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June 13, 2013

Stinson: Everything you need to know about the upcoming fall TV schedule


Scott Stinson / National Post

Upfront season, that period of the year in which the Canadian networks announce their fall schedules, has several predictable elements.

Broadcast executives will engage in awkward banter with celebrity guests on stage, and will immediately seem much more comfortable when they get to talk about things like audience share and reach growth.

Someone will proudly unveil the new acquisition of a U.S. series starring Big Actor X and Household Name Y, and then promptly trot out the third lead from that show, who will politely answer questions about what it was like to work with the more famous people.

Most reliably, every schedule will be said to contain the biggest dramas, hottest comedies and biggest specials of the season. Or maybe the hottest dramas and biggest comedies. It’s hard to make much sense of any of it, frankly, until the shows start airing, and we’ll get to the pilots in a later column. But with the upfronts now concluded for all the Canadian broadcasters, there are some items to observe.

Comedy north

Scripted Canadian comedies have been rare in recent years. No longer. Global announced a sitcom titled Working the Engles, from the writers of Miss Congeniality, about a family of non-lawyers trying to run their now-deceased patriarch’s law firm. HBO Canada also announced the Kim Cattrall comedy Sensitive Skin, from the fantastic team of Bob Martin and Don McKellar. Those new sitcoms, added to the already announced Satisfaction (CTV), Spun Out (CTV), Package Deal (City), will be on schedules alongside returning comedies Mr. D (CBC), Seed (City) and Call Me Fitz (HBO Canada). It is a veritable bumper crop.

Insert reality franchise here

The trend toward the importation of reality shows is still trending upward. CTV announced Masterchef Canada, while Shaw countered with Chopped Canada. (They both involve cooking, I’m told.) Meanwhile, CTV will launch Amazing Race Canada next month, a series for which I have a soft spot, and City will counter with Storage Wars Canada, a series I do not get at all. So, people bid for an abandoned storage unit, and then after someone buys it they find out what’s inside? I’m on the edge of my seat. Shaw is also bringing back Big Brother Canada and Top Chef Canada, and in perhaps the strangest bit of reality-show news, appears to be aiming for a bit of Kardashian/Osbourne-style buzz with a series built around the real-life exploits of a Canadian icon. I speak, of course, of Alan Thicke. In The Thicke of It will premiere on Slice next winter.

Haven’t I seen you somewhere?

It’s like the old saying goes, familiarity breeds sitcoms. Or something. There appears to be little that the networks like more than putting a recognizable face in a series and hoping that does the trick. Next season will include vehicles in which big stars make their returns to television: The Michael J. Fox Show (Global) and Kirstie (CTV), starring Kirstie Alley. There’s also The Crazy Ones (City), with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and vehicles for lesser stars such as Will Arnett (The Millers, Global), Sean Hayes (Sean Saves the World, Global), and Rebel Wilson (Super Fun Night, City).

Playing it safe

The Canadian networks continue to love their homegrown procedurals. The departed officers of Flashpoint’s Strategic Response Unit will be replaced on CTV by the officers of the Covert Investigations Unit, on new drama Played. Global announced a new hospital drama Remedy, from creator Greg Spottiswood (King). Those series are added to existing Canadian shows Rookie Blue (cops, Global), Saving Hope (doctors, CTV), Cracked (cops, CBC) and The Listener (cop/doctors, CTV). Specialty networks continue to be a bit more inventive, with returning seasons of Copper (old-tyme cops) and Continuum (futuristic cops) on Showcase as well as the fabulous Orphan Black — a serial! — on Space.

Please make an appointment

Networks are generally trying fewer reruns on their schedules in order to give viewers more reason to stick with them rather than flirt with younger seductresses like Netflix. But that’s also meant a move to what is now being called “short-order event drama” — series that have tighter runs that are intended to be high on suspense in order to suck in viewers and keep them coming back. CTV has Hostages, starring Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott, followed by Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger in the same timeslot when Hostages runs out of episodes in mid-season. City will have a hostage drama of its own, Crisis, premiering in mid-season. Spoilers be damned!