Canadian sitcoms left to fend for themselves on summer schedules

·National Affairs Reporter

Sitcoms produced in Canada never stood much of a chance of being taken seriously, at least before January 2004 when CTV premiered "Corner Gas," the homespun vehicle for Tisdale, Sask. funnyman Brent Butt.

The shows featuring its alumni, "Hiccups" and "Dan For Mayor," promoted as a pair during the network's coverage of the Winter Olympics, also did well enough last spring to be renewed for a second season.

But now, as part of a Sunday night comedy block that debuts on CTV in June, they've been relegated to secondary programming fodder.

The scheduling suggests the genre is now expected to coast on the goodwill of the three million viewers who tuned in for the series finale of "Corner Gas" in April 2009.

Promotion for CTV's sitcoms last year didn't draw much attention to the merits of each offering, but dwelled on the connections to the fictional town of Dog River.

"Dan For Mayor" has given Fred Ewanuick the role as a slacker who is voted to run a small Ontario city.

"Hiccups" starred Nancy Robertson as a children's author dealing with anger management, with her real-life husband Butt in a small role as her life coach, but advertising suggested it was a show inspired by their marriage.

There was hope the residual "Corner Gas" sparks would fly in the direction of CBC Television, which advertised in January that three of its producers moved on to the Regina-shot spy sitcom "InSecurity," a promotional tactic Butt didn't appreciate.

Critics were surprised CBC announced "InSecurity" would return for a second round next winter. Much like the renewed "Little Mosque on the Prairie," though, it has benefited from being aired in prime time when the air was coldest.

Some fresh attempts to renew the sitcom genre are being offered by specialty channel Showcase starting in June: "Almost Heroes," a vehicle for stand-up comic Ryan Belleville, and "Single White Spenny," starring "Kenny vs. Spenny" veteran Spencer Rice, have been touted as a Thursday night alternative to summer reruns.

The historical reason for a limited amount in new programming in June, July and August is because viewers preferred to spend the nights outside.

(Brent Butt: CP Photo)

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