Shaikh and Firla yuk it up on Little Moque

Let me declare this right upfront: I never found Little Mosque on the Prairie to be all that funny. The CBC comedy ends a six season run with the opening of a new mosque tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET.
The series had its moments, and I liked it better when Carlo Rota was on board (he seemed to calm down a lot of the giddiness), but it was never appointment television for me.
I don’t think I was alone in this assessment. The series opened crazy big–2,196,000 viewers. An Olympic-sized number. A repeat the next day drew an additional 925,000. Back in 2007, CBC would have taken the repeat number.
The series was well launched, with the title sparking tremendous curiosity. Articles ran on both sides of the border buzzing about this Muslims series set in the mid-west.
A big opening is sometimes a curse, although most shows and networks would take it. Dan for Mayor and Hiccups both opened to two million on CTV after plenty of Winter Olympic and billboard hype. Yet, just as with Little Mosque, those numbers quickly fell off.
Corner Gas running six seasons and pretty much maintaining a 1.5 million a week average also set the expectation bar high. Mosque fell below that in the first season average and kept falling every year since. Below is the season-by-season ratings in both total, 2+ viewers as well as viewers age 25 to 54:

Season 1 (2006/7): 1,253,000; 510,000
Season 2 (2007/8): 810,000; 349,000
Season 3 (2008/9): 617,000; 234,000
Season 4 (2009/10): 519,000; 192,000
Season 5 (2010/11): 520,000; 185,000
Season 6 (2011/12): 469,000; 160,000 (weeks 20-27)

These numbers came with a release boasting “record breaking Canadian viewership” but compared to what? Not Corner Gas, which was a potent, consistent draw.
In my view, CBC was remarkably patient with the series, keeping it in its Monday timeslot despite an alarming drop off in viewers by third and forth seasons. Really, the decline in viewers was not that much different than what happened with Hiccups and Dan For Mayor, two Canadian comedies CTV cashed in after two seasons.

Prairie heat: Sitarah Hewitt

Mosque always had a talented, likable cast. Zaib Shaikh was a strong, nimble lead, with old pros like Sheila McCarthy, Derek McGrath and Debra McGrath meshing well with new faces Sitarah Hewitt and Arlene Duncan. (Press colleagues would always remark after a CBC meet-and-greet what a stunner Hewitt is in person.) Manoj Soot made the most of his peppery cheap laffs role as reverse bigot Baber.
Despite their efforts, I found much of the storytelling uneven at best. It had to have been a challenge for the writers to hit the right note on Little Mosque, a show that fell somewhere between the cutting social commentary of All in the Family and any of a dozen fish-out-of-water comedies. The series seemed most cartoon-y to me in areas where I thought it might have had the most opportunity, especially in confrontations between the imam and conservative talk radio host Fred Tupper (Neil Crone) and the not-so-subtly named rival cleric Reverend Thorne (Brandon Firla).
Certainly the initial success of Little Mosque had an impact in Hollywood. A bunch of us ran to file after Ben Silverman, briefly head of programming at NBC, singled it out as on his radar at a Banff TV Festival press session in 2007. A Fox deal to version the series for America was announced (but never materialized). Shows featuring Muslim characters made it onto American network schedules, including two comedies I liked better, Aliens in America and Outsourced. Outsourced in particular had a goofy sweetness I still miss.
Outsourced had something else I felt Little Mosque lacked: heart. You sensed the kooks on Outsourced or Corner Gas were a family, whereas that element always seemed forced on Little Mosque.
As for any lasting impact, I live in Brampton, Ont., where quite a few little and not-so-little mosques are well attended places of worship. When I’ve asked people here about the series, they usually have the same reaction I have–they wish it had been funnier.

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