Is This the Last Season of 'Battle of the Blades'?
by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 8th 2011 2:40PM
It would be really unfair to say that CBC's skating-with-the-stars show 'Battle of the Blades' is failing -- yet that's the word I'm hearing about the show from fellow critics. Unfair because the show is still one the highest-rated on the network, and it's not the CBC show in the worst shape (almost every returning CBC show has fewer viewers this season). But 'BoB's diminishing returns most Sunday nights is worrying, and it's not like the CBC is having an easy time in other quarters: massive budget cuts, vaguely threatening remarks from Conservative politicians and ominous 'Save the CBC' petitions give one the impression the network is under siege.
So what went wrong this season? Why did a show that was growing its buzz and and perfecting its format take a sudden nose dive? Here's a few explanations -- some unavoidable, some truly tragic, and some the CBC could still fix before the franchise takes a serious fall.
1. The Suicide of Wade Belak
The season started out on a bleak note when 35-year-old Wade Belak was found dead in his Toronto hotel room, a victim of suicide. He'd been only a few weeks from his debut on 'Battle of the Blades' and was in Toronto rehearsing for the show. By the time we met the cast of season three, they'd been mourning a friend for weeks. For some of them, he was a new friend, but some had known him for years. Either way, it definitely affected the mood of the show and laid a sombre shadow on the proceedings, as the hockey community questioned everything about its own values. I think the show handled it incredibly well, considering, but it was a hard line for a fun show about getting hockey players to trip over their toe picks to walk. They had to give the tragedy air time, but it made the show seem frivolous.
2. Jeremy Roenick
I'm getting to the point where I sing Ke$ha's 'Tik Tok' at the top of my lungs every time the camera cuts to judge Jeremy Roenick. Anything rather than listen to him say the same damn thing he says to every single pair after every single skate: "Gee, Man-Skater, you sure can skate better than I thought, and Girl-Skater, you sure are pretty and brave to let that bozo throw you around." Insert inappropriate sexual pun and score that has nothing to do with the skate. Actually, I can't even describe with words how awful Roenick is in this role, which he took over from Dick Button (of all people). I never thought I'd would miss Dick Button this much. I know Roenick has his fans, but I promise the CBC that for each one of them, there are 12 people who've tuned out because they can't stand him.
3. Bad Pair-Matching
I'm not feeling the magic between the pairs this season. I wonder how much Belak's absence and sudden replacement by Russ Courtnall changed the way the teams were paired up, but compared to previous seasons, the chemistry seems lacking. Elena Berezhnaya loves the height and power of the lifts she achieved with partner Curtis Leschyshyn, but the athleticism came at the expense of emotional connection. Marie-France Dubreil, who can make anything seem romantic, is paired with Brian Berard, who seems better suited to humour and flourishes. I like watching Tanith Belbin and Boyd Devereaux very much, but clearly I'm in the minority. Despite week after week of gorgeous performances, vote tallies have left them in the bottom two, until this week. The breakout story of the season is the pairing of Team Canada skater Tessa Bonhomme with David Pelletier -- or it should be. Despite the team's strength and sheer hard work there's something kind of ... boring ... about them.
4. Moving Out of Downtown Toronto
'Battle of the Blades' has been slowly moving further and further away from its original filming location at historic Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The Gardens were under construction during season 2, so production moved to a soundstage in the east end studio area. It may not have been a central location, but at least it's a building without frantic and exciting energy, a place where magic happens. The current season is shooting in suburban Etobicoke at the MasterCard Centre, where the Toronto Marlies play. It is in the middle of nowhere. It is, in fact, in the middle of the only nowhere left in the pulsing, growing Greater Toronto Area. You would be hard-pressed to find a place with less of a connection to the thriving, energetic city around it. Obviously the exterior of these locations doesn't make it on camera very often, but the vibe of the locations comes through loud and clear.
Do you have any theories as to why this season is suffering? Let us know!