How many viewers watched CBC's new Battle of the Blades Sunday night--one million? Two million? Somewhere in between?
We'll have the overnight estimates by late Monday afternoon but it would be surprising if it did not connect in a big way with Canadians, especially in these giddy early days of PPM data and exploding live event ratings. After attending the premiere at Maple Leaf Gardens and checking the on-air results later on the west coast feed, I've got 1.8 mill in the pool.
Whatever total emerges, it is likely to grow week-to-week as word of mouth spreads on this compelling, original and just so damn Canadian skating showcase.
The 16 skaters--eight ex-NHLers and eight figure skating pros--all provided some great human interest stories on opening night. The competition on the ice was real and the routines were challenging and even dangerous. The showmanship was there (especially from crowd-pleasing ham bones like Ron Duguay and Tie Domi). The old Gardens looked great (especially on TV).
Judges Dick Button and Sandra Bezic were the right mix of crusty mind and seasoned heart, adding a legitimate edge to the show. Guest judge Kelly Hrudey (credited as "guest judge" at the end. Was he a last minute addition?) was a tad creepy as he kept panting over the female figure skaters (as well as Duguay). Next week Don Cherry is a guest judge, which, believe it or not, should add some decorum to the proceedings.
There were some stumbles last night, not all of them on the ice. The judge's podiums failed to light up with the scores after the first pair or two. Bring on the simpler Dancing with the Stars paddles. Hosts Ron MacLean and Kurt Browning were all over the ice at times (although MacLean's ad-lib that it was nice to finally work with someone who stayed on "toe-pic" was pun-tastic). But the mistakes were minor compared to the sporty entertainment value and the genuine good spirit of the whole deal.
Choosing "arena rock" as the opening musical theme was a smart move. (Sinatra tunes are showcased next week). As Claude Lemieux hinted last week, he and his partner Shae-Lynn Bourne, skated to "Bad to the Bone." The nimble organist who played along with the various rock classics during the breaks was a nice touch.
CBC packed the ice-level seats with talent from its roster of shows. Spotted two of the Dragon's Den money men, Robert Herjavec and Brett Wilson, as well as George Stroumboloupolous, Wendy Mesley and Being Erica's Erin Karpluk rinkside. Several hundred fans showed up for the taping, some decked out in Leaf gear.
Brought my own special guest to the Battle of the Blades taping--Ross Brioux, a.k.a. Prosper, also known as dad.
Seemed fitting to bring Brioux senior to this re-opening of the Gardens. After all, he was there the very day the place opened. His dad, William Louis, managed to get his hands on a pair of standing room tickets to see the Leafs play the Black Hawks that first game in 1931. It was 78 years ago, during the depression, and my dad was 16, the same age his grandson Daniel is today.
On Sunday night we got to sit in the Golds, front row, close enough to ice level for executive producer John Brunton--whose Insight Productions put on the show--to welcome my dad back to the Gardens.
Dad even left his teeth at home, perhaps in tribute to Eddie Shore or Turk Broda or some of the Leaf greats he cheered for back in the day.
It was nostalgic to walk around the Gardens after the taping, to see some signs of how long the place had sat idle (such as the 1999 Ford ad up on one wall). With any luck, Battle of the Blades will keep the doors open beyond this initial seven week run. The first results show, featuring the bottom two pairs as determined by fan vote (they'll have to skate off against each other before one gets sent packing by the judges), airs Monday night at 8 p.m. on CBC.