MONTREAL — Someone forgot to tell Canadian TV viewers that the sitcom is dead.
While the format struggles in the U.S., Canada has its first major homegrown sitcom hit in three decades.
“Corner Gas,” an ensemble comedy about ordinary folks in the fictional Saskatchewan town of Dog River (population, 450), is the hottest show of the season, averaging 1.4 million viewers on the CTV Network.
That makes “Corner Gas” the country’s top-rated sitcom, even beating rival Global’s “Joey,” which has so far averaged 1.3 million viewers.
The last popular Canuck sitcom was CBC hit “King of Kensington” way back in the mid-’70s.
English-speaking Canada has done better with drama in recent years and, in fact, there haven’t been many sitcoms produced over the past decade. French-speaking Canada, in marked contrast, regularly churns out hit local sitcoms and dramas.
The success of “Corner Gas” is doubly surprising as it is set in the prairies. Most of the major Canadian hit series have been set in urban centers like Toronto and Vancouver.
“People say the sitcom’s dead, but it’s obviously not,” says Susanne Boyce, prexy of programming at CTV. “It’s done well because the writing is superb.”
The show, which is in its second season on CTV, was created by standup comic Brent Butt, who comes from Tisdale, Saskatchewan (population, 3,000), and decided to pen a show about life in a small prairie town. Butt also stars as Brent LeRoy, the owner of the only gas station (and social center).
“I’ve always been a fan of shows that are premise-light,” says Butt, who is also a producer on the series. “You don’t have to deal with the premise each week, which frees you up to have interesting characters saying interesting things. Our stories are very small. They’re all, ‘Where’s my pencil?’ It’s ordinary life.”
Butt says he is as surprised as anyone by the phenomenal support for “Corner Gas” and is still trying to figure out why it’s outperforming the American competition.
“You grow up in this country expecting American shows to beat you,” Butt says.