If at first you don’t succeed…

Along with chapped lips, salt stains and shoveling-related injuries, the winter months inevitably bring a host of mid-season replacement series. Here's a rundown of what the conventional networks have in store....

Along with chapped lips, salt stains and shoveling-related injuries, the winter months inevitably bring a host of mid-season replacement series. Here’s a rundown of what the conventional networks have in store.

CTV

The Mole

Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

The story: Survivor meets John Le Carré. Contestants face a series of physical and psychological challenges, as they attempt to weed out the traitor in their midst. Winner takes a million dollars.

The cast: Snakes, rats, vultures and one mole.

The verdict: Faces a tough challenge from other ‘reality’ shows like Temptation Island and the new Survivor series. Diane Devries, broadcast manager at Cossette Media, says ratings for the initial airing were below forecast. ‘Hopefully… it will pick up. But it’s no Survivor.’

The Associates

Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

The story: Aaron Spelling comes to Upper Canada. Set in the Toronto office of an international law firm, the series chronicles the sex and power games of a group of twentysomething lawyers. Because really, haven’t we all bemoaned the shortage of lawyer shows?

The cast: Young hotties Gabriel Hogan, Tamara Hickey, Demore Barnes and Shaun Benson, plus veteran R.H Thomson, for a touch of Serious Actor class.

The verdict: With producer Alyson Feltes at the helm, it could be another Traders. But don’t bet the bank – next to the cast of Ally McBeal, these legal beagles look like chopped liver. Scott Neslund, managing director of Starcom Worldwide, says word of mouth has been pretty negative. ‘I can’t think of one buyer who said they liked the show.’

Committed

Debuts in March

The story: An animated series about a couple of modern-day parents – a working mom and stay-at-home writer dad – and their exasperating children.

The cast: SCTV alumni Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin lend their voices.

Verdict: Given the number of talented animators this country ships to Southern California, it’s about time Canadian viewers got to see a homegrown animated series in prime time.

Mysterious Ways

Mondays at 8 p.m.

The story: An hour-long drama series about one man’s relentless investigation of paranormal phenomena.

The cast: Adrian Pasdar (Carlito’s Way, Profit) and Rae Dawn Chong (Quest for Fire).

The verdict: What’s that going bump in the night? Oh, right – it’s the sound of yet another X-Files imitator plummeting to its ratings doom.

GLOBAL

Three Sisters

Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.

The story: A trio of siblings reunite when the eldest and her husband announce that their first baby is on its way.

The cast: Vicki Lewis, A.J. Langer, Katherine LaNasa, Peter Bonerz and the vaguely alarming Dyan Cannon.

The verdict: ‘Nails on the chalkboard,’ Neslund says. ‘A generous time slot, but I think it will go the way The Weber Show has gone. You won’t see it in the fall next year.’

Blue Murder

Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

The story: A Canadian crime drama about a special investigative unit, in the mode of Law & Order: SVU

The cast: Maria del Mar, Joel Keller and Mimi Kuzyk

The verdict: A not-so-subtle attempt to pull viewers away from the redoubtable Law & Order on CTV. Devries says Global is promoting the show well – but it’s not going to capture that 10 p.m. slot.

Survivor: The Australian Outback

Thursdays at 8 p.m.

The story: Do you even need to ask? Last year’s most addictive pop culture phenomenon makes its hotly anticipated return.

The cast: The sort of hyper-competitive nutballs you hope never to meet in real life.

The verdict: Throw another shrimp on the barbie – Global execs will have some celebrating to do. Neslund says broadcasters, advertisers and buyers have higher expectations for this than anything else that’s aired since the Olympics in September. ‘It will probably do phenomenally well.’

Popstars

Premieres Sunday Feb. 4 at 7 p.m.

The story: At last – your chance to learn what goes into the manufacturing of an all-girl pop group. The heartache! The tension! The pubescent character assassination!

The cast: A massive audition call – one of the largest ever held in Canada – yielded five all-singing, all-dancing finalists, who were rewarded with a recording contract from Universal Music Canada.

The verdict: And the hits just keep on coming.

CBC

Edgemont

Thursdays at 7 p.m.

The story: A realistic high-school drama set in British Columbia.

The cast: A gaggle of attractive-yet-edgy teen actors, including Dominic Zamprogna, Sarah Lind and Kristen Kreuk

The verdict: Dawson’s Creek meets Degrassi High? This gritty show could prove a sleeper hit for CBC, if the younguns can be persuaded to tune in while they’re waiting for Friends.

Opening Night

Debuts Feb. 1 at 8 p.m.

The story: Will showcase the finest in performing arts – ballet, opera, jazz and modern dance – from Canada and around the world.

The verdict: A worthy investment of our tax dollars, this will naturally attract viewers in search of more sophisticated fare. As for the rest of us…well, did we mention that Millionaire’s on four times a week?

SPECIALS

CTV

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

April 29 at 7 p.m.

The event: The network television premiere of the first Star Wars prequel, starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and a great many annoying CGI critters.

The verdict: Scoring a deal with Lucasfilm for exclusive Canadian rights to this film (and the two still-to-be-released prequels) is a coup for CTV. Devries says the premiere ‘will be one of the bigger events of the spring for middle-aged men – although blockbuster movies haven’t pulled audience away from regular programming in recent history.’

The Academy Awards

March 25 at 8 p.m.

The event: Perhaps you’ve heard of it. More than a billion people worldwide tune in every year. Steve Martin replaces the beloved Billy Crystal as host; it’s his first time, so one doesn’t know quite what to expect – but hey, he couldn’t be worse than Whoopi Goldberg. Could he?

The verdict: It was a lacklustre year for Hollywood, so viewer anticipation may not be all that high. Then again, the absence of any clear front-runner could make for compelling viewing.

CBC

Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story

February 4 at 8 p.m.

The event: A drama based on the true story of 16-year-old Marilyn Bell, whose swim across Lake Ontario in 1954 captured the attention of an entire country. Caroline Dhavernas stars.

The verdict: For what it’s worth, this is exactly the kind of thing the CBC does well.

Also in this report:

- Tried-and-true shows the ratings winners: Hard to build new series into hits, buyers say p.B10

- A channel surfer’s paradise: What’s in store from the specialties p.B14