CBC all shook up for new season

Looks to build on 'Mosque' success with several homegrown series

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is hoping it is no one-trick pony as it prepares to unveil a slew of new homegrown shows after "Little Mosque on the Prairie" ignited the public broadcaster's ratings revival last season.

Chasing Canadian-made hits, the CBC is aiming to boost audience share in the fall with such new dramas as Showtime's "The Tudors" — a Canadian-Irish co-production — and the cowboy-themed "Heartland" after domestic audiences retreated last year from new U.S. dramas on such rival networks as CTV and Global Television.

Sofia Milos ("CSI: Miami") is CBC bound to headline "The Border," a Sept. 11-themed drama about immigration and intrigue astride the U.S.-Canadian border.

"There's a lot of synchronicity between the producers and me, a great script and a show that deals in topical subject matters," Milos said as she prepares for a summer shoot in Toronto.

The CBC, tired of low ratings and critics calling for the public broadcaster not to compete against private-sector rivals, has completed the biggest schedule shake-up in a generation.

Now in development is a dramedy with Eric McCormack ("Will & Grace"), and fellow Canadian-born actor Alan Thicke is toplining "jPod," an hourlong series of 13 episodes for the CBC about Vancouver's bustling video game-making industry that is in production.

The "jPod" screenplay hails from Douglas Coupland ("Generation X") and is based on his novel.

Also on the 2007-08 schedule is "Sophie," a comedy about a single mother inheriting her dad's failing talent agency and former mistress.

"Sophie" marks the CBC's first stab at comedy since last season's breakout sitcom hit "Mosque," which pokes fun at Canadian Muslims in rural Saskatchewan and returns for Season 2 in the fall.

With fewer American sitcoms on TV sets here, Kristine Layfield, CBC executive director of network programming, said Canadians prefer homemade laughter to American punch lines.

Still, sharing challenges with such rivals as CTV and Global, which saw a string of rookie U.S. shows bomb with Canadians last season, Layfield said repeating the success of "Mosque" will be difficult.

" 'Little Mosque' was a special case," she said. "It was a ratings hit and the right kind of programming for the CBC."

But Layfield also dismisses as "fear mongering" critics who insist that the Canadian public broadcaster has replaced quality and experiment with reality series and an emphasis on ratings.

"To infer that you can't make a quality show and have numbers, I don't agree with that," she said. "We certainly do things that are done for the best quality of content and things that resonate with people, and if you do that right, you should get a lot of people watching."

She said the new-look CBC has an ambitious, mixed schedule that features positive, emotion-driven reality series like "No Opportunity Wasted," hosted by "The Amazing Race's" Phil Keoghan, in which Canadians conquer their fears while fulfilling their dreams, and dramas reflecting Canadians back to themselves.

"Border," for example, deals with cross-border tensions between Canadians and Americans in a post-Sept. 11 world.

"People like to talk about the U.S.-Canadian conflict, and we don't really have anything out there talking about that," Layfield said.

The CBC's top programmer also scoffs at critics who argue that the CBC is chasing ratings with copycat shows likely to show up on rival networks here.

"Our shows have a different temperament and generosity," she said. "You hate to say 'niceness,' but CBC shows look at the world with a lightness, suggesting things can be better if we can work it out."