CBC touts homegrown non-U.S. brew

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TORONTO -- With virtually no U.S. series to drive its primetime schedule, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. this week touted its homegrown offerings as the fall season gathers steam.

The CBC has virtually eliminated American programming in recent years to Canadianize its schedule and distinguish itself from private sector rivals that depend on U.S. series to drive their primetime schedules and revenues.

Richard Stursberg, executive vp of the public broadcaster's English TV network, on Tuesday said that the CBC was spending CAN$43 million ($38 million) to mine Canadian literature for TV adaptations, beginning midseason with a TV version of the Margaret Atwood novel "The Robber Bride."

That follows Kirstine Layfield, executive director of network programming and the main architect of the CBC's English TV schedule, on Monday pointing out ratings "bright spots" in the face of "heavyweight American content" on rival private Canadian networks.

Layfield said the CBC's audience share stands at 7.6%, compared with 7.3% at the end of last season, a figure that still puts the public broadcaster behind private sector rivals CTV and Global Television.

"Naturally, we have programs we would like to see with bigger audience numbers, but our objective this season has been to rebuild our schedule as a whole and we're off to a promising start," Layfield said.

This season, the CBC has pinned its ratings hopes on returning series like "The Rick Mercer Report" and "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" on Tuesdays, and its flagship investigative series "The Fifth Estate," which drew just over 800,000 viewers last Wednesday night.

New homegrown dramas recently rolled out by the CBC include the magazine-based comedy "Rumors," based on a popular Quebec comedy; the crime drama "Intelligence," from Canadian showrunner Chris Haddock; and the South African-based medical drama "Jozi-H," none of which have yet to light a fire under Canadian viewers.

Canadians instead continue to flock to popular U.S. series on rival CTV and Global Television, including "CSI," "Desperate Housewives" and the "Survivor" franchise.

The CBC's one top-20 show to regularly top a million viewers a week is its longrunning "Hockey Night in Canada" franchise on Saturdays.

On the literary side, Stursberg said the CBC has acquired the TV rights to screen adaptations of two Mordechai Richler novels, "St. Urbain's Horseman" and "Barney's Version"; Guy Vanderhaeghe's "The Englishman's Boy," which recently wrapped shooting in Saskatchewan; and "Away From Her," Canadian actress Sarah Polley's feature film debut. Based on an Alice Munro short story, "Away" recently bowed at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The adaptations of Canadian literary and theatrical works will be showcased as part of new primetime block From Page & Stage.

This week's CBC public-relations offensive comes as the public broadcaster readies itself for license renewal hearings before Canada's TV regulator early next year. The CBC's TV license expires Aug. 31.

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