'Battle Of The Blades' Draws Huge Audience In Canada
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now for an athletic contest that's drawing a huge audience in Canada by putting reality TV on ice. �Battle of the Blades� started last month on Canadian Public Television, and it has proved wildly popular with its live ice skating competition that pairs figure skaters with former players from the National Hockey League. We sent Anita Elash to find out what all the excitement is about.
ANITA ELASH: The Canadian public broadcaster CBC TV is known for its news programs and documentaries. But this season, viewers on Sunday and Monday night are watching this.
(Soundbite of TV show, �Battle of the Blades�)
Mr. RON MACLEAN (Hockey Announcer; Announcer, �Battle of the Blades�): Live, from Maple Leaf Gardens, it's �Battle of the Blades� and the Monday night skate-off. Here we go. (unintelligible). Kurt, let's get ready to rumble.
ELASH: Those are the emcees, Ron McClain, who does the play-by-play for Saturday night hockey games, and world figure skating champion Kurt Browning. This is the elimination round in week three in �Battle of the Blades.� Based on the previous night's performance, the two worst couples have been chosen for a skate-off.
Mr. MACLEAN: Very good. Yes, indeed. Two pairs will step into the ring, and the judges tonight can save only one.
Mr. KURT BROWNING (World Figure Skating Champion; Announcer, �Battle of the Blades�): Oh, you're so serious.
ELASH: As you might expect, the crowd goes wild as the first couple steps onto the ice and starts to rumba.
(Soundbite of song, �Sway�)
Mr. MICHAEL BUBLE (Singer): (Singing) When marimba rhythms start to play, dance with me�
ELASH: But they're knocked out by the competition: former Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Tie Domi and Canadian Olympic figure skater Christine Hough-Sweeney. They samba their way into judge Dick Buttons' heart.
Mr. DICK BUTTON (Judge, �Battle of the Blades�): Tie, you really pulsated tonight.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BUTTON: And I don't mind saying so.
ELASH: It's a familiar format for reality TV, but this show is pulling at Canadian remote controls like almost no other locally grown program. When it debuted, nearly two million people watched. That's nearly twice as many as follow the CBC's most popular Sunday night drama. The fans who've come to watch say they were skeptical at first, but Tamara Cartwright(ph) says she's been won over.
Mr. TAMARA CARTWRIGHT: One of the things is to see these big, burly guys try and do some of the finesse. And who would ever have thought Tie Domi, who's a fighter, is now doing these arabesques and twisting around, and the whole thing is a love story(ph)? I think all Canadians are in shock of that one.
ELASH: The show's popularity may be no surprise, given the amount of ice that forms during long, Canadian winters. But executive producer Kevin Albrecht says that it was tough to convince hockey players they could figure skate. He first approached Tie Domi two years ago.
Mr. KEVIN ALBRECHT (Executive Producer, �Battle of the Blades�): His conversation with me went like all of the conversations with the hockey players. The first 10 minutes is - was kind of a look of disbelief in their eyes, just going, you know, is this a joke? Are you kidding me?
ELASH: Albrecht finally signed up eight former NHL hockey players and asked them all to exchange their hockey skates for figure skates. Montreal Canadian Claude Lemieux laced up his in September, and has practiced with a team of coaches every day since. Today, he's perfecting an overhead lift and reviewing it on tape.
(Soundbite of song, �Superstition�)
Unidentified Man: You've got (unintelligible).
ELASH: Lemieux says that during his first performance, he felt as much pressure as during the Stanley Cup final. Now he says the romantic songs are easy, but the fast ones are still tough.
Mr. CLAUDE LEMIEUX (Professional Hockey Player): When it's grooving and the hands are going and the head and the hips and the feet and the lifts, there's a lot of moving parts to it. It adds a little bit of pressure.
ELASH: All that grooving is getting some attention outside Canada, too. Albrecht says he's received calls from Russia, the Czech Republic, Denmark and the U.S. from producers who want the right to copy his idea.
For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Toronto.
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