Canadian Screen Awards trying ‘different style of awards show’ with no host

Last year’s show had two hosts who both live and work in Canada: Jonny Harris and Emma Hunter

This year’s Canadian Screen Awards won’t have a host — a move organizers say is a deliberate attempt to try something new amid a “crisis” of declining ratings and not something done out of necessity, like with the Oscars.

Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, says the traditional approach of trying to attract viewers and channel-surfers by having a famous face as host is “a very old-fashioned way of thinking,” since TV audience habits have changed.

“Awards show are just trending down, down and down — 20 per cent per year, for most of them — which to me indicates obviously a big crisis, as someone who produces one of these shows,” Janson said in a phone interview.

“But I also think that this environment allows us to take a few risks.”

The academy puts on the annual Canadian Screen Awards, which honour homegrown talent in film, television and digital media. This year’s nominees will be announced on Feb. 7.

Last year’s show had two hosts who both live and work in Canada: comedians Jonny Harris and Emma Hunter. Previous hosts have included Canadian names who have largely built their careers in the U.S. — Howie Mandel, Norm Macdonald, Martin Short, and Andrea Martin.

Janson said after assessing shows of the past, she convinced the board to go with no host about two months ago. That was before comedian Kevin Hart backed out of hosting this year’s Oscars due to controversial statements he made in the past, leaving the Academy Awards with no MC.

“I think our country is different and we need to have a different style of awards show — and I think that can be better and it can be something … that people enjoy watching,” Janson said.

“I’m excited about that. I’m not scared of it.”

Janson’s team hired an all-female writers’ room for this year’s show, which will include pre-taped comedy bits.

Shelagh O’Brien will direct the March 31 broadcast gala on CBC. Jennifer Dettman, executive director of unscripted content at CBC, is the show’s programming executive.

READ MORE: Canadian actors push for more diversity in television, film casting

“It’s a big risk. It could totally fail,” Janson said. ”But in my mind our ratings would drop 20 per cent anyways, probably, on traditional television.

“So this is the time to take a chance.”

Janson said the show will have “a clever opening number” that will use a lot of talent in the room but won’t be a song-and-dance performance.

Overall, the Canadian Screen Awards will have an air of levity and a “throughline” narrative “that will make the show in and of itself a thing and a piece of entertainment that we can really be proud of — and that shows off the best of what we’re doing right now in the country,” she said.

“We’re really approaching the show as a platform for Canadian comedy right now,” Janson said, pointing to the success of shows including “Baroness von Sketch Show,” “Letterkenny,” “Schitt’s Creek,” “Workin’ Moms,” “Mohawk Girls” and “Kim’s Convenience.”

“There is a huge moment happening in Canada right now around comedy that I think we’re going to look back on with the same significance as the ‘SCTV’ or the ‘Kids in the Hall’ eras, which is that we have these really interesting voices, they’re really incredibly original. We’re not just trying to copy the States.”

Janson noted the show will still be the same two-hour length.

She hopes it will become an event audiences look forward to watching and not just be “about who’s nominated or how many American celebrities are there.”

“We need to try to figure out what the future of awards shows is going to be,” Janson said.

“Millennials don’t like awards, they like appreciating everyone for their unique differences, so how do you do an awards show in that sort of environment? This is our attempt at an answer to that.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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