For some television watchers, it's The Simpsons at 10pm. For others, it's staying up late to catch Stephen Colbert's Republican-eating grin. But many Canadians set their DVRs nightly for 6:30pm, or get up early Sunday mornings at 7:30, to catch the British soap Coronation Street on CBC-TV.
It's clear from the royal wave of hoopla around Prince William's engagement that many of us aren't ready to completely give up our royal ties. However, Coronation Street, or Corrie as it's known to fans, lacks monarchal pomp and Kate Middleton's charming fresh face. To a non-watcher, the show just seems to be a bunch of dumpy people sitting in a dumpy pub pouring pints.
Obviously outsiders are missing something. According to a CBC press release announcing a December 9 TV special celebrating Canada's love of the show, "Coronation Street reached more than 13.5 million Canadians, and so far this season, one in five Canadians have already tuned into Coronation Street on weekday evenings at 6:30pm." December 9 also marks its 50th anniversary, making it the longest-running soap opera in production. CBC has broadcast it for almost 40 of those 50 years, although we're about 10 months behind, but online spoilers are readily available.
In a very unscientific attempt to understand what's going on in Weatherfield, Manchester, we conducted an informal poll on Twitter and Facebook to find diehard Corrie fans, and the results were a tad surprising. It doesn't seem to be bored British expat housewives tuning in with a cuppa: It's Halifax's men that are watching.
"You can't help but love it, either because of, or despite, its ridiculousness," says Scott MacDonald.
"You can't help but love a show that's predominantly set in the pub or in an underwear factory."
The 25-year-old Random Play employee first started watching Corrie when he was 10, mostly to get out of church. "Anything other than Sunday school seemed cool," he says. "It was Coronation Street with McDonald's breakfast and that made it more appealing." As a kid, he wasn't initially hooked. "It was any 10-year-old's reaction: This is dumb but it's better than learning about god."
MacDonald compares his growing love of the show to "people listening into old-time radio shows. It just became part of my cultural lexicon." Sometimes MacDonald still watches with his 62-year-old dad. "We'll bemoan certain plotlines, like 'How can Kevin sleep with Molly?'" But MacDonald isn't alone with pops---he's found other watching mates. "I mean, it's not a bunch of football jocks sitting around the television, but I know a lot of guys who have loved Coronation Street over the years, and who still watch it. We go to a friend's house, sit around and wait for the commercials to talk about the show."
MacDonald may not be your typical TV watching dude. He does love The Simpsons, but he just watched his first full episode of 30 Rock and prefers the company of the 1960s British spy series The Prisoner. He does have insight, though, as to why some men take this soap seriously. "I don't know if it's because no one's dying in the Andes mountains or there's no evil twins," he laughs. "It still has those soap opera storylines, but it has a sense on believability. Maybe it's because the characters look real."
Shawn Duggan watches news, sports and Corrie. He shared a brief couple of years with General Hospital but also prefers the realness of the British soap, discussing it regularly with his Sobeys cashier. Like MacDonald, Duggan started watching because of family ties---his mother tuned in while he was in high school. Although he's never bought a "t-shirt or a mug," Duggan spills over with details about his favourite characters like he's talking about his best friends: "Do Becky and Steve break up?...I want to know if Kevin and Sally are going to break up."
As an actor, Duggan observes that the Corrie acting isn't exactly what you'd call even. "Some of the people on it have no training. They just fell into it somehow and they've spent their whole life on the show---it's the only acting job they'll ever have," he says. Recently Duggan pulled together his own resume and reel with plans on sending them to the show's producers. There are already Canadian connections on the show: Character Gail McIntyre's son Nicki and her brother Stephen both live in Canada. Duggan says, "I could be an ex-business partner of Stephen's or a friend of Nicki's, then go wreak some havoc in Weatherfield."