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The Canadian TV Schedule That Wasn't

06/14/2015 10:58 EDT | Updated 06/14/2016 05:59 EDT
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Writing about Canadian film and TV -- as I'm wont to do -- can get pretty repetitious. I've actually been halfway through drafting a post before realizing I'd written something similar a year before! And that is because things rarely seem to change. Or when they do it's in a two step forwards, one step back progression.

Plus ca change -- etc.

Recently the various major Canadian TV networks and media conglomerates have announced their upcoming Canadian fall programming. Um -- so what do you call a press release announcing something that doesn't exist?

Here's the skinny as I understand it:

Global has -- nothing. Rien. They might bring back Rookie Blue (but I assume they're waiting to hear what the American co-producer does).

CTV is renewing steady performersMotive and Saving Hope but has nothing new for the fall.

(And lest we forget, Canada is a G7 Nation and one of the richest in the world)

The CBC, at least, has a few new and returning shows. Enough to at least call it a schedule (which I might write about later). And, to be fair, there are a few murmurings of series for the private networks that might come to fruition at an unspecified future date.

My focus here is on drama and comedy. These networks also have news, of course, and a few reality/game shows -- though even the latter aren't exactly pervasive.

But let me just make an argument in favour of scripted comedy/drama. Detractors of such will argue that such programs are the most expensive things to produce. But they're expensive because they provide the most job opportunities (Saving Hope probably hires more people as extras than the average news show does for its entire staff!) And scripted series are generally the jewel in the crown of a network's schedule. Otherwise CTV and Global wouldn't be cramming their schedule with imported scripted series, would they?

These are the shows audiences tend to form emotional attachments to and which offer more opportunities for social and cross-media proliferation (fans develop parallel interests in both the characters and also the actors and the behind-the-scenes process). And scripted fiction offers the best long term returns for producers. News is overtaken by the next breaking story. But fiction? A series like the CBC's Strange Empire -- which ran a measly one season -- will still be returning residuals to its producers ten years from now thanks to reruns and foreign sales (it already seems to be picking up new fans with Netflix reruns).

Now obviously there is some blurring of demarcations here as these networks are part of conglomerates which include smaller cable stations. And these stations have some new offerings like sci-fi dramas Killjoys and Dark Matter, as well as on-going popular series like Orphan Black. But it's telling when these media behemoths are producing TV series -- but aren't providing them berths on their flagship networks. Admittedly, maybe the days of the big networks are coming to an end. After all, cable series can get more media coverage than a lot of network series. But for now a network slot is still the prime slot, the one likely to garner the most eyeballs.

What makes this all the more glaring is how for decades Canadian network executives have whinged, complained, and demanded -- and almost invariably received! -- all sorts of protectionist measures and broadcasting perks (including the controversial "simulcast" advantage). And all they were supposed to do in return for their license-to-print-money was make a few Canadian programs.

And. Global. Offers. Nothing. (Ever see the Hollywood comedy Kingpin? The dream sequence where Woody Harrelson is laughing uproariously as he tosses money around after he's pimped out Randy Quaid? Harrelson is kind of like a Canadian TV executive, while Quaid represents -- the Canadian public? Canadian artists? Canada itself? Take your pick. And if this post does nothing more than cement that image in your mind for every time you read about Canadian TV executives and their CRTC enablers then it was worth it).

What's frustrating is that English-Canadian TV has never been more successful -- both domestically and internationally. TV programs like Motive, Murdoch Mysteries, Saving Hope, and The Book of Negroes all have boasted steady, million plus ratings when just a few years ago if even one English-Canadian series touched the million mark it was an event. While series like Orphan Black, The Lost Girl and others are international cult hits. And American networks are open to partnering with Canadian networks to make programs. (Detractors will sneer that's only because Canadian programs can be acquired by American networks cheaply -- but, um, that's precisely why American TV series dominate Canadian TV, because the Canadian networks pick them up at dirt cheap prices compared to producing original programs).

So basically Canadian artists are delivering more successful products than ever before, the market -- both domestic and international -- seems more accepting of these programs than ever, and yet network programmers are basically saying, "I think I'd rather not." (That's for all you Melville fans).

Unfortunately, it's hard to stir up public outrage for a lack of hypothetical TV shows that haven't been made. It's hard for a fan of Saving Hope, or Murdoch Mysteries, or Orphan Black to make the mental leap and realize there might not be another series like those down the line unless the networks are called to account. And, of course, the biz is always up against the anti-Canada crowd, the people who insist "all" Canadian TV is unarguably awful (since they don't like it, dontchaknow, and so they blithely dismiss the million plus viewers or international awards) -- you know, the people who respond to every crisis from a flood to a stubbed toe with the hysterical mantra: "Shut down the CBC!"

Programming requires perseverance -- a willingness to support the shows you make and to try again if something fails. In recent years Global has cancelled well-regarded series with devoted fans like Bomb Girls and Remedy and a lot of those shows' fans felt Global could've done more to promote them. But even if we accept the ratings were poor (though they were soft more than poor) -- even if they deserved cancelation -- Global should have something primed and ready to go.

Global is like a hockey coach who has called his player off the ice -- then doesn't bother sending someone else on in his place. Not only can't you win with that strategy -- you aren't even playing the game.

And our (metaphoric) Woody Harrelson just keeps laughing in a shower of money while Randy Quaid moans in the background.

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