Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba's big year on the small screen

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In terms of its presence on TV in 2012, it could fairly be said Manitoba had a song in its heart, a jig in its step and doomsday-level danger in its not-too-distant post-apocalyptic future.

As a result, despite what seems like a contradictory collection of descriptors, it was a pretty entertaining year for locals who like to see their home province represented on the small screen.

Beyond our borders, 2012 was a better than average year for the tube, filled with the inevitable assortment of continuing excellence, new promise and old-favourite departures.

But mostly, this will be a year remembered for its heavy dose of on-screen local talent.

One of the biggest TV stories hereabouts happened early in 2012, when three talented teens from Sagkeeng First Nation, performing under the group moniker Sagkeeng's Finest, became the unlikely winners of Citytv's Canada's Got Talent. Vince O'Laney and brothers Brandon and Dallas Courchene topped a field of 12 finalists that included everything from rappers and country crooners to opera singers and circus performers, receiving the most votes from viewers nationwide and prompting CGT judge Martin Short to describe their act as "pure joy."

The Sagkeeng lads weren't the only locals to make an impact in the reality/competition genre. Winnipeg song-and-dance artist Colleen Furlan enjoyed an impressive run on the CBC series Over the Rainbow, which sought a new star for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Toronto production of The Wizard of Oz. While she fell short of winning the ruby slippers, her top-three finish showcased an enormous, promising talent and also demonstrated that Manitobans can mount an impressive campaign of support when a performer catches their interest and sparks their emotions.

On the other side of the TV fence -- scripted, fictional series as opposed to reality shows -- Manitoba had an equally interesting year. The biggest impact was delivered by Winnipegger Tracy Spiridakos, who was plucked from relative obscurity and cast as the lead actress in a U.S. network series that turned out to be one of prime time's best rookie offerings in 2012.

NBC's Revolution, which also airs on Citytv, is an intriguing speculative-fiction drama about a world without electrical power of any kind, but Spiridakos and co-star Billy Burke generated plenty of sparks as they fought their way across blacked-out America in search of her character's kidnapped younger brother.

Revolution was the highest-rated new drama of the fall season among the coveted 18-to-49 demographic, earning an early full-season pickup and distinguishing itself as the most PVR-ed new show of the year.

Still on the subject of bleak fictional futures, local product Sarah Sanguin Carter -- last seen alongside James Woods in the CBS drama Shark -- returned to TV in a series that made a big buzz (both literally and figuratively) on the sci-fi scene. Carter landed a co-starring role in Falling Skies, a Space import that stars ER alumnus Noah Wyle as the leader of a band of rebels trying to save the world from ugly-bug alien invaders.

All in all, a lot of small-screen entertainment provided by made-in-Manitoba talent.

In the broader TV landscape, small-scale U.S. cable outlet AMC probably had the biggest impact on prime time in 2012. Its roster of original series, led by Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and The Killing, can rightly be considered on par with the scripted stables of premium-TV giants HBO and Showtime.

Also worthy of particularly high praise in 2012 was the U.S. public broadcaster PBS, which continued to earn raves for imported British fare, led by Downton Abbey and Sherlock and newcomer Call the Midwife. It also contributed two of the best showbiz-biography documentaries in recent memory when American Masters aired extensively detailed profiles of talk-show legend Johnny Carson and entertainment mogul David Geffen.

Prime time's rookie crop in 2012 was led by NBC's aforementioned Revolution, ABC's country-soap drama Nashville and Fox's sibling sitcom Ben and Kate, along with such made-for-cable fare as HBO's edgy post-Sex and the City comedy Girls and Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Emmy-calibre comedy Veep.

On the farewell front, 2012 was the year viewers said goodbye to ABC's Desperate Housewives, Fox's House and CTV's Flashpoint; each went out in a style that perfectly suited its prime-time character.

There's no doubt that 2013 will provide viewers with an equally mixed and interesting bag of TV tricks. One thing is certain: it'll take quite a convergence of Manitobans on the small screen for the New Year to match the local flavour that 2012 had to offer. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 G5

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