'Stock & Awe' pokes fun at stock market carnage

Sitcom centers on amateur investors and their cocky advisers

TORONTO -- Millions of angry Canadians saw their retirement nest egg wiped out by the 2008-09 market crash, and immediately went looking for the cause of their financial pain.

Entertaining?

Absolutely, after BNN-Business News Network, Canada's cable business channel, this week debuted "Stock & Awe," a sitcom about amateurish investors and their cocky financial advisers.

The idea for a comical take on market carnage came from BNN general manager Jack Fleischmann, who noticed the audience for his business network last year rose as the value of individual investment portfolios dived.

"A lot of people were looking at their financial statements and realized they were losing significant wealth," he recalls.

But Fleischmann also sensed that, despite audience and focus group research indicating Canadians wanted a TV show to decipher the mysteries of financial investment, few people actually watch Market 101 primers on business channels.

"They don't watch them until it holds them," Fleischmann insisted.

That's where Hilary Doyle, who wrote and plays the character of "Hilary Doyle" in "Stock & Awe" came in.

The actor-turned-BBN reporter/producer last year teamed up with Fleischmann and director Lisa Robertson to develop a scripted show about market investing that combined learning with laughs.

"It's a light-hearted take on financial markets that doesn't take its information lightly," Doyle explained.

The campy sitcom, more akin to SCTV than CNBC, features Doyle as a debt-laden shopaholic and business reporter suddenly forced to take control of her finances.

The scripted content is mixed in with investment tips from financial advisers and ordinary Canadians discussing their own investment mishaps. And in among the funny business is a serious message: If you want to invest responsibly in your race against retirement, get smart about the markets.

"You don't want to feel stupid," Doyle said of ordinary investors that want to trust their banks or financial advisors, and yet don't know what to ask so-called "experts" about their investments.

Series director Lisa Robertson adds the homegrown comedy also aims to minimize risk among ordinary investors so they can stay in the markets for the long haul.

"You don't want to throw all of your cash at a mutual fund that might crash," she offers.

For Fleischmann, "Stock & Awe" is a gamble. BNN is all about live TV. And he's never done a scripted show before, and already has a stable of MBAs on staff whose on-air job is to explain the ins and outs of daily market gyrations to viewers tuning in to see how their stocks are performing on the day.

And here he unleashes Doyle as a virgin investor, with Robertson and her technical crew in toe, to educate nervous Canadians so they can remain invested in turbulent times.

"It's a little risky. And in terms of cost, it's way past anything we've done before," Fleischmann said.

BNN also didn't want a comedy that talks down to his BNN audience, or mocks or scolds big spenders or the debt-ridden as do a host of reality series.

"This show is zany. That's not what reality TV is," Fleischmann insisted.

To get a scripted narrative for a live-to-air business channel right, indie producer Leanna Crouch was brought on board as a supervising producer.

And Fleischmann is looking for an American partner to back a sophomore season of "Stock & Awe."

Canadian so far having come through the 2008/09 market meltdown and economic downturn in relatively better shape than Americans only tells Fleischmann the appetite for an informational comedy stateside should be far greater.

"Everyone is thinking about their future," he insists, while trying to understand, and not feel overwhelmed, by where they should invest for retirement.
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