Join Greg and Diane every Monday as we debate what’s on our minds. This week: What decade is Canadian TV’s best?
There have been several decades that have been important to me personally when it comes to television. The 1970s brought me Sesame Street, Polka Dot Door, Looney Tunes, The Flintstones, Mister Rogers, Eight is Enough, The Electric Company and The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. My 80s were consumed by The A-Team, V, Knight Rider, Miami Vice, Police Squad and Magnum PI. Those shows helped define my likes and dislikes and what I look for in television.
But, to me, when it comes to Canadian TV, the 2000s really resonate. That decade may not have been technically “the best” with regard to content, but they were memorable because I was covering many of these shows for TV Guide Canada.
An American in Canada was my first-ever set visit for the magazine, and I learned a lot about the writing process from showrunner Howard Busgang as he described the story of American news anchor Jake Crewe, who hosted a low-rated Calgary morning show and the fish-out-of-water experiences he had. Leads Rick Roberts and Hélène Joy couldn’t have been more patient with my then-rookie questions.
I experienced Corner Gas‘ meteoric launch to become this country’s biggest comedic hit, Flashpoint‘s cross-border success, and a little show called Murdoch Mysteries that launched without much fanfare on City and now brings in killer numbers for CBC. I also caught the last five seasons of DaVinci’s Inquest and its spin-off, DaVinci’s City Hall, programs that introduced me to Chris Haddock’s exceptional writing.
Cable-esque comedies like Rent-a-Goalie, Billable Hours, Kenny vs. Spenny, Godiva’s and Slings & Arrows were very different from the Canadian comedies of the past and pushed boundaries. None of them had the staying power of Corner Gas, but they certainly broke new ground with writing and opened doors to new ways of writing laughs.
The Border, Across the River to Motor City, Durham County, The Line and This is Wonderland contained gritty storylines, dark drama and characters that straddled that oh-so-thin line between hero and villain. Season 1 of Durham County in particular resonated, but they were all so, so good.
And who can forget Canadian Idol? Many mock it now, but Ben Mulroney’s weekly songfest was appointment viewing for those who tuned in to hear what judges Sass Jordan, Jake Gold, Farley Flex and Zack Werner had to say about eventual winners Ryan Malcolm, Kalan Porter, Melissa O’Neil, Eva Avila, Brian Melo and Theo Tams.
I keep trying to forget Canadian Idol, Greg. You mean the show that copied a no-brainer format from another country, whose producer sent out a press release begging Torontonians to vote for Torontonians, and that died due to declining ratings and difficulty securing watchable talent? The show whose audition episodes could count as documentaries for the purpose of CanCon regulations? Please let me forget.
Apart from that, some of my still-favourite shows were from the 00s and 10s, though that’s somewhat a factor of my own maturation as much as the Canadian TV industry’s. I can’t say I’d have appreciated Slings & Arrows, Durham County, or Call Me Fitz as much when I was a teen.
Greg and I of course have an age bias, growing up in the 70s and 80s. You’ll notice kids shows stop dominating our picks as the decades go on. Who knows, maybe the best Canadian TV came in the 40s (spoiler alert: no). But I’m going with the 80s as the time Canadian TV came of age along with me.
The Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea mini-series were the first Canadian productions to truly excite me as Canadian productions. Books I had loved, had literally read to death (the books’ death, not mine), were onscreen. My Canada was on screen — not that I’d been to Prince Edward Island (that would come in the 1990s, when I included a pilgrimage to Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s grave). But the world of my childhood was onscreen, and my county was named and pictured onscreen.
That was before I cared about the state of the Canadian industry or gave a thought to why it was important to have our own stories in the mix along with Hollywood productions. But I knew it was special to see something so personal to me finally appear on my TV.
Danger Bay, Street Legal, Check it Out, Seeing Things, Street Cents, Smith & Smith and Bizarre were shows I watched sporadically (in that era pre-PVR and streaming) because I liked them, without giving a thought to where they were created or set, but that felt like they were talking to me just a little bit more than similar American shows.
I was (or felt) a little old for Fraggle Rock, Inspector Gadget and The Edison Twins but Canadian children’s programming boomed in the 80s.
SCTV ended and CODCO and The Kids in the Hall began in the 80s, and “Canadians are funny” became ingrained in me and the Canadian and US media (to be filtered out later on realizing per capita maybe we’re just normally funny?)
There’s not a decade I’ve been alive that I couldn’t pick some excellent Canadian programming. But the 1980s will always be special for creating big-buzz shows that stood toe-to-toe with American shows, and for opening my eyes to the power of having my own culture reflected back at me, before I was aware of the eat-your-vegetables mythology about CanCon.