Monday, October 21, 2013

Ice Pilots NWT: True North TV, Eh?

Canadian TV producers have definitely demonstrated that ice sells.
As in Ice Pilots NWT which returns for its fifth season of frigid fare Wednesday Octtober 23 at 10 p.m. on History.
Now don't you dare confuse this one with Ice Truckers or Highway To Hell, eh?
"I'm not going to comment on the competition," laughs Mikey McBryan, the loquacious son who has it all figured out why his series is such a hit.
"My dad and I are here in Toronto and for us that's an adventure. Just as for you in Toronto all that ice must be something new."
Mikey was relaxing in a board room at Shaw Media along with his father who doesn't talk as much but sports a gigantic presence: "Buffalo Joe" McBryan.
Says Mikey: "We are completely surprised to have hit 65 episodes this new season. And maybe 20 years from now we'll sit down and watch them all and remember."
Together the McBryans are front and center of  every episode.
"But we tend to ignore the cameras and sometimes I don't even know when they're filming me," says "Buffalo Joe".
"We got used to all that very quickly," Mikey says. "So we're comfortable just being ourselves. What's hard for me are the interview segments where I'm plopped down and I have to look directly at the camera. Now that's difficult."
Mikey swears nothing is made up. "They just film and film and send all the material back to the editors marked 'Stuff Happens'".
I'm honor bound not to give away much new plot but in the first new episode a fierce storm threatens to ground the air carrier and then there are mechanical problems which seem very threatening.
"Something like that couldn't be planned," Mikey says. "We had all kinds of problems including human. You know how close we were to not flying --you've seen the first episode.
"The chief mechanic felt terrible about what happened.There was no faking his emotions."
"Buffalo Joe" says the airline gets as many as 100 British visitors a year.
"They come to see the planes. We fly DC-3s and these fans want to look at the serial numbers. They'll say 'that one flew in the Berlin airlift'. Or 'That one got refugees out of Hungary during the 1956 revolution.'"
In fact Buffalo Airlines is just about the only company left still flying DC-3s.
"One thing is the dependability. They were used by the U.S. air force and I bought up as many parts as I could when I knew the air force was easing them out. We became our own Walmart.
"But, sure, the time will come when we simply can't fly them. But for dependability in our conditions they still are number one. In 1978 there were still 115 registered. Now I figure we're the last batch flying. regularly.
"We're lost in time, we never moved on."
This year "Buffalo Joe" will go on a buying mission looking for modern planes. He'll also take his first ever helicopter lesson.
As far as the future of Buffalo Airways goes Joe says "We could have become a corporation. I'd be upped to chairman. It just wouldn't be fun anymore."
What keeps us watching are the very human elements -- the young pilot who brought his family to such an isolated place, the outbursts of "Buffalo Joe", the daunting problems eery time a plane creaks off.
"You people complain if you have to travel two blocks to get a Starbucks," jokes Mikey.
The series is a hit in the oddest places.
"They love it in Ireland because it's not American," Mikey explains. "Our hard core audience is in Alberta because every one has a cousin up here. Australians love it because they never get to experience such winters."
"Buffalo Joe" says he gets few fan letters these days. "It's all emails. Do I know a brother in Whitehorse?  People searching for long lost relatives. And questions about the planes, a lot of those."
Says Joe : "We're the lifeline for a dozen tiny communities. I keep thinking of that every time we have to fly in -40 weather."
In Episode Two some NHL stars drop by for a hockey game --they were on strike when this was filmed. And Joe rides along in a CT-114 Tutor jet. He also glides along Great Slave Lake in a 1940s "snowplane" --a prototype of the snowmobile.
And , yes, you are correct --the fictional Arctic Air is loosely based on Ice Pilots (and also made by Omnifilm Entertainment).
A sixth season seems just as likely as the next winter's  cold front.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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