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10 Things about Canadian TV we should be celebrating

Mar 12, 2014

Canadian TV isn't there yet, but there's still plenty to cheer about

Source: TV Guide

Now that an entire week devoted to celebrating the Canadian Screen Awards is over, we can finally breathe a little and settle back into our American viewing habits. And that’s exactly the problem.

Canadian television has grown up a lot over the last few years, but we still have a long way to go. The Globe & Mail’s TV critic John Doyle discussed the issue in a column this week after being attacked at a CSA event, and was met with varying degrees of cynicism through social media platforms. The seasoned writer is among few critics in the country keeping networks “honest,” as new CBC executive vice-president of English services Heather Conway said at the same event, and that task is a brave one to shoulder solo. Whether you agree with his opinions or not, he continues to write about what’s happening in the Canadian TV landscape, and it is articles like these that generate the conversations we need to have in order to grow and evolve this industry.

Here at TV Guide Canada, we have similar conversations every single day. We cover projects from Canadian actors, writers and producers with the same effort (if not more) as we do for the American ones. We visit every local set that we can get on, interview actors and writers about exciting storylines and scenes that come up as their shows are airing, and take to social media with our findings.

For better or worse, by the end of this week alone our writers will have reviewed new episodes of Murdoch Mysteries, Mr. D, Remedy, MasterChef Canada, Top Chef Canada, Arctic Air, 19-2, Recipe to Riches, Seed, Spun Out, Motive and Big Brother Canada. Next week we’ll add Working the Engels to that list; for this week—the premiere—we’ve got a news story going up with cast interviews. That story will run in the same place that we also ran stories about the Canadian Screen Award winners, the possibility of a Call Me Fitz movie, the future of Cracked on CBC, Top Chef Canada’s gender battles, how Recipe to Riches’ latest product actually tastes, Trailer Park Boys returning,  Kenny vs. Spenny’s bid for new life on Netflix and much, much more.

Why do we tell you this? To illustrate our dedication to the Canadian television industry’s progress, but to also prove that we’re in the thick of it and we see a lot of promise. We respect the hell out of Doyle and his ability to spin prose the way he does week after week, especially when it often seems like an uphill battle. We also think we should celebrate the wins when we have them (as Doyle has been known to do), and coming off of CSA week seems like the ideal time. Here are just 10 of the things we currently love about Canadian television.

1. We’re relying on U.S. simulcasts less frequently
We’re not there yet, but once CBS started wavering on Flashpoint and moving it around on the schedule, CTV made the bold choice to just go with it regardless of what its U.S. counterpart was doing. The broadcaster also continued airing The Listener and Saving Hope after NBC axed both series, and as a result they grew to new heights in national ratings. Meanwhile, Global debuts Working the Engels this week without waiting for NBC to decide on its air date, and once again Motive returns in the winter on CTV rather than in the summer with ABC. And on the cable side of things, Showcase airs Lost Girl and Continuum before American broadcaster Syfy, seemingly having no interest in altering their planned debut dates for our neighbours to the south.

2. We continue to push boundaries with ‘Degrassi’
Laugh all you want at the long-running staple, but it continues to thrive amongst young viewers both here and internationally, all while tackling tough stories like rape, abuse and teenage pregnancy in a very real way. And while he’s insinuated that Degrassi might have been the “bottom” of his career, Drake and others (think The Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev) owe their continued success here and abroad to their early years on the program.

3. We’re kicking butt with genre programming, and not just with ‘Orphan Black’
Orphan Black is indeed a very good show. But so are Continuum, Bitten, Lost Girl, Helix and Haven. As one of our writers remarked the other day, we’re “kicking butt” at producing these niche series, and pushing the boundaries stylistically on what they can achieve. At this point we seem to populating half of Syfy’s line-up.

4. We give great Canadian authors new life
It was a Canadian production company that had the brilliant idea to turn Lawrence Hill’s 2007 novel Book of Negroes into a miniseries first, before it grew into a South African co-production. Freshman series Bitten already had an established fan base when it debuted thanks to the popular books by Canadian Kelley Armstrong. And Terry Fallis’s Best Laid Plans and Louise Penny’s Still Life recently wrapped on CBC, while Discovery took a page from Charlotte Gray’s Klondike in creating their first scripted project.

5. We’re making great, if not better, versions of American reality shows
People whine about Canadians not being able to be on Survivor, but we’ve given them the opportunity to sing, dance, model, date and perform too. We’ve had several busts in the past, but thanks to all of the experimenting, we now have a version of Big Brother that Canadians anecdotally seem to prefer to the original, an Amazing Race that highlights the best parts of our country, and three cooking shows that highlight the diverse culture we celebrate. Our reality competition programming is becoming respected by other countries too, with Top Chef U.S. planning to use one of the Canadian challenges in an upcoming season.

6. We do niche reality well too
Our specialty content gets big exposure. For example, U.S. TV celebrity Sarah Michelle Gellar told us that she’s all about W Network’s Love it or List it and the Vancouver spinoff too. Plus there’s all of the international love for those hunky Property Brothers, the inimitable Mike Holmes and Income Property savant Scott McGillivray, among many others. Then there’s our Food Network celebrities; Montreal chef Chuck Hughes has had huge success with his Canadian shows on the Cooking Channel, while Chopped Canada airs on Food Network U.S., too.

7. We have at least one show debut on a major Canadian network per quarter
Outside of CBC programming, at this time last year Seed was the only Canadian comedy on television to talk about. Now we’ve got a second season of the show to go along with the debut of Working the Engels and Spun Out. Plus, Season 2 of City’s Package Deal is headed into production soon and there are many more projects in development across all networks. That’s more than a 50 per cent growth, and that’s just in the comedy realm.

8. Our networks respect one another’s projects
Unlike the U.S., where sharing actors on projects is hard due to contractual obligations, our actors stop by one another’s projects all the time, no matter what broadcaster they’re on. Plus, CTV, City and Global try not to schedule Canadian shows in competing time slots. In an ideal world, there will eventually be so many programs that this will have to happen at some point, but for now it’s a very collaborative environment.

9. Our big shots want to work here
In the past couple of years, we’ve had Martin Short, Kim Cattrall, Erica Durance, Daniel Gillies, Enrico Colantoni, Gail Simmons, Carlo Rota, Jason Priestley, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy return to home soil to star in, and/or guest star on, our shows. And in many cases, this is after finding success—and even homes—in the States. There are also more opportunities for them to advance their careers behind the camera, with Cattrall, Durance and Levy adding producer credits to their name on Canadian projects. In other words, they’re coming here for the material and growth, not the ease.

10. We’re open to (continued) experimentation
Sure, we haven’t mastered multi-cam sitcoms yet, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying. This year marked the debuts of not one, but two multi-cams and from different networks, no less (Package Deal is at City, while Spun Out is a CTV property). Canadian shows have also been frontrunners when it comes to taking risks in dramas: Rookie Blue killed off a major cast member at the same time HBO was making it trendy, Motive upended the standard cop show format and the aforementioned Degrassi has always been ahead of its time when it comes to talking about LGBT issues. Stylistically, we’re branching out with grittier shows like 19-2 and Orphan Black, embracing dark and often deeply flawed characters as our new heroes. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

We’re no longer all about pushing those wholesome Canadian values down an audience’s throat, and we’re willing to try new things. Maybe Played didn’t pump out the ratings the way CTV hoped last fall, and perhaps Remedy’s ambitious premise hasn’t hit home with viewers yet. Of course we could be doing better. Like we said, we aren’t there yet. But so as long as we keep trying, well that’s something to celebrate.

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