CBC bets on St. Urbain’s Horseman

CBC programming boss Kirstine Layfield reveals some of her fall strategy.

CBC is hoping to lure viewers away from the September premieres of Global’s Survivor: China and the simulcast of its new Fox comedy Back to You, with its mini-series St. Urbain’s Horseman, based on the popular novel by Mordecai Richler.

Horseman is slotted to air in two parts on Sept. 19-20 at 8 pm ET, opposite comedies Back to You and ‘Til Death on Wednesday, and Survivor on Thursday – though it will avoid the big-ticket premieres of CTV’s Private Practice, CSI and Grey’s Anatomy, the following week.

Horseman follows the post-World War Two struggles of a television and film director, and stars David Julian Hirsh (Naked Josh), Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and Elliott Gould (Ocean’s Thirteen).

CBC programming boss Kirstine Layfield concedes it’s ‘absolutely’ harder to draw audiences to miniseries as opposed to longer-running shows, but says September is good timing for Horseman.

‘It’s back to school . . . a time when people are thinking about literature in different ways,’ she says, adding that publishing house McClelland & Stewart will be releasing a special edition of Richler’s award-winning book to coincide with the premiere.

Layfield says CBC is pickier with the mini-series it commissions, but adds that Horseman, the lone mini on the pubcaster’s fall schedule, fits in with the ‘From Page & Stage’ initiative, which it launched last year in support of Canadian literature.

‘This is the second to come out of the gate under the initiative, following [Margaret Atwood's] The Robber Bride. We believe people will enjoy minis if they’re positioned more as special events and if they know the author,’ Layfield explains. Robber Bride, starring Mary-Louise Parker and Wendy Crewson, aired to 535,000 viewers in January and earned an Emmy nomination for the former.

Also airing in September is Test the Nation: Watch Your Language, the second installment of the CBC quiz show series, hosted by Wendy Mesley and Brent Bambury. Contestants will be tested in the areas of word origins, spelling, grammar and punctuation. The first edition of Test the Nation nabbed 1.5 million viewers earlier this year, airing opposite CTV’s Law & Order: CI and The Amazing Race. Watch Your Language debuts Sunday, Sept. 9 at 8 pm.

This story first appeared in Playback Daily.