CBC fall season reflects reduced budget

The CBC announced a fall and winter season with four new series, and a plan to repeat some of its original shows in primetime.

4 new series, but many shows repeated in primetime

Chris Noth plays banker J.P. Morgan in Titanic: Blood and Steel. (CBC)

The CBC announced a fall and winter season with four new series, and a plan to repeat some of its original shows in primetime.

The public broadcaster faces a reduction of $115 million over three years in its parliamentary allocation, a cut that Kirstine Stewart, CBC executive vice-president of English services, says will remove 175 hours of original Canadian programming from primetime annually.

That means CBC must repeat some of its shows to fill air time in the schedule, a decision she calls "painful."

"What we’ve done is focus on the shows that people connect with really well either popularity-wise or because they are distinctive and important for the CBC as a public broadcaster and by focusing on those things we will have more repeats …but the strength of the programming is there," Stewart says.

The fall-winter season features just four new series:

  • Over the Rainbow:  a reality show to search for an undiscovered performer to play Dorothy in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz, a collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Toronto’s Mirvish Productions. Daryn Jones, formerly of MTV Live, is to host.
  • Titanic: Blood and Steel: An eight-part drama chronicling the story of the Titanic, including the ship’s building, starring Neve Campbell, Derek Jacobi and Chris Noth, from the creative team behind The Tudors.
  • Cracked: An hour-long series about a psychiatrist working with the police in a Psych Crimes Unit, starring David Sutcliffe and Stefanie von Pfetten.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: The Citytv series about a detective in 1890s Canada who uses radical forensic techniques moves over to CBC.
Daryn Jones is to host Over the Rainbow. (CBC)

Returning to CBC are shows such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer Report, Republic of Doyle, Dragon’s Den and Arctic Air, which have an established following.  Dragon’s Den, airing Wednesday, and Rick Mercer Report, airing Tuesday, get repeats later in the week.

CBC announced last month that Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays and Insecurity had been cancelled and Battle of the Blades was on hiatus because of high production costs.

Stewart said she hopes to bring back Battle of the Blades, a popular show based on an original Canadian concept.

"Like Steven and Chris, the daytime show that went on hiatus two years ago, the hope is it does come back  We’re looking at all angles, financial models, partnerships — looking at it every way we can to bring it back," she said.

Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, the American game shows that led into primetime each weekday are gone from the schedule. Instead CBC will air financial show The Lang & O’Leary Exchange at 6.30 p.m., a repeat from CBC News Network, followed by talk show George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight at 7 p.m. The Stroumboulopoulos show will repeat at 11.30 p.m. and has been cut to a half-hour format.

Coronation Street, the British soap that is a favourite with Canadian viewers, has been moved to a more prominent primetime slot at 7.30 each weekday.

In a statement about the new season, CBC points out that it still airs more programming for, by and about Canadians than any other Canadian network. In a cost-saving move, CBC combined fall and winter seasons into one launch and promoted radio as well as TV during Thursday's event.

More local TV news

In September, CBC's late night local news will expand to 30 minutes in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and the Maritimes.

CBC News Now (weekdays 6-7 a.m.) is adding a local component in Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Yelllowknife, Charlottetown, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, Halifax, Montreal and Fredericton.

Stewart dismissed media criticism of the CBC for being concerned only with ratings, pointing to the renewal of consumer advocacy show Marketplace for 24 episodes, double the number for 2011-12. The show has been "rejuvenated" over the past few years, she said.

"People question why we do things. The reason you renew shows that have a big audience is because of their advertising potential. Marketplace has no ad potential. It’s an advocacy show that is a service to Canadians," she said. "We wanted to show people that when we make the tough choices that we consider that."

Over the Rainbow will be similar to 2008's How Do You Solve A Problem like Maria? because it will be seeking Canadian talent to perform in a Toronto stage production of The Wizard of Oz, a new musical incarnation by Lloyd Webber. An additional twist to the show will be the search for the dog, Toto.

David Sutcliffe plays an unpredictable cop with post-traumatic stress in new series Cracked. (CBC)

Host Daryn Jones says he's a lover of musical theatre and hopes to see the West End production that was cast out of a British reality TV show before he starts hosting duties this summer. The casting calls for both Dorothy and Toto go out next month.

He said he left MTV Live to take on the show because it seemed like a good opportunity.

"It's not just some talent competition where the prize is 'You win. See you later.' There is a professional opportunity waiting for these young women," he said.

Murdoch Mysteries comes to CBC for its fifth season, with Det. William Murdoch fleeing Toronto after letting a prisoner escape and spending some time in the Yukon. Star Yannick Bisson promised that Murdoch would return to his life in Toronto and his romantic entanglement with Dr. Julia Ogden by the end of the season.

The new series Cracked is based on a concept by Toronto police officer Callum de Hartog, who pointed out the increased training police now receive to deal with psychiatric patients. David Sutcliffe plays a police officer with post-traumatic stress who is switched to the police Psych Crime Unit from the SWAT team, while Stefanie von Pfetten plays a psychiatrist trying to train police as well as puzzle out the criminal mind.