Doyle, 18 to Life start strong on CBC

Critics join the CBC's Kirstine Stewart in praise of debuts of The Republic of Doyle and 18 to Life, a teen marriage comedy that could be next Heartland, Stewart says.

Favorable numbers greeted the arrivals of The Republic of Doyle and 18 to Life, thanks to strong lead-ins and gentler competition, though an upward march awaits CBC’s mid-season when new and top-rated US shows launch in the coming weeks.

Business was good for Doyle‘s debut on Wednesday at 9 p.m. where it generated nearly one million viewers, despite airing opposite The People’s Choice Awards on Global (1.8 million). The comedy Life contributed slightly fewer, 779,000 viewers Monday at 8 p.m., but beat the return of Heroes on Global with 600,000 viewers. (All numbers 2+.)

Doyle, the Newfoundland-set series starring co-creator Allan Hawco as one half of a father-son private eye duo, drew sound reviews from critics including veteran columnist and freelancer Bill Brioux, who called it a ‘welcome shot of testosterone on a CBC schedule that was too girly after a string of Sophies, Wild Roses and Ericas.’ Sun Media’s Bill Harris praised the show’s ‘compelling lead character’ but complained about the plot. ‘We pray that the first episode is not the best episode,’ he wrote.

Bankable reality show Dragons’ Den was a strong boost for Doyle at 8 p.m., where it fetched 1.9 million viewers, peaking at 2.4 million.

Both new shows produced results on the high side of expectations, says CBC’s executive director of network programming Kirstine Stewart. ‘We couldn’t have taken better care of [Doyle] in terms of giving it its best shot at a good launch,’ she says.

Doyle will face stiff competition from venerable crime drama Criminal Minds, returning to CTV on Jan. 13.

CBC is pushing both series on iTunes, offering the pilots for free.

Life, about the sudden marriage of two teen lovers, is drawing cautious optimism from critics. The Globe and Mail‘s Andrew Ryan cheers Peter Keleghan’s portrayal as an aloof father, declaring that the show ‘benefits hugely’ from his presence. Brioux expressed hope the show could grow to be a ‘good old-fashioned family comedy.’

Life will be up against the only new addition to CTV’s midseason, actioner Human Target, which begins airing Mondays on Jan. 18.

Layfield expects Life‘s family-friendly, broad-range appeal will benefit the show in the long run.

‘When we look at the growth that Heartland had, I don’t anticipate only maintaining 18 to Life, I actually see that it would have some growth,’ she says, referring to CBC’s successful Sunday family drama, which garnered 1.7 million viewers out of the gate last week.

The pubcaster’s other new show, Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town, premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. opposite reality juggernaut American Idol. The show was pushed for a week to avoid going up against the monster final of the World Juniors, according to Layfield, who says CBC’s midseason will go into repeats when the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games get underway Feb. 12.

From Playback Daily