Saturday, June 14, 2008

CBC Idol?

Canadian TV is different. In fact, all of Canadian broadcasting, TV or radio is different. But let's consider how different our beloved CBC really is. (Please note that my tongue is so firmly implanted in my cheek).

Before we get to the really strange, to be fair, CBC has come up with a few bona fide gems, both recent and in the past. Most recently we have Little Mosque on the Prairie, which has now been picked up in 86 countries. There's Corner Gas, which I'm not sure of the international appeal, however, it does speak to the quirkiness of small town Canada, and has a certain regional appeal. Canada is filled with quirky characters, exemplified in series such as these. Even in the far distant past, The Beachcombers was a hit south of the border.

But this weekend, CBC is launching a new series - not a 'one off' show, but a series - called How Do you Solve a Problem Like Maria. Sound familiar? If you've passed by CBC flipping through the channels, you can't have helped but have seen the promos which fill your screen. If you don't have CBC, if you are from somewhere else, consider an exerpt from the featured article in this week's TV guide in the Toronto Star, CBC is alive with sound of Marias (seriously):
It involves hopefuls from across the country vying for the chance to take on the role made famous by Andrews - nun-turned-governess-turned-von Trapp family matriarch Maria. One person chosen by the audience will be cast in a revival of The Sound of Music at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre in October.

The firt two taped episodes chronicle the weeding out process, as some 1,000 hopefuls from across Canada are trimmed to 50 contestants and then 20 finalists who are taken to London to meet [Andrew] Lloyd Webber.

The rest of the series airs live each week, with the contestants auditioning for the whole country in a series of tests to determine their singing, dancing and acting abilites.

Each week, the audience votes to eliminate contestants until just one remains.

Enough already! Does the format seem familiar? But there's one important difference - do you think they've got a handle on the audience? I submit it might be a few people out there who love the musical - the movie - but I just can't see it translating well to today's iPod generation. I submit the average age of audience will be of the older set. Can you see Grandma texting in her vote? Even picking up the phone to have the privilege of paying 50 cents to vote? Hmm.

This is not the first time that Canadian shows have been modelled after shows popular in the U.S. Long before current affairs programs or all-news channels like CNN or CBC Newsworld, a little show called Front Page Challenge provided Canadians with a view on the newsmakers of the day - those they read about in their morning papers. Front Page Challenge attracted top journalists of the day, who hosted it. And it's day was long - it aired for 38 years after all!). Guests included figures as diverse as Indira Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gordie Howe, Tony Bennett, Errol Flynn, and Mary Pickford. Walter Cronkite even announced his new job as CBS anchor on the program. Perhaps shamelessly modelled on a popular U.S. format at the time, but yet quintessentially Canadian.

But back to Maria, once again, Canadians, or shall I say the CBC, has put its own unique spin on it. Just when you think it can't get any weirder, it does. As a promotional piece, the CBC presented a screening of the movie. You gotta appreciate the CBC-ness of this. This is CBC re-creating the Rocky Horror Picture Show phenomenon, Canadian style :

For one night only, CBC Television is presenting a free sing-a-long screening of The Sound of Music in Toronto to celebrate the launch of its new series How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Thousands of girls auditioned in open calls across the country, vying for the lead role of Maria von Trapp to be cast in the new stage production of The Sound of Music in Toronto, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian and David Mirvish. The series debuts Sunday, June 15.

The fun-filled and interactive event takes place June 10 at the Royal Cinema on College Street, and begins with a vocal warm-up led by CBC’s Gavin Crawford along with specials guests the von Trapp children: Justin, Amanda, Melanie and Sofia—the great grandchildren of Captain von Trapp. They will distribute props to the audience to be used at strategic points throughout the musical, which is complete with subtitles so that everyone can sing along!

And no interactive sing-a-long would be complete without a costume competition. CBC invites the audience to come dressed as an ode to their favourite Sound of Music character, object or song. Previous entries have included:
  • Nuns of both genders
  • Girls (and boys) in white dresses with blue satin sashes
  • A lonely Goatherd
  • A man in a gold lycra catsuit (Ray, a Drop of Golden Sun!)
Creativity is a must and the Maria candidates from How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? will be on hand to judge the best costumes. In addition, celebrity voice coach Elaine Overholt- panelist from the series will pick out the best vocalists during the sing-a-long. One lucky winner in the audience will be chosen by raffle for the chance to win a trip for two to Salzburg, Austria and experience the Sound of Music tour courtesy of the Austrian National Tourist Office and the Salzburg Tourist Board. For those who can't attend the Sing-a-Long or missed the auditions, CBC invites you to sing a few bars from your favourite Maria tune and upload it to Show Canada the Maria in you beginning June 9!
Oh Boy! Are you excited? Aren't you sad that you missed this? Anyone remember 'follow the dancing ball'?

And just in case you think I made this up, I couldn't even if I tried. Read about it here.

So yes, Canada's media will often imitate U.S. TV, but never fails to put its unique spin on it. And don't forget everyone, let's get pumped and tune into CBC on Sunday to watch our newest series, we can call our very own.

Contributed by Jamie Naessens

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