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Canadian television is becoming watchable

July 16, 2012

Early last year while editor-in-chief of the Navigator I wrote an editorial on how Canadian television collectively is the uncontested mayor of Dullsville, County of Boring. Turns out I have buckets of influence because since then Maple Beaver networks have produced some decent shows.

In the last two years, Canadian cable networks have started introducing more original scripted programming, and with positive results. Shows like  Showcase’s Lost Girl, which was picked up by SyFy networks in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, are fresh, intriguing and most importantly aren’t worrying about defining themselves with Canadian content. That’s right, it looks like writers and networks are finally beginning to understand that just because a show is written and produced in Canada, doesn’t mean the action has to take place in a hokey dokey town, population 15,000, where everybody loves hockey and drinks shitty beer.

Cost of Lost Girl

Lost Girl. Courtesy Showcase/SyFy

Audiences are responding to the new, mature Canadian television industry too. Republic of Doyle on CBC has broken the top 10 most-watched shows more than once and Global Television’s Bomb Girls has also garnered a positive response from Canadian audiences and U.S. networks alike (it will air on ReelzChannel in the U.S.A.).

Cast of Rookie Blue

Rookie Blue. Courtesy Global/ABC

And Bomb Girls has company: Flashpoint and Rookie Blue are carried by CBS and ABC, respectively, and the supernatural medical drama Saving Hope premiered on both CTV and NBC last month; last week it sat pretty at number 5 in the ratings of the top 30 shows ranked by BBM. It also holds the crown for highest ratings for the 2012 summer premieres (although ratings have been tanking ever since. The title is too close to Raising Hope anyways.).

It’s true the top 30 shows on TV watched by Canadians are still mainly American (Canadians freaking love Big Bang Theory). That’s no surprise given the money Hollywood studios and networks have to produce excellent programming (so good that as of late, they’ve been able to lure movie stars to the small screen –  Ashton Kutcher, Glenn Close, Zooey Deschanel, Alec Baldwin, to name a few). At least now Canadians have the opportunity to tune in to programming that has some element of credibility. Seriously, even my cats could tell how bad Corner Gas was.

Canadian Television Sucks—Just Ask Canadians
From the Navigator, February 2011

Television has been an integral part of many homes for over 60 years and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. We’ve come a long way from the tiny black and white with rabbit ears; these days we have a plethora of viewing options, from high definition LED monster-sized flat screens to smartphones, iPads and personal computers. We’ve also come a long way in what we watch (not too many parallels between The Honeymooners and Big Love). So why is it that, in 60 years, Canadian television hasn’t seemed to have come any closer to making an entertaining, well-viewed show?

There’s no point in sugar-coating the truth: on average Canadian television is mundane and unimaginative, the production value is sub-par, and the acting is less than memorable and rudimentary. Sitcoms about small-town, rural life (Corner Gas) or hour-long dramas (Rookie Blue, 18 to Life) have either mundane premises or pale in comparison to their American counterparts.

I have no clue as to why this is the case, but I’m not the only Canadian who feels this way – turns out the majority of Canadians don’t watch Canadian-made prime time television either.

The Bureau of Broadcast Management (BBM), which, among other things, compiles statistics on the 30 most-watched television shows in Canada, tells us the cold, hard truth: for the week of Jan. 17-23, 2011 the top ten programs were Big Bang Theory, which drew almost 3.2 million viewers; American Idol; The Mentalist; House; NCIS; Two and a Half Men; the NFL Playoffs (which held the seventh and eighth spots); $#*! My Dad Says; and rounding out the top ten, Hockey Night in Canada.

Only eight shows in the full list of thirty were Canadian, half of which were news broadcasts. Every other show is American. Previous weeks tell a similar story.

One of the only Canadian shows (besides sporting events) to ever break the top ten in the last six months is Flashpoint. The hour-long action drama on CTV began in 2007 and has been so successful that it caught the eye of American network CBS, who picked up the show and added it to their prime time line up. This makes Flashpoint the first program since Due South to achieve a prime time spot on a US broadcast network. Moreover, unike Due South, which mainly took place in Chicago, Flashpoint‘s action is set in Toronto.

Other than Due South and Flashpoint, it’s an exercise in futility to try and find other Canadian shows that have been picked up in other countries, or perhaps resulted in a country-specific version, such as the numerous British shows that have been nabbed by American broadcasters. Has any Canadian show been considered groundbreaking and innovative enough to be remade for another audience? Even if that isn’t a show’s measure of success, what is of all shows is to actually pull an audience of more than eight living rooms and this just isn’t a regular occurrence for Canadian television.

It’s not that Canadians aren’t capable of making entertaining, successful shows – just look at how many Canadian actors, writers, directors, and producers are successfully working in American television (to name a few, Lorne Michaels (SNL), Richard Lewis (CSI), Joshua Jackson, Nathan Fillion, Sandra Oh, Cory Monteith, Hart Hanson (Bones), and Anna Paquin). People with talent and potential star power need a reason to stick around so that Canada, for once, can have a successful and compelling television industry. Why can’t we manage to do that?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2012 7:21 pm

    What a lovely follow-up post. It is interesting how a tiny little pebble can make huge waves. Even if this wasn’t that case I’d take it. We don’t watch any of these shows though…

  2. malie jean bingham permalink
    July 16, 2012 7:38 pm

    I love Saving Hope

    • July 16, 2012 10:47 pm

      It’s getting some good reviews, but people are also saying it’s too much like Grey’s Anatomy. It’s been slipping in the ratings though so hopefully it doesn’t get cancelled! Thanks for visiting my blog!

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