CBC Sets Stage for Fall with Classy Launch

CBC threw a fall launch today at their Toronto bunker and damn if it wasn’t a first class operation. The public network and their PR agency, Media Profile, invited press types up to studio 41 on the 10th floor. That’s the home this season of The Ron James Show, which premieres a week from Friday at 8 p.m. James opens and closes each show by doing stand up, and part of his set–a large, gold-leaf theatre proscenium and red velvet curtain–provided the perfect focal point for CBC’s very theatrical fall launch presentation.
I got there as the Little Mosque gang was taking a bow. They return Monday, Sept. 28. Brandon Firla is the new guy, playing a big city minister who wants to evict the Muslims. Ah, conflict.
Next up was Rick Mercer. “I’m the one guy in Canada who wants an election,” he joked.
The Rick Mercer Report was CBC’s highest-rated entertainment show last season, averaging just under a million viewers a week. For the seventh season, which begins Tues., Sept. 29, Mercer will plunge off a cliff bungee jumping with Man in Motion Rick Hansen. “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a man in a wheelchair plunge 160 feet,” says Mercer.
He then introduced Ron James, who he called “more Canadian than warm mitts on a radiator.” James is pumped about inheriting the old Air Farce timeslot and has already shot four of his 13 episodes for the season. His show seems to cram a lot of comedy into half an hour, with stand up, sketches and animation part of the mix.
CBC smoothie Ron MacLean ran through the new and returning shows night by night. He brought Being Erica‘s Erin Karpluk to the stage. She says they are 3/4 through season two already and gave hints of what to expect. Erica’s going to edit a sex book, which should help spike ratings. She’s also going to “party with the biggest rock band of all time,” which sounds a little like Maggie and The Stones.
What about mysterious Dr. Tom? Michael Riley joined Karpluk on stage so he’s back. The bad news? The show is still a half hour too long. It returns next Tuesday.
The Dragons’ Den millionaires stood up next to prove that even rich people look like dorks when they have to read off TelePrompTers. Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec–the two dragons who swim in Mark Burnett’s ABC Shark Tank–resumed their fake feud. Herjavec wore a suit not seen since the heyday of Spike Jones in the ’40s. Boston Pizza boss Jim Treliving said the dragons put $15 million in play of their own money this season, which has been extended to 20 episodes. And why not? A Dragon repeat drew close to a million viewers last week.
Treliving also said the American tycoons on Shark Tank are lame and that the show needs him on it to kick ass. Or something like that. Anyway, he’s in Texas, call him, Burnett.
MacLean kept things moving with his usual pun-ishing ad libs. “As Tudors say to their wives, don’t worry, we won’t keep you long,” he said as he set up a clip reel from the steamy historical drama. Colm Wilkinson took the stage to complain he doesn’t get to do any bodice ripping this season.
The Border moves to Thursdays for season No. 3 (starting Oct. 8). Proud Concordia grad James McGowan was in the house and said his character gets kidnapped for an episode this season and is held hostage in Afghanistan. Doubling for Afghanistan–where else?–Caledon. If you drive up Hwy 10, you’ll pass the entrance to the old Con Smythe gravel pits. I flew over there recently (thanks to my neighbour Doug, who invited me up in his Cessna) and was amazed at how odd the geography was–all lakes and arid dunes, covering a fairly large region. Voila: Afghanistan. Maybe Bin Laden is hiding there!
Ron James came out next to take a bow on his own set. He said he’s living the Canadian showbiz dream, “it just took me 30 years to get here and now I need a nap.”
Saturday is Hockey Night in Canada, which MacLean mentioned began on CBC radio in 1931! Ron and Don Cherry are heading into their 24th season together. Jiminy.
George Stroumboloupolous came out next and shocked everybody by wearing black. He’s back for a sixth season with Michael J. Fox his first guest. TIFF favourites Drew Barrymore, Michael Moore and Clive Qwen also get face time on The Hour (You’ll Never Get Back).
MacLean and his puns returned to set up this new Battle of the Blades reality deal, which hits the ice Sun., Oct. 4. MacLean introduced the hockey player/figure skater pairs, including Christine Hough-Sweeney and Tie Domi, Kristina Lenko and Bob Probert, Jamie Sale and Craig Simpson and Isabelle Brasseur and Claude Lemieux.
Spoke with Probie, Domi and Lemieux after the presentation, three of the most feared men to ever play in the NHL. Now they’re like Curly, Larry and Moe. Lemieux had me in stitches with his tale of his very first game as a Devil against Probert, who nearly killed him with a cross check. Domi needled Lemieux, reminding him for the 500th time of the night he chased him all over the ice.
Domi then stood up and started trash talking Sale, which seemed a bit wrong. Sale gave it right back, saying Domi’s pumpkin head is way too big to figure skate properly, which is true.
This whole hockey-meets-figure skating idea is so offside it’s icing. Canada is going to be so obsessed with this show.
The room felt a little empty to me without Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson (not to mention Luba Goy and the Farce kids). Surely they’ll do another New Year’s Eve special? CBC programming boss Kirstine Stewart left her red shoes at home (her pumps were much more subdued this year). The munchies were off; too leafy for scribes who need to wolf down sandwiches before making with the questions. Picky, picky.
Otherwise, there was plenty of access to the talent and nothing felt rushed or panicky. Plenty of space to work and chat, good vibes all around. CBC put its best foot forward yesterday, subdued pumps and all.

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