Playback’s Best of the Year: The Amazing Race Canada

In addition to earning boffo ratings, The Amazing Race Canada on CTV also scored major brand integrations, including Air Canada, Interac and BlackBerry.
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As Playback counts down to the end of the year, we’re rolling out our Best Of stories from our Winter 2012 issue. Here, Insight Production’s executive producers John Burton and Barbara Bowlby look back on how The Amazing Race Canada came to life. 

Network Show of the Year: The Amazing Race Canada 

Insight Productions always wanted to do The Amazing Race Canada. Likely the prodco was already CTV’s first choice, given their successful collaboration on Canadian Idol, which took Insight executive producers John Brunton and Barbara Bowlby across Canada.

They are both passionate travelers, and travel is what The  Amazing Race is all about. “We continued to say to CTV, ‘Please – if you do this show, let us be the ones,’” Brunton recalls.

They eventually got that call and went down to Los Angeles to meet Bertram van Munster, who, along with wife Elise Doganieri, created the U.S. format that sends teams of two – who can be friends, lovers, family or colleagues – around the world in a challenge-filled competition. It’s no less of a challenge for the producers.

“Bertram invited us to observe him producing the American Race, just to get a sense as to how huge and complicated it was,” Brunton says. “You have no idea [which team] is going to arrive when and how and what’s going to happen in each challenge, so you have to be nimble:  ‘Are they going to make that next flight? Are they going to get lost in this town?’ We faced this day after day in 18- to 20-hour days.”

Insight differentiated the Canuck version – which aired from July to September – by keeping the series completely within our borders, taking advantage of the diversity. “We wrapped ourselves in the fl ag and celebrated Canada,” Brunton says.

“This country was made for The Amazing Race in terms of its physical beauty and culture.” It also helped to have the show hosted by Jon Montgomery – a personable, beer-drinking Olympic gold medalist who would participate in the show’s feats of daring. “You totally want to hang out with him,” Brunton says.

The series is also a natural fit for product integration, with major sponsors embedded in season one, including Air Canada, Chevrolet, Interac and BlackBerry. These companies had natural visibility since the competitors needed transportation, money and smartphones. “That’s the point of integrations – to be organic and real, so it was perfect,” says Bowlby.

Brunton adds that for a show that takes advantage of tax credits but no CMF dollars, such sponsorships have “an enormous impact on whether it gets greenlit or not.” And, of course, top shows command top ad dollars.  According to insiders, CTV charged $35,000-$40,000 for 30-second spots, an estimated 20-30% higher than the primetime average.

The series did exceptionally well, averaging 3.5 million viewers per episode, peaking at 3.8 million for the final episode. Now, Insight is gearing up for season two, which will air next June or July. It’s deciding whether or not to remain only in Canada this time around, and Brunton assures they have “interesting surprises up our sleeves.”

“We are excited,” he adds.  “As scary as it was to do that show, oh my God it was fun.”