Canadian Screen Awards’ Beth Janson: “The television industry is turning out some of the best content that we’ve seen”

Now that those pesky Oscars are over and done with, we’re jazzed for the Canadian Screen Awards. Airing this coming Sunday on CBC—and with three non-broadcast award nights this week—the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television celebrates homegrown talent and projects on the big and small screen.

This country has a lot to celebrate. From gripping limited-run series like Alias Grace, Cardinal and The Disappearance to groundbreaking dramas in Pure, 19-2, Mary Kills People and Anne and unique comedies in Kim’s Convenience, Workin’ Moms and Letterkenny, Canada’s content creators are making truly must-see TV.

Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, thinks so too. With the CSAs just days away, we spoke to Janson about the health of the TV industry, our programming, how to get up and close and personal with your favourite stars and how you can access red carpet coverage on Sunday night.

Is this the Golden Age of Canadian television that so many talk about?
Beth Janson: Yes. The television industry is turning out some of the best content that we’ve seen. It’s extremely diverse which is, to me, reflective of a very healthy industry. We don’t just have a lot of procedurals. We don’t just have a lot of typical sitcoms. It’s really a mix. And I should say that isn’t reflected in our nominations this year just because of where the eligibility period falls, but for the first time we’re seeing a Canadian intellectual property in The Launch being developed here, repackaged and sold overseas. That, to me, is a huge shift and a validation of what we’re going here with our Canadian ideas and our Canadian voices can travel.

Where do you stand on Netflix investing $500 million into Canadian productions?
Netflix made a business decision which I think is the thing that gets lost in the conversation. They see how talented our craftspeople are here. They see how interesting the voices are here. They’re investing in that. I do believe that it’s not related to some sort of deal regarding whether they should be taxed or not. I think that separate and apart from that they see this is a business opportunity, and a way to get in on the ground level with really talented creators too. I think it’s a wakeup call for how we’re thinking about Canadian content. I think that will put some pressure on the way we’ve always done things. I’m ultimately optimistic about it.

Let’s discuss the Best Limited Series or Program at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards. All are deserving and nominees like Cardinal, The Disappearance and Alias Grace are deserving of being on a cable channel like HBO, Showtime or Starz in the U.S. How exciting is it to have projects like these made in this country?
It’s incredibly exciting. Again, I think it reiterates this idea that we create stuff that the world is interested in. It’s not just for our market. In particular, the rise of the showrunner has had a really positive impact in what we’re doing in this country. People who have a very specific point of view. The model is different in that you’re creating a six-part series. There isn’t an expectation that you have to get your second season, sort of? I don’t know if maybe that has something to do with it. It feels more contained. It feels more film-like, so artistic choices are prized in a way that might make a 13-part series producer nervous for whatever reason. I think there are a few factors contributing to the really interesting rise of this format.

The Canadian Screen Awards gala is coming this Sunday on CBC. For those that don’t know: how are the nominees in each category selected?
It depends on the category. The majority of the nominees are selected by membership vote by the branch that you’re in, like the craft categories or the television categories. The editing branch nominates the editing nominees, etc. We still have a few television categories that are selected by a jury, a jury of professionals—136 in TV and digital media and 28 in film—from across the country that come together. And then all the nominees are voted on the membership as a whole.

I’m thrilled that Jonny Harris and Emma Hunter are sharing co-hosting duties on Sunday. How did you come to the decision to have them do it?
I think it’s fun to have co-hosts because there is the opportunity for them to play off each other. There is more opportunity for comedy and they can support each other in the duties. I thought it would make for fun, spontaneous moments. I just wanted to see us shine a spotlight on some of the extremely talented comedians that we have up here. We do comedy better than most people in the world and I wanted them to show what Canada can do.

I wish no ill will on a Howie Mandel or Norm Macdonald, but I think keeping to people who are currently working in this country was the right move.
There was always a fear that you needed someone like that to drive ratings and this is the risk we’re taking. I’m very optimistic that we’ll see very positive results.

The Family Fan Day, where fans of Canadian television can meet their favourite stars this Saturday, is taking place at the Sony Centre for the second year in a row. That venue is so great because it offers fans a more personal experience than at the Eaton Centre.
Yes. The thing about the Eaton Centre is you have a lot of foot traffic and accidental engagement. Again, I said we don’t need that. What we’re doing here is worthy of the trip and it was a massive success. We have a lot of great, big names coming this year. We’re building a stage so we’re going to have performances this year. It will be really great.

You’ve said several times that this country is worthy of celebrating its talent. I agree. I’ve been on the Canadian networks to broadcast the Canadian Screen Awards red carpet to showcase our star system and I’m disappointed they still won’t do it.
The Academy hasn’t been able to sell the idea to anyone, basically. So we just decided to do it ourselves. We will have a correspondent on the red carpet and will be live-streaming that on our Facebook page. Some of the most fun at an awards show is talking to people on the red carpet.

The Canadian Screen Awards gala airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.