Canada takes over summer TV schedule

Another American Idol has been crowned, another Celebrity Apprentice hired and Oprah has left the building. May sweeps are over and the 2010-11 television season is history.

Ryan Belleville

Ryan Belleville

Another American Idol has been crowned, another Celebrity Apprentice hired and Oprah has left the building. May sweeps are over and the 2010-11 television season is history.

It used to be that programming executives at TV networks on both sides of the border would catch their collective breath, reload their schedules and gear up for September while throwing reruns and baseball games on during the summer months.

That hasn’t happened for years and this summer seems busier than ever.

That it all comes just as the Canadian networks reveal their fall lineups to advertisers further polarizes the TV picture in this country.

It seems more and more that Canadian-made programming is a cottage industry, in that it only airs when Canadians are at the cottage. During the regular season, September through May, the shows that Canadian programmers buy in Hollywood get all the best time slots and marketing muscle.

Now that it’s June, it’s even more apparent as CTV, Global and Rogers-owned stations like City and OMNI host lavish “upfront” presentations in Toronto.

Stars from new American network shows such as the ’60s flight attendant drama Pan Am, the equally retro The Playboy Club and the new Tim Allen comedy Last Man Standing will be flown north to glad hand the Canadian advertising community.

Canadian programmers, despite their “broken business model” posturing before the CRTC, will make no apologies for once again spending millions on American network fare for their Canadian schedules.

The number of Canadian actor union protesters who have gathered outside these network “upfronts” in recent years to protest this disparity may be diminished this year because many of the usual suspects have found work in summer shows.

Maybe this was the network strategy all along.

One actor among picketers past is Colin Mochrie (Whose Line is it Anyway?) who will appear in Showcase’s Almost Heroes, starring Paul Campbell (Battlestar Galactica) and Ryan Belleville (Life on a Stick) as two brothers who try to keep their father’s comic book store from closing.

It premieres June 2. That same night, a new Showcase show featuring Mochrie’s wife, Deb McGrath, will also debut. Single White Spenny stars former Kenny vs. Spenny stooge Spencer Rice as a man on a mission to find true love. McGrath plays his egocentric mother.

A couple of long-awaited Canadian network comedies are finally making their second season returns. Hiccups stars Corner Gas alumni Nancy Robertson as a B.C.-based children’s book author with anger management problems.

Series creator Brent Butt —Robertson’s real-life husband — plays her overwhelmed life coach. Hiccups returns Monday and will air there for three weeks before moving to Sundays starting June 19.

Dan For Mayor stars another Gas pal — Fred Ewanuick — as a 30-something slacker who somehow stumbles into the job of mayor of the small town of Wessex, Ont. Now that Dan is mayor, his buddies (Paul Bates, Benjamin Ayres and gal pal Mary Ashton) try to keep him out of the kind of trouble he can get into during city events such as “Porktoberfest.” The second season premiere was June 5.

Both CTV comedies opened big to two million viewers in February 2010 thanks to a boost from the Vancouver Olympics. Viewing levels dropped steeply, and a year has passed since either was last seen.

Is this any way to build a following?

Another Canadian show that opened big and held its audience last year was Rookie Blue. The shot-in-Toronto police drama, starring Missy Peregrym and Gregory Smith as first year cops, returns to Global on Thursday, June 23.

It will be joined by the new Toronto-lensed drama Combat Hospital, premiering June 21. This series stars Elias Koteas and Michelle Borth as members of a fearless team of resident MDs saving lives near the front lines in Afghanistan.

The success of Glee on Global has spawned the reality show Canada Sings, which will premiere on Aug. 10. The talent showcase will feature workplace glee clubs competing for cash prizes. Jann Arden and Rob Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice) are among the judges.

Global is also providing a second window to their U.S. co-production The Kennedys, which aired earlier this year on History Television. The saga of the powerful American political family, which stars Greg Kinnear as John F. Kennedy, Barry Pepper as brother Bobby and Katie Holmes as Jackie, fittingly premieres on Monday, July 4, on Global.

The network is also airing the 13th season of the CBS reality series Big Brother, beginning July 7.

CTV is also offering a second chance for Canadians to see one of their big budget co-productions: The Borgias. The papal crime drama, which stars Jeremy Irons and Colm Feore, premiered earlier on Bravo! and makes its CTV debut June 21. The network has also scheduled a new season of So You Think You Can Dance Canada to begin June 20 along with new episodes of Flashpoint starting June 17.

CTV’s summer imports include Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible hosted by Canadian Dave Salmoni (June 21), the steamy dating series Love in the Wild (June 1) and a new interrogation thriller from Jerry Bruckheimer, Take the Money and Run (July 28).

On City, Toronto-produced Murdoch Mysteries returned for a fourth season on June 7. City also has new summer seasons of The Bachelorette (Mondays), America’s Got Talent (started May 31), The Marriage Ref (June 26), Hell’s Kitchen (July 19) and Bachelor Pad (Aug. 8).

Once the Stanley Cup final is over, CBC has a fitness series where pudgy middle schoolers are whipped into shape titled Run Run Revolution. It airs June 12 and 13.

Finally, if you’re a fan of Ice Pilots NWT you’ll want to check out Dust Up, which started June 2 on History Television. The series features three daredevil crop dusters from Saskatchewan, including 73-year-old Bud Jardine and his son Brennan, who dive bomb crops in what they call their “flying tractors.” Fasten your seat belts!

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist.