Despite not actually being from Canada, I found the video to be interesting. One of the points of emphasis is that despite the TV fees that Canadians shell out, Canadian television is largerly composed of imported American television shows. That’s not to say that there are no Canadian TV shows out there, but that they are comparatively few. And, if the video’s producers are to be believed, a whole lot of american shows.

Not to be the ugly American, but… how big of a deal is this? I am not wholly unsympathetic in that I have myself argued for an increase in the number of television shows that take place outside of a few select areas (NYC, Boston, LA, and Chicago). But despite Canadian protests to the contrary, American and Canadian cultures are very similar, on the whole. When it comes to importing television shows, Canada probably lose the least in translation.

Not to be too ugly an American, but what they lose in homegrown television shows it seems to me that they gain in having a culturally similar neighbor exporting a much larger number of shows often with much higher budgets to entertain them.

I’m not an expert on Canadian/American differences, but when it comes to TV it’s not the case that I’m speaking from ignorance. In fact, I’m coming at this as someone that has watched Canadian TV in the past. When I was young, I would periodically run across these TV shows that I had never seen before and had never heard talked about and then at the end I would see a CBC insignia. It was only later that I discovered what CBC was. Earlier this year I ran through the entire Da Vinci’s Inquest series and introduced myself to Flashpoint, both of which are Canadian series.

In the case of Flashpoint, it was picked up by CBS for a while. And unlike when US channels pick up British shows to redo them, they just ran the episodes straight. I actually wish that American television should do that more often. If there’s a good Canadian TV show, I’d love to see American TV pick it up.

On the other hand, I guess I can understand paying TV taxes for the sake of Canadian entertainment and then the TV stations buying US shows cheaply and pocketing the difference. Of course, the entertainment subsidies they have are an issue in themselves. One of the reason that an unusual number of music stars come from Canada is that they force Canadian radio to play Canadian artists, which gives them fertile soil to cultivate successful acts. But for a variety of reasons, their television has not penetrated our market like their music has.

It’s actually one of those things where I wonder if they might be better served if they put less emphasis on Canadian shows and join our media structure. That they create their own programming is probably one of the reasons that Hollywood almost never makes shows placed in Canada. Ordinarily, I would say that they probably wouldn’t do it anyway, for the same reasons that they don’t place shows in Kansas City.

But what they’d lose in Toronto, they’d make up in Vancouver. A completely disproportionate number of American television shows take place in Los Angeles. Part of that is urban coastal bias (the same reason that a lot of shows take place in NYC), but part of it also is the fact that since it is filmed in Los Angeles it might as well take place there. Opening up Vancouver to more US filming could lead to vancouver joining LA as one of the most common backdrops of television shows. Then again, there’s nothing to stop them from filming in Vancouver now and simply having it take place in Seattle. But while Seattle is a relatively common location, and they have not done so. So much of television’s orbit hovers around Hollywood and Los Angeles (unnecessarily, in my view) that in the end, they’re probably better off doing what they’re doing.


Category: Theater

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20 Responses to Is There A Point to Canadian TV?

  1. DaveinHackensack says:

    Are we still in decaf mode?

    Battlestar Galactica was shot in Vancouver. So was The X-Files. Probably a bunch of other American TV shows too.

    Also, the various iterations of Degrassi (the latest iteration of which is, without a doubt, the most painfully politically-correct show on the planet) are pretty popular on cable in the U.S.

    Back in the early 1990s, CBS imported a few Canadian shows for its “crime time after prime time” line up of late night shows. One of them was called “Forever Knight” or “Forever Night” (“Knight” might have been the protagonist’s last name). It was about a vampire who became a homicide cop to atone for is centuries of killing people. He was friends with the medical examiner lady, who knew his secret, and she supplied him with blood. I think it was set in Vancouver.

  2. web says:

    Canada is odd that way. Vancouver set itself up deliberately to attract Hollywood – one of the reasons being that unlike shooting in a city with clear landmarks, nothing in Vancouver shouts ‘hey we’re in vancouver’ (a common movie problem for other cities, parodied by the scene back in the Kentucky Fried Movie when they’ve got footage of the Statue of Liberty, NYC background, and text onscreen proudly proclaiming “HONG KONG, CHINA”).

    The only actual “Canadian” show I remember really enjoying was the Red Green Show… and that ran on PBS. Then again, 99% of the Red Green humor was compatible with Melleorki sensibilities anyways.

  3. DaveinHackensack says:

    Kentucky Fried Movie was a classic. The spoof on Enter the Dragon was hysterical.

  4. trumwill says:

    Dave,

    Yeah, a lot of stuff is filmed in Vancouver. That’s why I think that if we merged media markets, you could see a lot more things taking place in Vancouver, too (for the same reason that so many American TV shows take place in LA). Or maybe not. There’s no reason not to place a lot of Vancouver-shot shows in Seattle, but they rarely do that.

    Funny you should mention Forever Knight, I saw my first episode of that in years. I’d never placed it in Canada, though. I just remember it tended to be bundled with Highlander (also partially filmed in Canada).

    I almost mentioned Digrassi. It’s another good example. Clancy and I have also watched a show called Intelligence, which is another Vancouver cop show. But, to date, Flashpoint is the only show I’m aware of that has gotten prime-time exposure on a broadcast network.

  5. Ferdinand Bardamu says:

    But for a variety of reasons, their television has not penetrated our market like their music has.

    I think that a big reason Canadian TV hasn’t caught on in the U.S. is because a lot of their television is simply awful. Having lived on and off in Quebec and the parts of New England where Canadian station like the CBC, CTV, and Société Radio-Canada are carried on cable systems, I’ve had a lot of time to watch Canadian TV shows – and frankly, most of them are bad. For example, comedy shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes are amazingly unfunny knockoffs of much better American series (Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show respectively) in which all of the “jokes” alternated between lame and petty attacks on the U.S. and lame attacks on Canada’s government. The only Canadian TV show I’ve ever enjoyed is Degrassi High.

    I don’t have the link on me right now, but I remember reading that American TV was more popular in all of Canada’s provinces save for Quebec. My theory is that the sheer strength of the American TV and film industries, combined with a common language, friendly relations between the countries and (up until recently) an open border policy draws off most of the talented Anglo-Canadian actors/screenwriters/directors, leaving behind only those who can’t hack it in the big time. The number of Canadian actors and actresses who’ve made it big in Hollywood is huge: William Shatner, Pamela Anderson, Will Arnett, Donald Sutherland, Seth Rogen, etc.

    Oh, and Trumwill, I’d appreciate it if you could update your blogroll with my new domain:

    http://www.inmalafide.com/

  6. web says:

    Oddly enough Ferd, the creator of SNL is Canadian, and much of his “Farm Team” for SNL has been Canadian humor shows like “The Kids in the Hall” and “RCAF.”

    I think they’re viewed as “less funny” ripoffs of SNL and Daily Show partly because of this. You don’t expect the farm teams to be as good as the primetime crew, but you do have to train the actors somewhere.

    Of course, that’s saying a lot. The current crop of what the animated show The Critic lampooned as “Yesterday Night Live”‘s “actors” (during the period when >50% of the show was prerecorded; ironically they’ve now gone over 75% on a regular basis) are incapable of improvisation and unable to remember their lines without a cuecard for the most part.

  7. trumwill says:

    I think they’re viewed as “less funny” ripoffs of SNL and Daily Show partly because of this.

    A Daily Show from Canada would have the problem of focusing on a number of contemporary issues and personalities that Americans do not have much knowledge of.

    I remember back in the days when I used to watch SNL reruns on Nick-at-Night. Canadian SCTV blew it out of the water. Holy moley I loved that show. Then again, I was something like 10 or 12 at the time.

  8. trumwill says:

    I think that there are some logistical problems with bringing a show that’s been on the air for a couple years ago. A portion of the audience has already seen it. People can go on Wikipedia to know what happens. And so on. But if they start with Season 3, the people that haven’t seen it are lost. Flashpoint got a dual-release only because of the writer’s strike.

    So these decisions have to be made before the show even airs. Otherwise, they best they can get is syndication. Canadian shows tend to do okay there, when they don’t have that fence to leap.

  9. DaveinHackensack says:

    “I think that there are some logistical problems with bringing a show that’s been on the air for a couple years ago.”

    That’s pretty common though, Trumwill. They did that with The Office (which I just started watching, but it is pretty funny). Same with the Showtime series Queer as Folk. Both were based on British series.

  10. David Alexander says:

    As Ferdinand noted, while there are a few gems of Canadian television out there, most of it isn’t of much good, and most Canadians couldn’t be bothered by it, especially since there’s relatively high access to American programming via their networks and cable/satellite access. I have family in Canada, and they’re always ranting and raving about American programs, rarely Canadian stuff. American media domination is rather strong in Canada, and anybody with some degree of talent ends up in the States at some point. The real reason for keeping Canadian media alive is to prop up large media conglomerates, the Canadian advertising industry, the creative side (writers, actors, musicians) of the industry, and vague patriotism. The production side is funded via massive tax credits at both the provincial and federal level to attract American filming to Canada.

    Mind you, some have found that Francophone Canada’s culture tends to be slightly more creative compared to its English counterpart primarily due to the gulf between “real” French and Quebecois French, and the fact that it’s an outpost of French on a continent composed of Anglophones and Hispanophones. The only downside is that their market is rather small, so it limits the budget and cultural reach.

  11. ~trumwill says:

    They did that with The Office

    That’s different. With The Office, they refilmed and restarted it with a new script and new actors. What I’m talking about is bringing over existing episodes of a show that is two seasons deep elsewhere.

    They best opportunity to try it was during the writer’s strike, which is when CBS picked up Flashpoint. ABC (I think?) tried showing Monk and NBC talked about airing Battlestar Galactica, but the former failed and the latter never happened. NBC also considered airing the British version of The Office, but that didn’t happen, either. Very disappointing, to be honest.

  12. web says:

    Nickelodeon got into trouble when their airing schedule for the animated series Avatar:The Last Airbender (not to be confused with the upcoming craptacular action/propaganda movie Avatar: Ferngully In Space With Smurfs by James Cameron) got about 4-5 episodes behind the Canadian network YTV (Nick “bumped” scheduled airings of new episodes for other things they had contracts on, a few weeks straight). When they finally aired the “new” episodes, everyone had either heard what happened, or seen it via Youtube or another method, and they had trouble drumming up ratings.

    Of course, when you put a show on “hiatus” or give it an irregular or commonly preempted schedule (original Star Trek, Futurama, etc) there’s always a ratings dip or worse, so I’m not sure how much of that I can attribute to YTV showing it first, and just people not trusting to be able to catch the show reliably.

  13. ~trumwill says:

    Germany tried to run a delayed Twin Peaks, but ratings crumbled when everybody found out who killed Laura Palmer ahead of time.

    Speaking of Avatar/Airbender, it was kind of weird when I saw District 9 that promos for both Avatar and the Avatar: Last Airbender movie both ran.

  14. DaveinHackensack says:

    “NBC also considered airing the British version of The Office, but that didn’t happen, either. Very disappointing, to be honest.”

    Really? Have you seen British TV? We used to get BBC America, and invariably the production standards for British shows were not on par with those of American shows. Not to mention that the humor often doesn’t translate well.

    That’s not the only thing that doesn’t translate. Out of morbid fascination, Cheryl used to watch this British reality show, “You are what you eat”. The star of the show would literally look her subject’s toilet bowls and see what their crap looked like. We have some horrible reality shows here, but come on.

  15. trumwill says:

    The reason I found it disappointing is that I want the networks to try new things and I thought that the writer’s strike was the perfect opportunity to do so. It’s not so much that British TV shows are better, but that they’re different. And they’re not reality TV (well, some are, but not the ones they would have aired).

    I have seen both the American and British version. I prefer the former, though in some ways I consider the latter to be the better program (its unpleasantness just makes it more difficult to watch). I would like to have seen The Coupling make its way over here. Well, they made an American version, but it was considered pretty awful (and not just by purists).

    I watch British TV sometimes mostly for the variety. They do things a little bit different. Production quality doesn’t matter as much to me, so it doesn’t bother me that they’re more cheaply produced. I’m mostly into scripts and dialogue.

    I feel the same sort of way towards Japanese animation. Even when the plots are ridiculous and the writing as shallow as on American shows, it’s ridiculous and shallow in a different sort of way.

  16. David Alexander says:

    I would like to have seen The Coupling make its way over here.

    I’m guessing that BBC America isn’t availible on your local cable system(s). I remember when it used to air at two or three times a week, two or three times a night. It’s a decent show, but it’s not something that I’d magically say was the best show on TV.

  17. trumwill says:

    I don’t really have cable. It’s on my parents’ plan, though. The problem with BBC America is that it preaches to the converted. I was hoping that it would be an opportunity for some British-y shows to hit the mainstream. Maybe it would have failed and maybe it would have succeeded, but heaven knows NBC needs to be trying new things. The writer’s strike was the relatively risk-free opportunity to do so.

  18. trumwill says:

    I can’t believe I made it this far without plugging my old post (Hit Coffee is big on recycling material):

    A Guide To Smug Cultural Superiority – A look at The Coupling and how to hate any and every American attempt to translate a British show for American audiences.

  19. David Alexander says:

    Once upon a time, I would have argued that BBC America was basically the digital cable extension of the PBS’s English import viewer. I’ve been watching for nearly six years, and the channel has become a hopeless mess with nothing of value other than Top Gear. Robin Hood, Doctor Who, and Torchwood aren’t in my range of preferences, but I’d certainly understand their value. The problem is that the dramas and comedies dried up and have come to be replaced by reality TV shows or reruns of Top Gear. Even if the sex-fueled English soaps returned, it would still be a vast improvement over the current line up.

    I suspect the real problem with importing British shows isn’t their low production value, but the fact that one series will run for eight to twelve episodes, half of an American season, and the show may last for two or three seasons at most. Plus, it doesn’t help that the shows can sometimes require a bit of research to get some of the references. Top Gear is action packed, so the references can be overlooked, but in sketch comedy, some of the references may not make sense to an American.

  20. Will S. says:

    Just a small correction: Forever Knight was filmed and set in Toronto, not Vancouver.

    Any of you Yanks seen “Corner Gas”? A decent Canadian sit-com, somewhat Seinfeld-transposed-to-the-Canadian-prairies, but with no laugh track, and probably too many inside jokes to be fully appreciated by an American audience unfamiliar with Canadian politicians and celebrities (and hey, why should you be?). I had heard some U.S. network had picked it up, but I don’t know how well it did down there, ultimately; I suspect not very.

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