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CBC marking multiple anniversaries, but lockout threat dampens party mood

CBC heads into the fall TV season Sunday loaded with anniversaries.

The 2012-13 season marks the 60th anniversary of “Hockey Night in Canada,” the 40th of “Marketplace,” the 20th of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” and the 10th of the “Rick Mercer Report.”

Officials at the public broadcaster may not be in a party mood, however, given the challenges ahead. Chief among them is the prospect of an NHL lockout. The loss of “Hockey Night in Canada” advertising revenue for any extended period of time would be a big body check to a network already reeling from budget cuts.

Last year, the Harper government cut $115 million from the broadcaster’s billion-dollar overall annual appropriation. CBC is in the middle of a three-year period of phasing those cuts into its operating budget.

More daunting is the prospect of losing “Hockey Night in Canada” altogether. CBC’s contract with the NHL runs out in 2014. While the public broadcaster will get first crack at renewing the NHL deal, rival broadcasters have made no secret about coveting the sports franchise. “HNiC” still ranks among Canada’s most-watched TV shows, drawing 2.5 million viewers for most Leafs games on Saturday nights.

Live sports properties have become among the most valuable cornerstones of a network line-up. They’re PVR proof, meaning viewers tend to watch in real time, a situation preferred by advertisers.

Networks use their big sports properties to promote everything else they show. NBC promoted their fall line-up so often during their recent Olympic Summer Games fans could be forgiven if they thought Matthew Perry was handing off to Michael Phelps in the men’s swimming relay.

CBC frequently runs promos for shows such as the Gerry Dee comedy “Mr. D,” “Republic of Doyle” or “Dragons’ Den” during its NHL broadcasts.

CBC officials have consistently stated that keeping the NHL rights is a priority. Rivals Rogers and Bell, however, are now majority stakeholders in the Toronto Maple Leafs and own sports broadcasting franchises Sportsnet and TSN.

As their new schedule unfolds this week, CBC faces more immediate challenges. Monday marks the 7 p.m. debut of “George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.” The eight-year-old late night talk show is in jeopardy in more ways than one. It is being bumped ahead to the supper hour to fill the hole left by “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!,” two popular imports no longer on the CBC schedule.

“Jeopardy!” in particular was a consistent, million-viewer-a-night draw on CBC and while it skewed old it was, like “HNiC,” a valuable promotional tool for the rest of the network.

Stroumboulopoulos’s show will have the advantage of big name guests drawn from the many celebrities in Toronto attending the International Film Festival (including, next week, Jackie Chan and Joshua Jackson). It will be paired with the still popular “Coronation Street” at 7:30, with “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange” plugged in at 6:30.

Sunday, CBC again steps into the reality arena with “Over the Rainbow.” The two hour premiere follows ten actresses as they vie for the chance to play Dorothy in a Mirvish stage production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The series will also follow the search for a canine cast member to play Toto; husband-and-wife comedians Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath are on the judging panel. Daryn Jones (“MTV Live”) hosts.

Monday marks the CBC premiere of “Murdoch Mysteries” (at 9 p.m. ET/PT) The historical drama, starring Yannick Bisson, moves over from City-TV. CBC will re-air the fifth season before premiering the sixth.

CBC plans to double pump “Dragons’ Den” Wednesdays and Sundays. They’ll do it without Robert Herjavec, who opted out to get back to counting his money and will be replaced by “Wealthy Barber” author David Chilton. An imported series, “Titanic: Blood & Steel,” launches Wednesday at 9 p.m. with Chris Noth (“Sex and the City”) among the stars.

“Marketplace” returns this Friday for a 40th season and — after ratings for the consumer protection series soared over a million viewers a week last winter — its first full season order in five years.

“Mercer” launches its 10th season Tuesday. The host, who guests on Strombo on Monday, will preview his new book, “A Nation Worth Ranting About” at a live show in Toronto on Sept. 17.

Tuesday also marks the 20th season premiere of “22 Minutes,” again back for a full season. Original cast member Cathy Jones recently marked 25 consecutive years on CBC, dating back to her five seasons on “CODCO” from 1986-92.

“I keep thinking about Shelley Long on ‘Cheers,’ going, ‘I shouldn’t have left,'” says Jones. Added co-star Mark Critch when CBC unveiled its fall lineup in May: “How many people who have been trying to get rid of you have been fired and moved on since you’ve been here? Wait till October, there’ll be a new person.”


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.