Upfronts ’21: CBC tables ambitious, new-look comedy and drama lineups

CBC upfront '21
Newly announced greenlights The Red (Eagle Vision, Halfire) and Son of a Critch (Project 10) are among more than 35 new orders and renewals.

CBC unveiled new-look comedy and drama slates as part of its 2021 upfront presentation today (June 2), including new greenlights for Son of a Critch (Project 10 Productions) and The Red (Eagle Vision, Halfire Entertainment).

In total, 43 properties are on the docket for CBC TV and the younger-skewed Gem, including 16 new shows and 27 renewals covering drama, comedy, dramedy hybrids, factual, kids and news.

Two of the biggest new dramas are The Red, an Indigenous investigative series from Métis creator and writer Marie Clements, and previously announced series The Porter, partially inspired by real events and focusing on the Black community in St. Antoine, Montréal post-First World War.

For The Red, actresses Sarah Podemski and Sarah Gadon both star and executive produce in this tale of two women thrown together inside the newly formed Indigenous Task Force, “looking for answers while unearthing the systemic racism within the criminal and social justice systems.” The show is scheduled for 2022-23.

Meanwhile, The Porter is an Inferno Pictures and Sienna Films coproduction set in the roaring ’20s and involving the formation of the world’s first Black union. The series goes into production tomorrow and is slated to premiere in winter 2022.

Starring Aml Ameen (I May Destroy You), Ronnie Rowe Jr. (Star Trek: Discovery) and Mouna Traoré (Self Made), The Porter is co-created by Arnold Pinnock (Altered Carbon) and Bruce Ramsay (19-2). Annmarie Morais (Killjoys), Marsha Greene (Private Eyes) and Aubrey Nealon (Snowpiercer) serve as showrunners and executive producers, while directors and executive producers include Charles Officer (Akilla’s Escape) and R.T. Thorne (Blindspot).

Renewed dramas include the 15th seasons of the global hit franchises and Murdoch Mysteries (premiering Sept. 13) and Heartland (Oct. 17), Diggstown (Oct. 6, season three), with both Coroner (season four) and Pretty Hard Cases (season two) scheduled for winter returns.

Moonshine (formerly known as Feudal), premiering Sept. 14, is an eight-episode, 60-minute dramedy from Call Me Fitz creator, showrunner and executive producer Sheri Elwood. Produced by Six Eleven Media and eOne, Moonshine is the tale of the dysfunctional Finley-Cullens clan and the battle for control of their Nova Scotia summer resort, The Moonshine.

Billed as “an epic tale of lust, legacy and lobster,” the show stars Corrine Koslo (Anne with an E), Peter MacNeill (This Life) Jennifer Finnigan (Salvation) and Anastasia Phillips (Reign).

Comedy: new ventures from two Kim’s Convenience alumni

With Baroness Von Sketch Show, Kim’s Convenience and Schitt’s Creek recently coming to an end, CBC has revamped its comedy lineup with four new greenlights. The pubcaster is placing part of its 2021-2022 dreams of rating success on two new series from former Kim’s Convenience cast members.

First up is Thunderbird Entertainment’s Strays starring Nicole Power in her Kim’s Convenience character Shannon Ross, the new executive director of the Hamilton East Animal Shelter. Premiering Sept. 14 on CBC TV and CBC Gem, this half-hour comedy also stars Nikki Duval, Frank Cox O’Connell, Tina Jung and Tony Nappo and finds Ross managing this group of diverse personalities as she adjusts to a new life herself.

Premiering sometime this winter, Pier 21 Films’ Run The Burbs is created by and starring Andrew Phung and filmmaker Scott Townend (The Secret Marathon). The project depicts a young Canadian family living life to the fullest in the suburbs. Phung is the stay-at-home dad married to an entrepreneur wife as they parent two kids.

Also slated for winter is This Hour Has 22 Minutes favourite Mark Critch and his new series Son Of A Critch (13 x 30-minutes). The comedy is produced by Project 10 Productions and based on Critch’s award-winning, bestselling memoir.

Co-created by Critch and Tim McAuliffe (the U.S. version of The OfficeLast Man on Earth) and produced by Andrew Barnsley (Schitt’s Creek), who was recently named as president of Toronto Film School, this comedy portrays the actor and author’s St. John’s, NFLD upbringing through his 11-year-old eyes.

The CBC comedy slate kicks off on Oct. 5 on Gem and Nov. 9 on CBC TV with Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo’s Sort Of. This Sienna Films production features Baig in the lead role of a dramatic coming-of-age comedy about a fluid millennial transitioning to a real world of responsibility.

Returning comedies include This Hour Has 22 Minutes with recent addition Aba Amuquandoh (season 29 premieres Sept. 14), TallBoyz (season three), Workin’ Moms (season six), Halifax Comedy Fest, New Wave of Standup and Winnipeg Comedy Festival, with TBA premieres for each slated for Winter 2022.

Factual: building ratings with castles in the sand

Race Against The Tide, a 10-episode, 30-minute Marblemedia sand sculpture competition series hosted by comedian Shaun Majumder (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) is set for a late-summer debut.

Set in New Brunswick, Race Against The Tide (premiering Sept. 9) will pit 10 two-person teams of skilled sand sculptors completing works of art before the world’s highest tide at the Bay of Funday washes it all away. The overall winner of the series will be declared Race Against The Tide Champions.

Returning factual shows Family Feud Canada with host Gerry Dee (returning Sept. 27, season three), Dragon’s Den (Oct. 14, season 16) with the newest Dragon, Kingsdale Advisors founder Wes Hall – the first Black Canadian to enter the Den; The Great Canadian Baking Show (Oct. 17, season five) and the seventh season of Still Standing with Jonny Harris returning this winter, along with season two of Arctic Vets.

CBC Gem – a potpourri of new youth-aimed programs

CBC Gem has its own original lineup, ranging from the third post-Kim’s Convenience offering – the Nathalie Younglai/Simu Liu co-created comedy Hello (Again) – to Frick I Love Nature; the Amanda Parris vehicle Revenge Of The Black Best Friend; the new Shaftesbury offering Topline; the young adult comedy Virgins! and the unscripted series Who Do You Think I Am? (Canadian Content Studios) starring Madison Tevlin, born with Down’s Syndrome.

The show sees Tevlin, who has spent her life being judged at first glance, interview others misrepresented by their exterior with the intent of smashing perceptions and revealing the true person behind her subject.

The other CBC Gem drama – 100 Dragons Media’s Hello (Again) – is a “complicated” romance between chef Jayden and ER resident Avery that ignites quickly and is extinguished almost as quickly. Does an impromptu encounter six months later offer a second chance? A dramatic turn from Kim’s Convenience alumnus Simu Liu and his creative partner Nathalie Younglai.

Popular CBC-TV personality Amanda Parris is the creative vision behind the young adult comedy Revenge of The Black Best Friend, following Dr. Toni Shakur’s self-proclaimed mission to end the creation of one-dimensional, stereotyped Black characters. Parris co-writes and co-produces this series, slated for winter viewing.

Topline, created by Romeo Candido, follows the reclusive 15-year-old Tala, a singer-songwriter who creates an online alter ago – Celestine, 18 – to showcase her wares. As one of her songs is discovered, Tala must decide whether to join a music production team as herself or her projected image.

Edmonton-based Filipino Canadian comedian Grodie Lucius is the mastermind behind the young adult comedy Frick, I Love Nature. Through interviews with experts and combining picturesque scenery with educational nature facts, he’s drawing attention to Canada’s natural history and diverse ecosystems.

Miskeen Media’s Virgins! follows the lives of four 20-something women adjusting to life in the big city of Toronto from the African homes they come from. “Virgins” both sexually and in life experience, Aden Abebe is the creator and writer.

Returning Gem properties include Jensplaining (fall 2021), Next Stop (fall 2021) and True Dating Stories (winter 2022).

Documentaries

Gem’s documentary TV series The Passionate Eye is jumping to CBC TV for season 19 (premiering Sept. 17), which will also include greenlit CBC Docs POV documentaries.

CBC TV also hosts the return of the evergreen The Nature Of Things (season 61, Oct. 29) and Hot Docs, scheduled for a winter 2022 return.

New original docs include Harold Ballard: Power Player, produced by Lone Eagle Entertainment and directed by Jason Priestley, about the exploits of controversial figure and former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard. Also on the docket is Antica Productions’ Spirit to Soar, directed by Tanya Talaga and Michelle Derosier, exploring the story of seven First Nations high school students in Thunder Bay who died between 2000 and 2011. CBC also greenlit Amar Wala-directed Superfan, produced by Good Karma Studios, which tells the story of how Sikh immigrant Nav Bhatia’s devotion for the Toronto Raptors took him on an incredible personal journey.

International – BBC Gold from director Mira Nair

In terms of foreign productions, CBC will bow the acclaimed BBC eight-episode adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy from director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and Emmy-winning writer Andrew Davie on Oct. 17. Set in 1950s India, this humourous tale of romance centres around Lata, a 19-year-old university student who wants to defy tradition and find a husband on her own terms.

Season two of international hit War Of The Worlds – presented by Urban Myth Films in association with StudioCanal and Fox Networks Group – premieres Oct. 6 and stars Gabriel Byrne and Lea Drucker.

CBC Kids –  Bob Ezrin’s Ukulele U picks the hits

A new series by noted Canadian record producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper) called Ukulele U is on the CBC Kids’ slate. Series star Melanie Doane will perform popular songs with ukulele-playing kids and celebrity guest stars. Other kids series set to launch this fall are Gary’s Magic Fort (13 x 11 minutes) and Guru Studio’s Big Blue (52 x 11 minutes).

Also returning is a third season of the tween series Detention Adventure from LoCo Motion Pictures and Broken Compass Films, to premiere sometime this fall.

News and current affairs: veteran franchises return

Long-time CBC News evergreens Marketplace and The Fifth Estate premiere Oct. 1 and Oct. 14 respectively, complementing ongoing programs Canada Tonight with Ginella Massa, Power & Politics with Vassy Kapelos, Rosemary Barton Live and The National.

“Our new slate of original programming is an embodiment of our promise to better represent and reflect more people, places and perspectives across the country in new ways, and we look forward to sharing this remarkable range of Canadian storytelling,” said Sally Catto, CBC’s general manager, entertainment, factual and sports, in a statement.

Pictured L to R: Marie Clements; Sort Of’s Bilal Baig; Race Against the Tide host Shaun Majumder