Sunday, April 1, 2012

Little Mosque: A Fond Farewell

It's time to bid a fond farewell to Little Mosque On The Prairie, CBC-TV's first wholly successful situation comedy since --gulp--King Of Kensington 30 years back.
And Little Mosque should have bitten the dust last season because ratings dipped so low.
But CBC's sitcom reinforcements including InSecurity and Men With Brooms tanked miserably in the ratings.
Was it really seven years ago that I journeyed deep into the heart of Etobicoke to spend a day with the cast and crew?
The sprightly sitcom had yet to debut but there was great hope among cast members it would be a hit.
After all consider the original roster of fun makers: Debra McGrath, Sheila McCarthy, Neil Crone, Derek McGrath plus Arlene Duncan, Carlo Rotta, and the starry sweethearts of the show Sitara Hewitt and Zaib Shaikh.
At the dinner break I sat with the show's creator, former CBC journalist Zarqa Nawaz. Born in Liverpool to parents from Parkistan she took degrees in science and journalism before becoming a regular on such series as CBC's National.
I found her unusually cool and composed considering that the night before she had submitted to a live interrogation (via satellite) from Glenn Beck then tossing his incendiary messages on MSNBC.
Rather than clashiung, Nawaz's shy demeanor and soft spoken manner so frazzled Beck he signed off before the alloted time was up.
"In fact we did have a different working title and then some one on the show said this one purely as a joke. But the more I thought about it the funnier it seemed to me. It summed up everything. And it has gotten people talking."
Now based in Regina with as family of four children Nawaz imagined a situation where Western Canadian Muslims had to contend with the realities of a new situation plus distrust from their Christian neighbors.
What if both were forced to share quarters and gradually became interested in each other's affairs?
"I saw all the humor in the situation," she told me that fateful day. "And I really think it is going to work."
The series which hit 90 episodes this sixth season has been sold to 83 countries --but not to the United States where being Muslim is a tough sell these days.
Gwtting just the right cast was another problem. There's no pool of trained Canadian sitcom performers to draw from.
McCarthy gave up her yearly gig at the Stratford Festival because she believed in her part. The day I watched she and McGrath were experimenting with bits of business and dissolving into laughter every few minutes.
A large part of the first year success came about because CBC still had its own staff of publicists and veteran ace Helicia Glucksman pushed the show every which way garnering the TV covers necessary for a successful launch.
For second season she had a lunch at a posh downtown Toronto Moorish restaurant that again got the show tons of publicity.
In later seasons when CBC ditched its cadre of publicists the series seemed to falter. There was nobody left to tout its many virtues.
Indeed in the last few years the ratings really drooped. --last week's episode was down to the infinitesimal 204,000 viewers compared to over 2 million the first season.
But CBC had nothing else ready to put forward. Fashioning a hit sitcom is a hit or miss affair. Look at CTV which after the huge success of Corner Gas came up with two less than steady sequels Dan For Mayor (already cancelled) and hiccups.
One of the mistakes CBC made after King Of Kensington was let the talent slowly slip away.
Star Al Waxman became so angry at his mistreatment he moved to L.A. only to score mightily on Cagney & Lacey.
It's important --no make that vital -- that CBC tie up the key actors with development deals. Heart throb Zaib Shaikh is now a big draw and he'd be great next in a crime drama --he has a huge following although some die hard fans do get a shock when tuning in his old series Metropia and finding him in all those nude scenes.
McGrath goes back to Paradise Falls and a short but funny show with husband Colin Mochrie titled Getting Along Famously. Doesn't she deserve her own comedy show right about now.? The answer is yes.
CBC should be building on its success. With Little Mosque On The Prairie the endangered Corp finally had something important to shout about. Think of it: a homegrown Canadian sitcom that lasted six seasons!

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