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Canadian TV Networks Missing the Boat on Reality Television

Posted: 05/27/11 10:55 AM ET

There's a reason there's so much reality television these days. It's cheap to produce, it's popular and can make boatloads of money with the right format. Unfortunately, Canada's three largest television networks seem to be missing the boat except for a few exceptions.

While CTV and Global, especially, rebroadcast American reality shows such as The Amazing Race, Dancing With The Stars, American Idol, Big Brother, Celebrity Apprentice (and The Apprentice) and America's Got Talent, they've woefully failed to develop shows that we Canadians can take part in as active viewers.

Save for perhaps Dragons' Den, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and Canada's Next Top Model, Canada's contribution to the reality television industry seems relegated to obscure cable channels.

Some may say that's a good thing. I don't.

I've been writing newspaper reviews of American Idol since 2008 and covered Canadian Idol in 2005. There's definitely interest in this country for talent shows that rely on voter participation such as Canadian Idol, which aired for six seasons from 2003 to 2008.

Blaming the severe recession, CTV decided not to air the show in 2009. It's now officially dead. Considering how popular the American and other versions of the show remain, isn't it time that another large-scale Idol-like talent competition was brought back to mainstream Canadian airwaves? Another Canadian Idol or a Canadian version of The X Factor would surely do well.

It's a real shame that our networks have not stepped up to the plate to take on the reality television phenomenon on a larger scale. They don't have to do something completely brainless like the unwatchable Jersey Shore, a show with not an iota of redeeming value, but surely a Canadian version of Big Brother would work?

Canadians love reality television -- it's just too bad it's mostly all American reality television. Don't get me wrong. I watch American reality shows -- but why not piggyback on their momentum and run Canadian versions immediately after the American versions end? American Idol ended in May and Canadian Idol started right after that. Big Brother ends in September and a Canadian version could air from late September until December.

For heaven's sake, more than 9,000 young singers auditioned to be part of Canadian Idol's last season, roughly in line (per capita) with ongoing interest in the United States for American Idol. If ratings dipped over the past couple of seasons of the show, surely a schedule change would have helped, such as airing the show in the fall instead of the summer. After all, viewership in July and August is not great for television as it is.

CBC's Dragons' Den is a big hit and is as good as Shark Tank, its American counterpart. Heck, it even has some of the same dragons, namely Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec. Wouldn't another business-related show such as The Apprentice do well in Canada? It doesn't have to be Donald Trump fronting the show here. What about another business leader? The hard-working, television-friendly and charismatic Frank McKenna would be a good choice -- and definitely a kinder and gentler version of Donald Trump for Canadian audiences. But just as tough!

Reality television may not always be brain food, but it's fun to watch and gets viewers invested in show participants. There's nothing wrong with that.

If reality television is here to stay, don't Canadian networks have a duty and an obligation to get us more involved in caring and rooting for other talented (or at least entertaining) Canadians instead of just watching Canadian commercials during American shows?

Brian Cormier is a writer and communications consultant. He may be contacted by e-mail at brian@briancormier.com. Visit his blog at www.briancormier.com, follow him on Twitter @BrianCormier, or like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/briancormierreaders.