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New episodes of U.S. cable series ‘Nip/Tuck’ finally reach Canada on CTV

How long can a network leave a series on the shelf and still claim it as a hot show?

Six months, apparently. That’s how long Canadians have had to wait for CTV to show new episodes of "Nip/Tuck" after they began airing in the U.S.

The fourth season, which has already come and gone in the States, premieres this Sunday, March 3 at 10 p.m. (It airs a day earlier, Saturday at 10, in Atlantic Canada and Alberta.)

In announcing the move, CTV programming president Susanne Boyce called the edgy, adult drama, which centres on two morally and ethically challenged plastic surgeons (played by Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon), "one of those buzz shows that people can’t stop talking about."

If that is true, CTV ignored the buzz for six months.

CTV would still have the series on its shelf if "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" hadn’t tanked. NBC recently yanked that under-performing rookie and replaced it with "The Black Donnellys." Global’s got that show (and simulcasts it Mondays at 10 p.m.), so CTV had to reach farther back on their shelf and plug their Sunday night "Studio 60" slot with "Nip/Tuck."

And that’s how the cream of the U.S. cable crop gets treated in Canada _ as bench-warmers, thrown in when the big U.S. network imports go down.

Fans of "The Shield" (like "Nip/Tuck," an FX series) and "The Closer" (TNT) never know when those series might turn up. "The Shield," starring Emmy-winner Michael Chiklis as an at-any-cost cop, bounced between Global and CH before dropping off schedules in Canada. It begins its sixth U.S. season April 3 on FX. "The Closer," starring Kyra Sedgwick as a get-it-done detective, is also currently unscheduled on CH despite being the most-watched series on ad-supported U.S. cable. (TNT premieres season 3 next summer.)

When these U.S. cable goodies do get scheduled, Canadian fans often have to wait half a year or more to see them. The Tony Shalhoub whodunit "Monk," originating on the USA Network, finishes its fifth U.S. season Friday night. CHUM’s A-Channel doesn’t pick up season 5 until March 19.

Why the delays and games of hide and seek? Since FX, TNT and USA do not cross the border, Canadian schedulers treat cable imports like free spaces in bingo, slotting them in whenever some high-priced goodie from ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC gets axed.

Meanwhile, Canadians who have seen new seasons of "Nip/Tuck" or "Monk" hyped months ago on shows like "Entertainment Tonight" or in magazines like Entertainment Weekly are left in the dark.

Unless they were able to catch up on the Internet. While access to streaming video on U.S. network websites is "geo-blocked" to Canadians, any determined fan with a reliable search engine can find ways around the barriers. If "Nip/Tuck" really is your must-see show, you’ve probably already downloaded season 4 from a file-share website, watched it on a grey market satellite dish or had your buddy in Michigan burn you an episode or two.

If not, the good news is the new season is worth the wait. Creator Ryan Murphy has put the focus back on the bizarre, with a great line up of guest stars, including Rosie O’Donnell, Alanis Morissette, Kathleen Turner, Larry Hagman, Jacqueline Bisset and Catherine Deneuve.

Deneuve has perhaps the creepiest storyline. She plays a woman who asks to have her dead husband’s ashes embedded in her breast implants. Murphy told TV critics last year that it was "so she can always be close to her husband," but he hinted at an ulterior motive. "When you think Catherine Deneuve, you think French murderess," he said. "At least I do."