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22nd Annual Gemini Awards
Academy takes 22nd show to the people
by: Oct 1, 2007 Print

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television's 22nd annual Gemini Awards gala is heading to Regina for the first time with a new CEO, a new chair, a new CBC host for the gala - George Stroumboulopoulos - and another first: tickets are available to the general public.

"This is truly a tremendous opportunity," says new Academy chair Ron Cohen, also founding chair of the Academy of Canadian Cinema back in 1979. "What more would you want than to take your shows, your creative talents, and expose them to new audiences?

"This is a move to bring these awards to the people, on the ground, locally," Cohen explains. "For the first time, we have a venue that allows us to sell tickets to the general public." Cohen would know. He was also re-elected as chair in 1986, when the Geminis began.

"I come from an outreach approach, trying to get into the corners of our country," Cohen continues. "It's important that Canadians be in touch with what's on their screens, small and large."

Cohen's love affair with the Academy continued when it changed its name to the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, and he has been involved in one capacity or another (most recently as advisor to the board) until becoming chair again for the third time this September, when elected at the Academy's AGM. A lawyer and film producer by profession, Cohen's film Ticket to Heaven won four Genie Awards, including best picture, in 1982.

This year, Global kick starts the night Sunday, Oct. 28, with a live-to-tape broadcast of ET Canada's red-carpet pre-show (broadcast at 7:30 p.m. in every Canadian time zone) at Regina's Conexus Arts Centre, followed by CBC's live-to-tape broadcast of the awards show at 8 p.m. The move west is a big one.

For 20 years, Toronto hosted the broadcast gala, until last year's highly successful move to Vancouver, where the red-carpet affair at Richmond's River Rock Casino galvanized the B.C. industry.

Outgoing Academy chair Paul Gratton and former president and CEO Maria Topalovich heard the Academy's B.C. reps' pitch for Vancouver, then got the Academy board behind them, and started what has become a western tour for the Geminis.

"It reflects the movement of productions and development of professional crews across the country, to hubs such as Vancouver and Regina," says Gratton, who stepped down after four years as chair. "The industry landscape is changing and it behooves us to change, too."

Vancouver's awards were well-timed, since many heavy hitters in the broadcast industry were already in town for the annual Canadian Association of Broadcasters' conference (not the case this year), which helped amortize guest expenses and increase industry participation.

Nominees foot the hotel bill to attend the show, and their relatively expensive airplane tickets to the prairie city are only partly subsidized. Some nominees point out that they will indeed make the trip as well as attend the non-televised award shows (which will feature presentations of statuettes for news, sports and documentary; lifestyle, children's and youth; and drama, comedy and variety shows) in Toronto on Oct. 15, 16 and 17.

But it remains to be seen how many "accepting-on-behalf-of" speeches will be heard in Regina. At press time, the Academy could not confirm how many nominees would be making the trek, as many members book closer to showtime.

Attracting the Canadian TV industry is, however, only part of the Geminis' goal. Its other job is to reach the Canadian public on television. And whether or not that is happening depends upon how the statistics are spun.

Last year's broadcaster, Global Television, earned a whopping 420% increase in the coveted 18-49 demographic in the hometown Vancouver area; but only 203,000 Canadians tuned in to the show, another historic low, on par with 2005's ratings.

Nonetheless, Sara Morton, the new Academy CEO, prefers to focus on the regional increase in viewership rather than the national average.

Morton has high hopes that ratings will increase in Regina and across the country, as does CBC programming boss Kirsten Layfield (see story above), both at the helm for the first time with the Geminis. They have agreed to bet on CBC's late-night The Hour host Stroumboulopoulos to haul in more viewers for the broadcast gala.

Morton says Regina was the winner because: "They put together an incredible proposal which meets our mandate - the whole purpose is to move around, to build new audiences, nationally."

Morton took over as CEO on July 3. The former president and CEO, Maria Topalovich, stepped down in April (see story, p. G8). An Academy spokesman says the title of president no longer exists.

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