Canada’s Most Memorable (English) TV Thing: Round of 64

(Note: Voting in the first round has concluded, but you can vote in the Round of 32 here)

I’ll get straight to the point: you know what hasn’t been done before? A public vote, in the digital age, to see what is the most memorable piece of Canadian television.

You know what we’re going to do?

That. Right now.

1. Why?

Self explanatory. You’re on a site that has rankings of Heritage Minutes and Vancouver Breweries. It’s Canada 150. Just go with it.

2. How?

Bracket-style. 64 entries in four different categories, single-elimination.

3. What where the qualifications to get in?

First, it had to have ended its original run by 2012. That allows us to judge each entry with the historical distance needed, and avoids the weirdness of a CBC journalist asking people how they feel about EXCELLENT SHOWS WHICH YOU ALL SHOULD WATCH, ESPECIALLY IF MY MANAGERS ARE LOOKING AT THIS, PRAISE BE TO MR. D  things produced by his employer.

Second, it can’t be specific to one province. It’s why this is ultimately English-only, but it also ensures this is a game where virtually everyone over the age of 30 can have opinions on every show.

Third, when it comes to whether it can be classified as Canadian or not, I’m using three categories:

  1. Was it primarily made in Canada?
  2. Was the primary audience Canadian?
  3. Were the primary creators/cast Canadian?

If it’s two out of three, then it goes in. At least by my snap judgements this weekend.

(Basically, this is the justification for Fraggle Rock making it, and Clone High/Your Favourite Sci-Fi Show not making the cut)

4. Enough talking. What are the brackets?

Good question! Comedy and Drama clearly deserve its own category. Children’s shows are a distinct source of nostalgia/sense of living in Canada, especially for people born before 1990, so they get a bracket. And then our final bracket is all the variety shows/CanCon commercials/talk shows/game shows that don’t really fit neatly into one bracket.

And lo, after much discussion on the Internets over the weekend, we come up with this.

(My apologies to The Odyssey, This Hour Has Seven Days, The Jon Dore Show, Video Hits, and everything else that failed to make the great. If you’re greatly aggrieved by this, um, make your own bracket. I’m but a simple Millennial with snark and a Twitter account)

Are you excited? I’m excited. Let’s get voting. Polls close at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Tuesday. We’ll do more talking about each entry the deeper in we get, but since there’s 32 to get through in this round, we’re gonna blitz through them.

COMEDY BRACKET

One got the most predictions on Twitter saying it would win the entire tournament. The other got less than 60% of the vote in a play-in bracket against Four On The Floor, a 30-year-old show that only aired for 13 episodes.

One launched more Canadian comedians into North American stardom than arguably any show in history, and combined broad laughs with pitch-perfect character acting. The other is described on Wikipedia as “considered by some to be one of the worst situation comedies ever produced.”

BATTLE OF THE SMALL SASKATCHEWAN TOWNS WITH QUIRKY CHARACTERS AND DETACHED WARMTH

Are there people who passionately love both of these shows? If so, I apologize in advance. Also, we’re talking about the original Showcase series for Trailer Park, from 2001-2007.

One is decades-old, much-watched, but one that is rarely thrown up as an emblem of comedy. The other is a decade old and little-watched, but those who like it, like it a lot.

Did anyone else really enjoy the Friday night block of CBC comedies at the turn of the century? Really nice mix of humour styles. But only one can survive.

CLOSE RACE ALERT

After one day of voting, these two are separate by less than 100 votes. To help you with your decision, a defence of Kenny vs. Spenny:

Though clearly too brazenly dumb to be mentioned in the same breath as The Newsroom by snobs of a particular generation, Kenny vs Spenny did what shows bound by traditional formats never could. It broke bravely away from convention and kept audiences guessing: Is this even real? Are they acting? Is Kenny a sociopath or just a regular terrible friend with no conscience? Likewise, the inventiveness of the episodes keeps them fresh in my mind to this day: Who Can Wear a Dead Octopus on His Head the Longest; First Guy to Get a Boner Loses; Who Do Black Guys Like More?

But the true test of a cultural work is in its legacy. If this were an episode of Kenny vs Spenny, it would be called “Who Can Make the Most Half-Hearted International Spinoffs?” Kenny vs Spenny inspired remakes around the world, in Germany, the UK, Turkey, and India. I think we all know who the Spenny is in this episode.
Report this message sent 19 hours ago from Jimmy Thomson but wait there’s more Delete this message sent 19 hours ago from Jimmy Thomson but wait there’s more.

Jimmy Thomson, northern Canadian journalist

And here are a bunch of journalists defending The Newsroom:

“The Rushmore of Canadian TV didn’t have room for Ken Finkleman’s CBC show The Newsroom—an astonishing act of comic lèse-majesté that flashed brilliantly across our screens, and is now in danger of being forgotten because some American gave a much worse show (with inferior dialogue) the same name.”

Colby Cosh, National Post

There are people who swear that CODCO was amazing, and it’s the only way you can sort of show your appreciation for 22 Minutes, since it isn’t on the ballot. And whether it’s aged badly or not is irrelevant – Air Farce was a gateway drug for comedy for so many in this country for decades. So yeah, I have no clue which way this is going.

DRAMA BRACKET

(i am obligated to note that night heat ran for four seasons, and on cbs went head-to-head with johnny carson’s tonight show, but i don’t think that will matter)

As Bruce Arthur said last week (in a thread that inspired this competition), “Canada’s most celebrated TV show was a live-action drama about dudes in boats salvaging stray logs,” and there are so many acceptable responses to that true fact.

To be clear, we’re talking about the Degrassi series off the air, which means The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. I’m not litigating things anymore than that, and your fuzzy nostalgia memories probably aren’t either.

Also, Traders is a show that exists.

Hey! It’s two shows that were on when I was a toddler and have no opinion about!

For Anne of Green Gables, we’re counting the original miniseries in 1985, the 1987 sequel, and the 2000 “Continuing Series” episodes. Yes, this isn’t a traditional episodic drama like everything else in this bracket, but it makes most sense in this bracket (and with a potential Round 2 matchup against Road to Avonlea).

Meanwhile, Wikipedia tells me Seeing Things was about “a newspaper journalist who solves murders with the help of postcognitive visions. Louis can only control this ability by investigating clues given in a vision.”

So yeah.

CBC NOSTALGIA VS. CTV PRESTIGE DRAMA

CLOSE RACE ALERT

After one day of voting, with thousands of ballots cast, Da Vinci’s Inquest and Street Legal are separated by less than 25 votes. To help jog your memory, two Good Canadians have written endorsements of the shows.

“Da Vinci’s Inquest captures a time in Vancouver as it moved towards gentrification and left behind its grittier roots. The show, which ran for seven seasons, captured a darker side of the city that is often ignored. Sure, some of the acting can be a bit wooden at times, but it references real crimes committed in the city and presented a surprisingly nuanced take on drug crime and violence. Unlike many other shows, many cases went unsolved and there were more than a fair share of unhappy endings. With many of Canada’s crime shows set in Toronto, one that highlights West Coast scenarios was a welcome change. Plus, I’ll admit, it takes me back to my childhood memories of Vancouver.”

Nick Wells, CTV web producer

It got its start as a pygmy version of L.A. Law, and ended its run seven years later as the most successful piece of scripted programming in Canadian television history. In between, Street Legal demonstrated that Canadian stories were worth telling – and that viewers were more than happy to watch them.

In a way, it’s the most quintessentially Canadian show of all time – clearly a knockoff of an American cultural product but also a proudly local one. Whether it was Leon Robinovitch commuting to work from Toronto Island, the glamour shot of the CN Tower (accompanied by the squeal of a saxophone, of course) at the outset of the opening credits or Chuck Tchobanian’s decision to run off to Vancouver, Street Legal didn’t try to hide its Canadianness (as an aside: the fact that no Toronto band has called themselves the Chuck Tchobanians continues astounds me). That ever-present sense of local colour didn’t seem to hurt its popularity, either – at its peak in 1992, it was drawing 1.6 million sets of eyeballs an episode in Canada alone.

Most Canadian of all, perhaps, was the reason for its demise: the CBC couldn’t afford to have two scripted dramas running simultaneously. And so, somewhat ironically, it was replaced – or, perhaps, euthanized – by a medical drama called Side Effects, which was populated by many of the same actors and producers but only lasted two seasons. Even more Canadian? The fact that while you can find reruns of every shade and permutation of the Law and Order franchise, Street Legal episodes stopped airing on Bravo back in 2009.

Max Fawcett, former Vancouver Magazine/Alberta Venture editor

So there you have it. Now vote!

Did any other child confuse these two shows growing up? No? Just me? *backs away quietly*

CHILDREN’S BRACKET

First, let’s acknowledge that the children’s bracket is a vicious, unfair deathmatch that could EASILY be 32 entries. And let’s acknowledge that people treasure childhood memories about TV more than any other. And let’s acknowledge that there are many very excellent children’s shows produced in Canada, from Nelvana to CBC to TV Ontario, that are worthy of discussion.

But if it’s not Friendly Giant vs. Mt. Dressup at the end of this bracket, I fundamentally misunderstand the character of this nation.

Sorry Edison Twins and You Can’t Do That on TV (which survived a play-in game against fellow slime show “Uh Oh!”) fans, but we’re gonna talk about Giant vs. Dressup some more, because it is, for my money which is non-existent because there’s no ads here the match of this tournament. Crafts vs. Music. Reality vs. Fantasy. Tickle Trunk vs. Rocking Chair. Casey and Finnegan vs. Rusty and Jerome. I can’t wait…but I’m also a little terrified.

Prior to this competition, I did not know that The Forest Rangers was a) beloved by Canadian children in the 60s b) one of the first big roles for Gordon Pinsent, c) a show with a kickass theme song.

But the median age of the average person voting on these things is probably not 65. Which means it’s probably going to lose to the Raccoons, since only one wilderness show can survive.

“Fraggle Rock was Canadian?” you say. Well, it was mostly filmed in Toronto, and it first came to prominence in Canada (children weren’t exactly watching HBO much in the 1980s, and that was its home in the States), so it gets in. So get your Jim Henson love here, unless you’re one of those TVO disciples who badgered me to include this in the round of 16 and i am not bitter about in the slightest.

BATTLE OF THE GUITAR-STRUMMING SHOWS FOR EARLY MILLENNIALS. CAT CAME BACK VS. SKINNAMARINK

(Sidenote: there’s only been three times in my career where I’ve been momentarily starstruck: Seth Rogen tweeting at me, arranging an interview on Global’s Morning News with legendary Vancouver Canucks broadcaster Jim Robson, and the time when I was running UBC’s campus newspaper The Ubyssey, and it was 11am, and I was hungover and the only person in the newsroom, when somebody phoned, and I grumbled and picked up the phone, and on the other end a man said in the most polite voice possible “This is Fred Penner. I have an interview in a little bit with Jonny Wakefield. Is he available now?”, and I have never gone from hungover to 100 PER CENT RAPT ATTENTION as quickly as those three seconds)

The YTV mini-bracket was proposed by VICE writer Sarah Berman, and it’s a darn good idea, so we’re gonna keep it, and see what comes out of the mass of surprisingly good original programming they created in the 90s, and yes, I’m sorry that Video & Arcade Top 10 and Stickin’ Around and Rupert and Uh Oh! and PJ Katie’s Farm and The Zone and so much else didn’t make it, but that’s how it goes, so look, just vote for spooky stories or high school journalism.

I love Reboot so much and think it so influential that I once rated every character from the show with two of my friends and put it on my dumb website, so I’m a bit biased on this one. To counteract that, here is a Ryan Gosling gif.

Did I throw two much-loved TVO children’s shows from the 80s against each other in the first round because I got annoyed at the sheer number of people demanding they be placed in this competition?

Maybe No. That would be petty. This is merely the right place for a faceoff, much like the YTV battles, and since I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of either show I’m going to leave it at that.

MISCELLANEOUS BRACKET

I honestly don’t know how to seed everyone in this bracket, because it’s such a random hodgepodge of nostalgia and weirdness and shows that were Important To Canada but now are dated…but the one entry people demanded more than any other for this bracket was Street Cents.

So it gets the one seed, but does it defeat Wok With Yan, which romped to an easy win against Definition in the play-in round, and is the only Cooking Show representative in this game? We’ll see!

On one hand, there’s no denying the influence that Wayne and Shuster’s radio show and subsequent TV specials had on pretty much every famous comedian that came out of Canada from 1975 to 1995. Will all the people who appreciate that turn out for an Internet Poll run by a Millennial?

(Shrug emoji). For now, we’ll give them an easy first round matchup against a game show that everyone sort of remembers, but nobody really loves.

AW YEAH IT’S TIME FOR THE CANCON EDUCATIONAL PSUEDO-COMMERCIAL BATTLE.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Animals or history: which one made a bigger mark on the Canadian psyche?

Another one where I have to declare some conflict: I uploaded the first 12 episodes of Téléfrancais to YouTube a decade ago and wrote an essay about it.

But while Ananas, Les Squelettes, Jacques et Sophie are famous in a very particular setting (Under-resourced French classrooms in public elementary schools), Body Break was pervasive on everyone’s TVs for a decade.

What is the greatest talk show in Canadian history? Is there a bigger gap between us and American when it comes to a particular genre of (English) program?

Let’s not overthink this. Let’s wonder whether Mr. Thicke or Mr. Vision Torrens did a better job elevating the form in their short time presiding over the format.

AW YEAH IT’S TIME FOR THE CANCON PSUEDO-COMMERCIAL BATTLE PART TWO.

This one. This one is going to hurt. Because for Concerned Children’s Advertisers, you have this 500-pound behemoth:

OH YEAH THERE’S ALSO THE HOUSE HIPPO

And I guess there’s like 30 others. But in the other corner, you have the Log Driver’s Waltz.

CHOOSE WISELY CANADA.

It’s time for some old-timey CBC game shows! Did you know I captained a Reach For The Top team that went undefeated but failed to make the B.C. championship game? How could that happen, you ask? Well get a couple beers in me and you’ll find out quickly!

(Meanwhile, Front Page Challenge had Pierre Berton and Allan Fotheringham, two Ubyssey editors who I idolized, and questions about current events and Canadian history, so I guess I like that too. UGH WHY DID I MAKE THIS CATEGORY SO HARD)

It’s variety shows from decades ago I know nothing about, so I’ll just let people older than me weigh in.

NEXT UP: THE ROUND OF 32

Categories: Features, NostalgiaTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

57 Comments

  1. D.W.

    I’m only 50, but “The Forrest Rangers” ran on TV every afternoon after school when I was in Elementary School in the mid-1970s.
    .
    It’s a great shame you don’t seem to have heard of “Seeing Things”. Imagine George Costanza is a reporter who has strange visions of crimes and has to (ineptly) try to solve them and you get the idea. Running joke: Both his wife and the Crown Attorney always (mistakenly) think he is hitting on her (the C.A.)

    • Alison

      Not to mention the fact that the Crown Attorney had a trophy boyfriend pro hockey player who was spectacularly dumb. Women get used to the reverse version of that. It was nice to see the tables turned.

  2. Carol

    Somewhere in The Great Beyond, James Barber quietly weeps to himself about being forgotten so soon; and yet, in a brave voice, he whispers a message that enters the minds of those faithful to the Urban Peasant who wish to participate: “Make do with what you’ve got”.

    • Al the fish

      For most of it’s run Graham Kerr’s Galloping Gourmet was made in Canada. I can now make a white sauce blindfolded thanks to that show. Well, actually it would be a brown sauce, because I wouldn’t be able to tell when the flour browns.

      What about Bruno Gerrusi’s Celebrity Cooks? Especially the episode where Pierre Burton lifts the lid of a spinning Cuisinart. He then puts his hand down on it to stop it spinning. What a horror show! Burton basically sliced his palm off. I believe Dan Hill provided music accompaniment on the show for a short time before his song “Sometimes When We Touch” became a Canadian hit. (More CanCon,)

  3. Val Jobson

    Don Messer never spoke, just smiled and played his fiddle, while another guy named Don Something did all the talking. How could you beat that? But Tommy Hunter was good too. I bet Anne Murray was on both shows at some point.

  4. carsjam33

    Irish Rovers would have beat Tommy Hunter and Don Messer imo.
    Glad to see Reach for the Top winning a tough bracket – I was on in ’84 (Ontario finalist team).
    Agree with comments above about Seeing Things and Forest Rangers.
    King of Kensington season 1 was quite good when I saw it in syndication, but the other years, meh.

  5. Al the fish

    This is the Law, with Paul Soles as the “Lawbreaker” (the voice of Spiderman cartoon version)
    Take 30, with hosts Adrienne Clarkson and Paul Soles

    Of course I agree with Razzle Dazzle hosts Alan Hamel (husband of Suzanne Sommers) Trudy Young (be still my adolescent heart) and Howard the Turtle.

    Talk Shows – anybody besides me remember Peter Gzowski’s show 90 Minutes Live? And though I can’t get his comedy: Mike Bullard.

  6. mrtk

    It astonishes me how quickly the names of these shows, many of which I have not thought about since ~1996 and only ever saw on my grandparents’ fuzzy CBC signal in Hanover, Ontario, prompted instant and overwhelming feelings — and how quickly those feelings turned to aggrieved rage if my favored program was losing. I WILL DIE FOR YOU TELEFRANCAIS

    Also, This Is Wonderland is missing, good day.

  7. Elyne

    This is great though I can’t believe “Just Like Mom” isn’t on the list. Or “What’s New” (which was replaced with “Street Cents”, if I recall). Oh yeah, it’s “Cents” not “Sense” because CBC never met a wordplay title it didn’t like. It’s also “Wok with Yan”. Remember, Stephen Yan was Chinese… not Scandinavian.

  8. Mike

    A special Global Television Battle with Science International va Night Drive/Night Walk…

    I know it’s too late now, but if there’s ever another round.

  9. Lots of great shows and memories. However… how about the supremely bizarre cutout-animated Angela Anaconda? The Dick Irvin-hosted quiz show Know Your Sports? And how about there’s no way Being Erica and Trailer Park Boys belong in the same category, never mind bracket. Might as well pit Hockey Night In Canada against The Galloping Gourmet.

  10. No mention of Friday Night! with Ralph Benmurghi? Jake & The Kid? Open Mike with Mike Bullard? Wojeck? The Rez? Test Pattern? Paradise Falls? Twitch City? Ed the Sock? Blue Murder? Yes You Can?
    Rocket Robin Hood? On The Road Again with Wayne Rostad? Cold Squad? Taking The Falls? Straight Up? Blackfly?

    Like this alot, however, you made me choose between DaVinci’s Inquest and Street Legal! Grr! Loved them both!

  11. beau maverick

    Due South wins Drama beating Street in finals-
    SCTV wins in close race with Corner Gas
    Friendly Giant in a tie with Forest Rangers -as FR is for older kids FG for younger
    Miscellaneous broken down into two subgroups variety and gameshow
    Wayne and Shuster wins close race with Don Messer
    Front Page Challenge – wins close race with Definition [not listed but should be]
    Also Stampede Wrestling gets honorable mention

  12. Rob

    Great job. But it was extremely cruel of you to put Polka Dot Door/Today’s Special and Heritage Minutes/Hinterland against each other.

    Also, You Can’t Do That on Television deserved better than a 16 seed (and an early exit at the hands of the juggernaut Giant).

  13. Catherine Limbertie

    Sorry to only find out about this quiz today! I would have added shows like Chez Helene that taught me French as a child and Quentin Durgens MP where I learned about Federal politics as a teen!

  14. Bill Perry

    Music shows like All Around the Circle or The Ian Tyson Show (my favourites) should have their own category and not have to compete with variety shows like SCTV.

  15. “The Nature of Things” with Suzuki!!! The show that made him house hold name, and put him in the top ten of the greatest 100 Canadians of all time. Seriously. it’s been on for ever.
    Oh. and Open Mike with Mike Bullard was the best Canadian talk show. Too bad he’s messed up pretty bad now, but the show was good.
    No Ed the Sock either? So much mindless crap, and you missed the most mindless most crappy thing on TV with Ed the Sock. Darn it.

    • bebeblueeyes

      The Nature of Things is a fantastic program and I’m happy it is still running. Therefore it doesn’t meeting the criteria “it had to have ended its original run by 2012.”

  16. bebeblueeyes

    When I was a stay-at-home mom back in the 70s I loved CBC network’s afternoon public affairs program Take 30. I remember it with Adrienne Clarkson and Paul Soles, then with Hana Gartner. Great program!

  17. OK, someone has to give The Starlost some love, so I’m gonna be the first. And, most likely, the last. I first saw this show as a kid growing up in northeastern North Dakota and, at the time, it was pretty cool. Now, as an adult, I realize what a train wreck it was, but that still doesn’t dilute the nostalgia factor. Yes, it was “memorable” as in “memorably bad”, but still memorable. Maybe. If you squint while you watch it. All right, my work here is done.

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