Saturday, April 23, 2005

Canadian Television: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Part 1: The Good

This is the start of a three week series looking at what I think are the best and worst things about Canadian television. Please note that I didn't say Canadian television shows - that would be too specific. My focus is on aspects of the industry. First up: Five things I like about Canadian television (in no particular order of course).

Tits and Cussing: I'm talking about over the air network television here too. While it's not prevalent on the private networks, for reasons I'll get into in a moment, Canadian broadcast regulations are structured in such a way that pretty much anything goes the later you get in the night. CBC may have shown the first bare breast in a drama in North America around 1970, and as far as swearing goes the limits on that have been pushed pretty far back as well. Some years ago the CBC showed the British series The Camomile Lawn, complete with full frontal Tara Fitzgerald, and all the usual swearing. In 2000 CTV counterprogrammed the Sydney Olympics with the first season of The Sopranos - no bleeps, no fuzzed over nipples, everything as it was shot for HBO. There could be a lot more nudity and cursing on Canadian TV were it not for the fact that the private English language networks buy most of their product from the United States, and even when they buy movies they tend to be versions that have been sanitized for the American market. The CRTC (the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission - the Canadian equivalent to the FCC) limits its censorship role considerably, and there is no strong organized pressure group like the Parents Television Council in Canada. We accept it.

Curling: I know it's a silly thing to put down, but I think it's indicative of something that not only do Canadian televisions stations broadcast Curling but that there was controversy when a new broadcasting deal was signed that reduced the number of hours of the Men's and Women's Canadian and World Championships that would be broadcast, forcing rights holder to scramble to find a partner network to show extra hours. Curling is a sport which even it's strongest supporters will admit is lighter on speed and conflict than golf - I tend to liken it to chess played using the Newtonian laws of motion - but the networks indulge the passion.

CBC Kids Programs: I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating. Since the very beginning, CBC has taken the responsibility of crafting shows for children very seriously. Fred Rogers got his earliest network exposure with a Canadian show called Butternut Square, and morning kids programs have included iconic shows like Chez Helene, The Friendly Giant, and Mr. Roger's former puppet master Ernie Coombs, Mister Dress Up. In the afternoons there was Razzle Dazzle, The Forest Rangers and Drop In. For many years Sesame Street was seen in Canada with Canadian material inserted - something that was actually harmful to children's programming in Canada because the show tended to suck money away from Canadian programs to pay the hefty license fee. Current programming includes both shows from the United States such as Clifford The Big Red Dog and domestic production such as Poko, The Save-ums, and Nanalan in the mornings for pre-school viewers - all shown without commercials - and a variety of Canadian made shows for school aged children and younger teens in the 4 to 5 p.m. slot.

News: This is a bit of tough issue, but all three of the main Canadian networks make a major effort at doing news all day long. This is in addition to two Canadian cable news services CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet. There has also been a recent application to the CRTC for a third cable service which would rebroadcast local CTV news programs from each province. These services exist because Canadians say that they want them, and although some politicians on the right may say that the CBC is biased towards the Liberal Party, the general perception is that none of the networks has a particular bias towards any political party.

Comedy: Canadians seem to laugh at different stuff than Americans. How else do you explain that the year it was cancelled in the States, Caroline In The City was the top rated show in Canada? CBC in particular has made a major commitment to Canadian comedy, mostly satire with shows like Red Green, This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce. In addition they show segments from the Montreal Comedy Festival Just Pour Rire/Just For Laughs. The Comedy Network has a new original show called Popcultured with Elvira Kurt which is in the style of The Daily Show, and Puppets Who Kill which is difficult to explain. As well they show classic Canadian comedy programming including SCTV, Kids In The Hall, and (though you have to look for it) Wayne & Shuster. Sitcoms have never done as well but last year CTV started Corner Gas starring Brent Butt which has turned into a significant hit for a Canaidan comedy.

And hey, what can you say about a country where The Amazing Race is the most popular show on Tuesday nights (and third for the week) ahead of American Idol and Law & Order: SVU?


Brent McKee said...

I forgot one other great thing about TV in Canada. When G4 took over TechTV one of the first things they did was drop Leo Laporte and his show Call For Help. The Canadian TechTV network was owned by Rogers and Shaw Cable as well as G4, and they were perceptive enough to realise that people like me bought the service because we wanted technology news. They brought Laporte to Toronto and created Call For Help 2.0 which is only seen in Canada (and Australia).

Linda said...

Lucky you...all our TechTV offers now is junk about stupid video games. [snore] The one Canadian series I'd really like to see again? I confess: Strange Paradise. I never got into Dark Shadows, but I loved SP.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Was the Royal Canadian Air Farce a TV show, too? I'm familiar with the radio series, but I was completely unaware that it made the jump to the tube.

Brent McKee said...

Yeah it made the jump about 10 years ago and has been running ever since. Dave Broadfoot appears rarely, and sadly John Ferguson reitred about three years ago and passed away last year. They've added a couple of new cast members - Jessica Holmes and Alan Park - but Roger Abbot, Don Ferguson and Luba Goy are still around.