Stewart’s gone, but the CBC party goes on

Interim CBC EVP Neil “Roger” McEneaney

What was missing from CBC’s 2013-14 fall launch party Wednesday was as telling as what was on display.
The most obvious missing piece was Kristine Stewart. This party was planned around the EVP and showcases her schedule. When she bolted to Twitter three weeks ago, she left the party without a hostess.
Still, the show must go on, and the media half of the event was impressive given the continuing austerity measures facing the public broadcaster.CBC’s media strategy of creating event buzz to distract from schedule blandness is still firmly in place.
There were no roller skating hockey players or rock bands playing to stars and critics on scaffolding as at recent launches. Instead,  folks were herded into elevators up to the 10th floor studios and funneled into a large, dark studio space. All was black, except for giant screens on the walls and a simple but cool white podium with CBC’s red logo on it.
Peter Mansbridge made a few, short, opening remarks. Up next came new interim executive vice president Neil McEneaney. He nervously welcomed the gathering and then got the hell off the stage.

Poorly dressed scribe awards Hawco a 2001 Sebring

A financial guy, McEneaney lacks Stewart’s cool program diva vibe. As I mention in an article today for The Canadian Press, with his well-groomed white hair matching his starched white shirt, he does come across as a sober Roger Sterling.
An electric sizzle reel was shown on three of the four walls of the large sound stage. The surround sound and visuals reminded a few of us older cats of those landmark, 360-degree Expo ’67 films. That notion followed us into the next stage in the presentation as the assembled wound our way through tented tunnels and into huge gallery spaces where giant posters of CBC radio and TV personalities looked down from above. A winding red carpet led past a photo op space, where Republic of Doyle star Allan Hawco and I interrupted our chat long enough to do the old “just won a car” picture bit. Another space was packed with sports memorabilia and audio visual displays reminding all that CBC has the Sochi Winter Olympic Games next February.

Cherry’s jacket was at the CBC launch, but no Grapes

Impressive, but Stewart wasn’t the only one missing from the launch. Arguably CBC’s biggest stars, Rick Mercer and Don Cherry, did not attend the press half of the launch either. I asked McEneaney point blank about Grapes future with the network and all he offered was the fact Cherry’s contract is extended year-by-year. Then again, with the NHL/CBC deal for Hockey Night in Canada elapsing at the end of the upcoming season, McEneaney probably has more on  his mind than just keeping Coach’s Corner.
CBC also missed a timely promotional opportunity, I felt. With a show called Cracked on their schedule, they could have had Rob Ford or at least a Ford impersonator at the event, clutching a crack pipe with a CBC logo on it. Hey, Fox would have done it.

I spoke with new Cracked co-star Brooke Nevin at the “white couch” portion of the press day. The series is returning but has just an eight episode order, which is sort of like asking the Leafs to win a playoff series with just four players. Nevin, a a Toronto-native who’s bit of a Jennifer Lawrence look-a-like, was cast after hundreds auditioned in four different cities according to executive producer Peter Raymont. She’ll play Det. Black’s (David Sutcliffe) new shrink. Look for the crime drama to tilt a little lighter.

One of the large displays along the red carpet
McEneaney chuckled when I suggested my big idea to grow viewers at CBC–give the Leafs $10 million. Let them go out and sign a great defenceman. If they had one this spring, they’d still be in the playoffs, and those five million-plus audiences would still be following Round Two of the playoffs, instead of the 1.6 million who checked Monday’s Detroit-Chicago game.
I also spoke with Ron James at the launch. His weekly comedy series is back for a fifth season, but his annual New Year’s Eve showcase had been shelved. Air Farce and, this year, Mr. D star Gerry Dee, will usher in CBC’s New Year.
Kurt Browning told me he’s pumped about co-hosting a fourth season of Battle of the Blades, which will be returning to the MasterCard Centre. There’ll be eight pairs but no casting news as yet. The series will air on Sundays, with results folded into the one night. Tom Harrington says Marketplace will be back with another full 20 episode order in the fall. Pulling a million-a-week on a Friday night tends to get rewarded at CBC. Murdoch Mysteries ace Yannick Bisson was also at the launch, deep in preparation as he’s about to direct the first episode of the upcoming season.
CBC quietly dropped that supper hour helping of Lang & O’Leary, instead stripping the Best of Rick Mercer Report five nights a week at 6:30 p.m.
Some new “factual entertainment” shows have been ordered; more on that in a future post.
Not on Wednesday’s tour: Wayne & Shuster’s 10th
floor Comedy Wall of Fame. Those were the days

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