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How to Improve Canadian TV

Canadian TV executives constantly cluck their tongues and ask, "How -- oh, how! -- can ratings be improved?!" You want to know how to improve Canadian TV? Make more #@$%%&#! Canadian programs!!!! Period.
old vintage tv over a white...
old vintage tv over a white...

Canadian TV executives constantly cluck their tongues and ask, "How -- oh, how! -- can ratings be improved!?!"

You want to know how to improve Canadian TV?

Make more #@$%%&#! Canadian programs!!!!


Global, one of Canada's "Big Three" networks, currently has, I believe, two scripted "in production" Canadian series on its schedule -- Bomb Girls and Rookie Blue. Given they have short episode runs, only Bomb Girls is currently airing. So out of about 1,000 primetime hours in a year, Global has allotted about 24 hours to original Canadian scripted programming. They also rerun a few cancelled series such as King (sigh! don't get me started on how much I loved that crime-drama).

And they just cancelled Bomb Girls! (They've announced a follow up 2014 TV movie, presumably -- if you're a cynic -- to prevent the CBC from picking it up the way the CBC picked up The Murdoch Mysteries).

A cynic might say: Global never wanted to be saddled with Bomb Girls. That when it aired (as a "six-part mini-series") it was intended as a bone tossed to the Can-Con crowd, yet then proved to be a ratings success. Given Global had cancelled Combat Hospital, perhaps they figured it would be bad PR to cancel yet another hit Canadian series. So they renewed it, but bumped it from its successful slot to where the ratings dipped (not a lot, but a bit), allowing them to justify pulling the plug.

But that's only if you're cynical. And, to be fair, Global did put effort into promoting the series.

While CTV's schedule isn't much better. They have Motive, Saving Hope, and The Listener...again, due to short seasons, only Motive is currently airing.

Americans flood the schedule with series after series, in the hope some will do OK and a privileged few will be hits. Why do Canadian private network programmers offer only a couple of series and then wonder why they aren't getting more breakout hits? (I say "private" network because the public broadcaster, the CBC, offers somewhat more).

Part of the problem is an absurd sense of entitlement and hubris associated with those in the Canadian entertainment biz. Their mentality seems to be: "Well, we made one show...why isn't it as big as CSI?" It's as if they assume programming decisions should be the equivalent of King Midas, and everything they touch should turn to instant gold.

If one wanted to be snarky -- and I wouldn't, but I'm just saying if someone wanted to -- one could argue Canadian network programmers aren't real programmers. Unlike American programmers, whose job is to green-light series proposals, program them in appropriate slots, and market the hell out of them in the hope they will catch on, most of what constitutes the job of a Canadian programmer is to fly down to Los Angeles once a year, buy up a batch of pre-made American series, air them in whatever time-slot the American network is airing them in, ride the wave of the American marketing, and sit back and wait smugly for the ad revenues to roll in.

So that when it comes time to actually make and market Canadian programs, the Canadian executives are a bit like a waiter who suddenly finds himself in charge of the kitchen!

That's only if one wanted to be snarky.

But who knows why programmers do what they do? Republic of Doyle enjoyed its best ratings ever last season on Wednesday, so for some reason the CBC moved it to Sunday where the numbers dropped off. They bumped it to make room for Arctic Air -- except not only is Arctic Air doing less well in the Wednesday slot than Doyle had been doing, but it's doing less well than it had in its own old slot. Anyone else see a problem in that game of musical time slots?

Yet the CBC's decision to acquire The Murdoch Mysteries (after it was dropped by City TV) has proven a genuine ratings success, both for the CBC, and for Murdoch.

Now the funny thing is -- I'm doing precisely what I said in my previous post people need to stop doing. Looking at the glass half empty. Because, for all my knocking lazy programmers and insincere network executives, the flip side is it's amazing how successful the few Canadian series are in terms of audience numbers.

The argument is networks simply can't afford to make more programs. But that depends on their profit margin to begin with, doesn't it? No one ever went broke running a Canadian TV network (well, except maybe Sun Media!) so I'm guessing they have pretty deep pockets. All businesses claim they "can't afford" certain obligations (health and safety standards, minimum wages) until they are forced to by regulators and then it turns out (surprise!) they could afford it after all! (Broadcasters are mandated to air a minimum amount of Canadian programming, but the definition of "Canadian program" is broadly interpreted, and I don't think anyone ever lost their license for failing to honour their Can-Can obligations).

Networks treat their Canadian programs as simply an affectation next to their "real" business...which is broadcasting American shows. Bomb Girls was bumped from its time slot and forced on a mid-season hiatus (factors some argue resulted in its drop in ratings) because Global needed its slot to accommodate its American programs!

But if we want to see Canadian ratings improve, and perhaps even more important, if we want to stop talking about what's "wrong" with Canadian TV, the simple solution is to stop treating Canadian TV as some rare and elusive beast, or as transitory as Cadbury Eggs sold for a few weeks around Easter.

The only way you're going to get Canadian series with hit ratings -- CSI, Big Bang Theory level ratings -- and can can shrug off the failures is by getting more shows on the air, more regularly, and then let the audiences decide what they like and dislike.

Rather than doing what the executives are doing, which is airing one or two for a few weeks during the entire 52 week season, and then, if the ratings aren't quite what they wanted, stomping their feet like toddlers throwing a tantrum and saying: "It's all the audiences' fault for not supporting us!"

2012: The Year In Canadian TV
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