Wednesday, January 10, 2007

CBC's 'Little Mosque' draws over two million viewers for premiere episode

I think a lot of people tuned in out of curiosity.

I saw it this evening. It had its moments, but I would like to see a little less obvious humour. There's bound to be a budding relationship between the new Imam and the former Imam's daughter.
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Lee-Anne Goodman, Canadian Press
Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007

TORONTO (CP) - Zaib Shaikh, the star of CBC's "Little Mosque on the Prairie," couldn't contain his glee Wednesday after learning the internationally hyped sitcom pulled in 2.1 million viewers for its premiere.

"It's fantastic for Canadian culture, it's fantastic for Muslims and non-Muslims and their perceptions about one another, it's fantastic for the CBC, it's fantastic for Canadian television," said the Toronto-born Shaikh, who plays the progressive young imam on "Little Mosque."

"The fact that so many people seemed to want to watch it, that so many people actually did watch it and that a Canadian show is getting this much international attention - it's quite surprising and unbelievable."

An audience of more than a million is considered a huge number for a Canadian show. CTV's "Corner Gas," the private broadcaster's big sitcom hit and one of the country's highest-rated shows, pulls in close to 1.5 million viewers a week.

American powerhouse shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "House" routinely get just over two million Canadian viewers a week.

Initial numbers suggested "Little Mosque" won its time slot Tuesday.

"We are thrilled and ecstatic," said Kirstine Layfield, CBC's director of network programming. "Not only did the number astound us, but the response to the show has been very positive. Three-quarters of the people who phoned in about the show loved it, and the only people who had anything negative to say just didn't like that we ran commercials."

"Little Mosque" has been getting buzz for weeks, with everyone from the BBC to CNN running items on the comedy, the creation of Muslim filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz. Much of the attention has focused on the fact that the show is a comedy about Muslims set in a post 9-11 world.

The CBC, struggling terribly in the ratings, had a lot invested in the show and promoted it with uncharacteristic cash and vigour, including an event at downtown Toronto's Dundas Square last week that featured free chicken shawarma and a bunch of friendly camels.

"I've got to say I didn't expect it to become the global phenomenon that it has become when I started writing it three years ago," a giggling Nawaz said Wednesday after getting word about the ratings. "But the comedy does live up to the hype, and future episodes just get funnier and funnier while at the same time delving into some deeper issues."

The question now, of course, is whether viewers will continue to tune in or whether Tuesday's ratings bonanza was due to the novelty factor.

The show moves to Mondays at 9 p.m. EST and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. following its Tuesday night debut this week - something that makes Nawaz nervous that the show could lose viewers.

"Our only concern now is that it's moving to a different time slot, and we hope people will find us," she said.

Shaikh, for one, thinks there is reason to be optimistic.

"My friends in Vancouver were in a bar and there was a group of Caucasian guys there, like 25 to 32, who saw the trailer and were laughing their heads off and saying they were going to get into the show," he says. "It is just meant to be funny, not political and not educational, and I really believe Canadians are going to continue to watch it and to like it."
© The Canadian Press 2007

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