Brunton has Insight into what folks want


TORONTO -- Get me Brunton!

That's the call these days among Canadian broadcasters as John Brunton, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Insight Production Co., has become the go-to-producer for homegrown hits.

"It's like the Ghostbusters: Who are you gonna call?" Susanne Boyce, president of programming at CTV Inc., Canada's top-rated network, says of Brunton. Brunton has carved out a niche: converting reality and game-show formats into popular Canadian shows.

For example, there's "Canadian Idol" from FremantleMedia on CTV, the highest-rated summer Canadian TV show, now in its fifth season. There's "Deal or No Deal Canada," licensed from Endemol USA before recently becoming the single-highest-rated Canadian show ever for Global Television. There's "Project Runway Canada," the Canadian format of the U.S. series from Miramax and the Weinstein Co., to air in the fall on Slice, Canada's lifestyle channel. And, most recently, on April 1, Brunton produced the Junos, Canada's music awards, as a two-hour glitzy stadium show in Saskatoon, for CTV.

Now Insight Production has a first-look deal with FremantleMedia and has hired New York-based Jane Rimer, former senior vp development and programming at FremantleMedia North America, to spearhead its international format development.

But despite recent success with live and reality shows, Brunton points to his one-hour teen drama "Falcon Beach," which ran for two seasons on ABC Family, as evidence of his storytelling skills.

"People say 'specialize,' and I like to do the opposite: I love doing docs, I love comedy, I love good storytelling in a drama, and a reality TV show is just so much fun," he says.

Brunton got his start in variety TV in 1979 when comedy legend George Schlatter ("Rowan & Martin's Laugh In") hired him to shoot and direct segments for NBC's "Real People," an early foray into reality TV.

"George has an amazing eye for talent, and 'Real People' was an invention of a TV form," Brunton recalls.

After two years, he returned to Toronto and produced a host of music variety specials for CTV and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. during the 1980s. He followed that up in the 1990s with popular ice-skating specials for the CBC and CTV in Canada, and ABC, NBC and CBS south of the border.

There were dramas along the way, including four HBO telefilms, and five seasons of the "Ready or Not" teen drama for Global Television.

But it was CTV hiring Brunton in 2002 to take the Junos, then a tired TV awards show, on the road that initially stoked his company's upward momentum.

Luckily for Brunton, a host of Canadian divas like Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan lent star wattage to the industry kudofest in recent years, making the Junos a TV ratings winner.

"We've been blessed lately by having a terrific production opportunity in Canada. For us at least, we're finding Canadian companies like CTV are committed to 'Canadian Idol' and the Junos," Brunton says.

"What they do to support those programs and make us compete with the Grammys and 'American Idol' is incredible," he says