TORONTO – Rogers Media touted a hockey-heavy fall TV schedule Tuesday while unveiling a scaled-down lineup of new programming — including a comedy starring Laurence Fishburne and a homeland security drama.
The network — which runs City as well as specialty channels FX Canada and Sportsnet — won exclusive NHL rights last year in a blockbuster $5.2-billion deal and plans to air marquee games on Saturdays and Sundays.
“What I love about sports television is it can make millions of people feel the same emotion at the exact same time. It’s a shared experience and that’s what built network television,” Sportsnet president Scott Moore said in an interview. “To have that back on City is a great opportunity for us. Advertisers can embed themselves relatively easily in live sports television.”
City unveiled just four new series as it announced its fall lineup, compared to the 16 it trumpeted last year.
During a slick presentation for advertisers on the Rogers Centre turf, Montreal Canadiens defenceman PK Subban and new “Hockey Night in Canada” host George Stroumboulopoulos took the stage.
Moore said Rogers made a conscious decision to prioritize live hockey over new programming in a bid for better advertising revenue.
“Live event television is what’s drawing audiences. It’s PVR-proof. Fans are 100 per cent engaged in live sports television,” he said.
Among the new shows is “Black-ish,” starring Anthony Anderson as a father who worries his family has forgotten their black heritage while living in the suburbs. With help from his father, played by Fishburne, Anderson tries to re-establish their cultural identity.
Fresh scripted dramas include “Scorpion” — about a think tank dealing with high-tech threats, and the comic crime procedural “Backstrom” (from “Bones” creator Hart Hanson). Meanwhile, “Utopia,” in which 15 contestants get one year to build an entirely new society on a secluded piece of land, is the lone new reality series coming to City this fall.
Anchoring Rogers’ NHL coverage will be the newly appointed Stroumboulopoulos, while Ron MacLean will host “Hometown Hockey” on Sundays.
Although Sunday is among TV’s most competitive nights for programming, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley has high hopes for the new MacLean vehicle, which will see the veteran host at a different community arena each week.
“If you look at what transpired south of the border with the National Football League and the success of ‘Sunday Night Football,’ which started unconventional and very quickly became the number one program in the United States, we believe that we can build Sunday night hockey into something very special,” he said.
Asked if Rogers is worried about competing with “Sunday Night Football,” Pelley said: “I don’t think there’s anything bigger than Canadian hockey. It’s the most coveted content. … In this country, there’s hockey and then there’s every other sport.”
Daren Millard will helm Wednesday night hockey on Sportsnet next season, with Jeff Marek anchoring Thursday NHL games on Sportsnet 360.
Rogers is also responding to the growing demand for online and mobile viewing with Sportsnet NOW, which allows Sportsnet subscribers to live-stream in high-definition all of the network’s channels on their smartphones, tablets and laptops.
“The bottom line is all networks now need to provide TV anywhere,” said Pelley. “People are consuming media completely differently than they were before. People want to watch what they want, when they want, how they want. You need to be able to provide that.”
Rogers also highlighted its FX Canada offerings Tuesday, including Guillermo del Toro’s gory vampire thriller “The Strain,” premiering July 13. Based on del Toro’s best-selling novels with author Chuck Hogan, the series stars Corey Stoll — best known as Peter Russo in “House of Cards” — as an epidemiologist who investigates a mysterious viral outbreak. It’ll also be available on demand.
“I think FX produces compelling content that resonates with the younger generation,” said Pelley. “It is phenomenal in terms of the quality of it, while at the same time, it’s really conducive to the binge viewing … the catch-up viewing that is now becoming commonplace.”
Speaking at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday, del Toro said working with FX on the Toronto-shot show has been “fantastic” and remembered a phone call he received from network president John Landgraf.
“He said, ‘Look, I wanted to tell you that we’re hiring Guillermo del Toro, the guy that does edgy, strange movies. We are not interested in just you bringing a mainstream blockbuster sensibility. You should be sick and disturbing.’ I liked that and I tried to obey,” he said.
This fall, City will air musical event special “Peter Pan Live!” — billed as a “bold, new, live television production of the classic Broadway musical,” following the success of “The Sound of Music Live!”
New seasons of “The Bachelor Canada” and “Package Deal” are set for the fall. Popular comedies “Mom,” “Two Broke Girls,” “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project” will also return.
Other returning series include “The Bachelor,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “The Middle,” “Mike & Molly,” “Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Revenge” and “Scandal.”
Eva Longoria-voiced animated series “Mother Up!” is not returning. A decision on Canadian sperm donation comedy “Seed” will be made in the next few weeks, said vice-president of television programming and content Hayden Mindell.
CBC-TV revealed its fall schedule last week, while Shaw will unveil its lineup Wednesday and CTV showcases its slate of programs Thursday.