Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The State Of Canadian TV, Part II

So there I was at my favorite Greek restaurant on Danforth Avenue with three of my favorite people involved in Canadian TV: a veteran publicist, a veteran actress and a well known producer.
Here are highlights of our lunch time conversation.
ME: Who wants to start as we dissect the current state of Canadian TV?
ACTRESS: Well, the plunge in our dollar is great news for people like me. I'm hearing of a dozen projects from the U.S. coming across the border in the spring and summer. You remember that year in the Eighties when we had wall-to-wall American TV movies and miniseries shooting everywhere?
ME: I do! The Star had a photographer line up all the talent at the staircase of the Sutton Place hotel and I think we had over 40 name American actors hugging each other.
PRODUCER: In actual Canadian productions the future is very dire indeed. Look, I admire those CTV drama series Saving Hope and Motive both of which are disguised a bit so they can be sold to the U.S. But stories that are unabashedly Canadian? Forget it. Americans aren't interested which leaves European buyers and they usually only pay a pittance for Canadian shows.
PUBLICIST: For me the times are very difficult. Whoever would have forecast the complete melt down of TV Guide Canada, once the biggest magazine in the nation? Then Southam discontinued TV Times. And Toronto Star's Starweek is produced out of Florida.I have troubles selling any stories on Canadian series I can tell you.
PRODUCER: Every year the three major Canadian networks venture to Hollywood to buy up each and every U.S. fall series. They pay a pittance in terms of actual cost of production. What they also get is all the attendant publicity from such U.S. mags as Entertainment Weekly and all the on air publicity on all the U.S. morning shows. We have few TV talk shows in Canada to publicize local series.
PUBLICIST: Both Global and Bell have their own versions of daily entertainment shows but one rarely sees a rival network getting any publicity. That's why I was pleasantly surprised the other day to see CTV's Ben Mulroney interviewing cast members of the returning CBC series X Company. That almost never happens!
ACTRESS: I submit to you we do have bona fide Canadian stars the Canadian public like and admire: Sonja Smits, Art Hindle, Wendy Crewson, Gordon Pinsent, Nick Campbell, Paul Gross, Michael Riley. My husband asked for a boxed set of This Is Wonderland a few Christmases back and I was shocked to learn only the first season was out on DVD.
ME: Series never on DVD include ENG, Beachcombers, Paradise Falls. A farmer in Wisconsin once wrote to me he'd recorded Power Play when it played on UPN in the States and made up his own boxed set which he sold for awhile on the Internet --he said he's sold over 250 boxed sets.
ACTRESS: The winner of the Gemini awards for best series acting would invariably go to talent who looked a bit lost up there because their series had already been cancelled.
ME: How many local stations do you think wull follow CHCH into declaring bankruptcy?
PRODUCER: Maybne 30 stations are teetering. Local news commitments don't make money any more. Teenagers in my family just don't watch regular TV stations. They transfer everything to their devices and watch later. When CHCH went under it was the tip of ann iceberg.
PUBLICIST: For me the lack of publicity on currently running shows is just awful. CTV and CBC regularly dump their young publicists and hire even younger ones who are under six month contracts and have no contacts they can alert about new shows.
ME: And yet I'm still watching Murdoch Mysteries, X Company, Nature Of Things. I still mourn Elwy Yost who got a new generation interested in old movies. He was irreplaceable. When Lloyd Robertson retired as CTV news anchor I wondered if Lisa LaFlamme would make it and she has! And I'm wondering how long CBC's Peter Mansbridge can hang on. When I started writing my TV column for The Spectator in 1970 CBC's anchor shared a studio with The Friendly Giant.
ACTRESS: A pal of mine was doing scholarly research in the CBC archives --she viewed dozens of classics that can't be shown today because the copyright has run out. So Canadian TV has few Canadian reruns --there's no collective sense of history. Instead we watch American reruns. I'm told The Beachcombers can never be reissued because nobody is sure who owns the rights anymore.
PRODUCER: Maybe the new Trudeau government will take pity on us. After all newspapers are quickly disappearing. And so is Canadian TV. Setting up a funding system would help and perhaps turning newspapers and local stations into non-profits might go a long way. We can dream can't we?

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