The CBC’s 2014-15 lineup is, by the public broadcaster’s own account, something of a work in progress, but it plays to existing strengths.
The new season features 12 new prime-time television titles and leans more heavily on comedy and serialized dramas with a predominantly Canadian flavour.
In a lengthy presentation, a parade of on-air talent spoke both of sticking with the “DNA” of a public broadcaster and of how fast it is changing as they unveiled a lineup fashioned in a time of upheaval for the corporation. The CBC lost its biggest draw in Hockey Night in Canada when Rogers snapped up the rights last fall, and it recently announced 657 job cuts as it faces a $130-million shortfall due in large part to a reduction in government funding.
The lineup “speaks to something of a change in direction,” said Heather Conway, executive vice-president of CBC English Services, adding that “we’re trying something different.”
And while Conway acknowledged that “asking for your patience is probably unrealistic,” she stressed the broadcaster is trying to “take a few risks.”
New prime-time shows appear aimed at a sophisticated audience. Strange Empire, an Alberta-based border Western casts women as its heroes. Camp X, from the writers behind Flashpoint, is a Second World War drama about a school for spies and the recruits it sends into the field of battle.
This winter, a six-part miniseries adapts Lawrence Hill’s decorated novel The Book of Negroes, starring Aunjanue Ellis. And Donald Sutherland produces and stars in the animated, made-for-television film Pirate’s Passage.
The TV schedule also features some major stars in international titles, including Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman, a drama focused on Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
The main new arrivals to the comedy lineup are Schitt’s Creek, a single-camera half-hour show created by the father-son duo of Eugene and Dan Levy; and Of All Places, a reality-style show where Jonny Harris of Murdoch Mysteries fame visits small Canadian towns to to find the charm and humour in them, even crafting standup routines about them.
The CBC is also reviving the quiz-style program Canada’s Smartest Person as a nine-part interactive series on Sunday nights that tries to “redefine” what it means to be smart. Jessi Cruickshank of The Hills: The After Show and Jeff Douglas of CBC radio’s As It Happens will host.
CBC Selects is a new venture that will present a collection of programs from other public broadcasters around the world, at once highlighting CBC’s own public function while tapping internationally popular programs.
With the ever-popular Hockey Night in Canada winding down its last broadcasts produced in-house in the next few weeks, the sports focus shifts to international competition, such as this year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil. CBC is also the host broadcaster for next year’s Pan American Games in Toronto.
The new prime-time TV lineup will be set up by audience favourite Murdoch Mysteries, back for an eighth season and now airing Monday to Friday at 7 p.m. – an effort to lead a large audience into its new offerings each night of the week.
Several other mainstays also return, from Dragon’s Den to This Hour Has 22 Minutes, as well as Republic of Doyle – though star Allan Hawco announced the coming sixth season of Doyle will be its last.
On radio, the lone change is the move of The 180, hosted by Jim Brown, to the 11 a.m. Sunday slot, shortening The Sunday Edition by an hour, as previously reported by The Globe and Mail.