CTV gets da mob and Degrassi

CTV gets da mob and Degrassi

Season 2 of Sopranos and 13 new shows this fall, including fave former high-schoolers
PEGGY CURRAN
The Gazette

Imperioli: “Impressed” CTV airs Sopranos.

The Sopranos, “uncut and uncensored,” will tangle with the legal system on CTV Sunday nights this fall, while Degrassi High throws open its doors to a new generation of pimpled but media-savvy and computer-friendly teens.

CTV’s decision to air Season 2 of David Chase’s dramatic blockbuster about the emotionally conflicted mob boss from New Jersey opposite The Practice was the big, if not exactly unexpected, news yesterday as the network announced a fall lineup that also features 13 new series – nine American, four made in Canada – to debut in October.

Despite isolated but fierce complaints from some viewers, a spirited debate among network executives and a waiting game with the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council that ended only last week, CTV decided to bring viewers a second helping of The Sopranos, which drew 2 million viewers when it aired opposite the Olympics last year.

“In TV-executive land, nightmares happen when you wake up,” CTV president Trina McQueen said of her fears that broadcasting censors might veto the Sopranos, because of its strong language, violence or sexual explicitness.

“Our belief strongly was that they, like most members of the public, most viewers, would recognize that this series transcended the elements and swearing and anything like that with a great drama that is solidly based on some of the deepest feelings, exposed by great producers, great writers and great actors.”

McQueen said she’s still puzzled by “the American debate, like the president of NBC sending around a letter saying, ‘This show could never ever be shown on conventional television.’ Well, maybe it couldn’t in the United States. But Canadians somehow were able to accept it and enjoy it.”

Yet even Michael Imperioli, who does double duty as a writer and actor on The Sopranos, told reporters gathered in Toronto for the fall launch that no mainstream U.S. network would do what CTV is doing.

“The censors would never allow it and the sponsors would be up in arms,” said Imperioli, who plays Tony’s nephew, Christopher. ” I’m very impressed. I didn’t know until today that you aired this uncut on major-network TV. It makes me think twice about Canadians. You seem kind of low-key, but maybe there’s something else going on.”

CTV plans to re-air episodes from The Sopranos’ first season beginning July 22 to refresh viewers’ memories before the second 13-week season begins in the fall. Susanne Boyce, CTV’s president of programming, said she’s not worried that word-of-mouth and ferocious tape-lending from people who saw the second and third seasons on The Movie Network will take the wind out of CTV’s sails.

“Our big worry was whether to air it or not,” Boyce said.

And while The Sopranos probably did help The Movie Network woo new subscribers to pay-TV, McQueen is confident it won’t hurt ratings for CTV. “Even if they had increased their subscriptions by a factor of 10, it would not reach a quarter of the audience that the original Sopranos on CTV reached. There is still a huge audience out there that didn’t get it.”

This fall will also see the debut of seven specialty channels on the digital dial that will allow Canadians with the right cable provider to tune in to everything from Talktv, with Montreal’s own Ben Mulroney, to wall-to-wall hockey on The Hockey Channel.

And while CTV is still awaiting final approval from the CRTC before completing its purchase of CFCF-12, McQueen said an agreement has been reached for the Montreal station to carry the full package of CTV programming.

Among the new U.S. shows slated to air on CTV this fall are: Philly, a Steven Bochco production, which stars NYPD Blue alumna Kim Delaney as an overworked defence attorney; Bob Patterson, starring Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander as a motivational speaker; Alias, starring Jennifer Garner as a secret agent with a lethal kick and spy toys that have come a long way since Get Smart; Scrubs, a quirky sitcom about medical interns; Maybe I’m Adopted, a sitcom starring Reagan Nies-Dale as a confused 15-year-old and Pointe Claire’s own Andrew Walker as her ne’er-do-well brother; Law and Order: Criminal Intent, the latest spinoff from producer Dick Wolf; and The Amazing Race, a reality series from producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

The new Canadian series include Degrassi: The Next Generation, a much-hyped rebirth of the defunct CBC series that network executives and producers say still has a cult following in Canada and around the world.

But to catch up with changes that have taken place since the original cast graduated 10 years ago and Degrassi’s asbestos-insulated classrooms were mothballed, the new show will lean heavily on new technologies. The show’s interactive Web site will allow fans to enroll in a virtual high school, send E-mail to favourite characters, read the school bulletin board and vote for class president. CTV also plans a companion current-affairs show, Degrassi.tv, a weekly half-hour program which will deal with some of the youth-oriented issues faced by Degrassi’s fictional characters.

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