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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

Highway Thru Hell slides into Season 3

It takes a special kind of person to want to drive tractor trailer loads of supplies along the notoriously dangerous Coquihalla Highway during the winter around Hope, B.C. But it takes an even more special kind of person (some may say “nuts”) to pull crashed tractor trailers out of the ditches along the Coq. Meet Jamie Davis, whose company, Jamie Davis Heavy Rescue, has been doing it for over a decade.

Davis and his motley assortment of drivers, mechanics and staff are back behind the wheel for Season 3 of Highway Thru Hell–returning to Discovery with 13 new episodes tonight–and the stress and danger has been doubled for the grizzled road veteran. A drop in business in B.C. meant Davis needed to explore other options, leading to an opportunity for his company to patrol Alberta’s Highway 881 and 63, the former the only lifeline between Lac La Biche and Fort McMurray in the newly discovered oil fields.

“We had to take a gamble and move to Alberta,” Davis says. “It was do or die. We moved to Fort McMurray, as well as having locations closer to Lac La Biche and now we’re in Edmonton. Long-term employees have stuck through me through thick and thin and they have the gumption to just do it.” Doing it is a tough, long slog. Hours are spent pulling shattered rigs upright and coordinating with law enforcement and firefighters to re-open the mountain or tundra thoroughfares as quickly and safely as possible. Davis teases viewers will see how stressed even longtime staffers get during the course of Season 3.

The road to Fort McMurray presented a particular challenge for everyone because of its remoteness–a closed highway means no groceries or fuel make it there not to mention the heavy equipment needed at the oil fields–but the conditions are harsher with winter temperatures plunging to minus-46, wreaking havoc on both man and machines.

Davis is still amazed over the popularity he and his crew have gotten over the last two seasons of Highway Thru Hell. The whole TV thing started innocently: driver Adam Gazzola was helping a guy whose truck broke down and they compared jobs. Gazzola told the dude, who revealed he worked in the television industry, that he drove a heavy rescue truck for a living and that driving the Coq in the winter was a gong show. The TV guy’s boss? Mark Miller, the man whose Great Pacific TV production company is behind such shows as Air Dogs, Untold Stories of the ER and Daily Planet. A series was born.

And despite Highway Thru Hell‘s success–the 2012 debut is still the No. 1 series premiere in Discovery’s history–fame isn’t their goal.

“That isn’t our business,” he says. “Our business is towing.”

Highway Thru Hell airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery.


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.

Link: Cybersix on DVD

From Cameron Archer at Gloryosky:

Cybersix Complete Series DVD Set Out Now Through Discotek Media
“Cybersix aired on Teletoon from 1999-2000, based on the more violent/sexually explicit Argentine comic book. The series was a Canada/Japan co-production between two Vancouver, British Columbia studios (Network of Animation, Ocean Productions), and Tokyo Movie Shinsha.” Continue reading.

Order on Amazon:

Cybersix Complete TV Series [Import]

Matthew Bennett - Head Shot

Interview: Canadian TV’s “that guy” takes on new role

Matthew Bennett is the “that guy” of Canadian television. You know, the dude who whenever you see him on the small screen you yell, “It’s that guy!” That’s Bennett. Most recently spotted on the Toronto shot U.S series The Strain, he portrayed Daniel Rosen on Orphan Black (and met a bloody end at the hands of Helena), he has a recurring role on Murdoch Mysteries as U.S. government spy Allen Clegg. Other roles include spots on Rookie Blue, Flashpoint, The Listener, Cold Squad and Stargate SG-1.

The veteran actor laughs when he discusses the similarity in the roles–in almost all he’s worn a suit and acted like a jerk–but gets serious when the topic of being a working actor in Canada comes up. Gigs for guys like him, even with roles stretching back to 1991 under his belt, don’t come every day, meaning seeking out other creative outlets.

Enter Straight Kill Films, a company he and fellow actor Matt Wells have teamed to create. As the Toronto native tells it, the duo want to offer the opportunity for fledgling actors and actresses to get into the business by appearing in their feature film Straight Kill. Not only that, but they’re looking for people to contribute to the soundtrack, the makeup, the costumes … everything. In short, Straight Kill will give those involved a crucial leg up to a career in the Canadian television and film industry while building a community.

We got Matt to reflect on his career, where he thinks the Canadian television industry is headed, as well as give us the details on how people can get involved in Straight Kill.

On your Twitter page, you describe yourself as a “professional that guy.” Was that something you’ve noticed over the course of your career?
Matthew Bennett: It’s funny, it’s actually something that I realized just recently. When you’re involved in the business it’s sometimes difficult to get some perspective on what people see. I think it was about a year ago when Cold Squad was in re-runs. I was flipping around the channels and I would literally see myself three times in an hour on different shows. That’s when it clicked in: ‘Wow, I have this body of work that I hadn’t recognized.’ I was always looking at something else.

Not a bad resumé of recent work, with roles on Orphan Black and Murdoch Mysteries and going back to Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve been very fortunate. And when you go back and look that them, the roles have a common element to them, and I guess that goes with being ‘that guy.’ I usually end up in a suit and doing things that aren’t too great. And I usually end up dead too. [Laughs.] I am a master squib taker at this point.

Why do you think you’ve gotten these types of roles?
I think it’s a number of things. I think it’s certainly my delivery. I’ve always, I’ve felt, been known as an actor who can handle dialogue. When I was in my 20s there were these guys in their 30s and 40s who would go out for what I called ‘Captain Exposition parts,’ where you advance the plot through straight exposition and they would usually come in these chunks of dialogue. And I became known for being able to do that.

I think that I look right in a suit, I can handle the dialogue and I guess there’s just something about me that says ‘death to all those around me.’

Which type of role do you like better, the recurring or the guest star?
I realized when I was on Cold Squad that the best role was the guest star because the main storyline revolves around you. Recurring you may not have as much to do in the episode but it’s great to come onto a show and establish an audience share and get known for that. I’ve been very surprised by the reaction to Murdoch Mysteries and the number of people who come up to me about it. He’s such the bad guy, and the bad American to boot.


But are those roles tough because you never know when the next gig will be coming along?
Absolutely. I’ve been doing this for 22 years and I’m unemployed right now. That’s the reality of the job and it is very difficult to adjust to. I’m not really sure what’s happening in Toronto right now but I do know that not a lot of us are auditioning. It creates a great deal of stress. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of work.

I’ve seen the industry change a lot over the last several years. Canada is not producing the volume that it once did. Distribution is changing. They are trying to figure out what works and being very careful about what they do make.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? How would you fix it?
I don’t know how long this model can continue. You look at Amazon, where they are making TV now, Netflix. The specialty channels really seem to have a stronghold on good product and product that is being rewarded on award shows. I don’t know if any networks in Canada are going to make House of Cards. I haven’t seen this country take risks like that. It seems to be a lot of similar shows that come out of this country, you know. Models that work.

But the business is changing and people are moving away from the cable box and watching more TV on their computers. That changes access. You could create your own TV show and distribute it to the world. You don’t have to go through the traditional mechanism anymore.

Speaking of non-traditional mechanisms, you and Matt Wells are certainly doing that with Straight Kill Films.
I think so. It was this idea I had a couple of years ago, the idea of building an audience first. If you look at the analytics of any film or television show you create the project and then aim for that 18-34 audience. But our idea was to build the audience and then shape the project around that.

In the YouTube clips you both talk about community and Toronto. How are you getting the word out there about involvement in Straight Kill?
We’ve hired a woman named Sarah Dawley, who has experience with social media while working for Bell Media. She’s working with us. Our website is up and moving forward. We’re launching on Sept. 6 and we’ll be targeting high schools and universities and building the audience share. We’re also looking for talent. One of our ideas is that there are a lot of actors in this city and not a lot of them get work. There are some exceptionally talented people who I feel will never see the camera. That’s just the system. I have been fortunate enough to get through that gauntlet and to have a career.

This is a world-class city that I think needs to be presented on a world stage.

You set Straight Kill in St. Jamestown. Can you talk about that area a bit?
It’s in the Sherbourne and Bloor area, and it was built in the 1960s to house young professionals that were going to be working downtown. It was an idea that never really took off. It encompasses nine city blocks and has 17,000 people living in it. You enter St. Jamestown and you are surrounded by high-rises. It’s an amazing and unique pocket and when you walk through there is is absolutely  a community unto itself. There are a lot of new Canadians, a lot of working-class people … there is a whole mix of people.

Now, if you go two streets east of Sherbourne, behind the subway station there is a tunnel. If you go through that tunnel there is a pedestrian bridge over Rosedale Valley Road that takes you into Rosedale, which is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the country. St. Jamestown is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country and they are literally a stones’ throw away. That’s the placeholder for this film, two kids from very different cultures and they need each other to survive.

OK, so what happens on Sept. 6?
The script is done and we’ve had investor interest. We are looking for the leads for this film–two male and two female–and the majority of the other roles. The older generation characters will be anchored by known professionals. We are also looking for soundtrack. We’ll be hitting the high schools and universities to look for opportunities there.

Head over to Bennett and Wells’ YouTube page to find out more about Straight Kill and how you can get involved.