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John Doyle on Canadian TV: the good, the bad and the weird by John Doyle

Mar 9, 2014

Source: Globe and Mail

The Canadian TV industry spent last week celebrating itself. A week-long series of award-giving, conferences, chats and shindigs culminated in the gala awards show on Sunday.

Summing it all up is a challenge. So many awards. To deliver a flavour – Bell Media (CTV and its specialty channels and productions) won 45 Canadian Screen Awards during Tuesday and Wednesday night’s affairs alone. Orphan Black earned eight wins and was up for two more at Sundays gala. CTV National News with Lisa LaFlamme won Best National Newscast. TSN got seven awards.

CBC won in many News categories. The History and National Geographic Channel series Museum Secrets won a bunch of awards. At the time I’m writing this, Sunday’s gala is two days away so I can only imagine the most deserving shows and performances won big. Congrats to all the winners.

One event I did attend, part of CSA week, was Content Industry Connect, a series of panel discussions about this and that. Of particular interest was “Canadian Media Leaders – The Future of TV.” It featured, as speakers, Heather Conway, executive vice-president of English services, CBC; Kevin Crull, president, Bell Media; Doug Murphy, executive vice-president and chief operating officer, Corus Television; Keith Pelley, president, Rogers Media, and Paul Robertson, EVP and president, Shaw Media. The big-shots. And a boys’ club, you’ll notice, apart from Conway.

The event had the nerve to start without me. (I was actually on TV talking about Rob Ford.) But I was talked about. My column asking the question, “Where is Canada in the Golden Age of TV?” was quoted. Crull responded with this: “John Doyle must be a pretty miserable guy. I wonder if he goes home and kicks his dog.” Amused, I arrived at the event in time to hear most of the chat and then offered Crull the opportunity to make the remark to my face.

He wouldn’t. Later he admitted he had been “extreme.” Crull told me he has no use for newspaper critics. Whether it’s TV, movies or theatre, they are all redundant, according to him.

It became clear that the head of this vast broadcasting conglomerate does not appreciate his productions being reviewed or analyzed by the press. This will come as very disappointing news to those who make Canadian programs for him and expect some press attention to generate viewing.

Crull is entitled to his opinion. And I’m entitled to mine. Herewith, 10 observations and thoughts about the Canadian TV industry.

1. The prevailing mediocrity of Canadian TV is rendered absurd by the vanity of some of its practitioners.

2. Too many people want the CBC to be non-commercial, all-serious and no-fun. This would delight Canadian commercial broadcasters, whose commitment to the country and its culture is slight, at best.

3. Orphan Black is the most important Canadian show in years. That’s because it’s very good and it makes many in the industry pleased and proud. Fine. That’s one show. Just one.

4. Everyone in the Canadian industry is very worried about Netflix. As they should be – it disrupts the coziness of the Canadian TV and cable business model.

5. Everyone believes Twitter will help drive viewership and measure audience. Maybe – only a fraction of public conversation about TV takes place on Twitter. Some of it takes place in newspapers, both in print and online.

6. Heather Conway, new CBC boss, is smart when she says, “If you wanna have successful shows, you gotta have failures.” A problem for other Canadian TV execs is that they expect every new Canadian show to be a hit, and sulk when it isn’t.

7. Web-only series, if given the budget and resources, can be used wisely to nourish Canadian content and talent.

8. The Canadian Screen Awards are improving. Still so many, many awards, but the week-long series of events is good for morale. Not that some need a morale boost – see point number one.

9. There seems to be an anti-CBC bias in the voting for the nominees for the CSA’s in the drama categories. Probably it is resentment of the prestige and is, ironically, an endorsement of CBC’s enduring power.

10. “I don’t think John Doyle is the enemy” is one of the wisest remarks made last week, by the CBC’s Conway. She noted that critics keep everyone honest. True, that. But it’s only my opinion.

© Globe and Mail