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John Doyle: Television

A few bright hopes in CBC’s otherwise dreary season Add to ...

Go ahead and call me unCanadian. I don’t care.

What a country this is – tedious, smug and about as thrilling as a double-double and a Vanilla Dip at Tim’s. Look around, for heaven’s sake. What are people talking about? Let’s see: a government scandal that involves a Minister inserting the word “not” into a document – like a school kid ineptly changing the exam result before showing it to mom and dad, and then obfuscating as mom and dad sigh, realizing they have reared a weasel. As sizzling scandals go, it’s a tad lame.

But it’s got people wagging their fingers or using their fingers to type entirely predictable online comments using the sleep-inducing words “transparency” and “accountability.” (If you don’t believe me, try it – insomniacs would benefit greatly from saying “transparency” and “accountability” over and over at beddy-bye time.) There’s that to talk about, and there’s the annual rite of hand-wringing over an incident of doltish violence in hockey.

Given the general tedium of it all, it was no surprise that there was no surprise when CBC made one if its big announcements last Friday. “CBC TELEVISION ANNOUNCES 17 RETURNING SHOWS FOR THE 2011-12 SEASON” it said. Even the use of block capitals didn’t make it exciting. There followed, in an announcement as devoid of surprise as a performance by the Toronto Maple Leafs, that it was “confirmed” (as if the country had been gripped by wildly exciting rumours) that Dragons' Den, Battle of the Blades, The Rick Mercer Report, Heartland and Republic of Doyle would be back next season on CBC.

Poring over the statement and still managing to stay awake, I did note that This Hour Has 22 Minutes will return. Any mild enthusiasm that ensued was soon squished by the revelation that Being Erica and Little Mosque on the Prairie will also return. The sound of cheering by the shows’ hard-core fans was heard, somewhere, by somebody, later revealed to be a person who had failed to take their anti-delusion medication.

In the way of things, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Marketplace and The Nature of Things will also return. If they didn’t, there would be a public inquiry. Lawyers, angry petitions, the whole shebang. I mean, if David Suzuki isn’t going to save the world from self-destruction, then who is?

As so often happens with CBC announcements, what was missing was more interesting than what was in it. I was momentarily staggered to realize that the following shows were missing from the list – 18 to Life, Men with Brooms, Village on a Diet and the Debbie Travis show about finding nice people to celebrate with a home makeover.

The exclusion of 18 to Life is most odd. I suspect it is toast, even though it is very clever, because it costs about $50 an episode to make whereas InSecurity, a returning show for next year, costs about $4 an episode. Or so it looks anyway. (All figures in Canadian dollars.) On the other hand, money might not be the issue, seeing as Just For Laughs is not on the returning list and it looks like it costs about $1 per episode.

What’s new and coming for next season, you ask? Well, you didn’t, but I’ll step up and do the right thing here. So, pay attention: CBC has also ordered up several new shows for the 2011-2012 TV season. There’s Mr. D, content unknown, but it has a sensible title for a show starring comedian Gerry Dee.

Also the mini-series Camelot, a Canada-and-some-other-countries co-production with Joseph Fiennes as Merlin and big-eyed English actress Tamsin Egerton as Guinevere. And – wait for it – there will be a new show from Kevin O'Leary called Dealer to Leader. The mind would boggle if it wasn’t already distracted thinking about Tamsin Egerton, not Kevin O’Leary.

A small shining hope exists in the news that another new CBC show is Michael, Tuesdays and Thursdays. That’s a comedy written by Bob Martin and directed by Don McKellar – you know, the people who gave us The Drowsy Chaperone musical. Oh, this could be really good. One hopes. Further research by me (thanks, Google) indicates it will star Martin, with Martha Burns and Jennifer Irwin. Pity they couldn’t get Tamsin Egerton, but never mind.

Wait a minute. Word has just reached me that Canada is now gripped by news of a geography mistake uttered by IBM’s supercomputer Watson on Jeopardy! It has emerged that Canadians are livid following Watson’s answer of “What is Toronto?” in reply to a question about “a U.S. city.”

Give that computer its own show! It would be a dead-handy replacement for Jeopardy! on CBC. Let’s call it “Talking to American Computers.” A comedy hit, for sure.

Am I wrong? Am I unCanadian? Should I go back go the beginning of this epistle and insert “not” before the bit about Canada being “tedious, smug and about as thrilling as a double-double and a Vanilla Dip at Tim’s”?

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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