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The highs and (many) lows from the Canadian Screen Awards

Host Martin Short, left, and Kristin Kreuk present an award at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on Sunday, March 3, 2013.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It wasn't the Oscars or even the Emmys, but the first Canadian Screen Awards provided a perfectly telling snapshot of our entertainment industry. The fact most Canadians never heard of the films and TV shows being feted didn't stop the show's producers from staging a glitzy Hollywood-style awards show.

Hosted live by Martin Short from Toronto, the inaugural Screen Awards effectively replaced the former Genie and Gemini awards, which for the past few decades have honoured excellence in Canadian film and television, respectively. The big winners of the night were the film War Witch, the crime drama Flashpoint and the comedy Less Than Kind.

As a TV event, the Screen Awards were occasionally plodding and certainly less polished than, say, last Sunday night's Academy Awards broadcast. The occasion assembled the brightest lights in Canadian cinema and television in the same room at the same time. Viewers were expecting an awards show. What they got was Schlocky Night in Canada.

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Some highlights and lowlights:

Welcome back to the eighties

It really looked like an awards show from the early 1980s. There was a fab-u-lous glimmering stage setup at the Sony Centre. There was a full-piece orchestra that swung into action every time a winner was announced. There were unnamed young ladies in gowns walking the winners offstage. And there were plenty of glamorous people sitting in their best tuxes and frocks.

The all-Canadian host

No question Short was more Billy Crystal than Ricky Gervais in his opening.

He floated in Tinkerbell-like on guywires singing Fly Me to the Moon and made quick with the schtick with lines like, "They had me so high up there I could see both of Mike Duffy's houses," and "I flew in today on Air Canada, or as Ben Affleck calls it, American Airlines." Cha-ching!

Once Short had the crowd in his pocket, he burst into a song-and-dance routine with "It's Marty's Party." He mugged shamelessly, he took a shot at Kevin O'Leary sitting in the crowd (everyboy hates Kevin O'Leary, right?) and came out in a kilt and pretended to be a set of bagpipes in an achingly long sketch. Later in the show, Short even resurrected his Ed Grimley persona to hand out an award.

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Look at our stars!

The first half-hour of the show was footage of big Canadian names smiling and posing along the red carpet, inexplicably set to a throbbing Eurobeat soundtrack; it was like an episode of Fashion File from 1998. But the talent: Alan Thicke! Cheryl Hickey! George Stroumboulopoulos! That guy from Mr. D! We have arrived.

Paying the bills

All manner of product placement – hey, who parked that brand-new SUV right on the red carpet? – and in-house promotion. And what exactly were those little segments going into break with a woman pushing cosmetic products she planned to use for her red-carpet appearance? And in the commercial breaks, extended plugs for CBC's upcoming biopic on Jack Layton and, hey, it's Martin Short selling potato chips.

Oh, the irony!

Taking the honours in two principal categories at the Canadian Screen Awards: two Americans. Veteran Hollywood fixture James Cromwell, born in Los Angeles, was named best actor for his role in the film Still Mine; Meg Tilly (Long Beach, Calif.) was declared best actress in a drama for her role in the period-piece series Bomb Girls.

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The B-team

Strange how some TV awards seemed to be excised from the live broadcast. Instead, the acceptance speeches for best sports host (Brian Williams) and best comedy (Less Than Kind) were relegated to short pretaped segments leading into commercial breaks. That doesn't seem very Canadian.

See Sarah run

Polley won best documentary for Stories We Tell and, in her breathless acceptance speech, she thanked literally everyone associated with the film, her family and even asked for an additional documentary category next year. Oh, and she also took a shot at Kevin O'Leary. Hey, when in Rome…

Painful banter

Just as Short didn't appear to be working off a script, neither were most of the presenters over-slick with the pre-envelope chat. Watching the actor Kim Coates attempt witty banter with Metric singer Emily Haines was awkward, but watching Meg Tilly and Rick Mercer attempt to make jokes about the current crisis with Canadian senators was downright painful.

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Burning questions

Who was the guy with the bushy black beard ushering winners off the stage? Why was Geneviève Bujold wearing a lab coat? Why does Alan Thicke still look the same as he did on Growing Pains? Has anybody in Canada actually seen War Witch?

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