The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posted by Matt on July 23, 2010

Here’s a dumb little newspaper column.

There’s obviously a tongue-in-cheek element to it, but it does bring up an interesting point. Do Canadian shows need to be more ‘American’ in order to sell anywhere? What makes a show ‘Canadian’ and ‘American’?

I’ll start off by saying that I haven’t seen any of the three shows mentioned in the article, and I don’t plan on it; not my thing. Even so, I find the failure and success of shows like these at least somewhat interesting, as they are the industry’s scattered attempts at mainstream entertainment, and I like to see how that’s going. Because you need some sure-fire hits in order to fund the better stuff, most of the time (unless you’re cable. But they’re off in their own little fantasyland of rainbows and freedom, so we’ll just leave them out of this conversation).

The thing is, up here, the major networks usually only greenlight a very select few new shows per season. This, of course, hurts their chance of success even more by putting all the network’s eggs in one basket, thus leading to the networks getting a new excuse they can use to convince the government to loosen the original content spending requirements so they can continue to air American shows while still being government-protected. In most TV seasons, there’s a larger number of new programs so that the likelihood of success is greater; not every show is going to catch on, but the more you air, the more likely you’ll find a winner. Canadian network television doesn’t seem to get that luxury, or aren’t willing to spring for it, making their own shows more out of obligation than actual desire to create their own hit programming.

The point being that new shows in fewer numbers may mean that, if the networks like CTV are serious about making these shows successful, they will try to make them as safe as possible. Combined with the need to make sure the show succeeds in the US as well, a second revenue stream that they have seemed to embrace more often now, and you can see why the ‘Americanization’ of the shows seems to be taking place.

But on the other hand…what would make a sure recognizably ‘Canadian’ to viewers like this guy? Aside from the stereotypes, and settings being recognized, what would make a cop procedural made in Canada different from a cop procedural made in the US? Maybe I need to do more research on the subject, but I can make a guess that cop shows are pretty similar all over the place, based more on adherence to formula than real cultural imperialism. The column writer seems to think that having the shows be cliche-ridden high-octane thrillers is not representative of Toronto, or Canada in general, but what the fuck else is a big budget cop show going to do?

When I think of successful Canadian TV shows, I think of the same two everyone else on the Internet does: Trailer Park Boys and Corner Gas. The two are on opposite ends of the spectrum (a cable comedy able to do whatever it wants and an unabashedly mainstream network comedy, although one that still seems to be of a greater quality than most), but they both have what most shows in either country would envy: long, successful runs that ended on their own terms. I’m not too sure if they ever found any sort of success, or even a cult following, anywhere else, but they were both big deals in Canada. Were either of these shows noticeably Canadian? They seemed to capture their own unique settings in this country very well, but I don’t think there’s really anything either show did that made them unaccessible to Americans, or anyone else really. So, what is the ‘Canadian voice’?

To me, at least, the Canadian voice is simply whatever it is the people who create entertainment and those who buy into want it to be. We should just attempt to share ideas in order to build up our ‘culture’, whatever they may be, without having to worry whether or not these are identifiably ‘Canadian stories’. In my mind, if they come from a Canadian’s imagination, they’re a Canadian story. It doesn’t matter if they’re set it in Ontario, Alabama, or the distant moons of Shabadabahey; whether they accurately depict our municipal bodies, or whether or not people talk about milk bags and lacrosse; the whole point is to support the ideas of the creative forces in this country, so we can learn what is ‘Canadian’ from their output.

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