@gregobr I know it when I see it ;) /dw
— TV, eh? (@tv_eh) March 13, 2015
When the CRTC talks about creating more quality TV, when John Doyle talks about a golden age of TV, when Jesse Brown says Canadian TV has a quality problem, when I say there are quality Canadian shows no one talks about … are we all talking about the same thing? The short answer is no. The long answer is noooooooo, so be skeptical about all discussions on quality in Canadian TV.
With recent changes designed to focus broadcasters on bigger budget and less obviously Canadian primetime drama at the expense of other types of Canadian programming, it seems the CRTC is defining quality as big budget dramas that will sell to the international market — while also name-checking shows such as Reign and Beauty and the Beast which do have US broadcasters and have no visible Canadianness, but which are neither ratings behemoths nor critically acclaimed.
You know what doesn’t guarantee quality? A bigger budget. You know who buys international shows? Netflix. You know what buyer of international shows the Canadian TV industry thinks is the devil, and which buyer of international shows’ testimony the CRTC struck entirely from the TalkTV record ? Netflix.
John Doyle is looking for shows critics and a cult audience can salivate over, such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Yet in a country where we have less than a handful of professional critics, 1/10 the population of the US and non-existent marketing budgets, our critical acclaim can often be distilled to “John Doyle likes it” and our audience buzz to “no one’s heard of it because it’s on a pay cable channel 10 people subscribe to.”
I think we’ve had shows that stand up as golden: Slings and Arrows, to go further back in time than I’d like, but also Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays, Strange Empire, Less Than Kind, Intelligence, Blackstone, Hard Rock Medical, Call Me Fitz, 19-2. But all those choices are subjective, as in “Diane thinks they’re good.”
If we’re talking about what the Canadian TV industry should aspire to, the only way I can define quality is “shows Canadians want to watch.” What US, UK or Norwegian show has become popular with international audiences without being successful at home?
So by the “good ratings for that particular network” metric, the only quality metric that matters, Canadian TV is doing well lately. In the last few months, the top 30 has included Murdoch Mysteries, The Book of Negroes, Rick Mercer Report, Motive, Saving Hope, Masterchef Canada, not to mention all the hockey and news I don’t care about. Bitten is among Space’s most popular shows — more so than critical darling Orphan Black, in fact. 19-2 is doing well for Bravo. Trailer Park Boys is getting its second Netflix-only season.
Few of those popular shows are personal favourites, but I’m not advocating for DianeTV: I’m advocating for a strong Canadian TV industry.
The industry needs to take more risks, to aspire to better, to have original content as a business imperative. There is much, much room for improvement. I’m just not sure the CRTC’s definition of quality — or any other definition that isn’t about what audiences actually watch — is useful.