Sunday, March 04, 2007


TV/film is a collaborative medium. If you don't know or accept that by now you either haven't produced anything, or you're Michael Bay.

But it's not just one big collaboration getting things made, but should be one while trying to get things fixed, or at least working better than they are now.

Denis McGrath has big balls. There I said it. He clearly loves TV and knows some shit about making TV and he's not afraid to express himself. Maybe he's a little too confident and cocky sometimes, but confident and cocky are assets in this business if 1) you know what you're doing and what you're talking about, and 2) you're still willing and able to take notes or suggestions and recognize good ideas and subsequently implement them because...ultimately it's all a collaboration.

This weekend, DMc wrote up another great post about ways to try to right the listing ship that is Canadian Television. Some highlights:

Here is my simplified plan for fixing Canadian TV (revised):

1) Simultaneous Cable Substitution is no longer automatic. Cannets get a set number of hours per week they can substitute. It's low. The rest of the schedule, they either have to go head to head with the U.S. signal (even if they are showing the same program) or they counterprogram. Stick.

2) Tie spending on homegrown production to a formula of spending on U.S. programming and Revenues. If a network is doing well by showing U.S. shows they picked up cheap, they have to spend more on Canadian shows. If they're doing poorly, they can spend less on Can shows, but they also get to do less substitutions. Cap it at 7% or whatever. Stick and Carrot.

3) Let them earn more substitution windows. The better your indigenous stuff does, and the more you spend on it, you get bonus windows where you can put your signal over that U.S. signal every week. Carrot.

So... what happens now?

Canadian Network people need to find hits. Stick.
Canadian Networks need to care about their Canadian shows. Stick.
Everyone takes a risk....networks and creatives. Stick and Carrot.
Schedulers won't be able to act like rockstars anymore. The D-people will be just as important as people who get to go to the L.A. screenings. Stick and Carrot.
Canadian creatives have to be audience focused, or they don't get renewed. Stick.
The ones who do well will be in demand. Carrot.

The one thing that will not work: continued protectionism for the corporate side of the industry, while the creative side gets none. Why?

Because under that scenario (the current scenario) one side is getting all the sticks, while the other side gets all the carrots. And the side getting all the carrots points to the guys getting the crumbs and has the audacity to say, "why am I paying for that?"

I'm sure most of you have read this, but go back and read it again. And then join in. Because what's missing from a lot of this blogging chit chat is the other side. The point-counterpoint.

Or, in the spirit of collaboration, the point-compliment point.

Like what Caroline (who now has her own blog) offered up as a comment to DMc's post:

Nice work. Probably a couple of things I would add to your thoughts, though.

You leave cable nets out of the equation, and they've done more volume on Canadian shows than the terrestrials have. Lower budgets, sure, but more overall jobs across the board. Yet they get no simultaneous substitution carrot, which was put into place before we had cable nets. So, probably time to afford them some of the same perks as the terrestrials are getting.

The other issue is budget, or specifically, what some of the networks are paying for Canadian shows. If a producer is wily enough to actually make foreign pre-sales and take themselves out of the CTF hamster wheel, Canadian broadcasters are taking advantage and paying ridiculously low license fees knowing that the producer is getting tax credits. I know of at least a couple of dozen examples of established networks paying $5,000 CDN for a one-hour budgeted at $300,000 CDN and playing hardball with the producer because the networks knows the producer needs the tax credits.

Solution? Make the network's ability to count the show as CanCon contingent to them paying a minimum percentage of budget (10 to 20% seems reasonable as minimum given that the average is somewhere between 30 and 40% according to the CFTPA).

The other problem we have is networks buying 2nd, 3rd or 10th windows on old CanCon and having these count at 100% in the logs. So series they can buy for $1,000 an episode have the same weight as new productions that cost 200 times that. Doesn't seem right. In order to ensure decent episode orders on series every year, I think there should also be a sliding scale of what percentage a network can count as CanCon. For example, the first year they run it, it counts 100%, then starts dropping by 10% a year.

The other practice that has to stop (and which the UK equivalent of the CRTC, OFCOM, had the sense to stop in the UK a couple of years ago) is networks recouping all their license fees on producers sales. If a Canadian network gets all its money back, why should it be allowed to count the show as CanCon? They essentially got it for free or made money. The related seedy practice is demanding all distribution rights in exchange for the greenlight ... no rights, no greenlight.

You may have noticed that the off-peak airwaves are overpopulated with sponsored CanCon shows about fishing, religion, food, leisure, recreation, etc. A little known fact is that these shows are produced and certified as CanCon (and usually paid for by the sponsors and advertisers) but the Canadian networks who air them are charging the producers for the airtime.

So again, they get Canadian shows not just for free, but with airtime sales to boot. Way unfair. Pretty much every network group but the kids net has at least one of these and sometimes many in the schedule. Solution? If the network is getting paid to air the show, they can't count it as CanCon. And if they do air it, they need to put up that minimum percentage of budget to count it as 100%.

I think there are also concessions to be made with US nets that come in directly on cable (TBS, A & E, Spike and TLC are the biggest ones). There's gotta be some way to loosen the purse strings to derive more benefit for the industry here. Not saying take them off the air, though it seems unfair that other networks have partnered to create Canadian versions and these guys are exempt.

It is also frustrating that they are all now patently in competition with existing Canadian program services and ergo not really entitled to come in over the air from the US, but I'm sure taking them down would create a free trade holy war with the US so I'll leave that aside for now. I don't know what the answer is to this particular problem, I just know it isn't right or fair anymore.

Lastly, I am not a fan of the CTF's envelope system. The sniff test on CanCon is too tough (the classic story is of a wildlife series that submitted two episodes for review about the moose and the beaver and got notes back that they weren't identifiably Canadian enough ... wtf?). It has also allowed networks to play favourites and disproportionately give funds to certain producers and not others. I am a huge advocate of making the tax credits bigger and eliminating the CTF altogether.

Very nice.

And whether everything Denis or Caroline are saying is exactly right or entirely doable isn't really the point - there are no easy simple solutions. The fact is they are trying to talk it through and make helpful suggestions, but coming at it from different perspectives.

Because a lot of different people and entities and organizations have to work together well to make a TV show, much less a good successful popular TV show - especially in this country. So please...creatives, producers, distributors, network execs, media types - get in there and comment...make your case...defend your position or your decisions...rebut even...but not to just argue or bitch or complain, but try to state your side of things with an eye to making it all better.

In the spirit of collaboration...


DMc said...

Not only am I too cocky and confident, but I also make my own gravy and stay crispy in milk, for whatever that's worth.

wcdixon said...

Cocky and can "stay crispy in milk"...'now' the ladies are paying attention.