Budget Cuts, Budget Cuts Everywhere



I mentioned that the CBC’s plan to cut the episode orders of its shows is different from what U.S. networks usually do, which is to cut budgets but order the same number of episodes. It was mentioned in comments that this isn’t viable for Canadian shows because Canadian shows already have budgets cut to the bone, to the point where they can’t do the shows for less money. That’s probably true. But in the U.S., where shows have more money to work with, they’re all going to have to figure out how to produce high-quality shows on low budgets:

CBS has demanded that each existing TV show — even the hit ones — reduce their budgets for next year, if renewed. This may mean smaller writing staffs.

It’s not clear whether this demand applies to all CBS shows or just the ones produced by its own TV division. (Outside shows usually operate at a loss anyway; the network fee never covers the full cost of production, and they make back their money in syndication.) But that must be the most fun part of being a TV executive: demanding that shows give you the same number of episodes with the same production quality while spending less money.

Meanwhile, one reason Friday Night Lights got renewed is that it’s inexpensive to produce, meaning that the partnership of NBC and DirecTV can cover it in a way that wouldn’t work for a bigger-budget show. And the renewal is also a reminder of how important tax credits have become to the TV business:

Helping to make the pickup economically feasible is the fact “FNL” is produced efficiently in Austin, where it enjoys tax incentives.

That’s just a little reminder that when comparing Canadian and American shows, it’s not necessarily true that U.S. shows succeed in the free market while Canadian shows are heavily subsidized. FNL is, in its own way, heavily dependent for its continued existence on (state) government subsidies — and there’s nothing wrong with that.


Budget Cuts, Budget Cuts Everywhere

  1. FNL is, in its own way, heavily dependent for its continued existence on (state) government subsidies — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    The other difference is that rather a lot more people actually want to watch it compared to any CBC production. Success in the free market isn’t just about production costs; it’s about working to give the audience what they want on some level, rather than dictating that they ought to like something just because it’s Cancon/multicultural/arty, as in the CBC model.

    • Normally I’m a CBC defender and actually watch some of those CBC shows but last night I happened to see this (apparently new and unheralded – I had never heard of it before, seen commercials etc.) show call “The Good Germany.” IT WAS TERRIBLE!!!!!!

      • In their defence, I think (but don’t know for sure) that it was a pilot that wasn’t picked up for a series, but they were probably obligated to air it. Not in their defence, it was truly terrible and I can’t imagine the development process that let the pilot open with teens talking at length about Rita MacNeil, including jokes that would have felt stale in 1992.

  2. Friday Night Lights is so not the example you need for that argument, avr. Adjusting for the differences in population, ratings are proportionally higher for several CBC productions.

  3. AVR cannot be swayed by fact-based arguments, Diane. Don’t bother.

    There’s one line that jumped out at me in that article Jaime – the one about reducing writing staffs. Here is a perfect example of the current difference. It’s not uncommon for a show like FNL or any drama in the USA to have a writing staff of anywhere between 8 and 12 people. They’re paid very very well.

    If I’d written as many hours of Prime Time TV in the USA as I have in Canada in the last five years, I’d probably be retired, or at least own a house.

    In Canada, the staffs are already much smaller. A staff of 5 is “big” and a staff of 4 is normal. In addition, the salaries are nowhere near what they are in the USA, so the way you make your money is by getting more scripts. They pay you in scripts. Which means more work in less time.

    I’m proud of the writing work I’ve done over the last five years. I think it’s been of high quality, and done fast when we were in production. And unlike AVR’s trog-like, backward cant, the data proves that when the show is properly promoted, audiences find it, as they have with Flashpoint, The Border, Being Erica, Corner Gas, etc, etc.

    But when it comes to cutting — you can’t on the writing staff. You have only so many people and they’re all working flat out to make it work. There’s not a show I’ve ever worked on that couldnt have used another writer in the room. But you can’t afford it. Everybody has to work harder just to make their years.

    I”m going to go out on a limb and suggest that even with the belt tightened, the writing staff on FNL is still going to be better paid, have more resources, and longer to write their material than your average Canadian show.

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