'Corner Gas' hits brakes after five years

Canadian sitcom created by comedian Brent Butt

TORONTO -- "Corner Gas," the little Canadian sitcom that dared to feature maple syrup and mounties before a wave of Canadian series hits like CBS' "Flashpoint" started crossing the border, comes to an end Monday after six seasons and 107 episodes.

Created by and starring Canadian comedian Brent Butt, "Gas" averaged 1.4 million viewers at home on the CTV network and sold into 26 markets, including to Superstation WGN stateside.

"It made Canadian audiences willing to give Canadian shows a shot," Butt said Monday.

Before the 2004 launch of "Gas," which revolved around a host of oddball rubes at a gas station in fictional Dog River, Saskatchewan, Canadian networks regarded homegrown series as a money-losing regulatory obligation.

But the sitcom, whose unapologetically Canadian first episode surprised by drawing 1.2 million viewers, so altered network development units that a resulting wave of Canadian dramas and comedies like NBC's "Howie Do It" and "The Listener" and CBS' "The Bridge," have since landed on U.S. network schedules.

"It's one of the things I'm perhaps most proud of, the number of Canadians I know who have pitches in front of the networks, and anticipate pilots and possible series orders -- 'Corner Gas' started that wave," Butt said.

Other game-changing elements for "Corner Gas" include the introduction of a mainstream series set on the rural prairies, rather than an edgy drama set in Toronto or Vancouver.

"It was wonderfully Canadian, to set it in Saskatchewan, it invigorated the Canadian comedy," Susanne Boyce, CTV president of creative, content and channels, said of "Corner Gas."

Canadian Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper had star turns on the Canadian sitcom, as did "24" star Kiefer Sutherland and singer Michael Buble.

Precisely because his sitcom wasn't trying to be edgy and dark, Butt said his ode to small town folks managed to connect with big city Canadian viewers.

Last week's penultimate episode garnered 1.7 million viewers, and network executives anticipate an even bigger blowout Monday night when the series finale is simulcast on CTV and A channel stations nationwide.

As "Corner Gas" lives on in reruns, Butt's production shingle, Vancouver-based Sparrow Media, has signed a development deal with Brightlight Pictures for Butt to write and topline his first feature, a comedy now in development.

And Butt has a new TV comedy development deal with CTV.
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