Everything about Industry News, eh?

letter

19-2 lead and Best Years creator get developing with TMN

Bell Media’s Aug. 14 announcement regarding its 14 new comedies and dramas in development for The Movie Network was significant. For the first time that I can recall, a Canadian network unveiled its development plan for the coming year, showing its cards in advance. Though commonplace in the U.S. where pilot orders and development deals are announced daily via Variety and Deadline, it’s rare to show your cards north of the border, and was an adjustment for Bell.

“We had talked about doing it or not doing it over the years,” Corrie Coe, senior vice-president of independent production for Bell Media admits. “In terms of the industry, it gave a sense of the projects that we were working on, the types of talent we were working with and the levels and range of projects which we thought was helpful. We have heard from producers and writers who have said that it has been helpful to know what we’re already working on so they know what to pitch and what not to pitch to us. We were a little worried whether we were giving away too much information but tossed that worry out the window and we’re glad we did.”

She explains that in an average year Bell Media receives 1,200 to 1,300 pitches. Each one is looked at before 40 to 50 are chosen for development before that number is trimmed down to the projects greenlit to pilot or ordered to series. Two of those given the go-ahead this year were comedies Letterkenny and Prons.

Created by 19-2 actor Jared Keeso and Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky) with New Metric Media, Letterkenny is a television adaptation of the duo’s outrageous NSFW YouTube series Letterkenny Problems, which points video cameras at two buddies living in a fictional small-town in Ontario who wax poetic on the problems plaguing they and their fellow townsfolk. Keeso says he and Tierney headed to the Internet after the CBC passed on 19-2 after a pilot episode had been filmed. (The series was picked up by Bravo and Season 2 of 19-2 is currently in production in Montreal.) Tired of relying on auditioning to decide his fate, Keeso opted to create his own content unencumbered by network rules.

“I think this is a great route to go,” he says of his show’s YouTube beginnings. “Not only are you being creative and showing initiative and you’re in control, but you can do whatever you want to. It’s all yours.” Letterkenny is being retooled for television, with more characters being added to round out the cast; at press time Keeso and Tierney have submitted three scripts to Bell Media.

Meanwhile, fellow comedy Prons has the cache of having the high-profile writer/director/actor Kevin Smith attached to it. The man behind Mallrats has teamed with Degrassi and The Best Years showrunner Aaron Martin to tell the ribald tale of a famous porn star who returns to his small town of Brantford, Ont. Martin, who is from Brantford, was approached by Smith and Halfire Entertainment president Noreen Halpern after Smith pitched the idea and needed a Canadian writer to come on board.

Martin was the pair’s first choice; he had worked with Smith on Degrassi and Halpern on The Best Years. The road to getting Prons on the air has been a long one. Martin and Smith pitched the idea to networks two years ago and Astral Media bit. When Astral was purchased by Bell Media, Prons moved under The Movie Network umbrella. Martin laughs when he recalls having to write a show bible explaining why this character is moving back to his hometown.

“It’s about a guy who is in his 30s and wakes up and says ‘What have I done with my life? How did I get here?'” he explains. “And he remembers a time before he sold out and that time was when he was a high school student and his whole life was laid out ahead of him. So he goes back to see his former girlfriend, his former best friend and to save his town’s hockey rink.” Like Keeso and Tierney, Smith and Martin are waiting to hear whether they’ll be moving forward.

Other notable projects in development at TMN include Thunderhouse Falls, written by award-winning author Joseph Boyden; time period crime drama The Tenderness of Wolves, based on the novel by Stef Penney; and Gucci Wars, which tracks the rise and fall of the famed Italian designer. Coe says all are in various stages of the creative process, with some having pilot scripts done, others not that far yet and others working on show bibles. It’s a long journey in a country that relies on tax credits and other financing to come through and networks have to be sure each project is the right fit before they commit to greenlighting a season.

“I do think making TV in Canada is hard,” Coe says. “Even once you have scripts and a bible done and all of the research completed you still have to assemble financing at a level that will allow you to support that budget and creative in a way that makes your show look head and shoulders above anything else out there.

“We’re fortunate to have the tax credits that we do but I do think it’s tricky to cobble together those pieces and get to the moment that the cameras are rolling on Day 1.”

WGC

Video: Canadian TV delivers

From the Writers Guild of Canada:

Canadian showrunners star in a new video that offers a rare glimpse into the talent and passion that go into creating the hit Canadian shows that thrill millions of fans in Canada and worldwide. From Murdoch Mysteries to Orphan Black to Rookie Blue to Degrassi, experience the excellence of Canadian TV:

Here’s the hard truth: without government policies most Canadian media would not exist. It’s crucial that Canadians understand that there is a choice to be made: support the production of Canadian shows or lose our stories. Use the CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” online discussion forum (available until Sept. 19) to tell the commission you care about your Canadian TV.

Great storytelling not only reflects who we are and but it dreams of who we could be,” says WGC president, Jill Golick. “TV is the medium of choice for most Canadians and that’s why we need quality, quantity, and diversity in our TV drama — so we can dream of all we can be.”

Watch Canadian TV Delivers, applaud and share the work of Canadian creators who tell the stories that surprise, inspire and entertain.

fall

Fall time is primetime…ish

The days are getting short, the leaves have started to change, the kids are back in school (except here in BC). Calendar be damned, it’s fall, and with it comes the new television season.

For Canadian TV, this is also the damned if you do, damned if you don’t season.

Do you put your original programming into the mix with the American shows and their massive marketing machine, or do you test  just how little scripted content is required by the CRTC anyway?

Do you even have a spot left in your schedule after buying from all the US networks and trying to maximize your purchases by airing shows on your channel at the same time as the US channel, therefore allowing you to put your own ads into the US feed as well?

If you’re Global this fall, you don’t.  They have no original scripted series in primetime this season. That seems an extreme reaction to the problem to me. Boo, Global.

CTV has a prime spot left for their million-plus-viewers-club medical drama Saving Hope, premiering September 22 before settling into its regular Thursday timeslot at 9 pm — for the first five weeks, nestled after aging but compatible Grey’s Anatomy.

City brings back Package Deal on Friday nights starting September 12. Not exactly a plum timeslot but it does get it away from stiff American competition and gives City something other than The Bachelor Canada (premiering September 18) and a little series called Hockey Night in Canada to promote.

CBC, of course, is where the CanCon action is this fall. Unless you’re looking for hockey (though they get to air some games despite not earning revenue from them. Sweet deal, huh?).

Due to shorter seasons for many series and a lot of scheduling real estate to fill given budget cuts and hockey losses, their fall season mostly starts in October, and reruns and the odd non-Canadian show as usual supplement the originals.

Returning shows include Heartland and Canada’s Smartest Person on September 28, Murdoch Mysteries on October 6, Rick Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes on October 7, and Dragons’ Den and Republic of Doyle on October 15.

The new shows are where it gets interesting. CBC is taking some risks with the dark serialized drama Strange Empire by the writer of the very dark Durham County and premiering October 6. What sounds like a cross between Heartland and The Week The Men Went very much isn’t — in an 1869 frontier town, women struggle to survive after most of the men are gone. 

Sci-fi drama Ascension is another outlier, both in content and in its later premiere date of November 25. The six-episode series likely won’t be able to rely on a compatible lead-in but hopefully the sci-fi crowd finds it on this unexpected channel.

In scripted series beyond the major broadcast networks, Teletoon is airing new series Clarence and Total Drama: Pahkitew Island starting September 4, Haven returns to Showcase with a two-hour premiere on September 18,  Transporter: The Series returns to The Movie Network/Movie Central on October 5, and APTN has Blackstone returning on November 11 and Mohawk Girls debuting on November 25.

An upside to Canadian TV is that none of these series will be cancelled before the end of their current seasons, even if some of them on the private broadcast networks might get shuffled around to make way for changing US network schedules. So go on, get hooked on Saving Hope or Strange Empire: they’re here for the season.

podcast

TV EH-B-Cs podcast – Dennis Heaton’s Quest for the Gold Monkey

DHavatarThis week’s conversation with Motive showrunner Dennis Heaton includes: reliving Motive’s first run (twice), what being a showrunner is all about, the creative process behind the camera, planning a season’s worth of episodes, how the characters are the thing, animation writing, Tarzan, Sid and Marty Krofft, and the elusive Gold Monkey.

Listen or download below, or subscribe via iTunes or any other podcast catcher with the TV, eh? podcast feed.

Want to become a Patron of the Podcast? We’ve got a Patreon page where you can donate a small amount per podcast and get a sneak peek of each release.

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CRTC_LetsTalkTV_e

Dear CRTC: Less talking, more listening

Do you prefer to listen to Canadian music on Wednesdays or Fridays? Do you want to read Canadian books in the fall or spring?

Imagine if a government agency asked you that kind of question to form the basis of their regulations. Wait … one did.

My answer is you’re asking the wrong question.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission makes sure the objectives of the Broadcasting Act are met. According to the CRTC itself, “Canadian content, its development and availability to Canadians, is the underlying principle of the policy.”

But only from 10-2?

The main purpose of the Broadcasting Act and the CRTC is to ensure Canadians have access to Canadian programming. Canadian content is the given.

tv_guy_ENow the CRTC is opening up their TalkTV discussion for the public again in advance of the public hearings from September 8–19, hearings that will help them redesign the television framework in Canada.  And by public they mean anyone with a secret CRTC decoder ring.  

Eliminating Canadian content regulations is not on the table. What is? From their public discussion document

  • Maximizing choice and flexibility (pick and pay)
  • Relationships between broadcasting distribution undertakings and programmers
  • Ways to foster local programming, including a regulatory model for conventional television
  • Ways to foster compelling Canadian programming, including program production, promotion, exhibition and Canadian programming expenditures

I understand about half of that but I do know that the CRTC’s job is to foster Canadian content and our choices are about ways to foster. Not to rationalize why it should exist or to create a time ghetto to place it. And by the way, CRTC, we already know when people watch TV. There’s a reason primetime is not called not-primetime. 

So quit asking me when I want Canadian programming or why I value it. I value it because I am Canadian and that means something to me beyond a beer commercial. It means I believe we are a distinct country from the United States, with a different culture. There’s some Venn diagram overlap for sure, but without our own industries – cultural and otherwise – we might as well be the United States with funny money. 

But there are few members of the public  who could give the CRTC an informed, practical solution for how to change the industry in order to get what we want out of it. I want variety and fair pricing, and to know existing regulations are being upheld, otherwise what’s the point anyway? New regulations that won’t be upheld? 

I think Canadian networks broadcasting more original content, not duplicating what we can get on the US stations, is a solution. Eliminating simultaneous substitution might help. Not counting the same show toward fulfilling a CanCon requirement on multiple channels owned by the same network. Don’t allow for giant conglomerates who own every piece of the telecommunications and broadcast industry. 

But I don’t have the information to know whether networks are currently even meeting their CanCon requirements, or what revenues they make from Canadian shows, so how can I come up with a plan to increase the amount or quality of Canadian programming without introducing some industry-killing idea?

The CRTC is asking the public questions like: 

Who outside the industry knows what “high-priority programming” means to the CRTC? If I’m happy with the availability of kids shows on Netflix is that a no or a yes?

The Canadian government has a plain language policy in any communications to the public. That CRTC discussion document for their public hearings has a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 13.9. That’s a lot of grade levels for a public document.

Oh they do try to simplify. They explain the benefit of eliminating simultaneous substitution as:

Canadians would be able to watch all non-Canadian programs, such as the Super Bowl, with American advertisements.

The language isn’t the problem, it’s that they’ve simplified the point right out of the debate. We have to read the Globe and Mail to see what the real benefits might be.

I’ve been an interested observer in Canadian content regulations for about a decade and I don’t understand the benefits and drawbacks of most of the decisions they are asking us to make. Thank goodness for people like TV, eh?’s Kelly Lynne Ashton, the Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor and John Doyle, and Greg O’Brien at Cartt to explain and help spark thought and discussion.

If only the CRTC was listening:

I’ve been part of the conversation for a decade, first on other sites and then through this site. We did a series of TalkTV podcasts last year with people talking pick and pay, cordcutting and CanCon.

Welcome to the party, CRTC, but the community you’re trying to create with your desperate questions already exists and doesn’t trust you to listen. Because you haven’t been listening. And now you’re all “but guys, the party’s over HERE now. Let me explain how to get here with these incomprehensible directions.”

You want to ask me a relevant question, CRTC? Ask me what I expect from a government agency charged with ensuring Canadian airwaves are used in Canadians’ best interests.

I want a CRTC that acts in the public interest and can prove it. I want to see in clear terms what the rules are for a network’s Canadian content and the evidence that they are fulfilling their obligations. I want you to be transparent in what you’re doing about networks that don’t comply.

I want you to actively listen to the continuing conversations happening around you and I want YOU to do the work of translating our English to CRTC-speak instead of expecting us to learn how and when to talk to you. I want you to not tell me “it’s your last chance to have your say!” when you should be listening to your citizens always.

I want a CRTC who knows what questions to ask to get a meaningful response. But if you really, really want to know when I want to watch Canadian programming? Whenever I want, because I am Canadian.