Degrassi's old, but also new; Sopranos is borrowed and very blue

Winnipeg Free Press Showtime Thursday

Winnipeg Free Press
Showtime Thursday, June 7, 2001 D9

Degrassi’s old, but also new; Sopranos is borrowed and very blue

Free Press TV critic Brad Oswald is in Toronto this week for the Canadian Television Press Tour, as Canada’s TV networks unveil the shows you’ll be watching next fall. Here’s his report on CTV’s lineup.

Watching TV/Brad Oswald

TORONTO — Wise guys from New Jersey and new kids from Degrassi are the characters that will drive CTV’s prime-time lineup during the 2001-02 television season.

The network unveiled its fall schedule here yesterday on Day 3 of the Canadian Television Press Tour, and the highlights include the return of the acclaimed HBO drama The Sopranos to network TV and a multi-layered, multi-media revival of one of the most beloved Canadian shows of all time, Degrassi Junior High.

Degrassi: The Next Generation will debut this fall with a special hour that reunites many of the characters from the long-running CBC series, including Joey (Pat Mastroianni), Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn), Snake (Stefan Brogren) and Spike (Amanda Stepto).

The reunion special will also introduce Spike’s 12-year-old daughter, Emma (who was two years old when Degrassi left the airwaves), and through her, viewers will meet a new generation of teens who are her classmates at renovated and reopened Degrassi Community School.

The series will be augmented by a companion show, Degrassi.TV, a weekly half-hour documentary that explores the issues raised in the drama, and will also be supported by a fully interactive Degrassi Web site.

“This series still has resonance, on a whole bunch of different levels,” said CTV president and CEO Trina McQueen. “It is one of the true touchstones of Canadian television.”

CTV will repeat its edgiest programming decision to date when it airs the second season of The Sopranos on Sunday nights this fall. Last year’s decision to broadcast the first season of the show — a violent, graphic and always-profane examination of life inside an organized-crime family — in an uncut, uncensored fashion at 10 p.m. sparked controversy, but CTV execs said the reaction to the experiment has been overwhelmingly positive.

Supported by a recent decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council that stated The Sopranos did not violate guidelines for acceptable programming, CTV is eager to get the second season onto the air.

“I believe strongly that (the Standards Council) believed, like most viewers . . . that this series transcended the elements of violence or swearing or anything like that by being a great drama that is solidly based on some of the deepest feelings that human beings have,” said McQueen.

Season 3 of The Sopranos is currently being shown on the pay-TV service Movie Central.

Members of The Sopranos’ cast flown in to meet with Canadian TV critics were actually surprised to learn the series is shown on major-network TV.

“This could never be shown on a network in America,” said Michael Imperioli, who portrays gangster Christopher Moltisante. “The censors would never allow it, and the sponsors would be up in arms.

“I’m very impressed that (CTV) airs this uncut . . . though it does make me think twice about Canadians — you seem very low-key and respectable, but there’s obviously something else going on.”

CTV’s new schedule also includes a handful of promising new U.S.-network properties, led by the Steven Bochco-produced legal drama Philly, which stars NYPD Blue alumnus Kim Delaney, and the quirky coming-of-age comedy Maybe I’m Adopted (which will almost certainly arrive this fall with a different title), created by Felicity producer J.J. Abrams.

CTV will also air Scrubs, a medical-themed sitcom from the producer of Spin City, and The Amazing Race, a reality series that sends teams of modern-day explorers on an around-the-world sprint. Big-screen star James Belushi stars in a family comedy called Dad, and John Stamos (Full House) leads the cast of the action-adventure series Thieves.

CTV’s 2001-02 schedule also boasts a large number of Canadian-made movies, including several based on true stories. Stolen Miracle explores the real-life 1993 kidnapping of an infant from a small-town Ontario hospital; Tagged examines teen violence through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy who was savagely beaten by members of a youth gang; and Torso re-creates one of the most sensational trials of the 20th century — the Evelyn Dick case, in which a prominent Hamilton woman was charged with the murder and dismemberment of her husband.

CTV will also air a sure-to-be-controversial account of The Investigation that led to the arrest of serial killer Clifford Olson, and the fact-based drama 100 Days in the Jungle, which dramatizes the story of eight Canadian oil workers abducted by Ecuadorian guerillas in 1999.

Among the fictional Canadian movies next season are two more CTV Mysteries, Verdict in Blood and A Killing Spring — both starring Wendy Crewson as cop-turned-investigator Joanne Kilbourne.

Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh will reprise the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a pair of new mysteries, The Royal Scandal and The Sign of Four.

Despite its enormous success last year, CTV currently has no plans to bring Who Wants To Be a Millionaire: Canadian Edition back this season.

In addition to unveiling the new schedule for its main network, CTV’s execs also confirmed that the company will roll out seven new digital specialty channels this fall — the Women’s Television Sports Network, CTV Travel, Animal Planet, Discovery Civilization, Classic Sports and a French headline-sports service.




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