CBC, Proper Television bake Canadian DNA into U.K. format

Sometimes casting the hosts of an unscripted series involves months of auditions, sleepless nights agonizing over the perfect pairings and working frantically around a certain star’s busy schedule. And other times ...
July 28, 2017

Sometimes casting the hosts of an unscripted series involves months of auditions, sleepless nights agonizing over the perfect pairings and working frantically around a certain star’s busy schedule.

And other times Dan Levy tweets about a particular format: “Listen. If Canada ever does its own version… I’m raising my hand to host.”

The Schitt’s Creek star (pictured), who was at the time unaware of the CBC’s acquisition of the format rights to the smash The Great British Bake Off, had been on a wishlist compiled by Proper Television’s VP and creative director Cathie James, though the Toronto prodco hadn’t reached out as James thought there would be a scheduling clash with filming for Schitt’s season four.

When CBC and Proper placed a call to follow up on the tweet, CBC’s executive director of unscripted Jennifer Dettman and James were dazzled by Levy’s passion for and knowledge about the format, the pair tells realscreen sister publication Playback Daily.

With the show debuting on British screens in 2010 and being remade in 23 countries (including the U.S., Australia, Sweden and Denmark), Dettman said CBC had been tracking the format’s progress for a number of years but only felt recently that it was the right fit for the public broadcaster.

“I just think the tone is right for the world that we live in now,” she says. “It’s got such an affirming and warm spirit to it, especially for a competitive reality show.” As it has done in the U.K., the Canadian incarnation is designed to appeal to audiences of all ages, adds Dettman: “We think it has a broad appeal and it’s so much more than a baking show. You really learn about this country of ours through food – a lot of storytelling is about culture, community, identity and it’s all pulled together through a show like this.”

The format has not been a hit in every market though. Most notably, the series best known for its collegial and un-competition-show-like format, failed to gain traction in the U.S.

Looking at how the show was remade in other markets gave the producers a clearer notion of where they wanted to go with The Great Canadian Baking Show, says James, who said casting a format such as this is likely more difficult south of the border. “The U.S. is a tough one, especially now, as it has such a polarized population. It’s hard to put together an ensemble cast. I think we’re better placed to do that,” she says.

Finding that ensemble cast was the biggest piece of the puzzle, and one of the primary factors in spurring the British format to such popularity, says James. With Levy’s participation confirmed, the CBC next added Saving Hope star Julia Chan (at the suggestion of Levy) and the judges - Vancouver-based pastry chef Bruno Feldeisen (who has previously appeared in Chopped Canada and U.S. culinary series Sweet Genius) and Quebec-raised, European-trained pastry chef, Rochelle Adonis.

The producers were also eager to ensure the series didn’t place too much emphasis on the competition aspect. “In U.S. culture it also tends to be a bit more highly competitive, and I think our bakers and Canadians in general have a sensibility a bit more in line with the U.K. version,” says James. “This is not about winning money – it’s about putting forward your own personal story,” adds Dettman.

Proper TV was also given an insight into the world of the U.K. version of the show, when London-based producer Love Productions (producer of the original) invited James and producer Marike Emery to the set for season eight, which recently moved from the BBC to Channel 4. James says the experience helped her understand the magnitude of the series and how the art, culinary, story and casting teams combined to create the show.

In terms of its position in CBC’s schedule, Dettman says the reason for placing the series on Wednesday at 8 p.m. is that unscripted formats have previously performed well for the pubcaster in that slot. Dragon’s Den, which returns for its 12th season later this year, previously aired on Wednesday nights, though it is moving to Thursdays at 8 p.m. for its upcoming season.

The Great Canadian Baking Show premieres on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. on CBC. The series format is owned by Love Productions and distributed by Sky Vision.

(From Playback Daily)

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