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The Canadian Blues


 

Yesterday I was talking to a colleague who’d been overseas recently and mentioned how popular Flashpoint seemed to be over there: it seemed to be even more of a pop-culture phenomenon, she said, than it is here. Today CTV announced that the next season (currently in production) will be the last.

Update: Word is starting to trickle in that this decision was genuinely made by the creators, who wanted to move on and “end it the way we want.” If so, good; that’s a much happier story than I thought it was when the press release first came out.

The show has to be considered one of the most influential in Canadian TV history, both from a business standpoint – with its model of serving as a summer-replacement series on a U.S. network – and for the many similar Canadian-made cop shows that followed in its wake. It was one of the best shows of its kind. It was one of several Canadian shows from the last few years that demonstrated that a) Canadians will watch Canadian-made programs, and b) People outside Canada will watch a Canadian show even if it doesn’t try to hide the presence of the CN Tower or other distinguishing features of the Canadian city where it’s filmed. But while it did survive the loss of its partnership with a U.S. broadcast network, its alternative partnership (with the ION network in the U.S.) doesn’t seem to have been enough to keep it going beyond next year. (Update: But, see above; it might have been able to keep going if the creators had wanted to keep it going.) Though 75 episodes is certainly a very healthy run for a show that mostly did 13-episode seasons.

I hope to write more about this later, but with this and other recent cancellations, plus the Genies and Geminis merging into one award, plus this story on the problems of getting TV documentaries made, it just doesn’t seem like a very hopeful time for English-language Canadian TV programming. It’s not that it’s impossible to get people to watch it – arguably it’s easier now, with the improved production polish of Canadian shows and the somewhat improved promotional techniques available to networks; Flashpoint was better-promoted than most of the Canadian shows that preceded it. But it doesn’t seem like there’s an organized system in place to keep the shows coming. U.S. networks are still buying Canadian shows for summer runs, and that’s good, but a show can’t survive for a long time if it has to depend on the existence of an American network partner. What keeps shows going for a long time, and what supports a TV industry, is that networks put original programming – and finding an audience for it – at the heart of their business strategy. The issue with English Canadian TV is that it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot to networks from a business standpoint, and it tends to vanish when networks go through hard business times.

On the other hand, and to end this on a hopeful note, I’ve seen people argue that the Genie/Gemini consolidation is actually a good thing, creating the possibility of a single awards show that will attract more attention. And the decision to shift international TV co-productions into their own separate category (“Best international drama”) suggests the possibility that the new show will focus more attention on home-grown English-language programming.


 
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