Teach Your Children Well - Macleans.ca

Teach Your Children Well


Will Dixon has a good post about the stigmatization of Canadian-made English-language programming, and the fact that it starts early.

Now, I don’t know if I agree that the stigma is mostly due to the proliferation of U.S. programming on our airwaves. I mean, that’s part of it, but it doesn’t explain it all. Thinking back to my own childhood, as I started to become more aesthetically aware, I started to notice that Canadian shows often (not always, but often) were a step behind their U.S. and British counterparts in terms of production values, lighting, camerawork, and other little things that added up to an overall effect. There are also certain writing/storytelling tics that are identified with Canadian shows, particularly Canadian dramas. Once you notice these problems, and notice that the shows that have these problems frequently turn out to be Canadian, it’s hard not to feel like Canadian shows have a problem. This may harden into a prejudice against Canadian shows, so that we’re looking for those problems and expecting them whether or not they’re there (and excusing the same problems in U.S.-made programs). But I don’t think it starts as a prejudice; it starts as observation.

Even I, as a kid, probably wouldn’t have liked Wayne and Shuster as much as I did if I hadn’t been introduced to them via a U.S.-made LP of their four best routines: even in an audio-only version, it had an obvious production polish — mostly in the music, which was scored by a U.S. studio band, and some of the supporting actors — that I didn’t get when they did the same routines on the CBC.

Many of these problems can be collected under the general heading of “money.” Since we know that Canada has no shortage of excellent technical facilities (Americans come here to make their shows and do just fine), writers and actors, the troubles of Canadian shows are often attributable to the budgets. That includes the writing, since it takes time and money to hire a writing staff and polish the scripts the way the best shows do. There’s also the point that Canadian TV has never really embraced the writers-first system that the U.S. and UK have embraced in their different ways, but even that can be seen as having a bean-counting element to it.

And I’m not just talking about the budget for any individual show, but the industry-wide idea of what the production values should be for a typical show. You can pour extra money, often with U.S. investment, into a show like Flashpoint, and it’ll look good — but it doesn’t change the perception of what Canadian shows are like. Other problems are related less to budget than to prestige — whether television is seen as a place for notable actors to be — though that may also come back to budgets, because we’re competing with the U.S. in a way that even England is not. We’re in the path of the biggest TV industry in the world, and we don’t have the kind of state investment in television that England makes, even after the latest round of BBC budget cuts.

That doesn’t mean things are hopeless, because there’s a lot that can be done on a tight budget, and the production values and writing sophistication of Canadian TV has improved a lot. As Will points out, there are Canadian shows that are as well-made as anybody’s and therefore don’t “look Canadian” to kids. But there is that general problem that hangs over everything: English Canadian kids grow up with the perception that tacky-looking shows turn out to be Canadian (or some U.S. first-run syndicated drama, but they don’t make those any more). That perception won’t be changed by the emergence of good comedies like Dan For Mayor, or shows that do well in the States like Being Erica. It may be that it’s the quality of the bad stuff that needs to go up; when everything, good and bad, has an air of competence about it, then the stigma is lifted.

Filed under:

Teach Your Children Well

  1. Good Canadian shows are usually comedy/drama/etc. first and Canadian second, if indeed they make a point of being explicitly Canadian at all. The majority of Cancon that gives it a bad name is, invariably, the other way around.

    • avr, it is a very rare moment but I mostly agree iwth you on this.

  2. Obviously money or the lack thereof makes a difference in the quality of what appears on the screen. However, I am wondering if scarecity of resouces plays a part.

    By that I want to ask if Canadian crews are so busy working on American and co-productions that there isn't enough time/equipment/personnel to work on the Canadian productions that do find funding?

  3. Just a thought, but I still hold firm in my belief that the only contemporary Canadian television show that was able to shed the "overall effect" (affect?) that plagues Canadian programming was "Da Vinci's Inquest". How ironic that it the series was unashamed in its portrayal of a real Canadian city.

    • Agreed. The whole Chris Haddock line of shows were superior television.

      • Agree re. Chris Haddock's work. I wasn't as crazy about City Hall as Inquest but Intelligence was amazing.

        I like some of the new Canadian shows like Less than Kind and Murdoch Mysteries. I even kinda like Republic of Doyle. I mean if I can watch Castle for mindless mystery watching why not something Canadian?

  4. "It may be that it's the quality of the bad stuff that needs to go up; when everything, good and bad, has an air of competence about it, then the stigma is lifted."

    I think you nailed it Jaime. I think we'd all agree that there are very few *great* shows, from any country, and in fact most shows are average to bad. But elevating the bad shows would definitely help the cause.