The Gemini Awards at 25: Can Cory Monteith raise the coolness level?

The final gala for the Gemini Awards is tonight (8 p.m. on Global and Showcase). The annual industry wank fest takes place in the atmospheric Wintergarden Theatre in downtown Toronto. Elvis Costello, whose already canceled talk-‘n’jam series Spectacle is–whatdayathink?–the winner in the Best Canadian talk show category, will be rocking the joint.
Cory Monteith (left) is the host and I had a chance to talk to the Glee guy about that earlier this week. The 28-year-old Calgary-native was psyched to be asked to host his very first awards show and says his mom back in Victoria B.C. is freaking out to see her son climb so high on the Canadians-who-left ladder.
Monteith was also hoping to slip in a plug for a cause that is near and dear to his heart, a move to have Nov. 17 declared National Youth Homelessness Awareness Day in Canada. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite is behind the effort and Monteith is their ambassador. He’s a good choice, not just because he’s a sought after celeb on a red hot show, but because he is passionate about the cause, having been at risk of living on the mean streets of Vancouver at one point early in his career. More on that in a feature I’ve written for the Toronto Star that will be published shortly.
I have to disclose that I was in on an early planning meeting for this year’s Gemini statue fest. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m a Gemini, although it’s really thanks to my good pal, former MuchMusic boss David Kines, who is co-producing the deal along with Lynn Harvey (The Ron James Show). Ideas were kicked around with several writers and it was cool to be in on a TV show early instead of just waiting for it to air before kicking it in the nuts.
Among the ideas batted around was some sort of salute to David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things and Jeanne Bekker’s Fashion Television, both celebrating 25 year milestones. Somebody suggested combining the two in a sketch called, “The Nature of Thongs”–one of those hilarious in the room cracks that sadly probably won’t see the light of day.
As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity (thanks again to both of you) knows by now, I embrace the Geminis the way the liberal arts community in Toronto has embraced Rob Ford. There are too many categories and not enough legitimate entries so you wind up with canceled or unknown shows competing against one legitimate contender (see this year’s talk show category). Those in the room could care less, but the rest of Canada can only conclude that the whole deal is some sort of exclusionary joke.
There’s also a big problem in the news categories. CTV News has boycotted the Geminis for years, claiming decades of pro-CBC bias. Imagine if CBS pulled out of the Emmys. Why hasn’t this been addressed? Even more damaging, the shows Canadians have heard of, like Corner Gas and Air Farce, were never given their due by Geminis, which further distanced this clique-y little statue swap meet from the public.
The Academy clearly doesn’t care as long as the venue is sold out, every sponsor has at least 17 nominations and the cheques clear for the overpriced tickets. The TV show, however, slides further and further into irrelevancy, devalued through years of being an afterthought to the insiderish sponsorship racket and the greedy take at the door.
Instead of being prized as an annual audience magnet, whoever is stuck with the Geminis buries them into a quiet Saturday slot in November, opposite some hockey game. All of this has led to ratings that would make Being Erica’s anemic weekly head count look like American Idol.
This year, thanks to the buzz around Monteith, that could change. Spread over the two networks, the Geminis have a real shot at getting in front of more than half a million Canadians–even on a Saturday night on Global, the witness protection plan of Canadian television.
That’s good for the industry and good for viewers, too–the show itself was pretty entertaining last year and has potential to soar again with salutes to Degrassi and shout outs to all those U.S. cop shows that are scrambling over the streets of Toronto these days. Look for a presenter or two to acknowledge the passing of two great Canadian TV stars over the past year, Maury Chaykin and Jackie Burroughs. Feist and Ron Sexsmith are also scheduled to perform at the event. Kines is sure to bring a live and dangerous MuchMusic-style edge to the proceedings, which can’t hurt.
Like many stars working in Los Angeles, Monteith isn’t up on his Canadian TV shows. As he told me the other day, “There’s no Canadian package you can subscribe to on Time Warner cable.” Less Than Kind and Flashpoint, however, were two shows on his radar. I’m hoping Republic of Doyle takes home as many of those heavy chrome gumby thingies as the terrific cast can carry.
Monteith’s only concern heading into the telecast was that he didn’t “suck” as host. He’s a likable, talented guy, in good hands, so relax Mrs. Monteith, and enjoy the show.

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