Is Canadian TV Crap???

June 27, 2010

                When it comes to Canadian content on television most people simply roll their and eyes and groan.  When asked most people would be hard pressed to name more than handful of Canadian shows and even more hard pressed to say they actually liked them.  Beyond news programming all that easily comes to mind are the few large hits like Degrassi, Corner Gas, The Tudors, to name a few.  However much more easily recognized names are by in large imported American juggernauts like the CSIs, Family Guy, or the Daily Show. 

                With a CRTC mandate that no less than 50% of programming  in primetime hours be dedicated to Canadian produced shows there seems plenty of opportunity for Canadian content to find itself an audience.  Why then are Canadian shows consistently seeming to fail in the minds of the public? The answer is simple most Canadian shows are, to put it bluntly, crap.  Alberta Culture minister Lindsay Blackett said much the same at the Banff World Television Festival early last week, though in slightly more colourful words (see CBC News).  Minister Blackett was quickly set upon from all sides over both his language and the timing of the comments by industry members.  Though he apologized for the timing and language of his comments he refused to retract the content of his statement, and seeming most Canadians would agree with him.

                To be sure Canada has produced its fair share of excellent television and film productions; when it comes to news and sportscasts production values are top notch.  Yet it appears that for the most part when it comes to high quality dramatic productions the examples are few and far between.  What tends to get produced most often suffers from horribly low production values and it tells.  There exists a chronic association in viewers minds that these low production values equates to low quality film and television. 

                The industry points to chronic underfunding as the main culprit for why so few new Canadian shows and films hit the air that are capable of turning into genuine hits.  Yet if it’s a funding problem why are the production companies and networks constantly looking towards government to fill these funding shortfalls.  The very American shows that Canadian productions are up against receive no such similar government backing (though it’s true they benefit just as much from local government tax incentives).  The real question about funding should be laid at the feat of the networks who, rather than go through the expense of developing and marketing their own productions, choose to import ready made American content that already appears on competing American networks that are widely available in most Canadian markets.

                Global TV and CTV are both very adept at this practice all it takes is one look at their scheduled programming to see just how much of their primetime hours are devoted to imported content (Global’s listings here, CTV’s listings here).  Global Sundays feature a glut of Fox animated comedies with the rest of the week fairing little better.  CTV has a bit more robust amount of Canadian programming spurred by the unexpected success of Corner Gas granting many of the principle actors in new series.  However, aside from these new additions to their programming by and large CTV abides by the same importing practices as Global. 

                If Canadian productions are so underfunded it would seem that we have no one to blame but the networks who fear that without imported programming that they would never be able to compete against the American networks.  Their fear creates a circular problem.  Importing shows is expensive but still cheaper than producing new material of their own.  Hence funding for home grown programming is diverted to license imports.  This creates a situation in which less funds are now available to go into the developing home grown shows; giving the vast majority of shows that so called low quality Canadian look.  The end result is that the vast majority of Canadian content on T.V. has to resort to government funding in order to even reach the production stage. 

                Unfortunately  governments shouldn’t be in the business of doing business on any level and most especially in an industry that is legendary for its glut and excess.  It’s very true that Canadian productions know far more about making do with less than their American counter parts but the difference remains that American productions do so on their own initiative.   So how do we get more quality Canadian content on T.V.? The answer is simple, Canadian networks simply have to be willing to take the risk of giving the proper amount of funding that will give new shows a chance.  Moreover they need to have the faith that these new shows or films will be able to find an audience.  There is also one more alternative that would spur on the development of Canadian industry and that would be for the CRTC to tighten up their mandates for Canadian content during prime time hours: though this would be the least desirable of solutions.

                Until networks and producers are willing to pony up the cash required to create a quality product the cycle will continue and perhaps get worse.  One fact has become very apparent the industry in Canada will never be sustainable so long as it is relying on government funding just to exist.  Unless private investment begins to approach even a fraction of the level seen in the U.S. we are all likely to continue to see sub-par Canadian productions continue to fall prey to their more glamorous American counterparts.

                Whether you agree or not with Minister Blacketts comments you must concede this one point;  at least he’s started a conversation that’s been long overdue.  There are real questions to answer about the Canadian film and television industries and its time that we start getting some answers.  Should government be involved in guaranteeing stable funding for the film and television industries?  Do we need further regulation of programming on the various networks?  Would any such regulations be capable of changing overall viewing habits of the average Canadian?  Hopefully with the conversation begun we may find the answers and with them see  people’s opinions of the quality of Canadian television and film rise with them.

 Your Fro with the know,

Tim

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