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D.K. Latta

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Is Canadian TV Too Safe, Or Too Sexy?

Posted: 04/08/2013 5:15 pm

Canadian TV can reflect the ambiguity that is Canadian culture.

Canadians have long struggled with defining themselves...and suffering the definitions of others. Some have suggested, pejoratively, that Canadians are simply the "un-Americans", defined by an absence of identity.

Equally Canada has been defined as the bridge between Europe and the United States, with European aspects (from its parliamentary democracy to the BBC-like Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for which The U.S. has no real equivalent) even as it exists in a North American society. Canada has tougher gun laws than America...but looser than Europe. Canada is seen as more secular than America, but more religious than many Western Europe countries.

What one chooses to focus on depends on ones agenda. There is often a desire by some to promote the idea of dull, timid Canadians...and to embrace the mystique of the edgy and fearless American. Canadian would-be hipsters quick to sneer at Canadian TV as inherently tame compared to the shiny bauble that is American TV.

In this recent interview, Adam Korson, star of the new Canadian-made sitcom, Seed, takes special aim at Canadian repressed conservatism, as though that's the main obstacle in his series' quest for ratings -- a series about a sperm donor (with animated sperm dancing across the title) and featuring single moms and same sex parents. (The fact that I don't think the series has landed American distribution at all seems left out of the equation).

Canadian TV, like Canadian society, has long oscillated between American standards...and European mores.

A few years back you couldn't escape the American controversy that erupted during a football game when pop singer Janet Jackson accidentally-on-purpose popped out of her costume. Headlines were made. The American network's switchboard was afire with outraged viewers whose retina had been, apparently, irreparably damaged by the sight of a woman's breast. The FCC (the American CRTC) got in on the act, warning fines, even criminal charges, might be in the offing.

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  • "666 Park Avenue"

    <strong>"666 Park Ave.," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/666-park-avenue-canceled_n_2147290.html">ABC pulled the plug</a> on this supernatural drama earlier in the season.

  • "The Bachelor"

    <strong>"The Bachelor," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: While ratings may have dropped, "The Bachelor" will likely see another season on ABC as tabloids and viewers still care about the comings and goings of contestants.

  • "Body of Proof"

    <strong>"Body of Proof," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: ABC is keen on this Dana Delany drama, but the ratings for the show's third season couldn't save it.

  • "Castle"

    <strong>"Castle," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Strong ratings and a dedicated viewership keep "Castle" on the schedule.

  • "Dancing With the Stars"

    <strong>"Dancing With the Stars," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Likely to be renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The series is hurting in the ratings ... by "DWTS" standards. It's still a strong player for ABC, but the new season hasn't premiered yet.

  • "Don't Trust The B---- In Apt. 23"

    <strong>"Don't Trust The B---- In Apt. 23," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/apartment-23-canceled-dont-trust-the-b_n_2528858.html">ABC pulled the low-rated comedy</a> from it schedule and the stars took to Twitter to announce the cancellation.

  • "Family Tools"

    <strong>"Family Tools," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: This ABC comedy had a May 1 premiere date and that was the first of many bad signs.

  • "Grey's Anatomy"

    <strong>"Grey's Anatomy," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: America still loves McDreamy and the goings on at <s>Seattle Grace</s> Grey Sloan Memorial.

  • "Happy Endings"

    <strong>"Happy Endings," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: Always the bubble show, never the surefire renewal hit. "Happy Endings" has suffered from many ratings ailments, including bad scheduling (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/happy-endings-friday-abc_n_2683091.html">it moved to Friday night</a>) and lack of promo. But this ahmahzing show has some serious fans that are determined to keep it around on another network (a la "Cougar Town.")

  • "How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)"

    <strong>"How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The ABC comedy starring Sarah Chalke had a late midseason debut and though its ratings were decent, it still couldn't save the comedy.

  • "Last Man Standing"

    <strong>"Last Man Standing," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Viewers still love Tim Allen and the show has been performing well on Friday nights.

  • "Last Resort"

    <strong>"Last Resort," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/last-resort-canceled-abc_n_2147316.html">ABC killed the Shawn Ryan drama</a> in late 2012.

  • "Malibu Country"

    <strong>"Malibu Country," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: "Malibu Country" had been performing well on Friday nights, but the ratings took a dip and there was also showrunner switches that are never a good.

  • "The Middle"

    <strong>"The Middle," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Now in its fourth season, "The Middle" is still pulling in more than 8 million viewers an episode as the anchor of ABC's Wednesday comedies.

  • "Mistresses"

    <strong>"Mistresses," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Too soon to tell <strong>Why</strong>: The drama, which is based on the UK series of the same name, just got a Monday, May 27 premiere date. Though the scheduling struggle doesn't bode well, the ABC drama does have Alyssa Milano and "Lost" alum Yunjin Kim leading the foursome.

  • "Modern Family"

    <strong>"Modern Family," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A fan favorite and Emmy darling, "Modern Family" will be back and will make ABC lots of money in syndication.

  • "Nashville"

    <strong>"Nashville," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Critical acclaim doesn't always equate to rating success, but ABC still believes in this Connie Britton-fronted drama despite the numbers.

  • "The Neighbors"

    <strong>"The Neighbors," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: One of the few "hits" of the season, "The Neighbors" has found an audience and kept it pretty steadily week after week (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/11/abc-shows-fall-tv-2012-2013_n_1581796.html">much to our dismay</a>).

  • "Once Upon a Time"

    <strong>"Once Upon a Time," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A ratings hit in its second season, "Once Upon a Time" will be back for a third season full of fairytale adventures.

  • "Private Practice"

    <strong>"Private Practice," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Ended <strong>Why</strong>: The "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff said goodbye in January 2013.

  • "Red Widow"

    <strong>"Red Widow," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The show had a late February debut on ABC and the ratings were abysmal.

  • "Revenge"

    <strong>"Revenge," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: "Revenge" has fallen out of critical favor and seen lower ratings in its new Sunday night home. Though it lost its creator Mike Kelley as the showrunner, it will return for a third season, considering the sad state of ABC's dramas.

  • "Rookie Blue"

    <strong>"Rookie Blue," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The Canadian co-production will return for a fourth season on ABC during the summer of 2013.

  • "Scandal"

    <strong>"Scandal," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Shonda Rhimes has another hit on her hands. Now in its second season, "Scandal" has benefited from word-of-mouth and has been rising in the ratings (even recently beating out its lead in "Grey's Anatomy"). A likable star -- Kerry Washington -- and continued buzz keep "Scandal" on the schedule.

  • "Suburgatory"

    <strong>"Suburgatory," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The series started Season 2 off strong in the ratings, but its audience has slowly eroded. Still, the show will be back for a third season.

  • "Zero Hour"

    <strong>"Zero Hour," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The Anthony Edwards vehicle debuted to 6.3 million viewers with a 1.3 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, making it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/zero-hour-ratings_n_2695800.html">the least-watched premiere for a scripted series in ABC's history</a>. Things only got worse from there.

  • "2 Broke Girls"

    <strong>"2 Broke Girls," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS renewed "2 Broke Girls" in March of 2013.

  • "The Amazing Race"

    <strong>"The Amazing Race," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: As an Emmy and fan favorite, "The Amazing Race" has been a strong player for CBS.

  • "The Big Bang Theory"

    <strong>"The Big Bang Theory," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Now in its sixth season, "Big Bang" is reaching series-high ratings. Even up against reality powerhouse "American Idol," "The Big Bang Theory" has been delivering with crazy high numbers in the 18-49 demographic, beating out what was once Fox's juggernaut.

  • "Blue Bloods"

    <strong>"Blue Bloods," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The Tom Selleck-fronted police drama is a strong ratings performer for CBS on Fridays.

  • "Criminal Minds"

    <strong>"Criminal Minds," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: As one of CBS's strong procedural players, the series has been steady in the ratings and will likely be renewed to help anchor a night and launch a new drama.

  • "CSI"

    <strong>"CSI," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Of the two "CSI" shows on the air, "CSI" is the stronger player in the TV landscape. The show is nowhere near its earlier ratings, but Ted Danson signed on for more and the show will be back.

  • "CSI: NY"

    <strong>"CSI: NY," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The ratings from this "CSI" spinoff have faded over the years.

  • "Elementary"

    <strong>"Elementary," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: One of the very few freshman series hits during the 2012-2013 TV season, CBS is very keen on this modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes. The audience has been steady and the network even gave it the post-Super Bowl timeslot.

  • "Golden Boy"

    <strong>"Golden Boy," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: CBS certainly has a handsome star at the front of this cop drama, but its late season entry hinted toward CBS's confidence in the show.

  • "The Good Wife"

    <strong>"The Good Wife," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A former ratings champ, "The Good Wife" has slipped to series low ratings on Sunday nights. Blame football overrun, fan-detested storylines or too many guest stars, but "The Good Wife" has star power and critical praise, plus its nearing a good syndication sweet spot.

  • "Hawaii Five-0"

    <strong>"Hawaii Five-0," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: In March, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/the-good-wife-renewed-season-5_n_2965829.html" target="_hplink">CBS announced "Hawaii Five-0" received an early renewal along with several of its other popular programs</a>.

  • "How I Met Your Mother"

    <strong>"How I Met Your Mother," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS handed out a ninth and final season to this comedy with the entire cast returning. Expect to meet the mother, finally.

  • "Made In Jersey"

    <strong>"Made In Jersey," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: CBS pulled the plug on this legal drama very early on in the season because of low ratings.

  • "The Mentalist"

    <strong>"The Mentalist," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: "The Mentalist" has fallen to mediocre ratings -- by CBS standards -- but it was nonetheless renewed in March of 2013.

  • "Mike & Molly"

    <strong>"Mike & Molly," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The ratings are down a little bit from last year, but Melissa McCarthy's star continues to rise.

  • "NCIS"

    <strong>"NCIS," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS reached a deal with series star Mark Harmon in early 2013, keeping the No. 1 show in America around for a Season 11.

  • "NCIS: LA"

    <strong>"NCIS: LA," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Viewers love their "NCIS," in any form. The ratings have been strong and the network is producing a backdoor spinoff pilot for this spinoff show. A full night of "NCIS" could be in CBS's future.

  • "Partners"

    <strong>"Partners," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: Low ratings and unfavorable reviews led to the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/partners-canceled-cbs_n_2145832.html">early demise</a> of this CBS comedy.

  • "Person of Interest"

    <strong>"Person of Interest," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The series has developed a nice-sized audience, bigger than its first season.

  • "Rules of Engagement"

    <strong>"Rules of Engagement," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: This comedy has been on the bubble since it premiered ... yet it made it to Season 7. It's finally time to say goodbye.

  • "Survivor"

    <strong>"Survivor," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A strong player for the last 13 years, "Survivor" will be back. But due to its <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/survivor-ratings-lowest-premiere-ever_n_2687591.html">most recent premiere ratings</a>, we might not see it during the fall season, though a midseason or summer return -- with some new gimmick -- is definitely in the cards for the reality series.

  • "Two and a Half Men"

    <strong>"Two and a Half Men," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS always wanted another season of this bawdy hit, it was just a matter of getting its stars to sign back on. Though Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher will be back for a Season 11, the "half" man Angus T. Jones remains up in the air.

  • "Undercover Boss"

    <strong>"Undercover Boss," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The show is enjoying life in syndication and its Season 4 numbers are better than most of its third season.

  • "Unforgettable"

    <strong>"Unforgettable," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Uncanceled <strong>Why</strong>: CBS canceled the Poppy Montgomery drama last season ... and then revived it! Season 2 premieres Sunday, July 28.

  • "Vegas"

    <strong>"Vegas," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: Despite star power, the series wasn't a breakout hit in the ratings. CBS previously canceled "Unforgettable" (then uncanceled it) last season when it was doing about the same as "Vegas."



In Canada, according to the Canadian network who had broadcast the exact same impropriety...they hadn't received a single complaint.

I was thinking about this recently, catching an episode of the highly popular The Murdoch Mysteries on the CBC. The Murdoch Mysteries is generally regarded as the epitome of a "safe" TV series. It's popularly assumed a large part of its audience is comprised of blue-haired grannies and kids not old enough to be sat down before the grisly doings of Criminal Minds.

In a recent episode, Murdoch investigated a murder near a nudist colony. And this genteel crime-drama...spent the next hour guilelessly parading around an assortment of bare bottoms. I'm pretty sure if an American network tried something similar, it would be all entertainment reporters would be writing about for the next month, and probably the subject of an FCC investigation or two.

This was hardly the first time Canadian network TV has seemed a little more, shall we say, European than American?

Indeed, over the years, sometimes American series made for "edgy" cable stations, like The Sopranos and Nip/Tuck, have aired on mainstream Canadian networks.

There often seems little consensus, and therefore little rhyme or reason, to how Canadian networks approach adult material. Presumably because half the people behind the scenes think Canada should follow American broadcast guidelines...and the other half say, um, why? I've seen programs where they seem to bleep out some swearing, and not others...all within the same show! When the CBC aired The Tudors, apparently some of the sex and nudity was cut...yet some was left in.

In the first season of CTV's The Eleventh Hour it was comparable to any similar American drama. Then, in the second season, it was sexed-up with some gratuitous nudity. As you might imagine, coming up with justifications for nudity in a workplace drama wasn't easy (I seem to recall a dream sequence or two). But with no appreciable (ahem) rise in ratings, the nudity was dropped for the third season.

This "are Canadian standards American...or aren't they?" dilemma dates back years. In the 1960s, the CBC drama Wojeck enjoyed big audience numbers, despite a gritty "cinema verite" directorial style unlike most American series, and some pretty edgy subject matter for its day.

The CBC's current Arctic Air is a mainstream, primetime drama-adventure series...but I don't suppose it could find a berth on an American network without bleeping out the occasional saltier phrase.

Significantly, it has often seemed as though nudity is more permissable than violence (in contrast to the American cliche). More than a few CBC movies over the years have included the occasional nude scene, while I've seen some theatrical movies on commercial TV edited for violence, but not always for skin.

Yet there seems to be this weird eagerness to promote the myth that Canadian TV (and by inference, Canada) is bland and conservative in comparison to American TV.

Some years ago I read a piece about the comedy troupe, The Kids in the Hall. The reporter made the dig that the CBC edited some of the Kids' more controversial bits, unlike the Americans (where their show aired on HBO)...instead of making the equally interesting point that the edgy Kids were airing on network primetime in Canada...but were only deemed acceptable for American sensitivities on cable.

I remember a few years ago having a conversation with someone where she blithely dismissed the conservativeness of Canadian TV compared to American programs...at a time when the CBC was airing J-Pod, a good-natured comedy so rife with cable-style vulgarity it would make the current cul-de-sac crew of Cougar Town blush with embarrassment.

Of course the line between what is acceptable and what isn't is blurring, as R-rated cable series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have become almost "family" viewing. And as people watch TV series on DVD, or internet streaming, the broadcast origin of a series can get lost on the casual viewer (cable v. network). But it's when you contrast the standards of "mainstream" American networks with Canadian ones over the years that a slight difference emerges...reflecting a slight difference in mores.

Now whether having bare skin and four letter words on commercial primetime is a good, or a bad, thing...well, that's a whole other discussion.

 
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