Seconds before the ceremonial  trophy smashing

Thanks to my pals at Insight Productions and CBC, I was able to enjoy an ice level view of Monday night’s Battle of the Blades finale. It was close enough to get a better sense of what this series is all about and where it has to go.
Watching on television, the focus is mainly on the former NHL hockey players. And why not? They dedicate three months to making this astonishing transformation into figure skaters.
Having a corner seat at the cavernous Pinewood Studio at the foot of Toronto, however, there was a better sense that this is, really, a figure skating showcase. The world champion female figure skaters are truly the engines behind this series. Up close, you can fully appreciate their power and showmanship. These women are ripped and ready.
Many of the fans in the studio audience were there to see the figure skaters–including co-host Kurt Browning–to get their autographs.
In some ways, the finale seemed anti-climatic compared to Sunday’s near flawless final competitive skate by the three remaining pairs. When host Ron Maclean declared Valerie Bure and Ekaterina Gordeeva the winners, there was little of the drama or elation that comes with the ultimate American Idol coronation. Any of the three final pairs could have won.
So when the Battle of the Blades crystal trophy tipped and smashed to the ice before the end credits had a chance to even roll, it seemed about right. Maybe that’s how these things should end every time, executive producer John Brunton suggested after the show; the winners should smash the trophy to the ice. While all the participants were very competitive, who wins isn’t really all that important.
Which is what’s both right and wrong with Battle of the Blades. Neither Brunton nor anybody associated with the series will give out exactly how many Canadians vote to determine the outcome. While Brunton said it was the highest vote total ever–by far–I’m guessing it falls far short of past fan votes for another show Brunton used to produce, Canadian Idol.

Runners-up Bourne and Brisebois

That’s become there is far less of a feverish, fanatical fan base at play on Blades. It is less of a pop idol popularity contest and more of a genuine sporting event.
That elevates it in my book (especially compared to ABC’s dumbass Skating with the Stars spectacle), although it doesn’t seem to elevate it in the ratings. Sunday’s final skate-off saw ratings hold at their usual 1.5 million viewers, a great number Sundays on CBC but not the bump one might expect from a finale. There is just less drama, I’m thinkin’, in the outcome of this contest.
I ran into CBC interim vice president Kirstine Stewart after the show and briefly asked about the future of the series. She says it will be back for a third season, they’re just working out the details. The hardest part, she said, was finding hockey players healthy enough to take part. Many ex-NHLers are pretty beaten up at the end of their careers, with torn shoulders, knees and bad backs keeping them out of any ice show.
The great success of the eight hockey players who gave it their all this season may actually work against recruiting the next eight. The bar has been raised so high it may scare off all but the brave.
So here are a few suggestions as to how to make season three work for both viewers and participants.
1. Raise the prize money to $250,000. There needs to be a little more edge and drama to that finale announcement, and with big money prizes now commonplace on everything from Survivor to Idol, $100,000 to charity isn’t enough. Call it the Kraft, Canadian Tire or Tim Horton’s Battle of the Blades or whatever it takes to goose that prize tot he next level.
2. Leave the final results to a panel of actual, international, figure skating judges. Forget the phone poll. Let experts pick the winners next time, and see if Canada agrees later. If Blades is going to tilt toward being an true athletic competition, let it play out that way to the very end.
Besides, controversy is key in figure skating. Results have never been democratic before, why start now?
3. Give out Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. The worst part of Monday’s show was seeing anybody lose. Let each of the final three pairs take home something cool (that doesn’t break!).
The most poignant moment for me Monday night occurred off camera. Todd Warriner and Isabelle Brasseur were the first pair eliminated. At the commercial break, Brasseur skated to the sidelines to comfort her daughter, who seemed quite upset that mommy had lost. I think a bronze medal might take away some of that sting, for family members as well as for viewers at home.
4. Mix things up with female hockey players and male figure skaters. Cassie Campbell and Haley Wickenheiser should be in on this, especially if the ex-NHL pool isn’t as deep and healthy as once assumed. A little Annie Oakley wouldn’t hurt this show.
5. Hold a preliminary hockey skills competition to decide which figure skaters take part next time. Would be fun to see the skate on the other foot.
6. Three words: the Hanson Brothers.

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