Sunday, 22 March 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1221: Can-Con-Can-Can

The Canadian government has changed the rules regulating Canadian content on television, specifically, daytime television.

Now there were reasons for the creation of the law, and reasons for reforming it.

Back in the day if you were a Canadian looking to get on television or radio you had one option: The CBC. The privately owned TV network CTV, and private radio stations avoided Canadian material like the plague. The Guess Who had the number one song in the USA and the UK, but couldn't get played on radio, or get an appearance on television because they were from Winnipeg, and Canadian media executives believed that Canadians didn't want to see or hear other Canadians, no matter how successful they were everywhere else.

So the government put in rules that broadcasters had to play a certain amount of Canadian content, or CanCon every day.

At first, this meant that a lot of substandard material got on air solely to meet the CanCon quotas, but over time market forces started to take effect.

The quantity and quality of Canadian television began to improve. And with the growth of specialty channels it began to explode and Canada became a major exporter of content. 

The government now thinks that since many daytime shows are commercially viable on their own, they don't need any special protection, and they may be right.

They also may be very wrong.

Canadian media has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. As a business culture it can be excruciatingly stupid and self destructive for reasons that do not make sense on any level.

One of the first examples of Canadian media stupidity was Don Messer's Jubilee. It was a music program out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was corny, it was old fashioned, but it was a massive ratings winner for 12 years.

Then CBC cancelled it while it was still pulling in big numbers.

They cancelled it because it was old fashioned and corny, and the CBC wanted to be more hip. The show then went into syndication and ran right up until Messer's death in 1973.

Another example I mentioned before was Cinar. It dominated huge portions of the kids TV market with shows airing all over the world. They destroyed themselves by running a penny-ante scam where they were getting Canadian government grants to hire Canadian writers, and then spending the money on American writers. It was stupid, it was unnecessary, and it opened up a can of worms that destroyed the company.

Then there were some events I was personally involved in, in one case somewhat peripherally.

In 1999 I got a phone call from a very successful Canadian comedian. He had co-starred in a classic Canadian sketch show in the 1980s, and made out quite well in the 1990s as a producer, writer, and occasional performer on another comedian's show that they sold all over the world, and was putting together a starring vehicle for himself.

It was a sketch-show and he needed material, so he calls me up tells me he read my work and wanted to hire me to contribute material for his show. Having been a fan of his first show I said "Yes." He got my e-mail and said he'd send me the details as soon as he got back from his two week vacation.

He never did. Which struck me as extremely callous and unprofessional to offer someone a job, and then walk way without so much as a goodbye. However, such behaviour is pretty much standard operating procedure for people in Canadian media. Those who are in, are in, and are expected to treat those who are out with all the humanity they'd show something they found on the sole of their shoe.

Back in 2000, Salter Street Films won the licenses to set up several new specialty channels including a Canadian version of IFC.

Meanwhile, Alliance-Atlantis had grown from a tiny gaggle of producers & distributors into a massive media giant, that even owned the CSI franchise, the number one show in the world. They also got licenses for new specialty channels, but they wanted more.

Back in the Batcave I got a phone call from the newly minted boss at IFC Canada. He had read some articles I had written, saw that I lived nearby, and wanted me to make some short videos about the movie business to serve as filler between films.

I was game for a paying gig and said yes. The IFC Canada president then said he'd call me in a week to set everything up.

During that week Alliance bought Salter Street Films for some seriously big money.

The next day I got another call from the president of IFC Canada, or, to be more exact, the Ex-President of IFC Canada. The new owners immediately fired EVERYONE and cancelled or sold off EVERYTHING they were working on. This went from tiny projects in development like mine, to shows that were big worldwide hits, like CSI, which they sold to CBS.

Alliance then announced that since they now owned all these new channels, they were getting out of making television, and dedicate themselves 100% to broadcasting it.

Within about 6 years Alliance had collapsed, and the scraps were then picked apart by other companies.

So, as you can see, if there's an opportunity to be self-destructive, unprofessional, incompetent, or just plain idiotic, Canadian TV will go for it with both hands.

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