Here's to a Bright Future!
BY Diane Wild
The summer of 2011 was a summer of domination for Canadian television, a summer that’s spawned a new optimism for the future of the industry. That summer, the top three dramas on Canadian TV were Flashpoint, Rookie Blue and Combat Hospital. Not the top three Canadian dramas on TV - the top three dramas.
Since then, Canadian television has weathered budget cuts and network consolidation to demonstrate success is still possible with or without a US broadcaster’s support. Murdoch Mysteries changed hands from Citytv to CBC and continues strong in the UK and other countries. Degrassi keeps going on both sides of the 49th parallel and across the world, and its legacy has helped give Canada a reputation as a strong producer of youth television. Mr. Young, My Babysitter’s a Vampire, Scaredy Squirrel, and Total Drama are among the shows to continue this tradition worldwide.
Animation is another area of strength, with Canadian animation anchoring CBS’s three-hour Saturday morning kids’ programming block. Canada’s Cookie Jar, for one, places award-winning shows in over 160 countries, and Canadian screenwriters have created and enhanced some of the world's most recognizable brands, including Caillou, The Doodlebops, Arthur and Johnny Test.
Global’s Bomb Girls, with its uniquely Canadian setting and story, earned a second season based on great ratings at home. Likewise, Arctic Air and Mr. D had strong debuts for CBC, joining Republic of Doyle and Rick Mercer Report as homegrown ratings successes for our public broadcaster.
With that foundation for success, now what? When writers dream big, what do they dream of, and how do they dream away the obstacles?
More real estate for Canadian shows is part of the Flashpoint co-creators’ ideal future. “Canadian viewers have embraced Canadian television,” said Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern. “Our dream is to see broadcasters do the same and work towards programming five hours of new Canadian comedy and drama in prime time. Broadcasters need to continue to nurture and support Canadian writers and showrunners. Senior writers and showrunners need to actively support and train emerging writers.”
“Broadcasters can take risks - Bomb Girls is a hit with viewers. More, please. Let's keep growing shows in established genres like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue. But let's also take care to stay ahead of television trends, forging new paths, blazing trails” they said, yearning for more programming diversity. “We need to be pragmatic and mindful of reaching a broad audience. But let's do it with fires in our bellies and something to say.”
Ellis and Morgenstern are looking to be part of that new path soon, having announced Flashpoint will end after the fifth season while Canadian ratings and international sales are still strong. It’s the first Canadian series since Corner Gas to end because the creators wanted to go out on top move on to other projects. And as the first Canadian series to air in network primetime in both Canada and the United States since Due South, it will leave a legacy as the show that led the way for the summer 2011 success and beyond, making it possible for other Canadian series to break into the US market, including Rookie Blue, Lost Girl, The Bridge, Combat Hospital, Sanctuary and The LA Complex.
“Bravery follows success,” said Bruce M. Smith, WGC Award winner in the Movies and Miniseries category for John A: Birth of a Country. He sees evidence that Canadian broadcasters are feeling recent successes and taking risks on groundbreaking shows. HBO Canada, for instance, is developing his 1980s-period professional wrestling series, which he compares to The Sopranos in that it forges a dramatic story out of a world traditionally closed to outsiders.
“We have the writing talent for a Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Do we have the budgets? With the writers, with the cast, with the directors, there’s always this huge pull to the United States where the economic model is stronger and the entrepreneurial model is stronger. But the capacity is there. And what’s great about The Sopranos is not the size of the car explosions, it’s the quality of the writing and the integrity of the world they’ve created.”
“I'd love to see Canada really crack the cable market,” echoed Rookie Blue co-creator Tassie Cameron. “It would also be great to find our own organic way in to a show like The Killing, or Justified, or Breaking Bad - something really modern and water-cooler and new, with Canadian writers and creators front and center.”
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