TORONTO — What will the Canadian private broadcast networks wow us with over the next 12 months?
Amid the annual programming presentations over the past week, in which the networks present their upcoming schedules to advertisers, each broadcaster insisted, once again, they have next fall’s most buzzed-about shows.
But with so much competition in the TV market from U.S. streaming giants Netflix and Amazon, the fight for viewers is as intense as ever.
Then there’s this whole new level of unpredictability facing network content retrievers. Even when they luck into a surprise hit — such as “Roseanne” — it can all go off the rails overnight. What keeps them trying is that one “This is Us,” “Bull” or “Modern Family” can turn a network night around.
Are there any sure-fire hits among the fall TV crop? Here are some key takeaways on what the networks have lined up to keep viewers keen.
THE MOST INTERESTING SHOWS ARE U.S. DRAMAS
CTV says their No. 1 new import is “The Rookie,” a police procedural about a mid-life recruit starring Alberta native and “Castle” lead Nathan Fillion.
City is high on their pickups “A Million Little Things” — a “Big Chill” meets “This is Us” drama — and “Manifest,” which has a “Lost” meets (again) a “This is Us” vibe.
Global believes Dick Wolf drama “FBI” and the new medical show “New Amsterdam” could be their next big hits.
Canadian show buyers feel there is no new “Big Bang Theory” on the horizon from the new batch of American comedies. That mega-hit series held onto its status as Canada’s No. 1 show last season for the eighth consecutive year.
Most of the envelope-pushing comedy fare, like HBO’s “Barry” or FX’s “Atlanta,” is being produced by premium cable channels.
Of the sparse comedy pickings, “The Cool Kids” — about retirement home residents played by TV veterans David Alan Grier, Vicki Lawrence and Martin Mull — and the reboot of “Murphy Brown” starring Candice Bergen (both on City this fall), have the most star power.
WHO WILL REPLACE ‘ROSEANNE?’
Many questions were raised at CTV after “Roseanne” was swiftly cancelled by it U.S. network following a racist tweet by its controversial star.
But there is speculation the show may be revived — with the help of ABC lawyers — without the Roseanne Barr in the cast. CTV president of content Mike Cosentino says he has been checking daily with counterparts at ABC-Disney to see if there is any truth to those rumours.
If a series based around the character of daughter Darlene (Sarah Gilbert) does emerge, Cosentino says he can see it landing in a mid-season slot, paired with another family comedy ABC has in the wings.
JANN’S NEW GIG
For years, fans have been saying that quick-witted singer-songwriter Jann Arden — who shone as a guest on “Corner Gas” and “The Mercer Report” — should have her own show. It’s finally happening, with the scripted comedy “Jann” joining CTV’s prime time schedule in mid-season.
“I’m at a certain age where I don’t actually care if I fail,” says Arden, answering the “why now?” question. Together with the producers behind “Schitt’s Creek,” she’s worked hard to keep the story “very close to the bone.” She’ll play a singer “who was very relevant in the ’90s” who has a sister she envies for her “perfect family” and a mother with a touch of dementia.
“We just took a look at things that were happening in my life, but it’s definitely a fictitious look at things,” says Arden. Six episodes are ordered, with the series shot close to Arden’s home near Calgary.
FEW NEW CANADIAN SERIES ANNOUNCED
Other than Arden’s project, word of any new Canadian scripted shows landing on the main networks was scarce. CTV boasted that the “Indian Detective” was the No. 1 Canadian series debut this past season, but it didn’t announce an order for a second season.
“We want it to happen, we’ve got ideas,” says Russell Peters, who stopped by CTV’s red carpet event in Toronto. “We just need somebody to pull the trigger so we can get going.” Peters speculated the hold-up may be over “budgets and what not — I don’t know how that world works.”
More episodes of Canadian scripted shows such as “Cardinal,” “Letterkenny,” “Private Eyes,” “Bad Blood” and a final season of “Mary Kills People,” have been ordered for 2018-2019.
SEEN IT BEFORE
In other Upfront observations, revivals and reboots may bring back old friends, but there is also a growing, seen-it-before look to network schedules. That impression is felt not just with the acquisitions of imported shows, such as “Murphy Brown” and “Magnum P.I.,” but also some of the fresh ideas. CTV’s pickup of “The Kids are Alright,” a comedy about an Irish-American Catholic family with eight kids, harkens back to the ’70s hit “Eight is Enough.”
But not everything seemingly old is new. Global’s new Dick Wolf drama “FBI” bears little resemblance to the similarly titled series from the ’60s.
“The FBI itself has changed just as much as the original show has changed,” says Egyptian-born lead actor Zeeko Zaki, who stars opposite Canadian actress Missy Peregrym (“Rookie Blue”). “Right now the bureau really does represent the diversity of this country.”
What the brief success of “Roseanne” likely proved is that rebooting an old series may help a broadcaster cut through the clutter — but only great writing, acting and production will keep viewers coming back each week.
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press