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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

As you read on DMc's blog, Rob Wells (Ricky of TRAILER PARK BOYS) has a well-thought out (and distinctly un-Ricky-like) op ed in the Gazette about the current battle between broadcasters and cable companies.

To sum up:
Our TV regulator, the CRTC, recently ordered cable companies to pay 1.5 per cent of their gross revenues to help support the broadcasters in producing local programming. This is good. Unfortunately cable companies have chosen to pass that buck on to you. That is bad. Now they are threatening to do the same thing again. They're fighting the broadcasters' calls for fee-for-carriage. And promising that if they're forced to pay, you will pay. That is really bad.
But there's a crucial issue missing:
The broadcasters want you to think the only thing at stake is local programming - namely news. That's because they don't want to talk about the crisis in Canadian drama and comedy and the fact that Canadians can't see our own scripted series on our conventional TV networks.

Why is that? Canadian English-language drama and comedy has been a rarity on prime time since 1999 - the year that the CRTC relaxed the rules for private broadcasters. Since then, private broadcasters have been filling Canada's prime-time schedules with U.S. shows. Last year they spent $740 million on U.S. and foreign programming and just $54 million on Canadian English-language dramas and comedies.
With those numbers, it's very hard to get a Canadian show on the air unless you have a US buyer for it. So Canadian shows, particularly dramas, are driven by what the US market wants -- beefy procedurals like FLASHPOINT and COPPER and THE LISTENER, SF like STARGATE and SANCTUARY, soaps like BEING ERICA. CORNER GAS got on WGN, and my old show, NAKED JOSH, aired on Oxygen.

That's not entirely bad. There's nobody better at making TV than Hollywood, overall, and having to satisfy CBS or even SyFy brings up the standard of Canadian-made shows. And anglo Canada is a small media market; of course a lot of shows have to be co-productions.

But should Canadians only have the choice between watching American shows and Canadian shows that Americans want to watch? What about TRAILER PARK BOYS, which is enormously successful here and probably incomprehensible south of the border? What about the superb SLINGS AND ARROWS, which barely got a US sale on the tiny Sundance Channel long after it was made?

Canadian broadcasters and cable channels are given a protected market by the Canadian taxpayer. NBC is not allowed to air its shows directly into Canada. It has to sell its shows to CTV or Global. When you see an NBC show in Canada, it's CTV or Global airing the commercials, no matter what network bugs show up on the screen.

In return for the Canadian government protecting Canadian broadcasters from being wiped off the face of the planet by direct American competition, the Canadian taxpayer is supposed to get two things.

One, support for an industry that supports 600,000 Canadians.

Two, shows by Canadians that tell Canadian stories.

How are Canadian stories different on a purely Canadian funded show? I could talk about the nuances of Canadian life, or the two solitudes. I could talk about how on NAKED JOSH, we weren't allowed to use the word "Montreal," which was where the show was set.

But let's just look at THE BORDER, which DMc worked on. On THE BORDER, the Americans, especially Special Agent Bianca LeGarda, are assholes. Arrogant, reckless, rich and often wrong. Sure, they sometimes get the job done while the Canadians are dithering. But as the show makes plain, dithering is our right, and we don't want Americans ordering us to go charging off without thinking.

I would venture to say that quite a few Canadians consider the Americans to have a tendency to go off half-cocked. And they get mad when Canada won't go off half-cocked too. And I would venture to say that THE BORDER will never have a significant US network sale, at least until Michael Moore gets his own network.

Canadian broadcasters like to forget that they have a deal with the Canadian people. They consider having to air Canadian content to be a great burden on them, and they are constantly trying to shrug off that burden. They're forgetting that they only exist because the Canadian government protects them. Without protection, they would disappear within a year.

Yeah, local TV matters. Canadian TV matters. Canadian broadcasters shouldn't catch a break from the CRTC until they quit skimping on Canadian content.



I haven't seen The Border, but I have seen Intelligence, which is an amazingly good show. However, the DEA agents shown in the series are downright murderous. So much so they not only make an international drug smuggler look like an angel, but the double-dealing Canadian cop they bill as "The Snake" in the opening credits even objects to their methods.

Demonizing the DEA and ATF is common even in US productions (especially relative to the FBI), but in this show it happened twice as fast and was more than twice as severe.

Intelligence is just the kind of smart and gritty cat-and-mouse cop show that fans of HBO's The Wire have been chomping at the bit for. But they will probably never get a chance to see it on any US network. Alas.

By Blogger Scot Boyd, at 1:23 PM  

"What about TRAILER PARK BOYS, which is enormously successful here and probably incomprehensible south of the border?"

Considering I'm sitting here with my TPB bowling shirt on, "Bubbles" nametag proudly on my chest, you're wrong. Yeah, they're not widely known here, but those of us who do know, loved them.

Canadian comedy, from SCTV to Kids in the Hall to Trailer Park Boys, has a very good reputation here in the US. More please.

By Blogger Hugh Williams, at 6:43 PM  

Scot: some moderately interesting trivia for you...

Matt Frewer's character - the gent you referred to - was originally tagged in the ad campaign as the "Nasty Bastard", which led to some not so small amusement before he became re-tagged as "the Snake".

And as for not seeing it in the States on TV? That's what the Acorn Media DVD deal was set up to fix.

Whaaaa?: There are many people already working on that CanComedy fix for you. Alex, thankfully, has been one such and likely will be among their ranks again.

By Blogger Dwight Williams, at 4:48 PM  

Just a heads up re: Trailer Park Boys, it's well thought of in New Zealand. We have hobbits.

By Blogger The Sando, at 5:00 AM  

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