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Former press baron Conrad Black speaks to the Calgary Enterprise Forum on Friday, May 10, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Former press baron Conrad Black speaks to the Calgary Enterprise Forum on Friday, May 10, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

John Doyle

Conrad Black vs. the Headless Horseman. Who wins? Add to ...

I suppose it would be redundant to ask how Conrad Black ended up co-hosting a TV show. He’s a natural, right?

Anyway, it’s happening – The Zoomer (Vision TV, 9 p.m.) starts tonight. It’s a chat show (it is also known as “Boomer with Zip!”, according to Vision TV) and Black co-hosts with Denise Donlon, whose résumé is just too long to include here. A clue as to the thinking about Black’s impending TV career and stardom can be found in Vision’s synopsis. It says the show is “co-hosted by Canada’s provocative and highly controversial columnist, historian, and pre-eminent intellectual Conrad Black.”

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“Pre-eminent intellectual,” no less. Ezra Levant might take issue with that. Probably already has on Twitter. Me, I thought that in these conservative times in which we apparently thrive, Don Cherry is our pre-eminent intellectual. But, there you go.

Mind you, the darn thing does sound like a souped-up version of Coach’s Corner: “In every episode, with wit, verve, tongue, and cheek, Conrad will conduct a feature ‘Conversation With Conrad,’ or participate in a panel discussion with some of the world’s Greats. His weekly ‘Talk Black’ editorials will tackle issues that really get under his skin – the U.S. justice system, prison reform, religious persecution, ageism, and the world’s financial crisis to name a few.” The topic of fightin’ in hockey will end up on that list, no doubt. Vision TV needs ratings, like every other Canadian channel.

Well, at least Black wasn’t obliged to launch his TV career by auditioning in his underwear. Perish the thought. Thing is, that’s the latest way to make it in the TV racket here. The Comedy Network, with “support” from Stanfield’s, the underwear people, is inviting Canadian chaps to get famous in their undergarments. Starting today, a nationwide talent search is under way that asks Canadians to audition in their underwear.

The prize is $5,000 and an opportunity to develop a pilot for Comedy. It’s not, officially, catering exclusively to chaps, but the instructions make it clear that lady contestants cannot wear a brassiere, and, at the same time, cannot “not wear a brassiere.” Very confusing and meant for chaps only, I’d guess. Canadian TV is brilliant, isn’t it? Who needs Breaking Bad when these shenanigans unfold hereabouts.

Speaking of ratings, Monday nights have turned out to be super-competitive on TV. The Zoomer/Boomer with Zip! show is in for a bitter battle for eyeballs.

Three weeks into this new, network TV season, people here and in the United States are definitely watching new and returning shows. For all the gloom about the future of network television, the execs are high-fiving each other in LA. Why, even as I was writing this epistle, Fox announced that it has renewed Sleepy Hollow (Fox, Global, 9 p.m.) for a second season. An out-of-the-gate hit (and co-created by that nice Canadian, Phillip Iscove) the delirious drama about Ichabod Crane being followed into the 21st century by a headless horseman and other screwy no-goodniks, has clicked with viewers. The same applies to NBC’s The Blacklist (NBC, 10 p.m.), with James Spader being roaringly good as a master criminal helping the FBI.

In Canada, The Blacklist is on Global and the channel is now claiming it owns Monday nights. It says Bones (Fox, Global, 8 p.m.) got 1.7 million viewers last week, Sleepy Hollow had 1.2 million, and 1.8 million watched The Blacklist. CTV would say it’s doing very nicely on Monday, with The Voice (NBC, CTV, 8 p.m.) pulling in 1.6 million viewers last week, and Hostages (NBC, CTV, 10 p.m.) getting about one million.

Mind you, it would be foolish to discount CBC’s success on Monday. Murdoch Mysteries (CBC, 8 p.m.) is now getting a solid 1.4 million viewers on Mondays and shows no signs of slipping. It’s bizarre that a series dropped by City TV is now a huge hit for CBC, but people are loving Murdoch and his cronies.

The challenge for Conrad Black and The Zoomer is to get those Murdoch viewers, the 45-plus age group, to switch from CBC to Vision TV at 9 p.m., from 1890s Toronto and ladies in frocks, to Conrad Black, who is not in a frock or a frock-coat. The other challenge he faces in the time slot, mind you, is the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, a riveting figure who wields a sharp axe.

Can Conrad Black’s sharp tongue beat the sharp axe of the Headless Horseman? Let’s see – he is, after all, Canada’s “pre-eminent intellectual.” And a natural, right?

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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