Friday, May 21, 2010

The L.A. Buying Spree

This is the time of the year when Canadian TV executives wing their way to Los Angeles, the annual buying spree of American shows.
When I started my TV critic assignments way back in 1970 there was only one game in town.
And that was CBC.
If CBC wanted a U.S. show the public network got it although prices in those days were itsy bitsy.
Would you believe CBC was paying just $2,500 a week for top rated Mary Tyler Moore?
CBC executive Thom Benson would lunge around the pool at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and force the U.S. studio chiefs to come to him. That's how powerful CBC was in those days.
In those times with cable penetration still minimal CBC and CTV didn't have to worry about simulcasting their American buys. There was another ploy being used: prerelease. If Laugh-In ran on a Monday then CBC would try to get it on CBC stations a few days earlier. This meant the cans of films and tapes had to be airlifted express to worried producers at Toronto International Airport.
In those days there were more commercials allowed on Canadian TV. Mary Tyler Moore hit the roof when I told her the last minute tag in her show which summed up the plot was routinely cut by CBC to add one more commercial but there was little she could do about it.
CBC would then fly down stills photographers and a production crew to shoot its own publicity material.
Mary read her script which said her show was on "at 8 p.m.; 8:30 in Newfoundland." She was such a stickler for accuracy she phoned a St. John's newspaper and asked the editor how he pronounced "Newfoundland".
Anecdote: CTV got caught with the leftovers and the leftovers of the leftovers went to Hamilton's feisty CHCH.
In 1968 Laugh-In debuted. Benson watched the pilot but passed. CTV grabbed the new show which shot to the Top Ten its first year out.
So the second year Benson offered a competitive bid higher than CTV could afford and Laugh-In passed to CBC.
What really wrecked CHCH was the year the station bought the entire year's catalogue of Lorimar product (excepting Dallas which CBC already had).
Sure, there were such hits as Knots Landing but there were a near record number of ratings stinkers. By abandoning its TV movies format CHCH surrendered its identity and the station sank like a stone.
When Global came along in 1972 things heated up. When I duly reported then CBC executive Yvan Fecan had paid a record amount of $75,000 per episode for thirtysomething (1987) Fecan phoned me in a real stew --he felt other studios would be demanding the same amount of cash.
And the series did so poorly CBC dropped it the next season anyhow.
This is a strange time for Canadian buyers. CTV can't be happy with the losses it took on the Winter Olympics. Global and CanWest have just been sold to Shaw Communications. Citytv stations are now owned by Rogers. It's a real mess.
And didn't the CRTC mandate that these same networks could not spend more on U.S. product which we can all watch from Buffalo stations anyhow than on their Canadian programming?
Wasn't that the whole purpose of the huge campaign to get the cable companies to support Canadian shows and Canadian talent?
One more plea: if these Canadian buyers are so interested in quality how come nobody picked up the best U.S. drama series of the past few years?
Yes, I do refer to Mad Men.
Just Asking.

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