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Published January 31, 2012 on Vancouver is Awesome

Wow. The CBC is kicking simulcast-American-show butt this winter with its made-for-Canadians-by-Canadians dramas, comedies, unscripted and current affairs programs, led by set-in-Yellowknife aerial adventure series Arctic Air and set-in-St. John’s father-and-son private detective series Republic of Doyle. Both dramas premiered in the Million-Canadian-Viewers-Plus Club earlier this month and remain there after three episodes apiece, although Arctic Air dipped below a million viewers for its second outing before climbing back up.

While nothing is going to touch this country’s love for CTV’s simulcast of American comedy hit The Big Bang Theory, CBC shows like Dragons’ Den, the Rick Mercer Report, new comedy series Mr. D. and a rejuvenated Marketplace have all hit the Million-Plus Club and are winning or placing well in their time blocks. As is Global’s new hit mini-series Bomb Girls, filmed in Toronto. So what happened to CTV, proud home of Corner Gas, during this resurgence of homegrown shows? Well our most financially-successful Canadian TV network has no Canadian dramas or comedies on its prime time 2011-12 schedule so far although it remains a giant in covering Canadian news and sports.

Why are CBC’s dramas so popular this winter? Just as The Beachcombers represented B.C.’s West Coast to the world for almost twenty years, Arctic Air and Republic of Doyle showcase a specific region of Canada with adventure and humour, plus something new — sexiness. Feel free to argue, but Bruno Gerussi with his giant medallion on his overly hairy chest on The Beachcombers did not exude sexiness like today’s CBC leading men — Adam Beach of Arctic Air and Allan Hawco of Republic of Doyle.

Adam Beach has said he likes that the Arctic Air creators made his character Bobby Martin a “player”, especially because — in a sweet twist — Bobby’s first hookup on returning to Yellowknife is Frontier Hotel receptionist Candi played by Leah Gibson, who became his real-life girlfriend. Gibson is on Beach’s right in the photo below (the pair even kissed for the cameras). And Allan Hawco has been juggling dozens of women for two seasons and counting as swaggering Jake Doyle on Republic of Doyle in Newfoundland. Last week’s episode ended with his character in a hot kiss with his remarried ex-wife.

I was fortunate to be invited by the CBC to the red carpet premiere of Arctic Air at the Vogue Theatre on January 10th and an Actors Studio-style session at the Vancouver Film School with Republic of Doyle star and Newfoundland native Allan Hawco a week later.

It all began late last November when I got the chance to meet the stars of CBC’s 2012 Winter Season out in Aldergrove and go on a guided tour of the Arctic Air set. I opted out of one-on-one interviews with stars from Little Mosque on the Praire, Republic of Doyle, Mr. D and Redemption Inc. because my YVR shoots series is about TV shows and movies that film here. I did write about and photograph Arctic Air’s interior sets in Aldergrove for my post Vancouver as Yellowknife. And I did make an exception for Marketplace, chatting briefly with Vancouver-based host Erica Johnson and her Toronto-based co-host Tom Harrington (who joined last year and is someone I know slightly from my time as a CBC news producer) about the amazing resurgence of this 39-year-old investigative program.

But of all CBC’s Winter Season shows it’s Arctic Air which got the big promotional push for its January 10th launch. Everywhere I went over the holidays I saw bus stop ads, billboards, TV and movie theatre teasers and Beach seemed to be a permanent guest on The National ahead of the premiere. CBC later sent me an e-vite for the red-carpet premiere screening at the Vogue Theatre on Granville Street. While it’s common for American TV networks to throw big premiere screenings, it’s pretty much unprecedented for Canadian shows to get a red carpet rollout with stars, cameras, fans and other celebrity hoopla.

Asked to arrive before 6:30 p.m., I showed up unfashionably early to take photos of the lit-up theatre and a lineup stretching north on Granville Street. Inside the lobby, I spied rows and rows of CBC Live popcorn boxes and then found a spot in the small media area, squeezed in beside the enterainment media and late-arriving news photographers. CBC asked us to “play nice”, which basically meant giving way to the pros. Fine by me. All I needed was a vantage to sneak a few photos and live-tweet the red-carpet event on #CBCPremiereVan, with tweets about the lineup, the popcorn boxes and some arriving local celebrities like actor Steve Bacic. A combination of Twitter jail and Auto correct slowed me down but I did manage to tweet about the roar of “Woo Hoos” greeting Adam Beach outside the theatre, as he stepped out of a black limousine with co-stars Pascale Hutton and Kevin McNulty.