CBC plagued by sluggish ratings

Pubcaster takes back seat to popular U.S. shows

TORONTO -- Despite revamping its fall primetime slate, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has yet to pull Canadians away from popular U.S. shows in large numbers.

Sluggish ratings continue to dog Canada's public broadcaster as it walks a fine line between popularizing its program lineup without abandoning its mandate as a pubcaster.

The CBC notched impressive numbers for Showtime's "The Tudors," a Canadian-Irish co-production it pre-licensed. The miniseries about the early days of Henry VIII drew 957,000 viewers out of the gate, according to BBM/Nielsen Media Research, just short of the 1 million-viewer benchmark considered success in Canadian primetime.

New reality series have fared less well for the CBC this fall. The debut of "Triple Sensation," a competition series looking for the best Canadian dancer, singer and actor, garnered a disappointing 264,000 viewers in its debut episode Sunday.

Another new reality series, "No Opportunity Wasted," hosted by "The Amazing Race's" Phil Keoghan, bowed to just 450,000 viewers.

The Canadian miniseries "St. Urbain's Horsemen," meanwhile, drew only 306,000 viewers in its first night before slipping to 257,000 viewers on its second night.

New CBC series must contend with new and returning U.S. series dominating the primetime schedules of rival private Canadian networks.

The public broadcaster has fared better with sophomore series. "Little Mosque on the Prairie" drew 775,000 viewers when its second season bowed Wednesday. The homegrown comedy about Muslims in rural Saskatchewan enjoyed an average of 1.2 million viewers during its first season.

The second-season opener for "Dragon's Den," an "Apprentice"-style reality TV series, drew 389,000 viewers -- up from 219,000 for its debut episode in fall 2006 -- before rising last week to 461,000.

CBC executive director of network programming Kirstine Layfield said Monday that the sophomore series initially grew their ratings last year, and she predicted they will continue to do so this season with positive word-of-mouth.

"Take 'Dragon's Den.' People needed to know what it was," she said. "Word-of-mouth and reviews helps tell them."

Layfield added that the CBC must divide its programming effort between high-concept documentaries and miniseries to fulfill its public-broadcast mandate and other shows like "Little Mosque" aimed at mainstream audiences.

In that vein, Tuesday-night comedies are performing for the public broadcaster. "Rick Mercer Report" bowed with 993,000 viewers, while the sketch comedy series "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" drew 774,000 viewers for its latest season premiere.

Still, another disappointment for the CBC was the second-season bow of the one-hour drama "Intelligence," which drew only 221,000 viewers.

The public broadcaster has a host of midseason series in the pipeline, including the Sept. 11-themed drama "The Border" and "MVP," a primetime soap about professional hockey players and their wives and mistresses.