November 20, 2007

CBC unveils winter schedule

TORONTO - A steamy nighttime NHL soap and a gritty drama about immigration police grappling with the country's most daunting border-security issues are among the new, made-in-Canada shows announced Tuesday by the CBC in its first winter programming launch.

Starting in January, the public broadcaster will begin airing three new dramatic series, a new sitcom, a daily daytime lifestyles show with original "Designer Guys" Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman, and a new reality show that asks the question: "What happens when the women leave town for a week?"

Snippets of most of the new shows were shown to the media on Tuesday and all looked slick and impressive, particularly "The Border" with its definite "24" overtones and "JPod," based on the Douglas Coupland novel and featuring a debauched turn by Alan Thicke that had the assembled crowd in stitches.

The winter launch was the brainchild of CBC programming head Kirstine Layfield, who says she started planning for it long before the start of the screenwriters strike in the United States.

But she agreed that the timing of the strike couldn't be better for the public broadcaster, since the big American blockbusters that routinely trounce the CBC in the ratings when they air on competing networks CTV and Global will be going into reruns.

"All I see is opportunity - we have a shot," Layfield said. "People are going to be looking for something to watch, and I always find when people watch Canadian television, they are pleasantly surprised. It's hard, it's really hard, to make a mark and this is really going to help us."

"The Border," a show that U.S. networks are already eyeing as they look for fresh programming to air during the strike, debuts on Jan. 7 and delves into the issues facing an elite immigration and customs security squad in the post-9-11 world.

"MVP" is another show that's undeniably Canadian but deliciously steamy - it's a look at a fictional NHL team of hunky players and the women who love them, including wives, girlfriends, lovers and puck bunnies. It debuts Jan. 11.

"Sophie," premiering Jan. 9, is a sitcom about a single woman whose boyfriend cheats on her when she's eight months pregnant, and her struggle to deal with a failing business, a neurotic mother and a collection of oddball friends.

And "JPod" is a quirky new dramedy, debuting Jan. 8, that chronicles the adventures of a group of workers at a Vancouver video-game design company. It stars Thicke as the degenerate father of the lead character.

"The beauty of this character for me is that there are no rules," Thicke, in town to promote the show, said as he compared his "JPod" role with his best-known stint as the beloved Jason Seaver in the saccharine American sitcom "Growing Pains."

"Usually in a dad character, in American prime-time anyway, you have to be lovable by the time the show's over and you have to be responsible and polite and set a good example. And here I am, a guy who drinks rum and Gatorade all day and I exploit and manipulate my son all day long - I'm even having an affair with his former algebra partner."

"The Steven & Chris Show," premiering Jan. 14, will explore everything from home decor to cooking and entertaining.

And a new reality show set in Hardisty, Alta., "The Week the Women Went," explores what happens when all the women in town leave on vacation for seven days with little or no contact with their families, forcing the men to deal with all the housekeeping and child-rearing.

Also airing this winter:

-"The Englishman's Boy," adapted from Guy Vanderhaeghe's award-winning novel, is a two-part, four-hour miniseries starring Michael Terriault, Bob Hoskins and Nicholas Campbell. It airs on March 2 and March 9.

-"H2O II: The Trojan Horse" is the sequel to the 2004 two-part political thriller "H2O." Paul Gross, who co-wrote the miniseries, reprises his role as Tom McLaughlin, the former Canadian prime minister who watches from the sidelines as Canadians vote for union with the United States.

-"Test the Nation" is back on Jan. 20 with hosts Wendy Mesley and Brent Bambury.

-"Project X" sets out to explore science in an offbeat, entertaining, but intellectually challenging manner.

- "The Confidential Series" introduces viewers to quirky and little-known facts about everything from the multibillion-dollar doggy couture business to the dominance of the sneaker in popular culture.

-"Canada's Next Great Prime Minister" returns to CBC-TV on March 23. Hosted by Rick Mercer, the show is based on a countrywide quest to find Canada's brightest and most promising future leaders.

CBC also said Tuesday it has acquired the rights to "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" from CBS Paramount International. Both shows will begin airing in September 2008.

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