CBC going all Canuck in primetime

Pubcaster to make exception for 'Coronation Street'

TORONTO — Canada’s pubcaster has unveiled a bold and risky new schedule: CBC will become the only web filling its entire primetime slate with indigenous drama and entertainment.

Other webs rely on U.S. shows that pack the top 20 and draw audiences of 1 million to 3 million.

“There is a huge risk to this,” Slawko Klymkiw, director of network programming for CBC TV, said on Thursday. “But what’s the alternative, to give up on drama? When we broadcast high-quality Canadian shows, they attract large audiences. We need to produce more of these home runs.”

CBC’s one foreign indulgence will be U.K. soap “Coronation Street,” which will air weekdays in early primetime to give traction to the evening. The show often lures 800,000-plus viewers.

Canadians spend more than half primetime watching drama and comedy, of which less than 10% was made in Canada, according to Richard Stursberg, exec veep of CBC Television.

The pubcaster is the only net that already skeds primarily indigenous programming.

It plans to double the amount of primetime drama it airs over the next three years, and add more than 100 hours of Canuck drama to its schedule by 2007, increasing the current amount by 50%.

Much of the programming unveiled would strike a chord in the national psyche of the Great White North.

Included are a prequel to a miniseries on former prime minister Pierre Trudeau; a TV movie based on a memoir by Walter Gretzky, father of hockey great Wayne Gretzky; and biopics on renegade Quebecois politician Rene Levesque, founder of National Medicare Tommy Douglas and country diva Shania Twain.

There is also a mini dramatizing the famous Canada/Russia hockey series of 1972 and an as-yet-unannounced primetime soap.

The CBC also plans to revitalize its national news, strengthen its regional news and renew its children’s and sports lineup.

However, drama is expensive, and will make a huge hole in the C$400 million ($320 million) budget it receives from the government. It also gets coin from other funders and advertising.

“We’re going to have to make some hard choices about what we do and how we’re going to pay for it,” said Klymkiw.

This is a heads-up that some belt-tightening is on the way and that funders such as the Canadian Television Fund are going to continue to be the target of serious lobbying.

When he took over his post late last year, Stursberg asked the CTF to earmark 50% of its funds for the CBC.

“We’ve said to the feds, ‘Look, if you’re serious about dealing with the English-Canadian drama crisis, the truth of the matter is there’s only one potential locomotive to pull this train, and that’s the CBC.’ ”

In the latest round of asset disbursement, CBC productions received 43% of the dramatic pie of about $72 million.

There has already been some upheaval, as most of the CBC Television’s publicity division was recently pinkslipped, with much of the work to be outsourced. The CBC is also looking for partnering opportunities to promote programming and share costs and to increase international co-productions.

Not coincidentally, the CBC’s license is up for renewal in a year’s time, and the strategy will go down very well with Canada’s broadcast regulator.

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