TORONTO — The past will meet the present in Citytv’s upcoming season with timely reboots of “The Twilight Zone” and “Murphy Brown.”
In unveiling Citytv’s 2018/19 schedule on Tuesday, Rogers Media called “The Twilight Zone” “a contemporary twist” on the original 1959-1964 sci-fi series, reimagined for the Trump era by “Get Out” director Jordan Peele. The CBS drama will debut next year.
Meanwhile, the much-anticipated fall return of the investigative journalism sitcom “Murphy Brown” with star/executive producer Candice Bergen is so of-the-moment, it doesn’t have a pilot yet.
“They didn’t want to produce a pilot because it would be out of date by the time fall was here, so they’re going to be shooting it tight to the airdates and it’ll be very topical,” said Hayden Mindell, vice-president of television programming and content for Rogers Media.
“There’s so much happening obviously in the culture, in the White House, that it’s a perfect time for ‘Murphy Brown’ to be coming back to television.”
Citytv is also adding some new prime-time dramas this fall: “A Million Little Things,” about a group of Boston friends rocked by a sudden loss, and “Manifest,” which explores the lives of the passengers and crew of a long-missing flight as they try to understand what happened to them.
Rogers executives likened “A Million Little Things” to the hit family drama “This Is Us,” and “Manifest” to the mystery series “Lost.”
Homegrown fall series include a drama about female codebreakers in the Second World War called “The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco,” and a second season of the Canadian mob thriller “Bad Blood.” “The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” is a co-production with the U.K.
Mindell said Rogers is looking at new strategies to deliver Canadian content now that its partnership with Vice Canada has ended.
“We’re transitioning from a deep partnership with Viceland to investing what we do in Canada strategically differently, and we’re just in the midst of evolving that,” he said.
“We hope to announce a few new (Canadian) shows in the coming months.”
Rogers has been making “incremental steps” toward bolstering its drama offerings in recent years and this year they feel they’ve “finally gotten” to where they need to be, with a focus on the 10 p.m. timeslot, added Mindell.
At the same time, Citytv is also beefing up its comedy offerings with the new season of “The Simpsons” from Global, where the show has been broadcast for about 30 years. The move doesn’t include the “Simpsons” library.
The irreverent animated series about a dysfunctional, middle-America family heads into its 30th season with some critics unhappy with the way it has responded to criticism of the Apu character.
People of South Asian heritage have criticized the heavily accented Apu for reinforcing stereotypes they say lead to bullying and self-loathing. An episode in April that briefly appeared to address the backlash was seen as a “jab” by comedian Hari Kondabolu, who wrote the documentary “The Problem With Apu.”
Apu is voiced by Hank Azaria, who has also said he wants to step aside from the character if the Fox show decides to make a change.
The addition of “The Simpsons” completes the Sunday-night lineup Citytv has been looking to acquire from Fox over the years, after “Bob’s Burgers,” “Family Guy” and “The Last Man on Earth.”
“It took us 29 years to get it but we got it,” Mindell said. “We’re really excited about ‘The Simpsons.'”
Other new comedies include the sitcom “The Cool Kids,” about a group of seniors in a retirement community. The cast includes David Alan Grier and Vicki Lawrence.
At Tuesday’s media event, Rogers executives insisted “TV is not dead,” but added they need to “go where the audience is.” With that, they touted their Citytv NOW and FX NOW streaming services, which feature current and past seasons of favourite shows.
“For Citytv, we see audiences maybe a bit younger, a bit more millennial, maybe a bit edgier,” said Rick Brace, president of Rogers Media.
Last week Kevin Frankish, longtime host of Breakfast Television on Citytv, left the morning show. Rogers says he’ll remain involved with the station, returning periodically for special projects in prime time.
‘Breakfast Television’ will continue on as it has,” said Brace.
“We’ll be testing some new hosts in there to co-host with Dina Pugliese.”
– With files from The Associated Press
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press