CBC Upfront: Yuks from George, Rick, Peter, Kirstine and Wendy

Canada's public broadcaster served up some laughs during its upfront presentation in Toronto yesterday. The Ceeb touted its plans and even worked in a shot or two at CTV. Here's MiC's coverage of the event, along with deets on the fall prime-time sked.

A standing-room-only crowd packed the CBC’s upfront presentations in Toronto yesterday, and host George Stroumboulopoulos got the crowd laughing about the failure of his previous show – The One – to reach episode five, never mind a second season. It was a lighthearted event with lots of jokes – some funny, some not.

Some of the funny? After interviewing members of the Little Mosque on the Prairie cast, Stroumboulopoulos said the show’s success brought forth countless pitches for Muslim-themed shows. He rhymed off a few titles (complete with on-screen posters): Allah in the Family, Let’s Mecca Deal and Coach’s Qu’ran. There was a video segment from Hockey Night in Canada hosts Don Cherry and Ron MacLean that also got a lot of yuks.

Stroumboulopoulos’ interview with The Tudors cast member Henry Czerny sparked a lot of mirth with questions of a sexual nature (and somebody in the crowd said they saw – gasp – ‘a bum’ during a montage of sex scenes pumping the show). Rick Mercer carried on the sexual innuendo with a mild joke involving his youthful fantasies about newscaster Knowlton Nash.

And there was a cute little moment when Peter Mansbridge – after telling the crowd why CBC’s news offerings are the best in the world – got into a fanciful discussion with a fan about how he accommodates his holiday schedule by filming the nightly news months in advance. Along with a second-banana stint on stage, the lucky admirer got Mansbridge’s permission to ‘add him as a friend on Facebook.’

Exec director of programming Kirstine Layfield boasted that the Ceeb’s ratings are the highest in five years (a claim that contradicted a May 14 article in Playback Magazine, which cited BBM Nielsen numbers showing the last season to be the worst in CBC’s history).

‘We literally stole Next Great Prime Minister from CTV and made it into a show that Canadians watched,’ said Layfield. Then she amused the crowd by pitching the pubcaster’s programming slate to the four hosts of Dragon’s Den – one of whom called Hockey Night in Canada ‘the crack cocaine of television.’

Long-time CBC host Wendy Mesley wrapped up the humour with a Test the Nation-style recap of the presentation’s main points. The most memorable of the multiple-choice questions was one about the premise of the new show No Opportunity Wasted. The correct answer: The show is about giving people the chance to transform their lives in 72 hours, not about defacing the CTV billboards mounted across the street from CBC’s HQ.

CBC’s Upcoming Sked

Overall, the net has nine new shows for the fall and another seven slated for January. Commenting on the choices, Layfield told Playback Daily that ‘Drama is always the hardest to crack, (but) it’s not all about drama. It’s about dramatic stories, and you can find drama in sports, documentaries . . . everywhere.’ Here are the deets announced so far:

The sexy historical mini-series The Tudors, which documents the life of a young Henry VIII, stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Henry Czerny and airs in the 9 pm Tuesday time slot, leading out of Rick Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Tudors is an Irish-Canadian co-production that’s currently running on Showtime in the US.

No Opportunity Wasted, the reality series that puts Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan to work helping Canadians face their fears in life-changing experiences, will air on Wednesday at 8:30 pm, leading out of the second season of Little Mosque (which airs through fall and winter with 20 episodes). Heartland, a family drama set in the Alberta Rockies, will air on Sunday at 7 pm, leading out of The Wonderful World of Disney.

Not yet time-slotted are St. Urbain’s Horseman, a miniseries based on the Mordecai Richler novel and starring David Julian Hirsh, Elliott Gould and Andrea Martin; Triple Sensation, a nation-wide search for Canada’s next young stars who can act, sing and dance; and Geologic Journey, a documentary series on the geology of Canada from The Nature of Things.

Torchwood follows the covert investigators of the fictional Torchwood Institute, a renegade criminal investigation group in Wales set up to battle hostile extra-terrestrial and supernatural threats. The Ceeb picked up the sci-fi series from the BBC and will use it to replace the cancelled hospital drama Jozi-H Fridays at 9 pm.

From the documentary unit comes Who Do You Think You Are?, a genealogy series in which 13 well-known Canadians (including Don Cherry, Shaun Majumder and Chantal Kreviazuk) set out to discover their family roots, as well as Darfur, hosted by actress and activist Mia Farrow, and new climate-change specials from The Nature of Things.

The second season of the Chris Haddock drama series Intelligence returns to the 9 pm Monday slot, leading out of the 8 pm reality show Dragon’s Den, which will have a second season of 10 one-hour episodes.

Also hitting the fall sked is Test the Nation: Watch Your Language, an interactive show about using and abusing the English language. It’s a follow-up to Test the Nation: National IQ Test, which garnered 1.5 million viewers last season.

Of course, Stroumboulopoulos’ The Hour returns to the 11 pm time slot, Monday to Friday. Also coming back to their longtime spots are Coronation Street, Canadian Antiques Roadshow, the fifth estate and Marketplace.

In sports, CBC’s got the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the inaugural season of the Toronto FC for soccer fans. Returning to the CBC Sports line-up this season are: CFL football, including the 95th Grey Cup from Toronto; Championship Curling; Championship Show Jumping; CBC Sports Weekend; and, of course, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. In baseball, the net will broadcast eight regular-season Toronto Blue Jays games this summer and up to 30 games next year.

In kids’ programming, a new show called Bo on the Go! will join new hosts Patti and Sid, along with returning Curious George, The Doodlebops, The Secret World of Og and Magi-Nation.

CBC will announce its 2008 schedule in November.

- With files from Playback Daily.