Road to Avonlea


Ryan B. recently made an awesome post in the 'After the Honeymoon' comments section.  While reading Bright Particular Stars: Canadian Performers," he found that RH Thomson and Kate Nelligan briefly dated while studying together in England.

I read about this a while back but forgot about it until recently.  Nelligan confided about this relationship In a 1992 Toronto Star Article:  

"He'll kill me for this.  When I was 17 or 18, Rob was my boyfriend, and I haven't seen him since. I've seen some his work - (the miniseries) Glory Enough For All - but the last time we were together we were doing some play in Middle-English, at university, I think. Something no one but the actors could possibly understand."

Interestingly, there was also a connection between Thomson and Mag Ruffman (Oliva King/Dale) before the series started.  Mag and Thomson were neighbors when they grew up in Richmond Hill and Mag even admitted having a crush on Thomson!

These unique relationships between the actors perhaps was the most interesting part of the otherwise lack luster episode "After the Honeymoon."

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It was an offer he couldn't refuse... Too bad it was never offered.

In February 1992, Road to Avonlea director George Bloomfeld told the Ottawa Citizen that he got Al Pacino his first film role in the independent movie "The Panic in Needle Park." Bloomfeld recommended Pacino after seeing him in an off-Broadway play.

Pacino would go on to build a career playing brooding and angry characters, prone to explosive outbursts. His roles included the The Godfather (1972), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Scarface (1983). In 1992 Pacino received an Academy Award for Best Actor in 'Scent of A Woman.' The American Film Institute awarded him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

Years later Pacino told Bloomfeld that he owed him one after a chance run-in at their agent's office. "I've often thought," says Bloomfield, "maybe I should bring him back to do a Road To Avonlea with me."

Unfortunately, the offer was never presented and the actor would never grace Avonlea's red roads. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to see Pacino play a tantilizing role like the cantankerous Ezekiel Crane, the bitter Roger King, or the corrupt Judson Parker.

In the spirit of writer Raymond Storey, here are a few episode ideas:

scent1

Scent of a Woman of Importance

godfathers and sons

Godfathers and Sons

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For one brief moment last February, it appeared that Road to Avonlea special guest star Faye Dunaway was about to award Best Picture to a film starring former Avonlea alumni Ryan Gosling.  Instead, Dunaway and her co-announcer Warren Beatty were handed the wrong card, announced the wrong winner, and were immortalized in the most controversial moment in Academy Awards history.

Faye Dunaway in Bonney and ClydeFaye Dunaway played Countess Polenska in the episode "What A Tangled Web We Weave" and  Gosling played the troubled Bret McNulty in the seventh season episode "From Away."  Prior to her Avonlea appearance, Dunaway won Best Actress in a Leading Role for her excellent performance in Network (1976) and was nominated for this same award for her iconic performance in Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

Despite the success and skill of these two actors, both episodes are ranked in the bottom ten least favorite Road to Avonlea episodes with Gosling's 'From Away' being the worst all time.

Dunaway received a lot of flack during her stay in Avonlea for her cosmetic products, her unusual behavior in the Bloor and Younge incident, and for the outright lackluster episode.  Despite these criticisms, I feel sympathy for Ms. Dunaway and want to point out a few positives.

Unlike Sarah Polley, Dunaway never spoke bad about Road to Avonlea.  And while most actors were oblivious to the series (Bruce Greenwood doesn't even remember that he was on the show), she is one of the few special guest stars that praised Avonlea before stepping foot on the set.  Furthermore, Dunaway didn't complain when she was given the terrible script for 'Tangled Web.'

Dunaway shouldn't be blamed for the Oscar debacle and she is not at fault for her lack luster appearance on Road to Avonlea.

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A hoax is described as a humorous or malicious deception, often synonymous with a practical joke, trick or prank.  The series Road to Avonlea has it's share of hoaxes and pranks played on our unwitting villagers.  I was surprised with the sheer number of hoaxes and it was somewhat tough to narrow it down to the top ten.  So without further ado, the following list details the top 10 hoaxes from the series.

10. The Love Potion

Sara and Felix attempt to prevent Edwin Clark's plans to marry Olivia by seeking the help of Peg Bowen. The witch of Avonlea concocts a love potion that will force Olivia to become betrothed to the first unmarried man she sees. Their plan fails however, when Olivia drinks the potion and greets Felix at the door of Rose Cottage, rather than Jasper.

9. Mermaids

Snibb's World Renowned Traveling Midway arrives in Avonlea and Davey is entranced by the mysterious Melusina, who claims to be a mermaid.  The woman is really named Trissy and she cons Donny Lester into giving her money.  It doesn't take long before Donny and Davey realize they have been conned.  When Hetty and Rachel find out, they are inexplicably shocked to find that the carnival is out to get their money! Irate townspeople storm the midway and Snibb is arrested.    

8. Magic seeds

Sara Stanley and Andrew King receive a rude welcome to Avonlea when their cousins send the duo plummeting through a trap door into a muddy pig stall.  The visiting cousins plan their revenge by giving Felix and Felicity magic seeds with the promise that if they wish upon them at night, their dreams will come true.  The seeds, of course, are a hoax that make the scheming Felix and Felicity look foolish.      

7. Davey is duped again

When Clive and Muriel announce their wedding, Davey and his friends plan to raise money to buy the couple a present. The troublesome Davey meets two ruffians, Hawk and Quint, who tricks the gullible boy into leaving money at the cemetery, promising that the profit will double the following day.  The foolish friends return the next day and find that the money is gone! Dora rushes to Davey's rescue and devises a plan to retrieve the money from the thieves.  

6. Marilla had a Beau

Marilla Cuthbert fabricates a beau named Duncan McTavish after village gossips pry into her romantic life. The consequence of Marilla's white lie results in disaster as the real Duncan McTavish arrives in Avonlea, which raises the suspicion of her long time friend Rachel Lynde.

5. The Sea Ghost Rises... Again

Cantankerous lighthouse keeper Ezekiel Crane recruits Gus Pike to help him pursue an elusive treasure.  The treasure hunt ends in a sea cave where Crane's rival, Captain Borden, plunges Crane into the depths and believes that he has the legendary treasure. To Gus's surprise, Crane faked his death and escaped with the real treasure, leaving Borden with an empty chest.

4. The End of the World

History is full of prophesies declaring that the world will end.  As a lunar eclipse approaches in the episode Vows of Silence, Felicity believes that judgement day is at hand and is encouraged to confess past wrongs.

3. Actor impersonates school teacher

Hetty resigns as school teacher after being criticized for pushing her students too hard for an upcoming history bee. An eccentric actor, Alistair Dimple, replaces Hetty and teaches the children through a method of play-acting and theatrics.  As the competition approaches, Alec discovers that Dimple was a total fraud without teaching credentials.

There have been many other imposters in Avonlea, including Jo Pitts as Sara Stanley, Simon Tremayne as a bellhop, Doyle E. Reichenback, various imposters from Zak Morgan's wild west show and even Sara Stanley as the long lost daughter of Callamity Jane!

2. Blair Stanley returns from the dead

Sara Stanley goes to a carnival where she encounters a fortune teller, Isis, who promises to reunite the Story Girl with her recently deceased father.  A seance is staged where Isis and her accomplice, Leo, pretend to evoke the spirit of Blair Stanley. When Sara discovers this elaborate hoax, she is kidnapped by the duo and held for ransom.  Alec heroically rides to Sara's rescue and the malicious con artists are sent to prison.

1. Felicity was switched At Birth

Sara and Felix devise a scheme, writing a letter stating that Felicity was switched at birth with Sally Potts. The hoax sends Felicity into an identity crisis and causes an uproar between the King and Potts families.  A panic ensues, which causes Janet King and Clara Potts to redefine their perspectives of motherhood.

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During its run in the 90's, Road to Avonlea was one of the highest rated, most awarded and highly revered series on Canadian television.  However, it's interesting to note that the series almost didn't happen.  Below, I detail five things that almost prevented this show from existing, at least how we know it!  

5. Gema Zamprogna almost took another role

Can you imagine another actress as Felicity King?  In the weeks leading up to the production of Road to Avonlea, Gema Zamprogna (Felicity King) was heading to Winnipeg to star in the CBC made-for-TV movie ‘The Challenge,’ later to be re-titled ‘The Challengers.’ Gema played the lead role as a 12 year old girl who impersonates a boy to join a boys-only club.

"I'd auditioned her for an earlier Sullivan film and her talent was like a clear white light shining through," acting director Anne Tait remembered. "But everyone said 'She's going to Winnipeg, just give up on her.'"  Anne Tait tracked down Gema en route to the airport and managed to obtain a tape of her reading for Felicity. The scheduled filming for Road to Avonlea was delayed one week, allowing Gema to accept the role as Felicity King.  Without Tait's intervention, the role might have been played by Tara Meyer (Sally Potts) who auditioned in June 1989. 

4. E.N.G. Almost Stole Avonlea's Time Slot

In the late 1980's, CBC only had enough money to produce one hour long drama and two programs were in competition: ENG (1989-1994), based on life in a television newsroom and Road to Avonlea.  Although Director of CBC television programming Ivan Fecan would later regret letting ENG get away, the network ultimately chose Road to Avonlea.  

Fecan clearly made the right decision by dropping E.N.G.  The dull soap opera was almost cancelled in the first season and received poor ratings when it was shown on Lifetime Television (probably bumped for some god-awful Meredith Baxter Birney film).  The publishers don't even want this out on DVD!  Besides, the soap opera's sexual themes would have gone over like a drunk Viola Elliot in church if it aired on CBC's Family Hour.

3. We Could have had a different Story Girl 

In early 1989, Sarah Polley had several acting options that could have prevented her from siezing the pivitol role of Sara Stanley.  Polley auditioned for the role of Cher’s daughter in ‘Mermaids (A role that went to Christina Ricci),’ a starring role as Annie in the bizzare "Annie and Daddy Warbucks Go To Budapest," and a part in the chilling ‘Small Sacrifices’ about an infamous child murderer.

The planned filming for Small Sacrifices in June 26 in Vancouver conflicted with filming for Road to Avonlea and it became apparent Polley's camp would have to decide between the two projects. After serious discussions with Sullivan, Sarah and her family accepted the role of Sara Stanley in the new series.  

It's interesting to wonder how things would be different if another actress put on the Story Girl's satin blue slippers.  Would the new actress enjoy her role and stay on as a regular cast member for the full seven seasons?

2. Decreased interest in Canadian Drama

There were apparently people upset that US television shows had a strong presence on Canadian television.  In 1987, Ivan Fecan was appointed director of CBC television programming “with a mandate from then vice-president Denis Harvey to shake things up.” Around this time, only 78 percent of television content in prime time was Canadian.  Fecan was committed to changing this trend by increasing Canadian content and popularizing Canadian drama on CBC.  This new direction by CBC was critical for the success of Road to Avonlea.

1. Lack of Funding

In 1983, the Canadian federal government committed $265 million over five years to expand Telefilm Canada and establish the Broadcast Fund. The Fund invested in privately produced weekly series miniseries and specials popular in Canada. The Broadcast Fund also provided the opportunity and resources necessary for Sullivan to create a Canadian mini-series.

Despite CBC’s commitment to the series, the network could only pay part of the $15 million total budget ($1.2 million per episode) required to produce the show (in addition to Telefilm Canada’s 2.5 million investment). Sullivan was reluctant to accept financial support from The Disney Channel, fearing they would try to “Disney-fy” the series. He ultimately relented, realizing that Disney’s financial investment of $8 million was critical to achieve the standard of quality he envisioned.

Learn more in the first chapter of the Behind the Series section: The Bend in the Road

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In 1989, Sarah Polley had several acting options that could have prevented her from siezing the pivitol role of Sara Stanley. 

At the time, Sarah was attending grade five at the Claude Watson School for the Arts where she learned to dance and mime. She planned to take a break from acting that summer. It would be her last summer in her families North York home overlooking a sprawling golf course. She looked forward to having a dog when the family moved to the new home in Aurora, but in the meantime, she settled on a toad farm.

In May 1989, Polley’s agents were working against her summer plans.

Polley auditioned for the role of Cher’s daughter in ‘Mermaids (A role that went to Christina Ricci),’ a starring role as Annie in the bizzare "Annie and Daddy Warbucks Go To Budapest," and a part in the chilling ‘Small Sacrifices’ about an infamous child murderer.

The planned filming for Small Sacrifices in June 26 in Vancouver conflicted with filming for Road to Avonlea and it became apparent Polley's camp would have to decide between the two projects.

After serious discussions with Sullivan, Sarah and her family accepted the role of Sara Stanley in the new series.

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In the weeks leading up to the production of Road to Avonlea, Gema Zamprogna (Felicity King) was heading to Winnipeg to star in the CBC made-for-TV movie ‘The Challenge,’ later to be re-titled ‘The Challengers.’ Gema played the lead role as a 12 year old girl who impersonates a boy to join a boys-only club.  The Challengers was simliar to gender switching movies of the era like "Just One of the Guys" except with lousy 80s music and bad lip syncing.

"We almost missed her for Avonlea," acting director Anne Tait recalled.  "I'd auditioned her for an earlier Sullivan film and her talent was like a clear white light shining through. But everyone said 'She's going to Winnipeg, just give up on her.'"  

Tait tracked down Gema en route to the airport and managed to obtain a tape of her reading for Felicity. There were plans for the Challengers to become a weekly series and scripts were written, but the ultimately the series never materialized.  

The scheduled filming for Road to Avonlea was delayed one week, allowing Gema to luckily accept the landmark role as Felicity King.

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