And You Thought the CBC Had Problems


I sometimes talk about how Canada has problems making – or at least getting people to watch – home-grown TV, and what the CBC’s mission should be, and whether certain types of co-productions are really Canadian shows. But it’s easy to sound too pessimistic; the problems are real, but most Canadian networks have been able (sometimes almost by accident) to make shows that Canadians want to see. The CBC has some productions that have been successful; CTV has done some popular shows; the CW just arranged to pick up another Canadian show (albeit one set in the U.S., but that’s not the key to Canadian-ness, any more than an American movie isn’t American if it’s set in another country). The kid-com Mr. Young is doing well both here and on the Disney XD channel in the States. Even Global, which tends to have the least original scripted programming, unveiled the mini-series Bomb Girls this week. The issues with how Canadian networks make and schedule their programs are real enough, as are the issues with providing incentives for Canadian talent to stay in the country, but there has been some improvement.

And if you want to see a network that is really almost completely dependent on foreign scripted programming, you may have to look South. This New York Times article on PBS is about how the network is cool again – something it’s heavily emphasizing at its current Critics’ panel. But the coolness depends mostly on UK shows: the network got more popular because it got the rights to broadcast ITV’s Downton Abbey and BBC’s Sherlock. These are terrific shows. (Sherlock‘s “A Scandal In Belgravia” established it again as one of the best detective shows on TV, a master of that combination of craziness and earnestness that the Americans haven’t quite gotten right lately.) And PBS does a valuable thing by bringing them to North American viewers for free. But the network is still no closer to producing its own shows that could change U.S. dramatic TV, the way Sesame Street changed kids’ TV and its documentaries changed unscripted TV. It’s possible that producing home-grown shows is impossible or impractical for PBS, but without them, it will never be AMC, let alone HBO.

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And You Thought the CBC Had Problems

  1. PBS does it for free, eh? Somebody tell the U.S government, which has been mistakenly been giving  it many millions of dollars through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Also Sherlock and the Abbey sound like they’d be perfectly at home in commercial channels – cool or not, PBS has no particular reason to exist in this form.

    • Their allotment from the CPB is pretty small (hence the obnoxiously frequent pledge drives) and neither Sherlock nor Abbey would do well on a commercial station. 

      • The CPB funding in 2010 for PBS and its member was $235 million, as per Wikipedia. If you don’t think a modern version of Sherlock Holmes can fly on commercial TV, don’t tell David Shore, creator of House. 

    • Jaime’s not saying that PBS doesn’t cost money to run, he’s saying that PBS doesn’t charge a subscription fee to let people watch their programming.  All he’s saying is that it’s nice that PBS brought Downtown Abbey and Sherlock to viewers so they don’t have to pay out of pocket for them.  With PBS these shows are broadcast over the air and are accessible without charge, which wouldn’t be the case if they were broadcast on AMC or HBO.

      • The free over-the-air broadcasters don’t get points for altruism, and maybe neither should PBS, who after all are only chasing eyeballs as everyone does. The difference being that those other broadcasters pay for it mostly thru ads, while PBS monetizes those eyeballs differently (by propping up its popularity with the public, so politicians won’t cut its funding).

        • Sure, I guess.  I just don’t think Jaime was really “lauding” PBS in an “isn’t it nice that PBS delivers those shows for free” sense, so much as simply pointing out “isn’t it nice that PBS bought those shows, in that now North Americans can view those shows for free (i.e. with no money out of pocket)”.  As you say, it would be equally nice if any of the other over-the-air broadcasters picked up these shows, it’s just that they didn’t.

  2. CBC used to have good home-grown programs….but they’d only make x amount of them, and then quit.

    I believe Due South and Power Play were CTV?  but they were good as well.

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