Entertainment

CBC resurrects 'Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays' as 'Michael Every Day'

The doctor is back in.

Five years after being cancelled with just one short season on the air, "Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays" — now re-named "Michael Every Day" — is back on the CBC schedule.

Created by Bob Martin and director Don McKellar — authors of the Tony Award-winning musical "The Drowsy Chaperone" — the series stars Martin as an Ottawa-based therapist and Matt Watts as his neurotic patient.

It launched with high hopes and critical raves in the fall of 2011. Audiences, perhaps baffled by the title (it did not air on a Tuesday or a Thursday), never found it. The series drew a mere quarter-million viewers a week and disappeared from CBC's schedule by that same Christmas.

Plans for a second season were scrapped. The team behind it moved on to Kim Cattrall's HBO Canada comedy "Sensitive Skin."

Then, two years ago, there was a sign that the public broadcaster — at this point led by a new team of programmers — might actually be thinking of reviving it. The clue came from an unlikely source: TV great Ed Asner, who had a recurring role on "Michael" as the shrink's shrink.

The Emmy-winning "Mary Tyler Moore" veteran was attending a press dinner in Los Angeles when this reporter brought up his appearances on "Michael." Asner, now 87, smiled and said, "Yeah, they're supposedly bringing it back."

My heart sank. The great man clearly was showing early signs of Alzheimer's or dementia. No network would ever bring back such a low-rated miss.

Clear-headed Asner, however, was handing me a scoop. Lazarus-like, "Michael" had risen from the dead.

"We were extremely surprised," says Martin, who sat alongside Watts for an interview at CBC's winter launch last month in Toronto.

Surprised but ready. The team returned to Ottawa last spring and shot six new episodes.

Things have not gone well since we last saw these characters. As Asner's Dr. Wasserman tells Martin's stressed out Dr. David Storper, "You've been going on a downward spiral for five years!"

The big problem: separation anxiety. Not so much the separation of Dr. Storper from his latest wife, but Dr. Storper from his patient Michael.

"For five years," says Martin, "David is without Michael and Michael is without David."

Michael, in fact, is doing much better than Dr. Dave. Something happens in the first episode, however, that brings Michael back as a patient. At that point, what is essentially a love story — albeit a highly dysfunctional one — resumes.

"There's an element of conflict there," says Watts, "but at the heart of this show, you have these two characters who are seeking acceptance and love from anyone they can get it from, but — truly — the person that they're most comfortable with is each other."

That's tested this season when the two characters are thrown together on a two-episode road trip.

Martin, who also writes the series, feels this season is darker. Watching sometimes makes him wince, he says, because the series touches on "me at my worst."

Watts says "Michael" is part of a fine tradition — he cites Ken Finkleman's "The Newsroom" as an example — of "the person who's in charge of the show is revealing very personal details about themselves."

Viewers will be able to jump in to "Michael," suggests Watts, without ever having seen the first season. Why gamble viewers will watch now? For one, TV has changed in five years, both as a business and in terms of storytelling. Overnight ratings are no longer everything in television; numbers roll in over weeks and months now as viewers' bank, binge and stream.

This has led to shows lasting longer. HBO has kept "Girls" on the air for six seasons despite low ratings. Emmy wins help content providers reach target audiences through a lot of clutter.

Serialized comedies were rare in 2011 but today, everything from "The Last Man on Earth" on Fox to "Atlanta" on FX is serialized. This makes them more binge-able.

To that end, CBC plans to air all six episodes two at a time over three consecutive Sundays starting Jan. 15.

 

— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.