Amid all the buzz about television viewers changing their habits and switching to streaming, CTV believes Canadian audiences are still more conventional than some may think.
The broadcaster has the luxury of surveying the Canadian television landscape from the top as it continues to draw the highest ratings. And as it unveiled its fall lineup on Thursday, its executives aren’t about to start fixing a model they don’t believe is broken.
Competitors’ lineups, also announced this week, show signs of notable shifts in strategy. In response, CTV’s schedule features its fair share of newly-acquired prime-time pieces that are programmed to draw viewers by the millions. But it also has a heavy dose of returning shows, such as the ratings giant The Big Bang Theory, which have had no trouble keeping televisions tuned in.
“There’s no question that, despite all the noise about the new entrants and the YouTubes and Netflix and Amazon Prime and things of that sort, the overwhelming majority of viewing happens on linear television, on your big-screen TV,” said Kevin Crull, president of Bell Media. “And it happens on the major networks and major specialty channels.”
(Bell, the parent company of CTV, owns a 15 per cent share of The Globe and Mail.)
Bell’s networks have plenty of live programming to compete with an expected deluge of hockey games to be broadcast by Rogers channels this fall. Bell still carries the Super Bowl and the Oscars, not to mention a cluster of regional hockey games on TSN. But its main draw remains the evening blocks of drama and comedy leading into its national news broadcast at 11 p.m.
Among the network’s new shows is The Millers, a comedy starring Will Arnett (Arrested Development), which is paired up with The Big Bang Theory on Thursday evenings. CTV snapped the show up from Global, where the first season aired. Later in the Thursday comedy block, The McCarthys will make its debut, about a young gay man desperate to escape the pull of his tight-knit but clingy family.
All that humour plays a set-up role for one of CTV’s most highly-touted buys, the legal thriller How to Get Away with Murder, starring Oscar-nominated Viola Davis (The Help) as a magnetic law professor who gets too mixed up with some of her students as she drives them to learn the profession’s hard realities.
Also picked up ahead of its second season is Resurrection, a show driven by the eerie premise of dead people returning to life, and to their incredulous families, which will run Sunday nights in competition with a newly-programmed hockey broadcast on the rival City channels.
Superheroes will be key to defending CTV’s ratings, with two new dramas landing in the crucial 8 p.m. slot: Gotham on Monday, which traces the backstory to the Batman franchise through police commissioner James Gordon, and The Flash on Tuesday, which brings the speediest of comic book characters to the small screen.
And among the most intriguing new titles is a mid-season addition, American Crime, led by the producer behind the hit film 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley. It tracks the fallout of a brutal killing and the racially-charged trial that follows, led by award-winning actors Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton.
The lineup remains heavily American, but includes some Canadian successes such as Saving Hope, which will move into a slot to be vacated by Grey’s Anatomy, and the sitcom Spun Out, which was recently renewed for a second season.
On Bell Media’s suite of specialty channels, the flagship new acquisition is The Royals, which peeks inside the not-quite-private lives of a fictional British royal family, starring Elizabeth Hurley as a Queen who bears little resemblance to the current real-life monarch.
But a more immediate payoff might come from Jimmy Kimmel Live moving to The Comedy Network, to air after The Daily Show with Jon Stewart late on weeknights. Kimmel has boosted his profile in Canada of late through a series of over-the-top encounters with beleaguered Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – a connection he played up in a recorded message at CTV’s upfront presentation on Thursday afternoon.
But it’s clear the Mayor won’t be his sole source of Canadian punch lines. “Please come pick Justin Bieber up,” Kimmel joked. “We’ve had enough.”