TORONTO — “Battle of the Blades” won’t have a live audience. And “Family Feud Canada” is searching virtually for season 2 contestants.
But the two shows, along with the rest of the CBC’s fall-winter lineup, are “ready to go and confirmed” despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the public broadcaster said Wednesday as it unveiled its 2020-‘21 programming slate.
CBC is the first Canadian broadcaster to reveal future programming plans to advertisers — in what’s known in the industry as an upfront presentation — amid the pandemic that’s seen the production industry grind to a halt.
The programming slate was revealed in an online video with on-air talent, instead of the usual splashy in-person event.
Executives said when the global crisis hit, the CBC already had a number of shows done and ready to go — from the previously announced new series “The Trickster” and “Enslaved,” to returning titles “Still Standing and “Baroness von Sketch Show.”
From there, it was a matter of strategically scheduling a fall lineup to suit the entertainment and escapism audiences are currently craving.
Executives said they’re also working with producers to figure out how to film shows like “Family Feud Canada” with host Gerry Dee, and the fall skating competition “Battle of the Blades,” safely while following public health guidelines.
“We wouldn’t green light a series unless we had gone through an incredibly thorough process with our producers about what their plans are to ensure that these shows will be safe for all cast and crew, for everyone involved,” Sally Catto, general manager of entertainment, factual and sports at CBC, said in a phone interview.
“And the producers have been remarkably creative and committed and stepped up.”
Executives also noted the CBC is in a unique position during the pandemic, because unlike other Canadian broadcasters, it is not beholden to U.S. schedules and syndication amid production shutdowns.
“Many of our colleagues of other Canadian broadcasters are much more dependent on the U.S. networks to provide them with the bulk of their prime-time programming for the broadcast year,” said Barbara Williams, executive vice-president of CBC.
“And so as the U.S. networks are trying to figure out what they’re going to do, that leaves some of our colleages here in Canada in a bit of a holding pattern to be able to sort that through.”
New fall CBC debuts include “The Trickster,” an adaptation of the acclaimed “Son of a Trickster” novel by Eden Robinson, who grew up in Haisla territory near Kitamaat Village, B.C.
Michelle Latimer and Tony Elliott co-created the series, which was announced at last year’s upfront and has already been renewed for a second season. Newcomer Joel Oulette stars as an Indigenous teen dealing with a dysfunctional family and visions of “strange things.”
Also announced at last year’s upfront was the Canada/New Zealand relationship-driven thriller “The Sounds,” which will premiere this fall with Canadian actress Rachelle Lefevre among the stars.
And the previously announced documentary series “Enslaved,” in which Oscar-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson traces the history of slavery through underwater archaeology, will premiere this fall. Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici directs.
Other new fall programs include “Orangeville Prep,” which profiles a high school basketball program in Orangeville, Ont., that has produced a high amount of Division 1 College and NBA players.
There’s also the international series ”War of the Worlds,” starring Daisy Edgar-Jones of the buzzy new drama “Normal People,” which started streaming on CBC Gem Wednesday.
“War of the Worlds” is a U.K./France drama based on the sci-fi novel by H.G. Wells and also stars Gabriel Byrne and Elizabeth McGovern.
Winter debuts will include “Lady Dicks,” which was announced as in development in February. Meredith MacNeill of “Baroness von Sketch Show” co-stars alongside “Orange Is the New Black” actress Adrienne C. Moore as detectives in their early 40s.
The show is co-created by Canadian screenwriters Tassie Cameron and Sherry White.
Also set for a winter debut is the new factual show “Arctic Vets,” about a team of veterinarians in Canada’s north.
Returning titles also include the comedies “Kim’s Convenience” and “Workin’ Moms,” and the dramas “Murdoch Mysteries,” “Frankie Drake Mysteries” and “Coroner.”
“The Nature of Things” will kick off its 60th season in the fall with “State of the Planet,” featuring a conversation between David Suzuki and Sir David Attenborough.
Other returning series include: “Dragons’ Den”; “The Fifth Estate”; “Tallboyz”; “The Great Canadian Baking Show”; “Heartland”; “Marketplace”; “Pure”; ”This Hour Has 22 Minutes”; and the fifth and the final season of “Baroness von Sketch Show.”
“We’re proceeding full speed ahead with the development of our projects,” Catto said. ”Producers are pitching virtually, we are continually putting new projects into development. We announced recently our creative relief fund and we have an unbelievable response to that.
“So we are really still in that business of active development, looking to production, looking ahead, as I think all broadcasters and streamers are doing.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 27, 2020.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press