Sunday, September 26, 2010

Heartland Returns To CBC

"Fine teatime drama!"
That's what one English TV critic said of the family saga The Campbells which ran on CTV way back when (1986 to 1990).
Teatime drama --it's a genre Canadian TV networks have always been making with some success.
Think The Beachcombers which seemed to run on CBC forever and a day (actually 1972 to 1990).
Think Road To Avonlea and Wind At My Back which Sullivan Films made for CBC.
Now it's the turn of Heartland which starts its fourth season on CBC Sunday night at 7.
The time period is perfect for a family saga --Road To Avonlea enjoyed success in exactly this spot.
And the saga mixes in the superb vistas of Alberta with a family story centered around a girl and her horse.
I have to admit I wasn't all that thrilled with Heartland when it first aired. I thought the teen angst on Falcon Beach was better realized.
But after a wobbly start Heartland has ambled into a pretty convincing demonstration of the strength of a rural family.
The log cabin home the members inhabit could have been furnished from a Lee Valley catalogue --all faux rustic like but still looking freshly painted with pictures up along the hall ways.
The cast of young actors are beautifully scrubbed and made up, dressed like they just shopped at Eddie Bauer and instead of country bumpkins they play caring, feeling twentysomethings --sort of a Dawson's Creek ensemble transferred west.
I talked for a couple of minutes to the two young stars at a CBC bash a few days back.'mber Marshall is drop dead gorgeous but very sincere about explaining her character, cowgal Amy Fleming.
And Graham Wardle has been described in one recent Calgary Herald profile as a Tiger Beat-type sex symbol.
Both seem astonished at the success of their show whose popularity has sort of snuck up on everyone. CBC is saying the third season averaged more than a million viewers a week.
In Season Three's last episode Wardle as Ty Borden decides to hit the road to try to find himself and after months away begins getting homesick.
And Amy was getting ready to ride in a series of championship competitions.
But what I wanted to ask Amber was how many horses are actually used --after all when I covered the series Katts And Dog it seemed there were more canines on set than people.
"A lot," she volunteered. "One horse for stunts, one for close ups, many more. And the main one has been doing it now for so long he starts acting the moment the director says action."
And, of course, horse actors never drink and carouse the night away and don't sport hangovers the next day. And they never ask the director what's the motivation in the next scene.
Amber told me she got the nod over the competition partly because she could already ride while Graham was a city slicker, Vancouver based when he won his role.
Am I giving away too much plot by revealing Ty returns in the first new episode but with a gal pal riding on the back of his Norton Commando?
And we'll also see Amber's older sister Lou (Michelle Morgan)who has been living in Dubai. Grandpa Jack (Shaun Johnston) is beginning to feel the creaks of advancing age.
And Amber's dad (Chris Potter) also gets home --when I told the two young actors I'd first interviewed him on the set of the CBC series Material World in 1982 they giggled. He was about their age then, I reckon.
The predominantly teen audience supporting Heartland can rest assured there'll be the usual quotient of puppy love and scenes with horses. That's why the series clicks, really.

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