger (a beautiful car mistreated by all) in recognition that cars continue to perform at a brisker pace. And in a series first, Younghusband dons a racing suit to introduce higher-speed versions of classic Worst Driver challenges like “Eye of the Needle” and the “Water Tank,” as well as new tests to demonstrate the real-life risks of high-speed driving and its effect on precision and judgment.

As with previous seasons, the producers give viewers a chance to get to know each of the competitors as they drive to Worst Driver‘s track. There’s Renee, who freaks out if she drives over 60 km/h and throws on her four-way flashers to encourage everyone to go around; distracted driver Jordan; lead-footed Tina, who quaffed a vodka cooler and shooter before driving to the show; inadvertent speeder Cameron; angry driver Alex; grandmother Polly; crier Jillian; and siblings Sholom and Shmuel. Yes, Worst Driver is fun to watch, but it’s also damned scary. All of these folks are more focused on texting, eating, drinking and updating their Facebook profiles than they are on the road; what does that say for the people around me on the road every day?

Sure, Worst Driver is about those behind the wheel and loved one’s riding in the backseat or shotgun, but Younghusband is a bona fide star. You can’t help but laugh at his quick wit and expressive face, especially when he’s incredulous at what these competitors do.

It only took me half of Monday’s return to have a grave dislike for Tina. She saw no problem with drinking before hitting the road and confronted Younghusband when he lightly suggested she might have a bad attitude. Still, it is early days, and she may—along with the others—realize the err of her ways and improve. If not? She’ll be Season 11’s Worst Driver.

Canada’s Worst Driver airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on Discovery.

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Preview: Highway Thru Hell hauls into Season 4

There’s something horrifying about watching a tractor trailer, weighed down with supplies, sliding slowly off an icy highway and into a ditch. It’s a bit of a mind-blower to witness the effect millimetres of frozen water has on such a big beast. But it’s something Jamie Davis and his staff see almost every day during winter travel on the Coquihalla Highway and he’s made a career out of it.

This Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on Discovery, Highway Thru Hell rolls on with 13 new episodes, documenting the successes, drama and disappointment that involves Davis, his staff and competitors. It takes a special type of person to go into the freezing cold and pull rigs off chunks of highway with nicknames like “The Smasher,” but it’s just another day for Big Al, who’s at the helm of Quiring Towing; within minutes of the Season 4 return he’s helping the occupants away from their smashed car, worried they’ll be injured by a sliding rig.

Meanwhile in Lac La Biche, Davis is busier than ever, and has expanded his fleet to cover not just the oil fields but Edmonton itself.

And while you can rest assured the Coq gets slippery in winter, there are changes afoot in Season 4. Davis’ right-hand man, Howie, left to work for a city-based towing company to be closer to his family, and Adam cut ties to work for a rival outfit in B.C., meaning Colin has to step into the role. Colin’s first job? To pull a tractor trailer upright using the rotator, a tougher machine to operate than a tow truck, and newbie John has two decades of towing on his resumé, but must prove he belongs on the B.C. team.

What I like about Highway Thru Hell is the lack of extra fluff. Sure, we learn the personal stories of the folks working these snowy strips of asphalt, but the focus is almost always on the men and women putting their lives on the line to help others out of a tight spot. (And kudos to the producers, who often include a quick science lesson as to how these trucks ended up in their precarious positions.) I may not have the skill-set to drive a tow truck and haul rigs around, but I can certainly appreciate and salute those who do.

And man, does it look stunning in HD.

Highway Thru Hell airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Discovery.

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Preview: Discovery’s Fool’s Gold takes time striking it rich

I enjoy watching shows about guys who are more manly than me. Dudes who go into the woods and put life and limb on the line trying to eke a living out of the earth. Real men like the fellows on Discovery’s Fool’s Gold, returning Tuesday with two back-to-back episodes at 8 and 8:30 p.m. ET.

I only wish the guys would spend more time working to find gold than talking about it. Back for the sophomore season is boss Todd Ryznar, head of Shotgun Exploration, and his crew of men—foreman Roj, builder extraordinaire Jimmy and workers Grizz, Matt and Mike—who meet up nine months after the last mining season in Atikokan, Ont., northwest of Thunder Bay.

The bills have piled up and Todd is desperate to find gold to pay them. His solution? Spend $16,000 on a hammer mill that will extract gold flecks from rocks more quickly and efficiently on Straw Lake. But to reach the 100 ounces of gold Todd aims to mine by the end of the season—enough to pay everyone and those pesky bills—he needs all of the equipment to work flawlessly. That, of course, doesn’t happen … leading to plenty of frustration for both team members and viewers. There’s a lot of bleeped expletives, befuddled expressions and thrown shovels as the hand-made trommel and newly-purchased hammer mill both crap out.

By the end of Episode 2, everything is back up and running smoothly, but a lot of time was wasted on a needless competition pitting Roj and Jimmy against Matt and Mike to see which pair pulled the most gold out of the earth.

The boys of Shotgun Exploration manage to score gold, but I wish they’d stop fooling around so much.

Fool’s Gold airs Tuesdays at 8 and 8:30 p.m. ET on Discovery.

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Discovery’s Daily Planet kicks off Season 21 in style

It seems like just yesterday that Daily Planet debuted. With Jay Ingram at its helm, the show—then called @discovery.ca—launched with a goal to explore the scientific angle to current events. Twenty-one seasons later, Daily Planet continues on that path when the show returns to Discovery on Monday with “Extreme Machines Week.”

“We have people on the team who have been with the show since the very beginning,” says Dan Riskin, who has been co-hosting Daily Planet with Ziya Tong since Season 17. “We’re really proud to be representing them.”

Daily Planet shows no signs of slowing down, ratings-wise. Season 20 was the most-watched yet, the third year in a row a viewership benchmark was beaten. Tong, who has been at the helm since 2008 when she joined Ingram, thinks she knows why.

“We have all of these specialty theme weeks that we didn’t have in the past when I started,” she says. “We go off to the Consumer Electronics Show every year, we’ve got Shark Week now and we have a wonderful interactive audience that’s growing with us. It’s a very different show than it was 20 years ago.” She’s right. With themed weeks devoted to toothsome fish, high-tech toys, tornados, future tech and extreme machines, and reporting done at a fast-paced, almost fever pitch, Daily Planet has evolved alongside the science it reports on.

“It’s like learning with a wow factor,” Tong says. That fast pace extends behind the scenes too. Tong describes how seasons are planned well in advance, with on location filming of future segments happening during the summer. Those doc-style bits are intercut with the stuff the team learns about, writes up and reports on every day of broadcast. Deadlines are so tight, Riskin reveals, some floor segments are still being filmed when that night’s broadcast is underway.

“Extreme Machines Week” launches Season 21 with several interesting segments, including tech correspondent Lucas Cochran mounting a pogo stick on steroids, a gyrocopter pilot who aims for a world record and a unique job in Amsterdam: bicycle fisherman. Riskin jetted to the Netherlands’ capital to catch up with Richard and Tom, two dudes who pilot a crane and barge contraption that travels Amsterdam’s canals pulling discarded bikes out of the water. If the pair don’t keep up their task, the accumulated rusting metal—up to 15,000 bikes a year—will clog up the waterways. The segment also shows the duo pulling the hulk of the car out of the murk, leading one to wonder if other, more ominous, items have been discovered.

“The question everybody asks is, ‘Do you ever find dead bodies?'” Riskin says. “Yes, they do. It often happens in winter when somebody has to take a leak and they fall in. It’s hard to find a way out of those canals when it’s dark and you’re drunk.” Ah, science.

Daily Planet airs Monday to Friday at 7 p.m. ET on Discovery.

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