CBC plans new strategy

Staggered sked begins with special p'gramming in Sept., Oct.

TORONTO — Pubcaster the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. will kick off a “five-season” broadcasting year in a daring “guerrilla programming” strategy that execs are counting on to give it an edge over the competition.

At a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, CBC brass announced that starting in September five genre-based “seasons” will anchor the year to follow; event television, comedy and drama series, holiday programming, news series and specials, and hockey playoffs.

CBC executive director of network programming Slawko Klymkiw referred to each of the five seasons as a “crease” that will have a better chance when the “huge wave” of the fall kick-off of the other webs has passed.

So rather than launching everything in September (or January), the CBC is staggering its schedule, starting with a blitz of special programming in September and October such as the two-part miniseries “Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion,” chronicling a 1917 explosion that killed more than 2,000, the miniseries thriller, “Third World,” and the prequel to the popular “Trudeau” miniseries, “Trudeau II.”

In November the comedy, drama and the current affair seasons kick off. Most returning shows, such as “Royal Canadian Air Farce,” and “On the Road Again,” will have one-hour specials.

New shows include “72 Hours,” a 20-episode half-hour series delving into the background of crimes based on police records and “Ciao Bella,” a “Big Fat Greek Wedding” multicultural-style sitcom set in Montreal’s Italian community.

Another round of new skeins, including “The Rick Mercer Show,” will hit the airwaves after Christmas.

It’s all about “momentum, momentum, momentum,” said Klymkiw. With three national networks, several mini-networks and dozens of digital and pay-per-view channels, (plus the U.S. fare that flows north,) programming for TV in Canada is ultra-competitive. “We’ve got to stay flexible and ahead of the curve.”

He said the scheme grew out of lessons the pubcaster learned the hard way last year, when it kicked off a lackluster schedule with a 50th anniversary tribute that tanked.

Other highlights include “Cirque du Soleil: A Variety Series,” 13 episodes following on the success of TV specials on the famed human circus troupe that have each bagged over a million viewers — a very respectable number in a small market.

Returning shows include, “The Newsroom,” a parody set inside a fictitious pubcaster, and the sixth season of the popular and critically acclaimed coroner series, “Da Vinci’s Inquest.”

Other new fare includes MOW “The Piano Man’s Daughter,” from Sullivan Films, based on the novel by Timothy Findlay, and a new two-hour live Shania Twain special.

Comedy satire shows “The Royal Canadian Air Farce,” and “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” are celebrating their 10th anniversary. “These programs are the CBC, and we’re very proud of them,” said Klymkiw.

Ironically, “This Hour,” was rejected by the Canadian Television Fund after the government tightened its purse early this year, and is listed on the TV sked as “pending funding.”

The pubcaster is hoping that some funded shows won’t make it to production, freeing up monies that “This Hour” and a 13-part one-hour drama “Wonderland” can receive. Klymkiw did not say whether the shows will be cancelled if the CFT monies are not forthcoming.

Beyond the cutbacks, Klymkiw blamed the structure of the Canadian Television Fund itself. “There are ups and downs, but every year it’s like this, it’s a difficult and unplannable system for us, and I imagine it’s the same for others as well.”

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