Corner Gas

Corner Gas is a CTV sitcom created by comedian Brent Butt that ran for six seasons from 2004 to 2009. It is considered one of the most popular and influential Canadian TV comedies ever. Focusing on the oddball residents of the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan, Corner Gas was an instant hit when it debuted in early 2004, drawing an average of 1 million viewers per episode. Known for its low-key mix of quirky characters, deadpan wit and folksy rural charm, the show repeatedly broke audience records for a Canadian-made scripted television comedy and won four Directors Guild of Canada Awards, nine Canadian Comedy Awards, five Writer’s Guild of Canada Screenwriting Awards and seven Gemini Awards, including three for Best Comedy Series.

brent butt
comedian, screenwriter and producer brent butt in one of his most famous roles, brent leroy in Corner Gas.

Synopsis

The series revolves around Brent Leroy (Brent Butt), the owner-operator of the local gas station in the fictional small town of Dog River, Saskatchewan. Brent’s curmudgeonly father, Oscar (Eric Peterson), has recently retired from the family business. Brent’s no-nonsense mother, Emma (Janet Wright), his best friend Hank Yarbo (Fred Ewanuick), his co-worker Wanda Dollard (Nancy Robertson), and police officers Davis Quinton (Lorne Cardinal) and Karen Pelly (Tara Spencer-Nairn) round out the cast.

The town is shaken up when Lacey Burrows (Gabrielle Miller) moves from Toronto to Dog River to run The Ruby Café, a coffee shop next to the gas station that she inherited from her late aunt. The series follows the ups and downs of the characters through their everyday lives in a town where, according to the theme song, “there’s not a lot goin’ on.”

Eric Peterson
Eric Peterson, a pioneer of the collective theatre movement in Canada, as Oscar Leroy in the popular series Corner Gas.

Background

Brent Butt was born and raised in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, and left home when he was 20 to pursue a career in comedy. After finding success, Butt wondered what his life would have been like had he stayed in his home town. In an interview with the Globe and Mail he said, “I… probably would have been running the gas station back home. And I kind of found that amusing.”

After writing a feature film screenplay based on the idea, Butt decided the story was better suited to television, so he reworked the idea into a script for a sitcom. He did not pursue the project until he mentioned it to director David Storey over coffee. Storey pitched the idea to executives at CTV, who liked the concept. Storey and Butt started Three Thirty Five Productions (named after the two highways that intersect in Tisdale, Saskatchewan) and joined forces with Virginia Thompson of Vérité Films to create Prairie Pants Productions. Together, the three executive produced the show for CTV.

The timing of the pitch was serendipitous; the $23-million Groundbreaker Fund, which was established by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 2000 to finance original Canadian productions, required that a project contain an interactive element, follow a specific timeline, and be produced outside of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. Corner Gas fit the bill perfectly.

The Corner Gas set in Rouleau, Saskatchewan, 29 July 2006.

Production

The Canada-Saskatchewan Production Studios complex in Regina, which had recently opened, was selected for filming all the interior scenes, while the nearby town of Rouleau, Saskatchewan (population 400), was chosen for the exterior shots of Dog River. Rouleau’s grain elevator was repainted to read “Dog River,” the gas pumps and the iconic café “The Ruby” were built, and production began on 3 June 2003. The series premiered on 22 January 2004 at 8:00 p.m. to an audience of 1.15 million viewers.

Premiere

With its sharp, deadpan wit and clean, amiable humour, Corner Gas was an instant hit. Each episode of the first season, and even the reruns, drew an average of 1 million viewers — unheard of for a Canadian sitcom. The October 2004 debut of season two drew 1.53 million viewers and cemented the show as a staple on Canadian television.

Reception

The sitcomwas met with almost universal acclaim. John Doyle, television critic for the Globe and Mail, called Corner Gas “original... genuine, funny and clever.” Lindsay Brown of the Halifax Daily News called it “absolutely gut-wrenchingly, nose-streamingly funny...” Vinay Menon of the Toronto Star wrote: “Corner Gas is a splendid achievement of spot-on casting, great acting and sharp writing.” The series quickly built a loyal fan base, averaging 1.4 million viewers for each new episode over the course of its 107-episode run.

Gabrielle Miller, actor
Gabrielle Miller brought to life the na\u00efve city girl, Lacy Burrows, in the successful Saskatchewan sitcom Corner Gas (photo courtesy of Erich Saide).

International Distribution

In October 2005, Corner Gas made its first foray into international markets. Over the following 13 months, the show expanded into 26 countries, including the United States. In May 2006, CTV signed a deal with Multi-Platform Distribution Company to market the show in the United States, and in November, the Chicago-based cable network Superstation WGN made a deal to broadcast the show in approximately 70 million US homes. The American debut was in September 2007. When the show expanded into the United States, the reviews were also favourable. The Gannett News Service called Corner Gas “one of the new season’s best shows,” and the San Jose Mercury News called it “a delightful Canadian comedy.”

In April 2008, Butt announced that the sixth season would be the last. On 13 April 2009, a record-breaking audience of 3.02 million people tuned in to see the final episode.

Ancillary Products and Attractions

The popularity of the show led to the launch of the Dog River Clothing Company in December 2004. A documentary titled Beyond Corner Gas: Tales from Dog River aired on CTV on 24 September 2005. A radio single, “Christmas in Dog River,” and holiday special, “Merry Gasmas,” both came out in December 2005, while Tales from Dog River: The Complete Corner Gas Guide was published in November 2006. Rouleau, Saskatchewan became a tourist destination, which led to the creation of an official self-guided walking tour of the town in 2017.

Guest Stars

Corner Gas became known for its many celebrity cameos. Prime Minister Paul Martin, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, The Tragically Hip, members of The Kids in the Hall, Kiefer Sutherland, Jann Arden, Darryl Sittler, Michael Bublé, Mike Holmes, Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall and many others appeared on the show over its six seasons.

Corner Gas: The Movie (2014)

The entire original cast reunited for Corner Gas: The Movie (2014), a 96-minute feature film that revolves around the residents of Dog River as they try to save the town from bankruptcy after it has been mismanaged. Production started in June 2014 with an $8.5-million budget. A crowdfunding campaign to help finance the movie aimed to raise $100,000, and met that goal within a day. By the end of the campaign, it had raised $285,840. The funds were used for special perks granted to donors and to improve the production quality of the film.

The producers set up a complex distribution plan to make the movie available across multiple platforms. There was a limited theatrical release with red-carpet galas in Saskatoon, Regina and Ottawa. The public premiere was on 3 December 2014. After the premiere screenings, there was a special preview for The Movie Network and TMN GO, followed by a broadcast on CTV and CTV GO on 17 December.

The movie was met with mixed reviews. John Semley of the Globe and Mail gave it one and a half stars out of four, stating, “[Y]ou can practically hear it groaning as it stretches the half-hour sitcom format to 90-plus minutes.” Linda Barnard of the Toronto Star wrote “In truth, it often plays like a few TV episodes stitched together into 96 minutes, which doesn’t work especially well on a big screen,” though she did concede that fans of the show likely would not mind. John Doyle of the Globe and Mail defended the movie, stating, “It’s terrific entertainment, often hilarious.”

Corner Gas Animated (2018)

Corner Gas Animated, an animated version of the series featuring the original cast (save for the deceased Janet Wright, whose character is voiced by Corrine Koslo), premiered on The Comedy Network on 2 April 2018 and proved that the show remained popular. It was the No. 1 ranked specialty program in the country that night and became the highest-rated series debut in the network’s history.

Legacy

Corner Gas attracted some of the best comedy writers in the country, such asMark Farrell (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Made in Canada), Paul Mather (Rick Mercer Report, Little Mosque on the Prairie), and Kevin White (Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience). The show surprised Canadian broadcasters with the size and devotion of its audience, and proved that Canadian-made television could compete with shows simulcast from the United States. As a result of the show’s success, CBC launched Little Mosque on the Prairie and CTV started to search for more homegrown hits, as well as a comparable Canadian-made dramatic series to compete with American dramas. This led directly to the production of Flashpoint, among other shows.

The influence of the Corner Gas formula — deadpan humour with quirky characters who interact at a local gathering spot in an identifiably Canadian location ­— can be seen in such subsequent series as CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie (2007–12), Schitt’s Creek (2015–) and Kim’s Convenience (2016–); Global’s ‘Da Kink in My Hair (2007–09); and The Comedy Network’s Letterkenny (2016–).

Awards

Directors Guild of Canada Awards

  • Outstanding Team Achievement in a Television Series – Comedy (2004)
  • Best Television Series – Comedy (“Gopher It”) (2007)
  • Outstanding Team Achievement in a Television Series – Comedy (“Buzz Driver”) (2008)
  • Outstanding Team Achievement in a Television Series – Comedy (“You’ve Been Great, Goodnight”) (2009)

Canadian Comedy Awards

  • Television/Direction, Series (David Storey, Robert de Lint, Rob King, Henry Sarwer-Foner, Mark Farrell) (2004)
  • Television/Writing, Series (Mark Farrell, Brent Butt, Andrew Carr, Paul Mather) (2004)
  • Television/Best Performance by a Male (Brent Butt) (2004)
  • Television/Direction, Series (David Storey) (2005)
  • Television/Best Performance by a Male (Brent Butt) (2005)
  • Television/Direction, Series (Robert de Lint) (2006)
  • Television/Best Performance by a Female (Janet Wright) (2006)
  • Television/Writing, Series (Brent Butt, Mark Farrell, Paul Mather, Kevin White, Andrew Carr, Robert Sheridan) (2007)
  • Television/Best Performance by a Male (Eric Peterson) (2007)

Gemini Awards

  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Brent Butt, Mark Farrell, Paul Mather, David Storey, Virginia Thompson) (2005)
  • Best Interactive (Brent Butt, Leif Kaldor, David Storey, Virginia Thompson) (2005)
  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Brent Butt, Mark Farrell, Paul Mather, David Storey, Virginia Thompson) (2006)
  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Brent Butt, Paul Mather, David Storey, Virginia Thompson) (2007)
  • Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Mark Farrell, “Gopher It”) (2007)
  • Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (“Gopher It”) (2007)
  • Best Picture Editing in a Comedy, Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series (Vanda Schmockel, “Contagious Fortune”) (2008)

Further Reading

  • Michele Sponagle, Dog River Confidential: The Even More Super Complete Corner Gas Guide (2009).

  • Michele Sponagle, Tales from Dog River: The Complete Corner Gas Guide (2006).