CanWest webs take youthful turn

Seacrest brought in to wow ad buyers

TORONTO — CanWest MediaWorks Wednesday presented an aggressive fall TV line-up for webs Global Television and the newly rebranded E! network to try overtake ratings rival CTV Network.

The lineup includes 15 new series, eight returns from last year and six that are back for a third season.

Global is running three of its larger pickups, sci-fi drama “Journeymen,” ensemble drama “Cane” and “Life,” at 10 p.m., Monday through Wednesday, following “Heroes,” “House” and “Bones” respectively. One of the few buzzworthy comedies to come out of L.A., “Back to You,” with Kelsey Grammer, will air Wednesdays at 8.

But the big change this year was the rebranding of CanWest’s second free-to-air network, CH to E!, which targets younger auds. The web brought in Ryan Seacrest to wow the ad buyers.

“It was very reminiscent of the big U.S. upfront presentations,” said Kevin MacLellan, president of Comcast’s international division, in Toronto for the event. “But I think the most interesting thing about the E! launch is there aren’t a lot of places in the world where you have the same people owning multiple free-to-air networks, and CanWest is one of them.”

The programming and overall look are reminiscent of what Toronto-based Chum has done with its own channels, also targeted to a younger audience than the traditional terrestrials. (Probably no coincidence, since Chum’s Star cabler had until recently held a long-term output deal with E!.)

CanWest and E! parent Comcast believe that this hybrid model, in which E!’s highly targeted programming airs on a terrestrial channel is the way of the future for terrestrials battling the cable onslaught.

“That’s why we decided to go with CanWest rather than any of the other players,” said MacLellan, who noted with chagrin that although Canada is right next door, the Great White North is the 128th country that E! has entered, in part due to Canadian regulatory issues and also to having to wait for the Star output deal to expire.

CanWest’s strategy, according to senior VP programming and production Barb Williams is to air E!’s salacious and reality-heavy programming in niche and off-peak slots, such as “E! News,” on weekdays and E!’s “Rich Kids,” “Sunset Tan,” “The Simple Life” as well as “True Hollywood Story,” and as before, focus its primetime block on Hollywood buys, which this year include “Viva Laughlin,” “K-Ville,” “Cashmere Mafia” “Kid Nation” and “Bionic Woman.”

The 1,500 or so upfront attendees had to step around 350 placard-waving protestors from the thesp union ACTRA calling on Canada’s broadcast regulator to force Canadian webs to step up indigenous drama production. Canadian stars Wendy Crewson, Gordon Pinsent and Colin Mochrie were some of the bigger names in the crowd, and though the demonstration drew plenty of attention, it did not disrupt the proceedings.

Ironically, Global has this year increased the amount of homegrown scripted programming it pumps out, (with new series “Da Kink in My Hair” set to air Sunday nights at 7:30 in the fall).

ACTRA’s Steve Waddell noted that it’s nothing personal. “We celebrate the fact that Global and CTV are producing more Canadian drama, but it’s not enough,” he said. “We use whatever occasion comes to us to get our message out.”

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