ACTORS SAY HOSTLESS CANADIAN SCREEN AWARDS WILL GIVE SPOTLIGHT TO MORE PERFORMERS

Homegrown comedy will be front and centre as the Canadian Screen Awards air Sunday without a host.

Actors Andrew Phung (left) and Aisha Alfa both say that the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s decision to forgo a gala host will offer a new format and allow more people a piece of the spotlight. (CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Homegrown comedy will be front and centre as the Canadian Screen Awards air Sunday without a host.

Earlier this year, the academy behind the annual gala announced it would forgo an MC for the 2019 gala, not out of necessity but as a way to experiment with the awards show format.

Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, said it was a creative decision in an era of changing viewer habits and declining ratings.

The show will be filled out with comedy bits.

“I’m excited about it all,” Janson said in an interview. “Most excited as I’ve been since I’ve had this position.”

The academy made the decision before the Oscars aired last month without a host, a move that followed comedian Kevin Hart backing out of the role. The ratings ended up being slightly higher compared to last year.

Canadian actor Andrew Phung of the CBC family comedy Kim’s Convenience is among those who support the host-free format.

“It’s not that we don’t have a host; we get to have, like, 30 hosts now,” he said in an interview at a news conference announcing this year’s nominees.

“We get to have all these comedic ensembles and pairings that are like our dream pairings, so I think it’s really cool that we take the pressure off of these two people or this one person and we share the spotlight. And what a Canadian thing to do, to give the spotlight to many people.”

Comedy star Aisha Alfa of CTV’s The Beaverton is also in favour of the change.

“I think just saying who wins and who’s nominated and honouring those people is going to be great,” she said.

But filmmaker Barry Avrich, who produced the show from 2015 to 2017, feels the show would benefit from an MC.

“You still need a ringmaster to keep things moving along,” he said.

Avrich said he’s in favour of experimenting with the show, noting the Canadian Screen Awards are only in their seventh year, making them fairly young on the awards circuit.

“We’ve got a huge opportunity to do some fun and crazy things with it,” he added.

He suggested capping the show at 90 minutes and moving it from Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts to a more intimate setting.

“This should be done Golden Globes-style in a hotel room: looser, more reflective of our Canadian sense of humour and style than in a bloated hall,” Avrich said.

“It should be a dinner. It should be the exact same thing as the Golden Globes and would be a third of the cost.”

The Canadian Screen Awards have a total of 135 categories in film, television and digital media.

The bulk of those awards were handed out this week, with the rest to be issued at a morning gala on Sunday and the evening broadcast on CBC and its Gem streaming service.

Between the nominees and the presenters for the show, this year’s Canadian Screen Awards signify “a huge moment happening in Canada right now around comedy,” said Janson.

Many in the industry echo her thoughts.

“I spend a lot of time in L.A. and our comedies, specifically our CBC comedies, are the talk of the town,” said actor Simu Liu of Kim’s Convenience.

“You have shows like Schitt’s Creek getting love on Ellen and major late-night talk shows. And Kim’s Convenience, which recently released worldwide on Netflix as well.

“I think our stories are transcending our borders and giving us something to be proud of as Canadians.”

Baroness von Sketch Show cast member Jennifer Whalen also feels there’s a “resurgence of Canadian comedy.”

“It does come in cycles, and there seem to be one-hour drama cycles and now comedy is coming back.”

On Thursday, at a gala honouring digital storytelling, the digital comedy series How to Buy a Baby won Best Fiction Web Program or Series.

The LoCo Motion Pictures title, created and written by Wendy Litner, stars Marc Bendavid and Meghan Heffern as an infertile couple trying to have a child.

Other winners Thursday included The Artists: The Pioneers Behind the Pixels, which won Best Nonfiction Web Program or Series; A Curious Mind With Dominic Monaghan, which won Best Nonfiction Immersive Experience; Biidaaban: First Light, which took Best Fiction Immersive Experience; CBC News: Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo, named Best Cross-Platform Project; and Nuclear Dissent, which won Best Original Interactive Production.

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