Everything about Industry News, eh?

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CBC hits TIFF in grand style

Kudos to the folks over at the CBC for taking a crucial first step in the network’s reinvention by using the Toronto International Film Festival as a backdrop to let folks know about the upcoming television season and the brand overall.

Canada’s public broadcaster staked out the corner of King St. West and Blue Jays Way this past weekend, turning what used to be a condominium sales office into a welcome centre called Canada House stocked with snacks, virgin Caesars, phone recharging stations and cardboard fans emblazoned with the iconic network logo and the Twitter message “#FallForCBC.” The stars of CBC’s radio and TV shows rolled through as well, meeting fans, posing for pictures and promoting their projects all weekend long.

The network even had a cool little set-up where those featured folks held press conferences in front of groups of about 50 or so fans at a time. I sat in on the panel for Canada’s Smartest Person, and hosts Jessi Cruickshank and Jeff Douglas described how the interactive program will not only showcase the linguistic, physical, musical, visual, social and logical skills of selected finalists from across the country, but an app will challenge viewers at home.

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I also got the chance to interview Dragons’ Den David Chilton and newest panelist Michael Wekerle for an online bit for TV-Eh (I’ll post that when it’s all been edited) and the pair swear the show’s upcoming Season 9 is deserving of your investment of time. Also appearing over the weekend were the stars of Mr. D, Murdoch Mysteries‘ Jonny Harris, Adam Beach, the folks behind The Book of Negroes–which has been adapted into a miniseriesand that Mamma Yamma thing.

The CBC knows it has some catching up to do with regard to connecting with newer and younger viewers. No longer able to sit back and allow NHL hockey to draw in numbers, they’re experimenting with content very unlike CBC. Dark western drama Strange Empire has got great buzz (the rough poster I was shown has a Deadwood feel), co-production sci-fi offering Ascension is definitely not typical CBC fare and historical drama Camp X promises to be thrilling.

Sure the network acknowledges this is somewhat of a rebuilding year, but there was a palpable optimism on Saturday that they are moving in the right direction with content and, even more importantly, connecting with an audience.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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