Wednesday, 26 February 2014


You had questions and I have answers!

Lots of sweet, sweet answers, some of them are even correct.

Let's get the ball rolling with a three questions from...
 Nate Winchester asked...

1) There is a story that Least I Could Do, a webcomic was going to be made into an animated series. Ryan Sohmer (the creator) had signed a deal with Tele Toon for 13 episodes of Least I Could Do, when suddenly notes from the higher-ups started coming in. Notes that said the show needed to "feel more Canadian," that the setting should be specifically in Toronto, that Issa should be an Inuit, that Mick should wear a Toronto Maple Leafs shirt and that Rayne and Noel should go out fishing instead of on walks. Why these suggestions?

The 2 word answer to that question is "Canadian Content" but that answer cries out for a third word, and that word is "Cinar."

I'll explain.

Back in ye olden days the Canadian TV networks, including our public broadcaster the CBC were dominated by imported American and British programming.

Canadian talent was going across the border to the greener pastures of Hollywood and Canadian producers were being starved out of business by the Canadian networks. 

The government had imposed rules on radio forcing them to play a certain amount of Canadian music because Canadian acts were hitting #1 in the USA and UK, but couldn't get played in their home country, and those rules, called CanCon for short, were expanded to television. That meant Canadian networks had to air shows made by, and starring Canadians, set in Canada.

It took a while before Canadian networks figured out how to make money making Canadian shows, but now they sell worldwide. 

Now the reason Teletoon was so militant towards the makers of The Least I Could Do, can all be put at the feet of a company called Cinar.

Cinar was a Montreal based company that became a huge player in children's programming. They used the CanCon rules to get their shows on Canadian channels, and then sold them internationally. Their filmography reads like a who's-who of hit shows of the 1980s and 1990s, and at their peak was raking in over a billion a year in revenue. In 2001 it was discovered that $122 million of the company's money was stashed away in the Bahamas without the board's approval, but that was just the beginning. 

It turns out that they were jerking around the CanCon rules that helped make the company a success. They were taking Canadian government grants and tax breaks meant to go toward hiring Canadians, using the money to hire American writers, and putting the names on their friends and relatives in the credits.

Naturally, all these shenanigans led to the ouster of its founders, the almost complete collapse of the company, and it's eventual takeover by the Halifax based DHX/Cookie Jar company.

Ever since then the powers that be have been hyper-militant about meeting CanCon rules. Especially with animated and children's programming which is a much more open business internationally.

2) I agree with you about the need for content in entertainment. I'd love to create things and give actors and artists and all a fair deal, but it looks like the culture has become so toxic, it's nigh impossible to get anything working without enough suspicion and lawyers to further the problem with creating shows/properties/etc. Is there any hope or solution to be found? (especially if you're not that rich)


3) I was reading through the b-masters cabal when Liz Kingsley said: "the MFTVMs [Made for TV Movies] of this era were, at worst, always professional works; the directors, the writers and the actors involved were the kind of solid, reliable types that just don’t seem to have a place in the entertainment industry any longer, more’s the pity. As a consequence, a remarkable number of these rapidly-shot, inexpensively produced little movies hold up astonishingly well; and some, indeed, are wonderful and memorable by any standard." Whatever happened to this professionalism and competency in Hollywood? Might we ever see it return?
It might, and if it does it will come because  of competition.

The golden age of the Made For TV Movie and miniseries came in the late 70s and early 1980s. They took advantage of television's wide talent pool both in front and behind the camera, and while some of these movies were forgettable, quite a few are still entertaining. (Dark Night Of The Scarecrow scared me shitless when I was a kid.)

The networks got out of the MFTVM and miniseries business in the early 1990s because the powers that be didn't see any future in it. Cable took up the slack, but too many viewed them as just filler than works of art in their own, so the bulk of them, that weren't HBO Emmy-Bait, were either extremely forgettable, and some were downright regrettable.

Now while lazy-cheap flicks like Shartnado gets lots of hype, they don't pull in the relative ratings as the big successful series and miniseries. The networks are also getting back into the miniseries racket, and TV movies can't be far behind.

The quality talent pool in television is growing too. Many good actors, writers, and directors are cutting their teeth on quality cable TV shows, and the channels that produce these shows will probably use original TV movies as a way of keeping this talent in the family when the shows are on hiatus.
 K asked...

Add to number 3 from above: There were a large number of NOT LARGE BUDGET movies made in the 70s and 80s that were quite good movies that people went to see. Movies staring Charles Bronsen and Clint Eastwood, for example. So what's the issue with going back to that model instead of the GIANT BLOCKBUSTER EVENT MOVIE? 

Maybe the failure of four or five summer blockbuster would return us to that time, is that so bad and why is Hollywood grousing over the possibility? 

Those kinds of mid-range movies are still being made, and many are still making money, but for the most part they are not being made by Hollywood. I'm talking about the action-thrillers of Liam Neeson and Jason Statham, who are usually financed by European and/or Asian backers, who then sell or license the films to Hollywood studios to distribute in North America. The studios then use them as filler  programming during slow periods between Winter Oscar campaigns and the Summer Blockbuster clusterfuck.

It's easy to forget about them because they don't break box office records, basically because THEY DON'T HAVE TO. Many of them are still profitable. However they can be easily lost in the hype over the latest $250+ million budget mega-blockbuster remake of a comic book adaptation of an old TV show from the 1960s.

The studios though think they can only do blockbusters because their own business practises make everything so damn expensive. They need to break records just to justify doing ANYTHING, and forget that the vast middle ground between Oscar bait and the mega-blockbuster can still be lucrative.

It's a shame.

I hope I answered your questions. If you have any more, let me know.


  1. Gotta love the idea that having people fish and wear hockey gear somehow makes a show more "Canadian". Stereotype much? Imagine if we had "Black Content" rules here in the States? "Could we replace that steak on the table with fried chicken, and have some of the guys tap dancing in the background? And roll a basketball across the floor in front of them..."

    Don't Canadians find this kind of thing hilarious?

  2. We view the demands for "Canadianess" rather silly. There was even an animated show, that did pretty well, whose title escapes me, that was nothing but jokes about Canadian stereotypes.

  3. And of course, that was the genesis of Doug and Bob MacKenzie, of "Strange Brew" fame. Well, I suppose that they can't have all the characters be veterans of Dieppe or the Princess Pats, or something cool like that, but itt's still kind of odd that a show would try to increase its nationalist content by resorting to tired stereotypes. Such is the bureaucratic mind, I guess...

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