Promoting The Mother Corp

CBC-TV unveils 2004-2005 prime time schedule of ‘high impact’ programming
TORONTO (CP) – A political thriller starring Paul Gross, TV movies about the lives of Shania Twain, Tommy Douglas and the real Winnie the Pooh, and of course the Olympic Games in Athens.
These are some of the highlights of CBC Television’s 2004-2005 “must-watch” season unveiled at a fall preview event Thursday. Slawko Klymkiw, CBC’s chief programmer, says a strategy he introduced in recent years of opting for high-impact Canadian-themed specials and miniseries is paying off in increased ratings.
“It’s still an uphill battle,” Klymkiw says. “Getting people to watch Canadian shows might be the toughest job in the world, but it’s our job.”
As for the trend away from full series drama – there are no new ones on the schedule although Da Vinci’s Inquest and This is Wonderland return – network vice-president Harold Redekopp concedes difficulties.
“When you consider the kind of competition we’re facing. And even Telefilm is saying ‘Where are we going to put our dollars? We’re going to put our dollars where it has the highest impact.’ And they tend to be one-offs or short miniseries.”
And while the public broadcaster continues to boast of its mostly Canadian schedule, the realities of domestic and international programming today are evident in many choices this season.
Redekopp and Klymkiw say international co-productions have become a necessary alternative in the wake of the shortcomings in Canadian funding sources.
“If I can find 70 or 80 per cent of the cash offshore and I can get five Canadian stars in there, and I can have a Canadian production company do it, this is not only good business, it’s good public policy,” says Klymkiw.
Redekopp adds that besides, Canadians have more of an international perspective.
“Canadians like to see their stories connected to world events.”
As a result, viewers will see the co-produced likes of the miniseries Papa Alpha, about a Canadian relief mission worker in the Sudan (Canadian-Irish-South African) and A Bear Called Winnie, about the First World War army officer from Winnipeg and his adoption of a bear cub mascot for his regiment (Canadian-U.K.).
Also Chasing Freedom, about life in Afghanistan under the Taliban, but filmed in Canada (Canada-U.S.) and The Hamburg Cell, a movie about the Sept. 11 terrorists (Canada-U.K.-Germany-France).
Other so-called high-impact programs on their way include H20, featuring Paul Gross in what he describes as a “kick-ass” roller-coaster ride of a thriller about a possible political assassination and a prime minister with a secret agenda to sell off Canadian water to the U.S.
Il Duce Canadese is a four-hour miniseries starring Tony Nardi and Marina Orsini in the story of the wartime internment of Italian-Canadians in Montreal who were presumed to be pro-Fascist. And Megan Follows stars in Open Heart, about a cash-strapped hospital where an increasing number of child patients are dying.
Other titles promised last year but delivered this time around include Ciao Bella, a new sitcom about life in Montreal’s Little Italy, and Trudeau the Prequel, but without Colm Feore as the former prime minister.
“We made a decision there,” says Klymkiw. “We could never work out – and we tried very hard – between his schedule and our schedule. And we inevitably said ‘Let’s just go for a brand new cast and a brand new Trudeau.’ And that’s what we did.”
Other names seem to be noticeably absent from some programming promises, too. The T.C. Douglas movie was to star his grandson, Kiefer Sutherland, but his name is not mentioned in media materials. Apparently it remains a “work in progress”.
And incidentally, the only reference to Don Cherry during the CBC’s gala launch event was in the form of a clip from an Air Farce parody sketch. And no cast has yet been announced for the Shania Twain biopic.
And while there are fewer conditional announcements than last year – when a number of program projects were accompanied in the CBC press kit by asterisks that said “pending funding” – they haven’t disappeared altogether. Still up in the air, apparently, is a hoped-for comedy pilot called Getting Along Famously, featuring Colin Mochrie as a 1960s TV variety show entertainer.
Meanwhile, another Klymkiw strategy is what he calls traction.
In order to build an early prime time audience during the week, the enduring Brit soap Coronation Street will air four nights a week this summer and fall. And while Klymkiw insists CBC’s Canadian content remains the same, the network is promoting more offshore projects this year, from a new Forsyte Saga to more Miss Marple mysteries to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies.
– Some of the programming promised by CBC-TV during its 2004-2005 network season:
-H20. A genuine Canadian political thriller starring Paul Gross as the son of a possibly assassinated prime minister and who wins the leadership, but possibly with a secret agenda. Filmed in part in the Parliament Buildings, it airs as a two-part miniseries in late October.
-Sex Traffic. Shot in Halifax, London and Romania, this no-holds-barred Canada-U.K. two-part miniseries co-production stars Wendy Crewson in the story of the global business of trafficking in enforced prostitution.
-The Greatest Canadian. CBC’s campaign to get the public to nominate candidates comes to a head this fall, with a five-week series that will select a winner. More than 100,000 nominations were sent in.
-Canadian Antiques Roadshow. Valerie Pringle hosts a domestic version of the Brit-originated concept that was such a hit on Newsworld. Pringle crosses the country in 13 episodes to air on Newsworld and the main network.
-Wayne & Shuster – The Legacy Collection. A showcase of the best of the legendary comedy duo.
-Canada’s War in Colour: A three-part documentary from Yap Films that gathers from both public and private archives, rare, long-lost colour film footage taken during the Second World War.
-Athens 2004 – The Olympic Games on CBC Sports. The Summer Games return to Greece on Aug. 13 and CBC Sports will cover it for 17 days with Terry Leibel, Ron MacLean and Brian Williams.
-Making the Cut. CBC gets into the reality TV game with a 13-week series. Six lucky Canadians will win a search for the best unsigned hockey player who then gets a crack at the NHL.
-Shania. A two-hour movie chronicling the rise to fame of singer Shania Twain. No casting choices have been announced.
-The Tommy Douglas Project. A four-hour miniseries about the former Saskatchewan premier and federal NDP leader, considered the father of universal health care. Made with the approval of the Douglas family, there is no confirmation yet on earlier reports that Douglas’s grandson, Kiefer Sutherland, would play the title role.
-Trudeau – The Prequel. Also announced last year but delayed. This follow-up to the earlier miniseries looks back on the former prime minister’s early life in Quebec and his coming of age during the Duplessis era. But Colm Feore, who made such a splash as Pierre Trudeau in the original, will not be back in the role.
-Comedy Gold. A four-hour entertainment documentary celebrating the history of Canadian-born comedy from Mack Sennett to Mike Myers.
-A Beachcombers Christmas. Dave Thomas, Graham Greene and Jackson Davies return in the second spinoff of the legendary West Coast series. This one is about Dave’s plans to hold an old-timers hockey game in Gibsons Landing.
-Distant Drumming: A North of 60 Mystery. The TV movies that have followed the original series seem to have been more popular. RCMP officer Michelle Kenidi investigates the case of an elderly tourist found beaten to death in Lynx River.
-Coronation Street. A hit during the CBC’s British Week last year, the 40-year-old British soap will air four nights a week in prime time beginning in June. The series runs about six months behind telecasts in the U.K.
-Ciao Bella. Promised last season but delayed, this comedy is the story of a family of Italian-Canadians in Montreal.
-Back on the air for another year: Opening Night, ZeD, The Newsroom, The Red Green Show, Rick Mercer’s Monday Report, Royal Canadian Air Farce, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Life and Times, The Nature of Things, The Fifth Estate, Marketplace and Venture. Gone: Disclosure.