Rating the replacements

Steady as she goes seems to be the message emerging from the three big Canadian networks at mid-season this year.
The reason for this is fairly obvious: no one wants to rock the boat at the moment or take a big hit. Barring nuclear war between India and Pakistan or U.S. bombs dropping on Somalia, audiences might take a break from news programming abroad and settle in to a couple of fresh shows this winter.

Steady as she goes seems to be the message emerging from the three big Canadian networks at mid-season this year.

The reason for this is fairly obvious: no one wants to rock the boat at the moment or take a big hit. Barring nuclear war between India and Pakistan or U.S. bombs dropping on Somalia, audiences might take a break from news programming abroad and settle in to a couple of fresh shows this winter.


The Job

Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. – start date: Jan. 15 (ABC: Jan. 16)

(Was a short-lived mid-season replacement last year.)

The story: A jaded, chain-smoking New York City cop struggles daily with a never-ending stream of personal and professional challenges.

The cast: Actor-comedian Denis Leary (The Ref, the Asshole song) stars.

The verdict: This show hinges heavily on Leary, whose popularity seems to ebb and flow with the collective mood of middle America. It could work, given that cops are the flavour of the month in Manhattan and Leary’s jaded razor tongue could appeal in what are perceived as tough times. No one does this better than Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue (hence his collection of Emmys), but some will be looking for a dose of humour with their police tales, and this might be the show to provide it.

Cindy Drown, VP, associate media director at Cossette Communications-Marketing, says: ‘It’s a shame that it started so late and missed the fall hype that it deserved. Wonderful show.’

Top Guns

Premiers this spring

The story: From the producers of the feature smash Top Gun. Reality series that follows pilots through flight training school.

The cast: Tom Cruise only wishes he was as cool as these guys (and gals) who fly F-14s. These folks are the real deal.

The verdict: Interest in all things military is at its apex and shouldn’t fade anytime soon. A peek into the lives of the people who fulfill every young man’s dream of becoming a fighter jet pilot should appeal quite broadly.

Should score sky high. ‘Shows like JAG have done well and built audience steadily,’ says Sherry O’Neil, VP, director of broadcast buying at OMD Canada. ‘I think we will see a lot of military-based programming. Relationship-based reality shows are slipping, so it could perform well.’

Global CH

First Monday

Fridays at 9 p.m. – previewed Jan. 14 (CBS Jan. 15); start date: Jan. 18

The story: A series about the nine justices of the Supreme Court, whose ‘momentous decisions’ make history and headlines.

The cast: Veterans Joe Mantegna, James Garner and Charles Durning star.

The verdict: In case CBS was wondering, people get all the momentous decision-making they need from CNN these days, live from Capitol Hill and Christiane Amanpour somewhere in Afghanistan. The last thing they need or want is a heavy-handed rendering of American justice, as dispensed by a collection of aging tough guys in judge’s robes.

Scott Neslund, managing director at Starcom Worldwide, says: ‘There are high expectations for this, based on the success of West Wing, but it is uncertain whether the show will be priced out of the market. The question is whether the network provides the right audience guarantee number.’

In other words, the jury’s still out on this one.


Imagine That

Tuesdays at 8 p.m. – start date: Jan. 8; cancelled Jan. 18

The story: Hank Azaria (the voice behind half the characters on The Simpsons) gets his own show. Hank Azaria squabbles with his network bosses at NBC over creative issues. NBC cuts the series short, throws it on air for two weeks, then cancels it. NBC airs sitcom re-runs in its place until it finds a new show.

The verdict: Before it was cancelled, Neslund said that while Azaria ‘is a talent,’ the show ‘has a potential for failure.’ He was right.

That ’80s Show

Wednesdays at 8 p.m. – start date: Jan. 23

The story: That ’80s Show follows the lives of a group of twentysomethings finding their way through the Me Decade in San Diego, Calif. Set in 1984, it focuses on Corey and Katie, who live with their dad, R.T.

The cast: Much like That ’70s Show, this program features a group of virtual no-names, who will either end up living in trailer homes in Arizona, or living next door to Jennifer Lopez in the Hollywood Hills.

The verdict: I am proud to say that I have never been able to relate to That ’70s Show: the poster that hung on my wall was not of Freddie Mercury but of Duran Duran. There is something very appealing about the decadent, shallow era of Reaganomics (bless him, God bless America), but it may be a tad premature for Carsey-Werner and team to be rolling this one out.

If this show holds the same appeal as its predecessor did, then the small production house (which also made a star out of that horrid Rosanne woman), might have a winning franchise on its hands.

Drown says she has ‘seen the pilot, and was not overwhelmed.’

The Associates II

Fridays at 9 p.m. – start date: Jan. 18

The story: Set in the wild and woolly world of a Bay Street law firm, the show tackles both the legal cases and personal issues faced by the firm.

The cast: Tamara Hickey as a gorgeous young lawyer. A bunch of Canadian actors who have a hard time looking like actors – I mean lawyers.

The verdict: While there are still too many lawyer shows swimming around aimlessly on TV, The Associates has done well in producing a show that focuses on the realities of life for young lawyers. It is balanced, it is supporting a number of quality guest stars and it is of surprisingly high quality (for a Canadian show). If numbers don’t falter, CTV and Alliance Atlantis should have a most successful home-bred series to run with.

‘This is good solid Canadian fare,’ according to Drown, ‘but it’s not going to be a blockbuster.’


2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City

From February 8 through eternity

The story: CBC Sports delivers a billion hours of live coverage of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

The cast: Olympic hosts Terry Leibel, Ron MacLean and Brian Williams, plus a healthy collection of drug-addled athletes from frost-bitten countries looking for sponsorship deals with camera manufacturers.

The verdict: Thanks to no small amount of graft on the part of Juan Antonio Samaranch and cronies, these games have become a bad joke. But according to Neslund, the Olympics should do very well, thanks in part to the fact that they are in a North American time zone this year.


Premiers end of March

The story: Four-hour dramatic series follows the late prime minister from the onset of Trudeaumania in the ’60s through to the 1981 constitutional crisis, touching on both his personal and public life.

The cast: Stars Stratford Festival staple Colm Feore.

The verdict: Great, four more hours about the ghost whose rakish good looks haunt the nation’s women (of a certain generation), and whose policies haunt the nation’s pocketbooks. Yes, it will score well, but if so, the next budget should go to the making of Ed Broadbent: A study in Canadian Comedy.

Drown feels that it will be ‘well-produced and should appeal to older audiences.’

Tom Stone

Premiers in February

The story: An ex-cop/ex-rig worker/ex-con gets recruited to work undercover for RCMP corporal Marina Di Luzio, a commercial crime specialist from Toronto, who also happens to be a nationally ranked amateur boxer.

The cast: Chris William Martin (Felicity, Peter Benchley’s Amazon), Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files, Beggars and Choosers).

The verdict: The series is written and produced by the same folks who brought us North of 60. Given the amount of TV production that goes on in the West, it is surprising that we haven’t seen a (Canadian) hit show in a while. If past success is any indicator, this should do well for the same team.

O’Neil says: ‘They have a good track record with North of 60. A lot depends on the competition.’

The Last Chapter

Premiers this winter

The story: A torn-from-the-headlines six hour mini-series set in the brutal and complex world of biker gangs. The series tracks gangs from coast to coast.

The cast: Michael Ironside, Roy Dupuis, Marina Orsini.

The verdict: Maybe Toronto’s Mayor Mel can do a guest appearance. Joking aside, every once in a while there is a news story that is truly worthy of a mini-series. This is one of them, and the CBC has the right tools to make this a success.

‘How timely,’ says O’Neil.