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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Diane Wild's TV, Eh? blog has gone down for the count. Too bad. It was a great resource for those who cared about Canadian TV. If only some Canadian networks had, y'know, clicked on that "Donate" link.

But one gets the strong impression that Canadian networks regard commissioning Canadian content as a tiresome chore; and government seems to be listening. The CRTC came around to Montreal for a "flash conference," where the question was raised, "Hey, Devil's advocate, but if we can't regulate Netflix, how is it fair to regulate the networks?"

Which the small band of creatives at the session suspected might imply, "We are testing the waters for deregulating the networks, but we want to make you feel as if we're listening to you."

To which some stalwart creatives said, "But you ought to regulate streaming video." And, "If we don't regulate the networks, there will be no Canadian programs at all." And, "If the Canadian networks don't make any Canadian content, why exactly should we protect them from competition from the American networks?"

Lisa said, "One day you're going to wake up and they're making Anne of Green Gables set in Connecticut. By then it will be too late."

The rest of the crowd at the hearing was Concordia students. Their overall reaction was, "What's TV, grandpa?"


Sorry to hear about these difficulties. Now I'll play devil's advocate. Kind of.

Recently, a friend posted an article arguing that we're living in the golden age of TV and that Canadian TV isn't part of it. I don't raise this to pile on. But I did think about many of the great shows out there are quite critical of significant aspects of their societies. That hasn't been my observation with much of Canadian TV. If anything, Canadian seems to serve to validate being Canadian. For example, in our discussion, I pointed out that "Breaking Bad" was a searing condemnation of US society, while "The Republic of Doyle" purports to be a gritty crime drama yet is a glorified tourism ad for a city that in fact has much about that merits legitimate criticism.

That's not my way of saying that deregulation should happen or that Canadian programming should be abandoned. But your post seemed like an opportune time to raise these points.

By Blogger David, at 4:39 PM  

I think a lot of Canadian creatives would echo your concerns about Canadian TV shows, and would kill to make Breaking Bad. There have been some amazing shows, likes ZOS and SLINGS AND ARROWS. But it's increasingly hard to create a Canadian TV show without a US sale, so there's pressure to set shows in Generica, or at least make the shows resemble US dramas. One of the most exciting shows of last year, ORPHAN BLACK, didn't get made until the BBC took it, after which it got its Canadian sale. So there's a vicious circle. Networks have little faith in Canadian shows, so they don't let creatives do what they're capable of, and then the networks come back and say "there are no good Canadian showrunners."

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:50 PM  

Good points.

One thing I've always thought is that, visually, Canadian shows should take advantage of distinguishing palate offered by being in the "Great White North." Yesterday, we got our first serious snow in St. John's, and I welcomed its beauty. "Northern Exposure" certainly did that effectively. Of course, I realize this point is completely contrary to your "generica" one.

By Blogger David, at 5:01 PM  

It's expensive to shoot snow, because snow tends to go with long periods of darkness. Also, crews don't like working in it. And there's a feeling among salespeople and advertisers that people don't want to see snow on their TV screens unless it's Call of the Wild. So there's that.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:06 PM  

David's first comment above has a great trenchant point about it. Inasmuch as criticize American content for being so profit driven, it is amazing how often material that offers implicit criticism of the society can come through. Much less so than even in an arm's length public funded system like Canada's.

So for instance the frequent (and much debated) point that Canadian "satire" shows (22, Mercer) tend not to be as lacerating as, say, TDS or Colbert.

And yeah, there's not much great genre bending entertainment to be had from shows where the premise is "how great your country is." SCANDAL is an insane show, but it's amazing that it's insane and entertaining within the frame of: America is truly truly broken.

I hate people using the example of INTELLIGENCE on CBC because it's just ridiculous to only invoke a show that was made 7 years ago...but there is a show that said uncomfortable things about the government and Canada's treatment of crime and intelligence policy. I don't know if that had as much to do with it going away as the mythologizers, but there's one that definitely thumbed noses.

Trailer Park Boys too, had very counter-intuitive narratives about the role of drugs (no big deal, if it's weed) and gay issues (who cares, it only matters if you're a dick).

And right now I'm on a show, CONTINUUM, that manages to smuggle a message that questions some of the precepts and assumptions in modern corporate capitalism, without taking too heavy handed a side either way (and we know we're doing it right because we have people lamenting both that it's pushing a left wing anti corporate and a fuzzy embrace of capitalist dogma message.)

So it's not a perfect thing. And like a lot of other arguments, sample size matters. We make so few shows in Canada that each one is freighted with a lot of baggage of "what does this mean for the culture..."

The whole "Golden Age of TV" meme that a certain very-happy-to-throw-bombs-into-a-room-but-not-really-interested-in-discussing-anything frustrated soccer reporter introduced into the mix was unhelpful because he managed to throw blame based on some real cockamamie assumptions, and then also eliminated a whole bunch of great "Golden" TV shows for this reason or that. When you spend the next three days explaining "oh yes, that show's great but it doesn't count" you haven't made the revolutionary argument you think you have.

The point is that both of these things can be true because of the sample size. Not enough Canadian shows take risks.

and every Canadian show arrives with so much cultural bullshit piled on top of it that it's hard to judge it on its merits.

Which is why it's so interesting now that because of Netflix and output deals, most of these shows now do show up in the USA one way or another. Often the reviews you read in New Yorker or from American writers for HuffPo or other pubs, EW too -- offer insightful takes just because all they're doing is judging the work, not carrying all the other bullshit around with it.

And as to the last point, Alex is right. It's hard to shoot in snow. From a simple production standpoint, it's hard to shoot a day night split and board a show in the winter months in Canada because you tend not to have enough of either (dark or light) to make it work on a series budget.

LTK made it work -- but that's why it's the exception not the rule.

By Blogger DMc, at 12:16 PM  

Curious to know how and when ROD was ever pushed as a "gritty crime drama"

By Blogger Frank "Dolly" Dillon, at 7:44 PM  

Well...there's always animation. Canada still seems to be strongly represented there.

By Blogger Bwakathaboom, at 10:03 PM  

I only just found out today about TV, Eh wrapping up. More than a bit vexing to find out so late, but it helps further spur on a project I've been fitfully trying to build up on Facebook for fans of Canadian TV in general, whatever the show. Whether that would be too little late, I don't know.

And yeah. I miss Intelligence, partly for the reasons mentioned. The loss still hurts to this day.

By Blogger Dwight Williams, at 3:52 PM  

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