Listen But Don’t Watch?

The NBC series THE LISTENER, the latest Canadian-produced import on a major American network, isn't getting a warm critical reception so far. Variety savaged it, saying…

There's nothing wrong with U.S. networks picking up the occasional Canadian import, but to have a chance at working, such a show can't be as bland and colorless as "The Listener," which NBC is throwing onto Thursdays with a back-to-back episode launch. Built around a young paramedic with the telepathic ability to hear thoughts, the show looks chintzy, isn't particularly well acted and feels plucked from the 1970s. […]Canada remains a favorite destination for U.S. filming, but in terms of programs flowing in this direction, they ought to have more going for them than simply being in English, eh? "

The Chicago Sun Times was equally unkind.

Craig Olejnik, the Canadian who plays Toby, is down to earth and likably mumbly. His light blue eyes are so piercing you may forget that his special skill isn't X-ray vision. But he's supported by writing and characters that may induce eye-rolling. Take this line, delivered by Colm Feore as Toby's mentor: "You don't have to read my mind to know that I'm worried about you."

Newsday called it "listless" while taking a jab at Canadian TV as a whole:

One does not come to summer TV on a major network to have one's world rocked, and one most certainly does not come to Canadian TV for the same. The Canadians make nice TV – pleasant, intelligent TV, where people, even the bad guys, are civil and fundamentally decent. In a word, "The Listener" is boring.

Despite all the negative reviews here, the show has reportedly been a big hit overseas, so whether or not THE LISTENER does well for NBC this summer, it's likely to continue into a second season.

UPDATE 6-3-07: Even the Canadians are lukewarm on the show. For example, The Globe & Mail says it's "unbelievably bland."

This is a pity, because it's the second Canadian-made series in recent times to make the breakthrough and land on a U.S. network in prime time. Like Flashpoint before it, The Listener is set in Toronto, and Toronto features prominently, like an extra character. But The Listener is no Flashpoint . It lacks anything approaching gripping drama, for a start.

Tom Shales at the Washington Post says:

Near the hour's end, Toby laments of his gift that "all my life I told myself . . . 'Make it go away,' " and many a viewer will be wishing the same thing for the series.

The Boston Globe was even more brutal:

NBC gives us another excuse to close our borders: the Canadian import “The Listener."

UPDATE 6-5-07: The Listener did great in the ratings in its Canadian premiere but according to MediaWeek, it didn't fare too well in the U.S. in its NBC, double-episode debut:

There weren’t many viewers watching, or hearing, the debut of NBC’s “The Listener” last night, which aired against tough competition from the NBA finals on ABC and the night’s top-rated non-sports show, Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“Listener” averaged a 1.4 adults 18-49 rating from 9 to 11 p.m., according to Nielsen overnights, finishing last in its timeslot among the Big Four networks.
The show sank slightly, from a 1.5 to a 1.4, from its first to its second hour, and it lost a good chunk of its 8 p.m. lead-in, “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!,” which averaged a 1.9 rating.

6 thoughts on “Listen But Don’t Watch?”

  1. As a Canadian who watches “The Listener”, I would like to comment, that, although Americans often see Canada as “Little America”, we do have our own culture. We see things differently. Being civil to one another instead of rude, like “House” or thoughtful instead of action packed violence like “CSI” can be more appealing to us simply because we prefer it. America is not the be all and end all for taste in entertainment. No offense, but often, your shows suck to us, too.

  2. That’s Canadian TV: “a nice guy in a world of nice guys does something nice for somebody nice despite a nice antagonist who honestly believes the hero is wrong.” But then, that’s Canada. There is so much mutual respect and good humour and taking things slow that nobody hurts anybody except by accident. And this is why there is seldom, here, any drama. It’s a warm, fuzzy place to live but not a particularly good setting to write about unless the conflict is “person against nature” which is a conflict we face daily. It remains to be seen if this show will grow upon the audience. When Canadian shows do well, they tend to have a double lead, who debate back and forth in their nice way, and who the audience likes to visit with. As far as U.S. critics go, they blast somebody on a daily basis, so what else is knew? Eh?

  3. Some of the biggest jerks in the service industry I ever met were in Toronto. So clearly not all Canadians are as nice as the commenters claim.
    The city was quite clean, however.

  4. And of course the exceptions that prove the rules outlined here re: Canadian TV — INTELLIGENCE, THE BORDER, TRAILER PARK BOYS and CORNER GAS.
    Patricia, you’ll of course forgive us for considering you (Canada) as “Little America.” We only think that way because your executives buy (some would say ‘overpay’) and simulcast our shows on your networks and produce so very little of your own content.
    It used to not be that way.
    I genuinely like some good Canadian TV as I like good British TV, good Japanese TV and other country’s entertainment products. If its good, it’s good. No matter where it comes from…

  5. Jerks in the service industry are everywhere so that doesn’t define a place. I can recall when New Yorkers were considered as obnoxious and when L.A. was slammed for producing homogenized and meaningless TV. But this was only a passing phase and not a defining characteristic. Out of every 75 persons or so you meet, one is bound to be socially not very adept. What matters is the 74 not the one. Canada has a well-deserved reputation for treating persons with respect, politeness and considerateness.
    And what’s more — this recession has proved that Canada’s banking system is the best in the world, plus we have universal health care, plus our Federal Government has run a surplus for 10 years in a row and paid down the national debt considerably, plus we have supported America in Afghanistan and in space research. No other country in the world can boast about such achievements.
    Toronto is a special place. It’s the third largest metro area in North American, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Is everybody wonderful? No. But on the whole, a visit to Toronto makes for a good trip.
    My favorite place, though, is NYC.
    There’s just no drama here. Go figure.

  6. If the pure genius of DaVinci’s Inquest (God, does this Yank ever love that show) didn’t make a big splash in American TV, what hope does The Listener possibly have?


Leave a Comment