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My Name Is Joe, And I Watch Canadian TV


 

Denis McGrath has a very thoughtful post on the lack of coverage of home-grown Canadian TV product.

Speaking only for myself, I think I definitely don’t post enough about Canadian shows, though it’s sometimes hard to know exactly what to say. As Denis points out, a lot of Canadian TV coverage ghettoizes it by putting all Canadian shows into a separate category from U.S. shows; the issue becomes “what’s the state of Canadian TV?” or “How is Canadian TV doing?” instead of just treating a Canadian show as a piece of entertainment, in competition for your viewing time with all other shows in the same time slot.

Some Canadian shows have, I think, managed to prove that there’s a way out of the ghetto. Kids’ shows especially. The viewers of the Family Channel don’t see The Latest Buzz or Life With Derek as CanCon; they see them as shows, no different from the American shows on the same network. They argue over whether they prefer the realistic family shows or the fantasy wish-fulfilment shows, not over whether they prefer American or Canadian product. For one thing, these shows don’t really identify themselves as Canadian. Not that they deny that they’re Canadian, but they don’t go out of their way to demonstrate it, and a new viewer doesn’t always know if they’re Canadian or not. Which is one way around the innate suspicion that Anglo-Canadian audiences have of their home-grown shows.

Not to blame the TV industry for my own shortcomings, but I do think there is a tendency on the part of TV producers and promoters to worry unduly about what makes a show genuinely Canadian, and to emphasize the differences between Canadian characters and Americans, or the Canadian way of doing things vs. the American way of doing things. The truth is, life in Canada (particularly English-speaking Canada) isn’t that different from life in America; you can go for days without doing or saying anything that’s specifically Canadian. Sometimes the sense of Canadian identity is baked into the premise — The Border, for example — but sometimes it isn’t, and yet such shows are often sold to the audience as CanCon. That’s not, again, to pass the buck and blame them for the whole problem, but other genres/channels have proven that it’s possible to cultivate an audience that doesn’t care if a show is American or Canadian.

Update: Will Dixon at Uninflected Images Juxtaposed has real-world evidence that contradicts my assumptions about the Family Channel demographic.


 
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My Name Is Joe, And I Watch Canadian TV

  1. Some of the best Canadian TV runs for a couple of years and then are pulled. I assume because of ratings. Wonderland and Intelligence leap to mind. Good writing and good performance but can not build an audience. The kind of programming you won’t find on US networks but maybe on the outer reaches of cable.

    My wife won’t watch Canadian drama programming. I think it comes from the years of drama as tax evasion and the truly terrible dreck that produced.

    But she will watch Borders ( which I don’t care for ). That tells me it has US production values.

  2. We watch both channels here (Family and TeleToon).

    Given the great tax breaks for animation production in Canada and Quebec, a large proportion of content on the latter channel is produced in Canada. Even when we lived overseas, most of the animated kids shows were made here (well actually they’re designed here, most of the labour is outsourced to China).

    Why is it that every country in the world wants to compete with Hollywood? They do what they do well enough. TV is a dying medium. If there’s a programme my kids are interested in, they want to see it on YouTube.

    Is the next step for Canada Culture to develop our own version of the Internet?

  3. I find I am enjoying some of the Canadian productions on Showcase. Trailer Park Boys obviously but also Billable Hours and Rent-a-Goalie. I also enjoyed Odd-job Jack.

    And let’s not forget the great Canadian hero Mike Holmes with Holmes on Homes.

    Now that Billable Hours is on Global at the same time as 30 Rock I sometimes has difficulty deciding if I want to go to there.

  4. The truth is, life in Canada (particularly English-speaking Canada) isn’t that different from life in America; you can go for days without doing or saying anything that’s specifically Canadian

    *sigh* I dislike these pat generalisations. I’ve lived all over the world, and I can always tell an English-Canadian from an American. Life in English Canada is obviously different from life elsewhere…it’s just the consumption habits that hide those differences. Personally, I tend to find life in Britain more familiar than life in a lot of places in the US.

    I agree that Canadian television doesn’t have to be self-consciously Canadian, but I’ve also been chagrined by the fact that any references to Canadianess means that it will never much of an audience outside of Canada, with the exception of children’s television.

  5. Re: “The truth is, life in Canada (particularly English-speaking Canada) isn’t that different from life in America; you can go for days without doing or saying anything that’s specifically Canadian.”

    I don’t think you are looking hard enough. I can’t imagine U.S. producers creating shows like: “DaVinci’s Inquest”, “Intelligence”, “Corner Gas”, “Durham County” and “Little Mosque on the Prairie”. These kinds of shows reflect a more more Canadian sensibility. Even “Flashpoint”, which on the surface appears to be another American-style police procedural, has a more Canadian feel to it than what you would find in a similar American series.

  6. I can’t imagine U.S. producers creating shows like: “DaVinci’s Inquest”, “Intelligence”, “Corner Gas”, “Durham County” and “Little Mosque on the Prairie”. These kinds of shows reflect a more more Canadian sensibility.

    Let me clarify (this is my own fault for not being clearer): I definitely agree that there is such a thing as a Canadian sensibility and a distinctively Canadian show. But I also think that Canadian and American life have so much in common that there’s no point in worrying if the characters in a show are “Canadian enough” — if they don’t seem particularly different from Americans, that can also be true to the Canadian experience (or some aspects of it).

  7. Uh, Dennis writes for the Border, but because the Border (like most CBC programming) has so many blatantly anti-American plots and sub-plots, CBC is unable to sell it there.

    Once a show begins to sell into the States, CBC ups the budget, which in turn increases Dennis’ paycheck and number of episodes he writes.

    Note to Dennis: kill all the anti-American BS and you wouldn’t have to bitch sooooo blooody much.

  8. Dear Bob, it’s wonderful that you’re an expert on so much to do with television and everything else. But for the record, I was born in New York City. Which makes me a dual citizen. I guess I’m anti-myself, then, eh?

    Beware the pat answer, the simple solution, and the lazy generalization, Bob. It’ll kill ya, and make you look like an idiot.

    Kisses,
    Denis McGrath

  9. Canadian content is great — especially these days, it’s much better than most stuff our “Canadian” networks import from the U.S.

    It’s always a shame, though, that shows (like jPod) are pulled way too soon.

    This season so far has been extremely lousy in terms of U.S. imports. I have therefore found myself watching mostly Canadian and Brit TV.

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