TORONTO — Like other TV networks Citytv is facing a severe shortage of fresh content due to COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, but among the key new titles it did manage to snag for its fall and winter lineup is a comedy series based on the childhood of Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson.
The 2020/2021 schedule has just four new shows and 21 returning series for Citytv and Citytv NOW. That’s compared to the 15 new shows and 17 returning series announced last year for the 2019/2020 lineup.
Hayden Mindell, vice-president of TV programming and content at Rogers Sports & Media, said there were no pilots to view this year after the pandemic forced the industry to grind to a halt in mid-March. Executives had to read scripts instead and make decisions later than normal.
“The whole thing’s odd,” Mindell said in an interview. “And I don’t know how it will return, when it does return. But I think we made the best of it.”
The 2020/2021 schedule includes three new comedies for Citytv, including NBC’s ”Young Rock,” which is based on the formative years of Johnson, a wrestler-turned-actor. “Fresh Off the Boat” creator Nahnatchka Khan is producing the 30-minute series along with Johnson, who also stars in the show.
Johnson grew up mostly in the United States but was a defensive lineman for the Calgary Stampeders for a brief period in the 1990s. And his late father, professional wrestler Wayde Bowles, was from Nova Scotia.
“He’s a huge and lovable star, and one of the biggest stars both in cinema and television,” Mindell said. “So you can’t go wrong betting on The Rock… And he’s so fun, it’s a great story, and he’s so personable. It’s going to be a huge show for us.”
As broadcasters navigate the pandemic, they’re also facing urgent calls amid the Black Lives Matter movement to increase diversity and amplify Black, Indigenous and people of colour voices.
With that, “Cityline” host Tracy Moore is set to unveil a new limited YouTube series addressing race relations in Canada.
“LIVE: #CitylineReal” premieres Tuesday afternoon and will see Moore speaking with guests every week about race and inequality in Canadian society. Topics that will be discussed over the next five weeks include performative allyship and microagression.
Last year the media company said six yet-to-be-announced Canadian shows were in development for Citytv. Mindell said Monday that while the pandemic has slowed everything down, he hopes to announce more Canadian titles around November.
In the meantime, the network will bring back Canadian canine-cop drama “Hudson & Rex,” which aims to start shooting its third season with COVID-19 protocols in place in early July.
Mindell revealed “Hudson & Rex” has been sold to a U.S. network, but he couldn’t go into details of the deal, which are still being finalized.
Other new Citytv shows include Tiny Fey and Robert Carlock’s NBC sitcom “Mr. Mayor,” starring Ted Danson as a wealthy businessman who runs for mayor of Los Angeles “for all the wrong reasons.” The cast also includes Bobby Moynihan and Holly Hunter.
There’s also the new NBC Dick Wolf drama “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” with franchise star Christopher Meloni reprising his role as Elliot Stabler.
And Fox’s “The Great North” is a comedy about an Alaskan family starring Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Jenny Slate and Will Forte.
Other returning Citytv programming includes: the sitcom “black-ish”; the “Chicago” franchise; the reality series “Dancing with the Stars,” ”The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”; and the comedies “Bob’s Burgers,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons.”
Also returning to Citytv: “Hockey Night In Canada,” the Grammy Awards, and the New Year’s Eve special “Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve.”
The lineup for FX includes returning hits “Pose,” “Fargo,” “American Horror Story” and “American Crime Story.”
Every spring broadcasters typically present their programming in a splashy presentation called an “upfront” for advertisers and members of the media. This year’s presentations have been online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rogers Sports & Media is the second Canadian broadcaster to announce its fall/winter slate this year after CBC’s presentation last month. Corus Entertainment and Bell Media are set to reveal their lineups on Tuesday.
Rogers Sports & Media president Jordan Banks, who joined the company last year and previously worked at Facebook and Instagram Canada, said he has “a very clear vision around what modern-day consumers want, how they want it and how that needs to adapt across different devices.”
“Our plan going forward closely reflects those dynamics with sports as our cornerstone,” Banks said in Monday’s online presentation, which included on-air stars.
“Said another way: we are trying really hard to no longer be your average media company.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2020.