Canwest unveils 16 homegrown series

2010-2011 season includes dramas, comedies, backdoor pilots

TORONTO -- When Canwest Global Communications Corp. unveiled its latest primetime plans in early June, critics had a field day jumping on the domestic broadcaster for overlooking local Canadian shows for American imports.

As the broadcaster pitched its fall schedule to domestic advertisers in Toronto, local actors including Eric Peterson, Colin Mochrie and Wendy Crewson led a protest outside the Hazelton Hotel that included placards that read "Buy Canadian!" and "More Canada on TV."

Now those critics may have to eat humble pie after Canwest Global on Tuesday unveiled nine new homegrown one-hour dramas, four half-hour comedies and three backdoor pilots drenched in maple syrup for its 2010-2011 campaign.

"We have been hard at work. What's going to roll out in the next 12 to 18 months is part of real plan on what's airing this summer, in the fall and beyond," said Christine Shipton, senior vp of drama and factual content at the Canwest Broadcasting division.

Her network's unprecedented original programming slate mixes homegrown dramas and comedies spawned by local producers, and foreign projects with Canuck partners that Canwest Global jumped on board.

For example, Canwest Global gave a short series order to "Blackstone," a Canuck drama about power and politics on a fictional native Indian reserve from series creators Ron E. Scott and Gil Cardinal, Cardinal created the original pilot from Prairie Dog Film + Television.

Returning to star in an initial eight episodes of "Blackstone" is Carmen Moore, Eric Schweig, Michelle Thrush, Nathaniel Arcand and Gordon Tootoosis.

Sharing the writing credits on the first season of "Blackstone" on Canwest Global's Showcase cable channel is Cardinal, Selina Williams, Damon Vignale and Ron E. Scott.

By contrast, foreign-spawned series include Syfy's "Haven," which will air on Showcase from July 12, and "X111," a 13 one hour collaboration between Canadian producer Prodigy Pictures and French partner Cipango that's written by Gil Grant ("NCIS: LA") and set to air in spring 2011.

Shipton said the France-Canada co-production behind "X111," as it portrays a CIA operative and a governmental conspiracy, has action elements that appeal to European TV audiences, and which will work with Canadians as well.

"We had to have a real mix to get the volume," she added of

Canadian-foreign partnerships the broadcaster has actively encouraged.

Canwest Global will also prime the Showcase pump with two Canadian series from E1 Entertainment: the comedy "Prize or Punishment," written and, executive produced by Kenny Hotz, with a six-episode series to bow in January 2011, and an untitled eight-part comedy from creators and writers Jason Belleville ("Little Mosque on the Prairie") and Ryan Belleville ("Finn on the Fly").

Among the more ambitious pick-ups for Global Television is "Combat Hospital," a big budget, 13-part medical procedural from Julie Sereny and Jennifer Kawaja of Sienna Films and Gub Neal of London-based Artists Studios, with NBC Universal co-producing.

The drama about a military medical facility in Afghanistan where doctors and nurses save life and limb was created and written by Doug Steinberg ("Boston Public") and Jinder Chalmers ("Touched by an Angel"), and is set to air on Global Television from fall 2011.

The series will either be shot in Canada or Morocco, and requires American and British broadcast slots before finally going to air.

Showcase has also picked up eight one-hours of the female cop drama "King" from Indian Grove Productions. Bernie Zukerman and Greg Spottiswood created, wrote and will executive produce the series.

Another short series order for Showcase is six episodes of "Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour," a sitcom starring Ricky, Julian and Bubbles of the "Trailer Park Boys" mockumentary fame.

The comedy is written by and stars Mike Smith, John Paul Tremblay and Robb Wells, who are also executive producing along with Paul Pope and Louis Thomas of Happy Funtime Productions.

Canwest Global also handed out orders for three 90-minute backdoor pilots, including "Befriend & Betray" from writer and executive producer Michael Amo ("The Listener") of Halifax Film Company.

The project, based on a book about the Hells Angels and Bandidos crime syndicates by Alex Caine, is set to be shot this summer, with a late 2010 airdate on Showcase.

Also for Showcase is the "Jack of Diamonds" pilot from Montreal-based Muse Entertainment, written by Peter Hume ("Charmed") and executive produced by Michael Prupas, Joel Rice and Christian Davin.

Muse is co-producing another recent Canwest Global pick-up, the eight-part "The Kennedys" series from co-creators Stephen Kronish and Joel Surnow ("24"), and also bound for the U.S. History channel.

The TV mini-series about the Kennedys is currently shooting in and around Toronto.

The third Showcase back-door pilot in contention for a series order is "Rave Squad," from writer Josh Kotcheff ("Law & Order – SVU), and executive produced by Lewis Chesler and David Perlmutter of indie producer Chesler/Perlmutter Productions.

The upcoming original programming slate comes on top of earlier pick-ups by Canwest Global of "Lost Girl" from Prodigy Pictures, with 13 one-hours to kick-off September 12 on Showcase, and the cop drama "Shattered" from Force

Four Films and E1 to debut first on Global Television this fall on Friday nights, before shifting to Showcase.

Shipton insists more dramas and comedies will be migrating between her network's conventional and cable platforms.

"We're a consolidated team. If we have a drama I had targeted for Showcase, and it needs to go to Global, it will," she said.

"We've had to look at the resources we have, and use them across as many partnerships as we can," she said.