Five series wannabes on CBC’s pilot slate

The pubcaster is doing well with one-hour dramas, but there's room for more half-hour comedy, says exec director of programming Kirstine Layfield

After finding ratings success with Sophie, Heartland and The Border last season, CBC has ordered five new pilots with comic-driven concepts, including a marriage done on a dare and four curling babes.

The Montreal-set sitcom 18 to Life from Galafilm Productions portrays two teenage neighbors who get married on a dare and begin their life together.

The B Team, from Corner Gas producers Vérité Films and Kevin White Productions, portrays an under-funded CSIS department led by an ambitious young woman. It will be shot on location in Ottawa and Winnipeg and is executive produced by Virginia Thompson, Rob di Lint and Kevin White.

Also contending for a CBC series slot is Throwing Stones, a half-hour drama from Original Pictures and Curler Productions that finds four women from different backgrounds unwinding at the local curling rink with brooms, beer and ice.

Mario Azzopardi, Julia Cohen, Lara Azzopardi and Kim Todd share the executive producer credits on the Ontario-Manitoba copro.

Republic of Doyle is a half-hour drama from Pierre Films about a father and son who fight crime — and each other — as private investigators in oil-rich Newfoundland. John Vatcher and Allan Hawco will executive produce.

CBC also ordered Abroad, a back-door pilot about the romantic misadventures of a Canadian woman in London, based on the experiences of Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren, who co-created with Meredith Caplan. It is structured as a Canada/U.K. copro. Unlike the other pilots, which are all half-hours, Abroad comes as a two-hour TV movie.

Kirstine Layfield, CBC executive director of programming, says the CBC schedule is already top-heavy with one-hour series including Heartland, The Tudors and The Border, and has in the pipeline the upcoming dramas The Session and The Wild Roses, both of which are likely to have title changes before they go to air.

The half-hour format, meanwhile, allows CBC to straddle drama with lighter fare that is currently the pubcaster’s programming sweet spot.

‘We know Canadians love their own comedy, and we know we can have success in that,’ Layfield says, referring to hit franchise shows such as Rick Mercer Report, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Sophie.

In recent years, CBC, like rivals CTV and Global, has shifted its development to pilots, just as U.S. networks opt for more straight-to-series orders.

With Sophie having sold to ABC Family, 20th Century Fox picking up U.S. format rights to Little Mosque, and the CTV-developed series Flashpoint and The Listener going to CBS and NBC, respectively, Canadian broadcasters aim to build on that success.

Layfield says CBC programmers are working closely with producers on the latest pilots.

‘We want to get it right. [Pilots] don’t come to us fully financed or cast, so we’re jointly making decisions. We have our own casting director, we go through script fixes, and we have our own creative fixes,’ she explains.

Layfield adds that CBC doesn’t have the dollars to order far more pilots than it can air, as do the U.S. networks, or to fix pilots down the road.

CBC has fielded interest from some U.S. nets in its latest pilot slate, she says. However, one opportunity the pubcaster can’t take advantage of is to reverse simulcast its homegrown series, as CTV is doing with CBS on Flashpoint.

‘We can’t simulcast in primetime — we have to go first,’ she explains.