Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Strange Death Of Canadian TV

Get ready for a massive dose of hoopla concerning the new fall American TV season.
Canadian TV also has a fall season although you might not know it because of the way Canadian networks are misbehaving.
Canadian TV it seems to me has been placed on life support.
Here are the cruel statistics: Global TV will be programming 16 1/2 hours out of a total of 18 hours of prime time this fall of simulcasted American fare.
Over at CTV there's just one scripted Canadian drama in there: the last season of Flashpoint Friday nights. On Saturdays the fine Canadian public affairs series W5 is back, too.
Citytv will have The Bachelor Canada this new season but it cancelled its big dramatic Canadian series Murdoch Mysteries (snapped up by CBC).
CTV 2 is also a sea of simulcasts  but Saturday nights up against NHL hockey it does have The Listener and reruns of Saving Hope on Saturday nights along with another Canadian content hit The Borgias.
OK, so what's going on here?
It's an industry trend only the CRTC can change. And the increasingly toothless Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission prefers sitting on the sidelines these days.
Looking up my old CRTC guidebook from decades ago I find Canadian networks must program 50 per cent Canadian content in prime time.
But! And this is a very big but -- that's the ratio to be determined over an entire year. And don't forget an hour of something like Flashpoint counts as 90 minutes of Canadian content.
That explains why in days of yore CTV's Johnny Esaw in off seasons would devote whole nights to championship skating --those gobs of Canadian content would be stockpiled for more competitive months.
It also explains why when Canadian content laws were first written up in the early Sixties CTV lobbied to have prime time start at 7 and not 8. That way CTV could stuff such relatively inexpensive home grown series as Headline Hunters, Half The George Kirby Comedy Hour, Stars On Ice, The Pat Paulsen Show, Excuse My French into that hour and come away with 90 minutes of Canadian content.
But when CTV debuted in 1962 Toronto viewers could get only CBC and Hamilton's CHCH as Canadian channels plus four from Buffalo.
There was no simulcasting in an era when TV antennas and rabbit ears predominated. In those days CTV and CHCH would prerelease their American buys by several days to get a jump on the Buffalo competition.
Even CBC was deemed guilty of giving pride of place to its American shows. I remember a CRTC hearing in Ottawa mid-Seventies where nationalist Pierre Berton loudly complained CBC was giving pride of place in its schedule to shows like Laugh-In letting his series Front Page Challenge suffer with a lesser slot.
When CTV had scored with the new American show Laugh-In CBC bought it away from the emerging weblet the next season because CBC had more money to spend.
Prices in those days were picayune: CBC paid $2,500 an episode for Mary Tyler Moore. I know because her husband Grant Tinker told me as he raged at how tightwad the Canadian buyers were.
No longer: this season Canadian buyers forked out over $600 million for American shows --the very shows you once could see from Buffalo before simulcasting came in.
Simulcasting was the brilliant brainchild of ace Global TV programmer David Mintz who first used it effectively. Soon the entire industry was panting for simulcasts which are allowed by CRTC fiat if the Canadian show exactly matches the one on the incoming American signal.
The CRTC originally loved simulcasts because the hammerlock the Buffalo stations had on Southern Ontario could be broken. Buffalo stations were raking in up to $40 million a year in Canadian commercials until simulcasting came along.
It works this way: you might think you're watching The Mentalist on CBS's WIVB, Channel 4 in Buffalo, but you're really watching CTV which has applied to the local cable company and gets the Buffalo signal blacked out and the CTV one plopped on.
Simulcasting will hit an all time high this fall on Canadian TV endangering domestic production.
We have the only TV system in the world where local TV must play second fiddle to imported shows he used to be able to watch for free on Buffalo TV.
Canadian programmers are telling me they'll add their Canadian shows later  in the season when competition is less fierce. And indeed it's beginning to seem that summer is the best time for watching Canadian dramas. This summer Rookie Blue on Global and Saving Hope on CTV were big hits with Canadian viewers.
But I'm rather old fashioned. Wouldn't it be great if we could actually watch quality Canadian dramatic programs on Canadian TV all year long?


Anonymous said...

Canadian productions will NEVER get pride of place in the schedule until we shut down the carriage of NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX on our BDUs. There is no need for the US networks in Canada. What do they carry that is not available from a Canadian broadcaster? Without the need to simulcast to protect the programming rights, Canadian networks would have flexibility to schedule for the viewer rather than having to follow what the American networks schedule. But, sadly, I believe that will NEVER happen because of the lack of political will to do so. The much more likely result will be that the Canadian networks become so weak that we care less about them and they will be allowed to become full affiliates of the American networks. That is a reality that is much closer than most people think.
Trying to regulate how to schedule will not work. Freeing ourselves from being the only first world country that allows foreign broadcast networks complete access to our distribution systems as a priority would put us on the right road to finally having a real national BROADCAST industry that could and would embrace Canadian productions. But we better act before it is too late.

CQ said...

As a Toronto - returned to OTA - viewer, I would love to see Canada's TV stations open to foreign ownership! Just like GM, McDonalds, The Bay, TSN, Molsons, and Random House. Just because the CRTC rules have CanCon requirements shouldn't mean that only select established full-network Canadian owners may be allowed.
SUN News TV can't get fair access to Rogers analog cable (or an OTA licence); neither can Vision nor APTN (unless one's analog system can tune in ch. 96 & 129). Bell has Much, MoreMuch, and MTV Canada, formerly TalkTV, and its ever-alert NewsNet plus its CP24 takeover acquistion.
All of Ontario (and Ontario-specific) receives one lousy TVO station; PBS seems to be able to operate out of numerous small cities each with multiple subchannel feeds; we have the world's so-called greatest transmission tower.
Some Toronto fringe radio stations still need to emanate from other downtown buildings in low-power; I regularly receive clear a.m. signals from Chicago and New York City in the overnights. Whatever was the original point of building that CN tower?
Some U.S. affiliates operate without duplicating news delivery, but conservely, others are vastly more responsive to local matters. Poke around their 2nd-tier stations' schedules and you might just find an equal amount of Canadian Scripted Programming. Does anyone else realize the staggering number of TV signals, simply out of Buffalo, NY alone, as compared to Toronto?