Executives at Bell Media say they’ve designed a “strike-proof” fall television lineup that will carry its banner CTV network and Crave TV and streaming platform through months of potential labour unrest that’s already shut down much of Hollywood.
As the U.S. writers’ strike extends into its sixth week, and the stateside actors union voted on Monday to authorize a strike, the vice president of programming at CTV and Bell specialty channels expressed confidence that work stoppages won’t affect its programming slate, at least for now.
“Regardless of how long that strike goes,” said Pat DiVittorio of the writers’ strike, “it will not impact us in the fall.”
DiVittorio and other Bell executives touted a programming schedule to advertisers on Thursday meant to instil confidence amid uncertainty. A run of Canadian-made shows complemented a roster of returning American network hits.
Most of those U.S. shows completed production before the Writers Guild of America strike, which she acknowledged “could go for a lot longer than people are expecting.”
Negotiations between the studios and the writers are effectively at a standstill.
One of the notable new additions to the CTV schedule is “The Traitors: Canada,” a homegrown edition of the Dutch reality series that sees a group of contestants descend on a castle to play an elimination game similar to Mafia. Recent iterations of the series in the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S. are already on Crave.
Justin Stockman, vice president of Bell’s content development and programming, said the Canadian version of “The Traitors” will shoot in Quebec this summer before its fall debut, calling it likely “the fastest turnaround of anything we’ve ever done.”
“The Traitors: Canada” was added to CTV’s programming slate just two weeks before it was announced to advertisers on Thursday. A week ago, the show hadn’t even finalized the contract with its host, actress Karine Vanasse, who will oversee two versions, one filmed in English and another with francophone contestants. Vanasse is best known for her lead roles on TV shows “Cardinal” and “Revenge.”
CTV has also ordered a new one-hour talk-show lifestyle series “The Good Stuff with Mary Berg,” helmed by the cookbook author and taped in front of a live studio audience. The network will have a daytime vacancy following the departure of mainstay Marilyn Denis, whose last show airs Friday.
However, the network did not confirm when or what time the Berg-led show would air, saying all scheduling details would be announced at a later date.
Returning CTV series include dating show “Farming For Love,” Nova Scotia-set “Sullivan’s Crossing” and the hospital drama “Transplant.”
Among the new additions to Crave is a sketch comedy show MCed by Bruce McCulloch of “The Kids in the Hall” fame called “The Dessert,” which promises to walk to “the edge of decency.” The series features music from executive producer and Arkells frontman Max Kerman.
Also announced is “The Office Movers,” a half-hour comedy that follows two college dropout brothers who attempt to rescue their own failing moving business so they can sell it to an industry giant. It comes from the producers of CTV’s library sitcom “Shelved,” which has yet to be renewed.
Crave is also doubling up on female best-friend stories. “Not Even” follows two women headed for high school graduation in late 1990s Winnipeg, while “Nesting” is about a pair of single besties who decide their relationship status shouldn’t stop them from both getting pregnant at the same time.
In travel fare, Crave’s original series “The Optimist’s Guide to the Planet with Nikolaj Coster Waldau,” showcases the Danish actor who played Jaime Lannister on “Game of Thrones” traversing the world to find people and projects that inspire hope for the future.
Some of these projects could be ripe for international sales, suggested Carlyn Klebuc, general manager of original programming. She said Bell Media executives have already held talks with U.S. broadcasters who are “looking for strike-proof shows.”
“I do think there is an opportunity,” she said. “We always work with Canadian writers so for us I think we’re in really good shape.”
However, she added, not every Canadian-made CTV show is in the clear.
For instance, “The Spencer Sisters” is headlined by Lea Thompson, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, which could affect production if the show is renewed. That decision won’t be made until later this year, she said, likely after it premieres on U.S. channel the CW.
“Now that we have shows that have SAG talent, knowing that there might be a strike we have to … make some accommodations,” she said.
There will be a second season of “Canada’s Drag Race: Canada vs. the World,” a spinoff of the main drag queen competition series, which recently landed its own fourth season order.
Crave holds a long-term deal with World of Wonder, producer of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which Stockman said likely means more seasons of the Canadian edition are on the horizon, as well as possible spinoffs and crossovers.
“We’ve talked with World of Wonder about a few different ideas, we just aren’t able to announce anything yet,” he said.
“But we have a really good working relationship with them and they’ve told us that the Canadian cast has become some of the most popular.”
Those shows join specialty channel additions that include the four-part Just For Laughs standup showcase “The RP4 Hosted By Russell Peters” on CTV Comedy, crime series “The Squad” on CTV Drama and “Reginald the Vampire,” which originally aired on U.S. cable channel SyFy last fall.
CTV previously announced much of its prime-time block, which included Hawaii-set “Rescue: Hi-Surf,” action series “Tracker” led by Justin Hartley, and “High Potential,” an adaptation of a French comedy.
New unscripted series include David Spade game show “Snake Oil” and military training competition series “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
David Friend, The Canadian Press