"This was an incredibly difficult decision," said Sally Catto, General Manager, Programming, CBC Television. "We're so proud that we were able to do it. I can tell you, it was not about ratings."
"Strange Empire" — a dark Western drama that appeared to be exactly what the CBC needed to be a bit more edgy in its television content — got the boot from the CBC.
The show had rather good ratings, especially for a show in its first season and for a different direction for the network. In fact, the CBC went out of its way to promote that the show aired more episodes after the winter break.
Perhaps the drama was better suited for a U.S. audience or international distribution. "Strange Empire" could have paid for itself just with an audience outside Canada.
We would love to ask the CBC if not ratings then what reason. "Strange Empire" was supposed to be a gateway for Canadian artists to offer something different. If "different" will be treated this way, Canadian artists might not turn to the CBC.
One edgy show is coming to the CBC, though the CBC can't cancel this program. Under an agreement between CBC and City TV, "Young Drunk Punk" from "Kids in the Hall" alum Bruce McCulloch and his semi-autobiographical stage show — a program already airing on City TV — will also air on CBC. The sitcom follows two recent high school graduates looking for self-discovery.
CBC's larger potential audience could boost this program to more Canadians, and cross over to Americans who can access a CBC signal.
When the CBC published its list of shows that are coming back, the old show "Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays" was on the list. This felt like a misprint as the quirky show didn't get much of a life in its first run in 2011-2012. Well, the CBC is bringing back this show. We look forward to seeing Matt Watts take on this character after a few years hiatus.
The other shows that are coming back (not a complete list) are:
Heartland, Murdoch Mysteries, X Company, Schitt's Creek, Mr. D., Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Just For Laughs, Halifax Comedy Festival, Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Canada's Smartest Person, Dragons' Den, Steven and Chris, and Coronation Street.
You might remember (or probably didn't) a hidden-camera comedy show ("Fool Canada") and the gentle roast of small town Canada ("Still Standing") with comedian Jonny Harris will run this summer. A bad sign if you can't even crack the fall and winter CBC lineups.
Despite its take on "Strange Empire," the CBC is branching about a bit, albeit with a very small branch. The network announced shows that are coming next fall and winter to the network.
"The Romeo Section" is a spy serial from Da Vinci's Inquest creator Chris Haddock. "New Address" is an English adaptation of the hit Quebec series Nouvelle Adresse. "Shoot the Messenger" focuses on the difficult relationship between journalists and police.
"Kim's Convenience" is an adaptation of the Canadian play of the same name from Ins Choi that focuses on a Korean immigrant family in the Toronto neighborhood of Regent Park.
In the comedy realm, there will be an all-female comedy program, "Baroness Von Sketch Show."
The CBC is expanding into "factual shows" such as a Canadian health care system documentary series, "Keeping Canada Alive." That would be required viewing south of the border. "Hello, Goodbye" is a documentary series on personal stories of regular people in Canadian airports.
Without having seen or heard of these new shows (except for Bruce McCulloch's program), good to see the CBC reach over to Quebec for inspiration and cool to see an immigrant take on a drama. An all-female comedy show helps in that CBC doesn't have that much comedy and takes a bit of the sting over cancelling a feminist drama.
With "Republic of Doyle" not coming back and a number of one-time shots such as "The Honourable Woman" and "The Book of Negroes," the CBC has a ton of holes to fill in its lineup. If anything, the CBC should be a home to shows that need a bit of care and understanding to nurture them along.
If a CBS or ABC or CTV had cancelled "Strange Empire" after a lone season, the reaction would still be sad but not as confused. Yes, "Strange Empire" was not the "Murdoch Mysteries," but there is room on the CBC for both of them and a lot more.
Cara Gee, Melissa Farman, and Tattiawna Jones played three of the most interesting and complex female roles on any TV show I've seen in a long time. A Canadian story with Canadian writers and actors on a show that had real potential for distribution outside Canada: this is what the CBC has been begging for to have, and the network let the show go with a cryptic explanation.
CTV, City TV, and Global: this is your shot: bring "Strange Empire" to your network. When you've made "Strange Empire" a Canadian hit, and the CBC comes back to you and asks to run episodes of "Strange Empire," you can let them if only to repay the gift you got for the CBC letting a good Canadian show slip through their fingers.
photo credit: CBC