CBC Comedy Season Premiere Set In Pelee Island
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography Courtesy of CBC
Executive Producer Executive Producer Anne Francis confirms that the series description of CBC’s Still Standing as “a love letter to small-town Canada” continues to ring true, six seasons into the series’ run.
“In the show, comedian Jonny Harris goes coast-to-coast-to-coast across Canada,” Anne explains. “Mostly, we go to places that have either transitioned or overcome something. Survival stories. Jonny meets some people around the town, really gets a sense of who these people are and what’s so special about this place. And then he puts on a comedy show for the town about the town. But it’s a toast, not a roast! It’s a celebration of the town and the people that live in it.”
Anne first became involved with the show leading up to its fourth season.
“They were looking for a new showrunner,” Anne recalls. “I was working in New Orleans on a design show when I was approached about Still Standing. At that point, I hadn’t watched the show and I wasn’t looking for a new job. I was happy where I was.”
However, after watching the first few episodes, Anne jumped at the offer.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love this!’” Anne states. “And I had a background in comedy and running productions. I decided it was a good fit. So, I went in and off we went.”
Anne likens a showrunner’s job to steering a mighty barge.
“As a showrunner, you oversee everything,” Anne explains. “In short, you’re involved in every aspect. Pre-production. Production. And post-production. Everything from crewing up to casting to all of the prep we do for storytelling. I would also go on the road for every episode to ‘mind the narrative.’ I would keep everyone ‘reminded’ of the story we were telling. And then be responsible for any kind of curveballs that get thrown at us or troubleshooting. Because storytelling is problem-solving.”
But the challenge, Anne stresses, is more than worth it for the relationships that are forged along the way.
“Most everybody who’s worked on the show has been on it since season one,” Anne states. “There’s a few of the crew that have only ever missed one episode. And it’s just so lovely meeting people and getting to be a part of it. It’s as meaningful to us working on the show as it is to the towns we visit and the avid fans.”
Still Standing’s sixth season premiere is set to air next month. The episode features a familiar locale: Pelee Island!
“We had wanted to go to Pelee Island for a couple of seasons,” Anne explains. “Jonny is also working on Murdoch Mysteries. So, we get Jonny when Murdoch Mysteries is on hiatus. That’s usually a two-week block for us. The episode usually takes five days to shoot, with a travel day on either end. We basically get him for those 14 days. Pelee never really fit into the slot.”
However, thanks to some creative scheduling, the Still Standing crew was able to get out to Pelee Island for a week last October.
“Pelee Island has always interested us,” Anne states. “Like I said, we tell a lot of survival stories. Geographically, Pelee Island is not remote, but it does involve a ferry ride. They rely on tourism and they’ve had their industry affected because of the algae blooms. We were also interested in the trials and tribulations of living on an island. It’s a pretty special place and we’re happy that we got to tell their story.”
The Still Standing crew were completely blown away by their five days on Pelee Island.
“The island is beautiful,” Anne admits. “When you’re there, you totally get it. You completely understand how special it is.”
Anne’s personal favourite part of the episode was when Jonny attended the Public Owling.
“I was invited to a Public Owling,” Jonny notes, in the episode. “It sounds weird! Public Owling! It sounds like some sort of corporal punishment from a Margaret Atwood novel. ‘This woman was caught stealing, and she will be owled immediately!’”
“Pelee Island is known for its migration pathways,” Anne explains. “On that particular night, the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (PBO) was doing an owling. So, they set up nets in hopes of catching Saw Whet Owls that are passing through and then they’ll weigh them, band them and then set them free. It’s a local celebration. Locals gather in a field house and they serve some malt wine.”
In the episode, the Bander in Chief, Sachi Schott, caught an Eastern Screech Owl.
“I thought, ‘Hey, I know a thing or two about eastern screech,” Jonny, a native of Newfoundland, quips.
After five days of shooting, the crew had their episode.
“Jonny had to be flown out on the mail plane because of the weather and to accommodate his schedule,” Anne explains. “It was par for the course!”
In his closing monologue, Jonny sums up the Pelee Island experience perfectly.
“Other countries have islands to the south,” Jonny muses. “The Brits have the Virgin Islands. The Dutch have Aruba, the rum-soaked tourism island. But Canada’s secret has a touch more class. It’s a place called Pelee Island. They say you don’t choose to live on Pelee, Pelee chooses you. And from what I can tell, she chooses wisely, too! So like the birds and monarch butterflies, I suggest you stop a spell at Pelee Island in Lake Erie, on the 42nd Parallel.”
The season premiere of Still Standing is set to air Tuesday, October 6 at 8 pm. (8:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem. Afterwards, it will be available to stream on-demand on CBC Gem.