How to compete with SpongeBob

How to compete with SpongeBob

Toronto – It must be a reliable sign that a show will play well with kids if adults have a hard time following it. Such is the case, at least, with CBC’s The X, a tween-aimed series now partway through its second run that, to those of us on the graying side of 30, is perhaps more likely to come off as a bewildering lickety-split splice job of song and dance, oddball stunts and celebrity interviews. And yet, sure enough, it has caught on with the middle school set, roughly 100,000 of whom tune in after school to ‘laugh at their own world – the pressures of school, family, dating, everything,’ according to exec producer Martin Markle.

‘We do comedy to make ourselves laugh. The kids’ favorite shows are The Simpsons and SpongeBob, so we have to aim high,’ he explains, on the phone from CBC HQ. ‘We base everything we do on things that are permanent. Parents, teachers, rules, first kisses.’

Throw in a celebrity interview or two and you’ve got a typical episode. The X’s in-studio hosts Sally Gifford, David Reale, Anthony McLean and Ramona Pringle have recently cornered the Olsen Twins, Nelly Furtado and Jim Carrey, among others, while host-at-large Morgan Waters has crisscrossed the country in a van – making a memorable musical stop in Nunavut and drawing roughly 3,000 kids to an appearance at the West Edmonton Mall. Last month, the show packed Toronto’s Dundas Square with fans, bands and 1,500 potatoes in a bid to build the world’s largest poutine. (They were successful, and raised $1,100 for a local food bank.)

Markle notes that The X is a good fit for CBC, in that it spends so much time on the road, in line with the net’s mandate of bringing the country together. ‘That, and I think we’re a portal to the CBC as a whole.’

The X turned out 153 half-hours in season one and is finishing work on another 87, roughly half of which have gone to air. Rachel Bartels, Jonathan Farber and Josh Morris produce, working with Ceeb execs Kim Wilson and Cheryl Hassen. Sean Davidson