Syfy has what Canada doesn’t: faith in Canadian shows


By Diane Wild of TV, eh?

TV, eh? doesn’t usually post about Canadian shows airing outside this country — it’s beyond the mandate and manpower of the site, besides winding up being a meaningless list. There’s a difference between CBS picking up Flashpoint for primetime versus Intelligence airing on an obscure channel in the US in syndication on Saturday nights, for example.

But Syfy programming an entire night around the Canadian imports Continuum, Lost Girl and Being Human goes beyond the usual foreign acquisition news. An American channel is doing what no Canadian network has the will or guts to do: airing a full night of Canadian scripted drama.

That’s bad enough, but the real shame of the Canadian television industry is that no Canadian broadcast network apart from CBC has three homegrown scripted shows on their current schedule, period. Unless I’m missing some information, no Canadian network at all, broadcast or cable, has three scripted Canadian shows.

This winter, Global has Bomb Girls. CTV will have Motive. That’s it. Both networks are putting some serious marketing muscle behind those original shows, a strategy that paid off for the high-rated Bomb Girls’ first season, and if Motive tanks behind its Super Bowl premiere, CTV can’t be accused of hiding their one scripted drama behind a bushel.

Citytv has already moved the Seed premiere (to February 4) and hasn’t provided a premiere date for Package Deal, but it’s too soon to tell if they’ll do right by those shows promotionally and schedually (no it’s not a word) speaking.

Besides Bomb Girls, which has proven itself a winner, we can’t judge these shows on quality yet. But I’m not talking quality, I’m talking quantity — quantity that doesn’t include Littlest Hobo reruns or airing the same show across multiple channels. I’m talking networks who are barely, if at all, fulfilling their CanCon requirements. I’m talking networks who wouldn’t survive without the ability to substitute their commercials into a US network’s programs, who are screwed if they lose the protection of simultaneous substitution, or when the business model of television changes — as it already is — so that owning and selling content matters more.

The positive spin on the Syfy news is that it’s proof Canada is pumping out quality science fiction shows. The negative is that even Space, the equivalent Canadian channel, is only airing two new scripted series spread over their schedule now, Primeval: New World and Being Human … and in a bonus slap in the face to CanCon pride, refers in media releases to their Muse-produced version as Being Human (US) to distinguish it from the UK original.


23 thoughts on “Syfy has what Canada doesn’t: faith in Canadian shows”

  1. As for Syfy i think this is a move they had to made manyw ere getting tired of the reality shows so this is a move that should make many happy.

  2. This is a great post!

    Regarding Muse’s Being Human, it did not start out as a Canadian series picked up by Syfy after it aired in Canada (like Lost Girl and Continuum). Much like Warehouse 13, Haven and the upcoming Defiance, it originated as a Syfy series, and that’s why I believe it’s referred to as “Being Human US”.

    1. It’s Space who refers to it as Being Human (US) though, and they were the Canadian broadcaster from the beginning. It’s always been a Canadian co-venture.

  3. Have they ever addressed why the “US” was tacked on as the way to differentiate from the UK version?

    I also wonder that if Syfy axed it, would it continue to be produced for Canadian TV? Unlike Lost Girl or Continuum, I don’t know if it would go on. Thoughts?

    1. I suspect it wouldn’t continue – I haven’t heard ratings recently but it doesn’t seem like a show Space would even want to afford on its own. I’ve never heard an explanation for the US – to give them an excuse, it is shorter than US/Can and clearer than NA for North American (or Not Applicable :) )

      1. I think it’s called Being Human (US), as the show is set in Boston. eOne’s North American portover of Skins was similarly referenced as Skins (US), as that show is set in Baltimore. I’m not sure how that naming convention started.

        If SyFy cancels the North American Being Human, BBC America could jump aboard. BBC America currently co-produces Being Human (UK), and has since the fourth series. There’s no way SPACE would produce the North American Being Human on its own. I know it’s all speculation, but SPACE would more likely go with Primeval: New World or Orphan Black, just since they’re newer shows.

        1. I don’t wish to put words in Diane’s mouth, but what I think she’s talking about is that the Canadian broadcaster of a Canadian-made show is referring to that show as an American one, and that just seems…well, at the very least odd, if not wrong on some level.

          I don’t think that anyone really has trouble differentiating between American shows that are shot in Canada and shows that are initiated in Canada, and then get bought into by a US broadcast/cable network. I’ve always thought of Being Human as a US show, as I do Battlestar Galactica, the various Stargate series, Haven, and so on, because they were all initiated by an American network and production company and the primary market is the US one. That being said…

          With TV access becoming more and more global by the day (mostly, I believe, driven by illegal downloading), there’s been more of a tendency to schedule simulcasts or near-simulcasts across national borders, and the lines start blurring a bit. It’s even happening here in the US, where BBC America is now airing Doctor Who episodes day-and-date with BBC1 in the UK.

          Shows like Being Human or Haven seems to be, at the very least, real honest-to-God co-productions, and have as much right to be considered Canadian shows as they do American ones. Especially by their Canadian broadcasters.

          I suspect that Diane has it right: that Being Human has a “US” attached to it because it’s easier than “US/Can” or “NA”, although I’ve seen the latter used in a few places.

          Quite frankly, as an American, I’m glad to see more non-US series getting airtime down here, whether it’s on a broadcast network (like Rookie Blue) or a cable channel (like Lost Girl), or even an on-line venue like Netflix. I just wish someone down here would give us non-English language programming instead of remaking foreign series like The Killing or The Bridge (the Danish-Swedish co-production, not the Canadian one).

          Now if we could only get Syfy to stop censoring some of the language and sexual material in their imported shows…

  4. Televixen is right. Being Human is not like Lost Girl and Continuum. Though made by the Canadian company Muse, the production only exists as a result of Syfy directly commissioning the show. That makes it fundamentally a US project, intended for the US market. Space simply bought the show that is essentially being made by Syfy and a show which would end if Syfy stopped paying for it. At best it is a “US/Canada co-production.” Lost Girl and Continuum are different. They are not just made in Canada by Canadian production companies, they were commissioned by Canadian channel Showcase. Syfy in the US has simply bought them the way Space in Canada bought Being Human. If Syfy in the US decided to dump them they would still continue because they are made on Showcase’s commission. They are true Canadian shows, not co-productions.

      1. Obviously, we can all define these concepts however we feel comfortable. To Televixen and MoreTears, if it’s purely about purse strings, does that mean Sanctuary — created and made by Canadians — wasn’t Canadian because it was cancelled, I believe, after SyFy pulled the plug? (And I seriously doubt Continuum would continue if it lost SyFy’s support, just from a budget perspective).

        Differentiating between Canadian, Canadian co-production, and U.S. series shot in Canada can be a grey area, but you can look for little “tells”, ranging from the ratio of Canadians in the main cast (and crew), to the more concrete of the production companies involved. Another thing is the copyright notice at the end — the “this is protected under the copyright laws of ___.” If it refers to Canada at all, it’s a good sign it’s in some way a Canadian production (though if it doesn’t, that doesn’t necessarily prove it’s not).

        Significantly, in the opening credits of Being Human, even it refers to “North American” television, implying even the makers don’t see it as a strictly “U.S.” series. Perhaps the real test is whether Space counts it as part of its Canadian Content programming even as it is labelling it a “U.S” series.

        1. The only definition that matters on this site is what the CRTC defines as Canadian content – broadcasters are required to have a certain amount so it’s strictly defined by a 10 point system and not so strictly tracked to make sure they fulfil their requirement. Being Human counts.

        2. “And I seriously doubt Continuum would continue if it lost SyFy’s support, just from a budget perspective.”

          Why do you doubt it? It was a hit for Showcase, and they renewed the show long before Syfy picked it up for US airing.

          I suppose that it’s possible that Showcase renewed it because Syfy was expressing interest in it without having started hammering out contract details, but without any word to that effect, we can’t assume it.

          1. Obviously, I have no insider knowledge. I was just pointing out that the factors that determine a show’s fate in Canada aren’t always the obvious (ie: domestic ratings) nor is it always clear who makes the final call. Continuum seems fairly big budget, and features some American actors (Rachel Nichols, Tony Amendola) so it seems likely securing a U.S. broadcaster was always regarded by the producers as a necessary part of its formula.

            My comments just arose out of someone saying Being Human would be cancelled without SyFy but other series wouldn’t be. I’m just not sure it’s that clear cut. I wasn’t saying it would be cancelled if it lost SyFy, merely that one shouldn’t assume it would not be a factor in any decisions (including whether the American actors would want to stick with it).

  5. the situation is worse in Australia and New Zealand, where there are zero local scripted shows at least for January and February.

    1. I know it’s an issue in a lot of countries – there was a French series about TV in different countries and that was apparently the recurring theme, of a bigger TV producing centre like the US or the UK or France overshadowing homegrown production in smaller countries that share a language and enough of a culture.

        1. That’s a whole other issue – runaway productions. That’s shows such as Fringe, Once Upon a Time, Covert Affairs, etc etc that aren’t Canadian productions but are filmed in Canada. Canada loves them because it gives our crews work and brings the production money to our regions. The US, especially LA, has an issue with it because of course the money spent on a production intended for a US audience is going elsewhere. There are probably some who don’t like that Syfy buys up cheaper Canadian acquisitions such as Lost Girl and Continuum rather than commissioning more new series themselves, but most of the grumblings are about the runaway productions.

      1. One notable exception seems to be Germany. Out of curiosity, I started poking around their (and other European countries’) networks’ schedules, and was astonished at how much locally produced original content they have (and that’s just the dramas; I wasn’t even looking at the non-fiction productions). One of their primary networks, ZDF, seems to have at least two German-made TV series or TV movies each night of the week.

    2. Well, to be honest, I think that’s more a scheduling issue than anything else. While it’s true that Oz and NZ have a home-grown content problem similar to (but not quite as bad as, to these American eyes) Canada’s, it’s currently summer down there. They are getting new episodes of some popular US shows because they’re trying to narrow the gap between when they air in the US and when in Oz/NZ to counter the illegal downloading issue.

      For this reason, they don’t feel the need to fill their summer up with home-grown series as seems to be happening in Canada. Just as the principal US (and Canadian) broadcast season runs from mid-to-late September through May, in Oz and NZ, it runs from about mid-February to mid-November. So in about 4-6 weeks, you’ll probably start seeing home-grown series start showing up.

      It actually looks like the networks in Oz are expanding their home-grown content this year. While they won’t be filling their schedules up with it, and generally will schedule just one at a time, each of the three commerical broadcasters (Seven, Nine, and Ten) will have at least three new shows rolling out this year, while ABC will have at least nine.

      (And, yes, I follow Aussie and Kiwi TV as I do Canadian and British :-))

  6. The statement “no Canadian network at all, broadcast or cable, has three scripted Canadian shows” is not true: Radio-Canada has seven scripted shows (Unité 9, Mémoires vives, 19-2, Les Parent, L’Auberge du chien noir, 30 vies, Trauma) and TVA has six (O’, Yamaska, Destinées, Rock et Rolland, Toute la vérité, Tranches de vie) on their Winter schedules.

    1. Yes, sorry, there’s an implied “English Canadian” to everything on this site. The language and cultural difference means the French Canadian industry is an entirely different beast.

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