There is no doubt that we are living in a golden age of television. Once looked down upon as a lesser form of entertainment in relation to the lordly world of the ‘cinema’, television has now usurped the movies as the premiere mode of viewing entertainment. I defy anyone to name one movie playing on the big screens today that has the breadth and scope and sheer storytelling magic of Breaking Bad, or (guilty pleasure warning) Downton Abbey. And one 22-minute episode of Parks and Recreation (TV’s best, and most unfairly overlooked, comedy) has more guaranteed laughs than any two-hour comedy playing on the big screens right now.
Yep, it’s a golden age, all right.
Except, of course, in Canada. I’d like to say that we’re in at least the bronze age, but even that’s a stretch. It’s tragic that this country has not been able to produce one single drama or comedy that has captured the Canadian public’s imagination.
And why is that? I blame Canada’s money grubbing, ratings obsessed private broadcasters. CTV, Global and City are doing as little as possible to produce Canadian TV that Canadians want to watch. (For the purposes of this blog, I am omitting CBC, which is 100 per cent Can-con in primetime. The CBC is another issue altogether.)
For years, CTV, Global and City have been little more than rebroadcast outlets for successful American shows. Canadian broadcasters spent $726 million on American product last year; CTV has so much American stock, that it has a CTV2 network for the overflow. Virtually everything they show is readily available to Canadians with cable TV, which is to say, about 90 per cent of the population. Being that it is so much easier, and way more profitable, to simply import American programs, Canadian private TV production is barely a blip on the TV radar.
Consider the fall prime-time schedules for CTV, Global and City.
CTV has one Canadian drama on the schedule. It’s called Played, and it is so low down the pecking order at CTV that the network’s own website doesn’t even contain a link to the show. CTV has zero Canadian comedy.
City has, as far as I can tell, one Canadian comedy, and no drama.
Global, however, wins the prize — zero Canadian drama, and zero Canadian comedy.
Can there be any country in the world that willingly turns over almost all of its prime-time TV hours to product from a foreign country? Most certainly not.
Canadian private broadcasters are so obsessed with showing American TV that they don’t even recognize a homegrown success when it’s in their backyard. Take Orphan Black, for example.
Orphan Black is a Canadian made sci-fi show that has received rave reviews when shown on BBC America. It aired on the Canadian TV specialty channel, Space, this season. Both Space and CTV are owned by Bell Media. So CTV has a Canadian made hit on its hands, but it wouldn’t bump any of its American schlock for a Canadian success story. CTV is only now showing Orphan Black — Friday nights, in the summer.
There are, of course, Canadian content rules. Some decry these rules (an average of at least 8 hours per week of ‘priority Canadian programs’ during the 7-11 pm viewing period) as big brother run amok, forcing bad TV down the throats of Canadians. First, Canadians have no trouble watching bad TV (Two and a Half Men, anyone?). Second, if there were no Canadian content rules, you can be certain that there would be zero Canadian TV in prime time. The private networks get around the Can-con rules by loading up Saturday night with ‘Canadian’ shows, airing hundreds of hours of cheap Canadian productions like Entertainment Tonight Canada, and airing plenty of cut-rate programming that nobody wants to watch during the lull in TV viewing around Christmas.
A better way, I think, to force the networks to produce quality Canadian shows would be to reduce the number of hours of Canadian content. Instead of the number of hours, the CRTC should mandate that all private broadcast networks must air one hour of Canadian-made drama and at least one half-hour of comedy a week. And make it in prime time only, Monday to Thursday (no dumping shows late on lousy viewing nights like Friday or, the black hole of TV, Saturday night), during the fall and winter viewing season. Instead of devoting their limited resources to filling time with cut-rate reality shows, the networks could devote their resources to making ONE GOOD DRAMA or ONE GOOD COMEDY. In the case of Global, with zero Canadian dramas or comedies in the fall line up, that would be a monumental improvement.
I’m not one of those people who believes Canadians can’t make good TV; Corner Gas was terrific, and the CBC’s current comedy Mr. D is an underrated gem. If Canadian TV networks were forced (and that’s the only way to do it) to concentrate their efforts on producing even ONE really good show for the Canadian market, we’d have plenty of good Canadian TV to go around.