If you haven’t seen the new CTV/NBC series The Listener, there’s another opportunity tonight at 9 p.m. NBC is running back-to-back episodes.
The supernatural drama (executive producer Christina Jennings calls it a “telepathic procedural”) stars Craig Olejnik as a paramedic who can hear people’s thoughts. Ennis Esmer plays his ambulance partner, Lisa Marcos a local detective in this shot-in-Toronto series.
CTV has promoted the hell out of it, slapping Olejnik’s face on billboards and bus shelters all over town, including up on the giant IFFU billboard opposite the CBC HQ on John St. They showed the first episode last night on Space (7 p.m.) and CTV (10 p.m.), using So You Think You Can Dance to give it the biggest possible platform.
In the States it has to follow I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, which has already slid into third place in its timeslot.
it has taken a long time to get this sucker to air. The hero with special powers stunt has been done elsewhere and often lately, on shows like The Mentalist, True Blood, Lie To Me and even Medium and Ghost Whisperer. Then again, as Fred Allen once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of television.”
UPDATE: Looks like all those billboards paid off. The Listener did 1.1 million Wednesday night on CTV, boosted by the 1.5 million who caught the lead-in, So You Think You Can Dance.
UPDATE PART TWO: The Listener had a rougher night Stateside, with only 5.25 million tuning in to the first hour and 5.34 to the second (according to NMR overnight estimates). Both managed only third place finishes in the demo.
Meanwhile, I profiled Nova Scotia native Olejnik in last weekend’s Starweek magazine, excerpt below:
Toby Logan, the hero of The Listener, can read minds. The 25-year-old paramedic is gifted with telepathic abilities.
The actor who plays him, Craig Olejnik, probably wished he could have read a few minds during the long audition process for The Listener—not to mention the long delay in getting the show on the air.
It was two years ago when his agent first delivered word of the Toronto-based project. The Nova Scotia native was in L.A. looking for U.S. pilot work at the time. He fired off a tape and was summoned north to read for the part. The Listener was a step up from other pilot scripts he had been reading. “Not too many shows actually had a lead in their mid-20s,” says the actor over the phone. “You’re usually playing a kid, a son or a daughter.”
On his side was the fact that he was a known quantity to the producers. Olejnik had worked for executive producer Christina Jennings and Shaftsbury Films before on the CTV TV-movie In God’s Country, which starred Kelly Rowan (The O.C.). He had a small part, but there was something about him, says Jennings. “Once you’ve seen his face, you can’t forget him. He has those eyes.”
Beyond that, Jennings found Olejnik projected a vulnerability that was key to the character. Toby Logan is a reluctant hero; he’s not sure if his ability to read minds and hear thoughts is a blessing or a curse. For years he has kept his telepathic powers to himself; only as the series starts does he decide to use his powers to help others through his work as a paramedic.
“There’s a little bit of a lonely, Peter Parker, Spiderman quality about the character,” says Jennings. “Craig has that same quality about him.”
Olejnik uses another blockbuster movie analogy to describe his character. “He’s a young Jedi and he doesn’t know exactly how to wield the power,” he says.