Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Invisible Networks

I am a bad, bad Canadian. I'd be clutching my passport as I type this, ready to defend it, except my sin is far from unusual: I very rarely watch Canadian TV.

Sure, there's the news, though I tend to go online for most of my news-gathering needs beyond what I'm force-fed at work. The only Canadian show I regularly watched last season was The Rick Mercer Report, when I could remember it was no longer The Monday Report and aired on Tuesdays. Now that the regular TV season is over, I'm catching up on the first season of Slings and Arrows, after not having access to the channel it originally airs on. Other than that, I don't just not watch Canadian shows, I don't register the existence of many of them.

I meant to watch a new series premiering on The Comedy Network this past Friday, called Alice, I Think. I forgot. I even forgot the title of it and what network it was airing on until an Internet search a few minutes ago. The only reason I'd heard about it was from a newspaper article on Friday morning, which wasn't enough to stick in my brain by the time Friday evening rolled around.

It's not my last chance. According to that article from the Canadian Press:
The series was announced last year as part of CTV's 2005-2006 program lineup. But [creator and head writer Susin] Nielsen denies it's being dumped on the Comedy Network over the summer instead, explaining that it will also air on the main network this fall as part of an interesting new strategy.

"So that when CTV launches us in the fall - this is my understanding - we'll have already generated buzz which will hopefully help us against all of the American shows."

And there's the crux of the matter. All those American shows competing for my attention are a big part of the reason I don't watch Canadian TV.

Among my friends and colleagues, no one talks about Canadian series. There's watercooler conversation about Survivor, Prison Break, Grey's Anatomy, but not Corner Gas or ReGenesis. That doesn't mean no one watches Canadian shows. A friend of mine used to rave about Trailer Park Boys, until I tried and failed to like it and he gave up on me. But I don't often hear casual conversation about it.

If I don't regularly watch the Canadian channel, which is the case for The Comedy Network and even the poor old CBC, I don't see promos for their shows. Tiny promotional budgets for Canadian series means there are few other ways to catch ads for new shows. One article in a newspaper can't compete with the absolute saturation I get about American television simply by browsing my favourite entertainment websites, seeing magazine covers while standing in line at the grocery store, or even reading my local newspaper, who cater to a readership that care far more about the fading The O.C. than the newer, Canadian Falcon Beach.

I didn't watch American Idol at all this year, but I can name the last three contenders just from seeing headlines. I've never watched Lost, but I can tell you who has died on the show, and which characters are romantically linked. The little I know about new Canadian series tends to come from casual mentions on the blog of a Canadian TV writer whose objective is not actually to promote the existence of new Canadian series.

Even actively looking for more information, I have yet to find a good, comprehensive website that does for Canadian television what sites like TV Tattle or the American TV Guide do for American television. Canadian entertainment shows like eTalk Daily and Entertainment Tonight Canada are just as painful to watch and as content-light as their American counterparts, and their websites are filled with gossip on Brangelina and Jessica Simpson rather than Rick Mercer or Alice, I Think star Carly McKillip (not that that's a bad thing, especially for Mercer and McKillip).

I have no desire to watch Canadian television simply because it's Canadian. The government has its Canadian content rules; I don't. But it's sad that the shows fly so far under my consciousness that they don't have a chance to even become part of the lineup of shows to languish in my PVR. Unfortunately I have no solution, just a desire for some brave person to launch a comprehensive, non-gossipy website devoted to Canadian television - or a not-necessarily-brave one to point me to the well-hidden existing one.