If yesterday's CTV upfront had been a hockey game, it would have opened with "O Canada."
There was more solid Canadian content front and centre at a CTV upfront than usual, thanks to a dearth of U.S. shows to import and some timely investment in Canadian programming.
CTV CEO Ivan Fecan got to brag for the seventh straight year that his network was No. 1, that it owned 18 out of Canada's Top-20 shows last season, that it still stands as "the house of hits."
Still, there were suspiciously few charts and graphs for the advertising community to mull over at this year's CTV upfront. Better to just say you are No. 1 than to break out the year-to-year declines in demos and viewership overall (although CTV weathered the impact of the U.S. writers strike a hell of a lot better than Global did this winter).
Even Fecan's famous salesmanship could not entirely mask the malaise that has descended on network television. Hollow slogans such as "Television Rules The Nation" hung in the air yesterday like last year's cheese.
Even the party, although it was well run, wasn't quite the grand event it was been in recent years. While the venue rocked (Toronto's bright, modern Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts), there were no high-priced American drama stars paraded on stage. No Dr. McDreamy as in year's past, no Desperate Housewives, no anybody airlifted and limo'ed to the event. (UPDATE: None were asked, emails CTV's Scott Henderson, restating that the focus always was on CTV's Canadian efforts.) The only imported star cameos were Mary Murphy and Dan Karaty (above), two of the judges from the reality hit So You Think You Can Dance, who are both involved in the new Canadian production coming this September.
Gone, too, was the showy little vanity films of years past featuring Fecan and programming president Susanne Boyce tooling around L.A. on the set of Grey's Anatomy or whatever.
CTV, which spent $1.7 billion to acquire the CHUM stations in 2006, took its cue from the U.S. nets, which all have scaled down upfronts in May. They also probably had trouble booking American stars, what with several shows working through their usual hiatus in order to stockpile episodes in advance of another Hollywood nightmare scenario--a possible strike by the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract runs out June 30.
Front and centre at CTV's upfront, therefore, were its two strike-proof U.S. co-productions--Flashpoint, starring Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars) and Hugh Dillon (Durham County) as key members of Toronto's Emergency Task Force, and The Listener, featuring Craig Olejnik (above) as a 25-year-old who can hear what other people all around him are thinking.
Clips were shown for both dramas and both look as good as anything coming out of the States this fall. Both are also proudly set in Toronto, with plenty of reference points, such as the Commerce Court, the CN Tower, even the Ontario Legislature, getting screen time.
Monday's emotional high point, however, was the bow taken by the eight members of the Corner Gas cast, who have just started production in Saskatchewan on their sixth and final season. Creator and star Brent Butt got quite verklempt on stage, choking up as he saluted the cast as 'the most talented people I've ever met." CTV confirmed at the event that they have entered into an agreement with Butt to team on a new half-hour venture.
CTV also confirmed it will produce a new, daytime series to be headlined by Marilyn Denis, called, naturally, The Marilyn Denis Show. Denis, who completed her 19-year run on CityLine late last month, took the stage and cracked that she is "so thrilled that I can't stop smiling--maybe it's the Botox." At the CTV upfront after party, she said the upcoming move downtown of Toronto landmark radio station CHUM-FM--where she has worked the morning shift for two decades as part of Roger. Rick & Marilyn--will make her daily radio-TV double play just that much more doable in the near future. When does it all start? "We'll have a date and time shortly," says Denis.
Programming boss Boyce's turn at the podium was charming and effective as usual. The soft-spoken Boyce--who I've known since she gave me a shot as an on-air TV critic way back when she was producing CBC's Midday--cued the clips and took the hugs and air kisses from the talent crossing the stage, including all the judges from So You Think You Can Dance Canada. "I love my job," Boyce kept saying.
In the great Canadian female programming executives saga, Boyce wore sensible tan shoes on stage, slipping into more comfortable black puppies for the after party. Neither pair had the flash and splash of CBC programming chief Kirstine Layfield's bright red pumps, but, then again, if you've got the shows, you don't need the shoes.