Bless the CBC. While other Canadian networks and cable interlopers are constantly testing out reality-TV and other parlour tricks to pull in viewers, our public broadcaster appears firmly fixed in its programming tack. After more than a half-century, the CBC mandate is still about news, sports and turning the stories of real-life Canadians into compelling TV movies. And even more important, the CBC continues to show us how to laugh at ourselves.
Unlike the other upstart networks, the CBC has always done a stellar job of telling great Canadian stories. The care and creative effort extended to this week's fact-based movies The Walter Gretzky Story: Waking Up Wally and Shania are part of a Canadian television tradition that reaches all the way back to CBC's The Whiteoaks of Jalna and The National Dream, and even long before.
Similarly, the self-deprecating subversion of The Rick Mercer Report can be traced back to venerable CBC shows like Kids in the Hall, CODCO and even Wayne & Shuster.
The CBC still seems more concerned with content than flash. Certainly it makes no sense that all three "big-ticket" events are scheduled in the same week -- and running on consecutive nights against U.S. programming -- but that's simply another CBC tradition.
The Walter Gretzky Story:
Waking Up Wally
Sunday, 8 p.m.
The setup: Based on a true story, it dramatizes the struggle by Canada's most famous hockey dad to recover from a brain aneurysm in 1991.
The talent: Canadian film fixture Tom McCamus (I Love a Man in Uniform) is well cast as Walter; TV veteran Victoria Snow (Street Legal, Paradise Falls) plays his wife, Phyllis. Newcomer Kris Holden-Reid portrays Wayne Gretzky.
Why you should watch: The movie is derived directly from credible source material -- the best-selling book Walter Gretzky: On Family, Hockey and Healing -- so the viewer experience is authentic, as are the innumerable hockey scenes spread throughout. Also: In a true-life subplot, Walter's only daughter Kim (Tara Spencer-Nairn) falls in love with her father's physical therapist (Matthew Edison). Ain't that sweet?
The message within: It is possible to survive a life-threatening situation with a little help from family and friends.
Shania: A Life in Eight Albums
Monday, 8 p.m.
The setup: It's the early career of Canadian songstress Shania Twain, starting with her days as an eight-year-old prodigy singing in Northern Ontario bars for tips and moving straight on through to her breakout success as the biggest-selling female country artist of all time.
The talent: Shania is portrayed by Meredith Henderson, most recently of The Adventures of Shirley Holmes. Canadian actress Megan Follows gives a memorable performance as her mother, Sharon. Also: The movie was directed by eight-time Gemini Award winner Jerry Ciccoritti.
Why you should watch: Shania's success story really is remarkable, and it's played out in equal measures of tragedy and triumph. The film depicts Shania's personal devastation by the death of her parents in a car crash, after which she became a single working mother to her own brothers and sisters. There's also first-time insight into Shania's relationship with symphony conductor John Kim Bell (Darrell Dennis) and the influence of her grandfather (Gordon Tootoosis) who introduced her to native music.
The message within: There's just no replacement for that dogged Canadian determination.
The Rick Mercer Report
Tuesday, 8 p.m.
The setup: Basically, it's the exact same show as Rick Mercer's Monday Report, except now it airs Tuesday.
The talent: As before, it's all Mercer -- thankfully. The format will again find him talking to Canadian celebrities, politicians and folks on the street. A new twist is the addition of ex-Buzz twerp Daryn Jones, who will contribute reports.
Why you should watch: Once again, Rick Mercer. He's completely outgrown This Hour Has 22 Minutes and has evolved into one of this country's most politically astute commentators. The trademark Mercer dry humour displayed on specials like Talking to Americans is still there, however, and it's obvious in every aspect of the show -- though he's not above a little fun: In the first new show, he travels to Trenton, Ont., for a skydiving lesson with the Canadian Armed Forces. The lad's a trooper.
The message within: Sometimes our very best people don't make the move to the U.S.