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.

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