When I first heard about it I thought it was one of the truly dumbest ideas for a new television show that had ever been contemplated. A bunch of rough and tumble former hockey players lacing on figure skates and pairing with some of Canada’s best female pairs skaters, who thought this would be a good idea? Only the CBC could come up with this concept and allow it to get to air.
Guess what? I was wrong. I hesitatingly tuned in to what I expected to be massive disaster. Perhaps I even subconsciously wanted it to fail. I used to like to think I knew a good idea from a bad one. But I was hooked. Not only is Battle of the Blades a well produced and conceived TV show, it is utterly charming entertainment that both men and women can love and most of all, and this is what the CBC and the producers deserve the most credit for, it is the first originally Canadian reality show. Battle of the Blades may even be the first truly original Canadian TV show.
For those of you who didn’t tune in on Sunday night I will describe the show. Half-a-dozen former National Hockey League players, from goons like Tie Domi to pretty boys like Ron Duguay, are teamed up with some of the best female “pairs” skaters this country has produced. They train for a “LIVE” free skate together and their performances are judged by a panel that includes two great Canadian figure skating stars, Sandra Bezic and Dick Button and a third judge that will change every week, in this case it was former L.A. Kings goaltender Kelly Hrudey. Of course there’s the great build-up with lots of pictures of the hockey players falling over their toe picks and dropping the women in practice sessions. All this beautifully sets up the expectation of disaster. Finally we come to the time to perform and a glitzy, beautifully lit set has been created at Maple Leaf Gardens with a live audience on hand to lend atmosphere to the proceedings.
As it turns out almost all the hockey players do very well. Ron Duguay in fact, looks like he could have been a great figure skater had he not been a very good hockey player. Sure most of the artistic skating was performed by the women, but the men, except for Bob Probert, the former Chicago Black Hawk fighter, did not look out of place.
It was a truly riveting hour of TV. Yes, many watched to see the men fall or the possibility of a train wreck, but what every viewer got was not disappointing: they were entertained.
Where the show sparkled was in its down home Canadian charm. This was not a program that attempted to be anything that it wasn’t. There was no pretense. It was a bunch of jocks, regular guys, Canadians having a great time doing the unexpected. The female skaters seemed to enjoy it as much as the hockey players. The charm of the characters continually shone through. In the end I found myself liking each and every one of the skaters.
Donald Button was perfect as both a judge and a personality. He made it fun by being willing criticize as well as praise.
The only negative I could find was Ron MacLean. Is it me or is MacLean becoming so predictable with his bad puns and dry humour that I prefer to turn off anything he is involved with. A few years back I wondered why CBC was giving him a hard time when his contract was up. Now I think it’s time for Ron to hang up the mic and for CBC to find another sports host.
When Battle of the Blades comes back next year, and based on the great ratings for week one I’m sure it will be back, I would like to see a few more hockey stars like Ron Duguay and Tie Domi, guys who are showmen; hockey players who are happy to display their infectious enthusiasm. Skating ability is secondary on this show, having fun is what it is all about. That goes for the audience too.
The TV Tax – An Update
On a very different note, a few weeks ago I would have bet the farm that the CRTC was going to rubber stamp the CTV, Global and CBC request to be paid by cable and satellite companies for distributing their signals. The bogus claims by CTV and Global that this was to save local TV seemed to have some resonance with both the politicians and the people.
Now, after an effective counter attack by the cable and satellite companies it appears the networks might not get their undeserved millions. Polls are showing a vast majority of Canadians are against what is really a new tax on television in Canada. I don’t know if this is the reason but the Harper government has stepped in. They have asked the CRTC to look into how the new charges would affect Canadian TV viewing and how Canadians feel about the new levies.
To me this seems like code for “kill the new tax.” The CRTC is supposed to work arms length from the government but the request by the Conservatives is at worst a delaying tactic and at best a signal to the bureaucrats that they would be making a mistake to give the networks a $50 million windfall for nothing in return.
Stay tuned. We will hear a lot more about this before a decision is made.