Since covering the Banff World Television Festival and hearing the town hall there on the future of Canadian television, and since starting the TV, Eh? What's Up in Canadian Television website, I've taken more of a personal interest in the state of Canadian television today. But now that the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) is undertaking a review of the industry that could profoundly affect the quality and quantity of Canadian programming, I find myself incapable of writing anything intelligent about it. Because I don't get it.
I don't understand what the CRTC is for if not to protect the public interest in the use of our airwaves. And I don't understand how allowing Canadian broadcasters to make money duplicating the content we get on American channels and burying Canadian series is in our best interests.
If I can watch House on FOX, why should I care if Global's got it? You know what I can't see on my American stations? The Jane Show. Falcon Beach. How sad is it that those are the only two Canadian series I can think of on Global, our #2 Canadian network? And neither are currently airing.
The broadcasters want to increase our cable bill so the formerly free channels like CTV and Global get a piece of it. They want to get rid of the 12 minutes per hour limit on advertising, a proposal even advertisers don't support. None of this will improve the quality or quantity of programming for the public.
Creative groups want networks to increase the amount they spend on Canadian drama to a "whopping" 7% of their advertising revenues, an increase that will help get more and better homegrown programming on the air without adding to the taxpayer or cable bill burden.
One member of the CRTC, a man some are apparently saying will soon lead the regulatory body, dismisses the suggestion that they should mandate how much money and airtime is budgeted for Canadian content:
"You know, I know the purposes for all those recommendations and, you know, I see the happy coincidence between your members’ interests and the Canadian public interest," said Richard French, "but I submit to you that there is not a hell of a lot left for a programmer to do after you or we have told them to do all those things, is there?"
There is no brain cell in my head that can make sense of that. Does that mean he sees no problem with the Canadian television industry as it currently stands, or that the CRTC shouldn't be in the business of fixing it? Remind me again what their purpose is - to protect the interests of broadcasters? Wait, no, "communications in the public interest" is the slogan they trumpet on their website.
It's not just the CRTC or the broadcasters I can't figure out. It's the audience, too. If one more person tells me, even in jest, that Canadian TV sucks - someone who hasn't seen a Canadian show since The Beachcombers - I'm going to club them over the head with a piece of driftwood.
Over the last year we've seen Intelligence, Corner Gas, The Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Trailer Park Boys, Slings and Arrows, Dragons' Den, Canada's Next Top Model, Canadian Idol, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Instant Star, Whistler, Kenny vs. Spenny, ReGenesis, Robson Arms, and Alice, I Think, among many others. I don't love them all, haven't even seen them all, but if there's nothing on that list that appeals to you, you should not be allowed to handle a remote control.
We make fewer shows, which means the stinkers really stand out. And good lord, there are stinkers. Fewer shows also means our homegrown talent has fewer opportunities to gain experience and get better attuned to what works for the Canadian audience. But you know what? Most American shows suck too. There's just far more of them, so odds are a few more will stick.
What I don't understand in that complete dismissal of Canadian television I hear so often is why, when we're talking about the most prominent expression of culture available to us, it's OK with us that we're becoming the 51st state. Us Canadians, we're so smug about what makes us different, even better, than Americans, yet we let ourselves be assimilated to the point where we loudly reject even the need to develop our own cultural product. Is that really in our best interests?
I get why the audience is content to let ourselves be invisible in this CRTC process: we'd need an MBA in Canadian TV to figure out what the hearings are all about. The media aren't doing a very good job of translating what's going on, very possibly because keeping us in the dark is in their own best interests.
At least, I prefer to believe we just don't get it, than that it's really OK with us to decide we don't care about having the expression of our own culture reflected on the small screen, that we don't care what's in our best interests any more than the CRTC does.