Sunday, April 12, 2009

Corner Gas: If You Build It, We Will Come

Show No. 107, "You've Been Great, Good Night," closes out Canada's most successful sitcom, Corner Gas. It all ends Monday night at 9:30 on CTV and A.
Gas is all over the CTV channel factory Monday, starting with a Canada AM salute at 8 a.m., a live eTalk salute at 7 p.m. and "It's Been a Gas," a behind the scenes retrospective of the taping of the final episode at 7:30.
The Comedy Network has that final episode an hour earlier at 8:30 Monday. Then it is rerun heaven for Brent Butt and the gang until CTV finally announces whether it is picking up his new series starring wife/co-star Nancy Robertson.
Thanks in no small part to me, Gas has been part of one of the most enduring myths about Canadian television--that it was pitched to, and passed at, CBC. Back when I worked at the Toronto Sun I got a bum tip and reported this one, as well as the whopper that Trailer Park Boys was another CBC passover (hey, might as well get this all out of the way at Easter).
Neither show was ever pitched to anyone at CBC. CTV's Comedy Network was ramping up and spending real money (remember Bullard's talk show started there) and was the place to pitch at the time. Comedy passed on Trailer Park Boys and, in a very last ditch attempt before heading back East, creator Mike Clattenburg and associate Barrie Dunn took their little pseudo documentary to Alliance Atlantis where it was championed by Laura Michalchyshyn (now running the Sundance Channel) and wound up kicking ass on Showcase.
Gas went straight to CTV, where it was an instant smash, pulling a million-and-a-half viewers right from the get go. As a successful Canadian sitcom, it stands out like a grain elevator on a Prairie landscape. Check out my Canadian Press column about the series, "10 Reasons Why Canadian Viewers Filled Up with 'Corner Gas'"; you can link to it here at Macleans.ca.
Reason No. 1? Great characters. Creator, writer and star Butt took a simple idea - what would his life have been like if he'd never made it as a standup comedian? - and spun a series out of his own humble Prairie gas jockey beginnings. Populating it with a quirky, sardonic retail assistant, an attractive-but-insecure outsider from the big city, a slacker best friend, two wacky, bickering parents and a couple of clueless but lovable cops gave every viewer somebody to relate to and laugh at.
Gas is a great Canadian success story and it is wrapping up right when the Canadian television production community--devastated by cutbacks at every network--could use a little hope, a reason to believe that it can happen here. Corner Gas is the great Canadian TV success story. It was 100% home grown and never tried to be anything but funny.
CTV sent out a release last week where several "notables" paid tribute to the series. The one quote worth seconding is from ever reliable John Doyle over at The Globe and Mail:
“Anyone who fails to appreciate the exquisite comical whimsy and admire the stunning popular success of CORNER GAS is a jackass.” Amen to that.
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