It was a decade ago, but Sandra Bezic still has vivid memories of the night Battle of the Blades debuted at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
“My knees were shaking. My heart was pounding so hard I thought everybody could see it, because we had no idea what would happen,” recalled the former figure skater, Olympian, choreographer, skating analyst and producer.
“We had no idea how the hockey players would react under this kind of pressure — under spotlights, skating to music, without a uniform, without their team, without their helmets. And that first night was incredible.”
Battle of the Blades made its debut in October 2009, showcasing figure skating pairs made up of former skate pros and ex-hockey stars. Each team aimed to dazzle judges and the voting audience alike, while raising awareness of different causes or charities.
Bezic is hoping to recreate that magic with a fresh instalment of the uber-Canadian, crowd-pleasing reality competition. CBC Television announced on Tuesday that Battle of the Blades will return for a fifth season this fall.
Co-creator and executive producer Bezic has re-teamed with Insight Productions — the award-winning firm behind reality competitions such as The Amazing Race Canada and Big Brother Canada — for the eight-episode live-event show.
The identities of the host, the judging panel and the competitors have yet to be announced.
Show’s return ‘a no-brainer’
Hosted by Hockey Night in Canada‘s Ron MacLean through its first four seasons, the show’s competitors over the years included famous faces from the figure skating and hockey worlds, including Jamie Salé, David Pelletier, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Scott Thornton, Georges Laraque, Tessa Bonhomme, Pavel Bure and Tie Domi. (Bezic said Domi, a Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy, paved the way as the first ex-NHLer to sign on.)
The large-scale production was put on hiatus in 2014 as the public broadcaster grappled with significant budget cuts.
However, audience members never stopped asking for its return, so the decision to revive it was “a no-brainer,” said Jennifer Dettman, CBC’s executive director of unscripted content.
“It was always our ambition that at some point we would bring it back for audiences. It was just picking the right time,” taking into account both the TV landscape and CBC being in a place to financially commit to a high-production-value show, Dettman said.
She said that today’s reality TV viewers are seeking uplift rather than snark or negativity.
“In a way, Battle of the Blades was ahead of its time … There’s this really nice feeling in the show: all of the stakes and the drama that you want in an entertainment show, but positive and celebratory.”
Although the series will receive a “modernizing and freshening,” Dettman said that producers are taking care to preserve what fans loved.
One thing that will be included is recognition of a grassroots movement from last time around — all those mini Battle of the Blades competitions that arose at amateur skate clubs across the country.
“Canada adopted Battle of the Blades for themselves — for their own clubs, for their own fundraising,” Bezic noted.
She admitted she “hadn’t thought of bringing [the show] back,” and was “completely blindsided” when CBC approached her to revive the program.
“We had four amazing seasons and I accepted the fact that we weren’t coming back … I didn’t realize how much momentum there was still behind the show from the general public.”