Friday, April 13, 2007

(CSI) NY Is History?.

I've been following with interest this developing story over the past couple weeks, and am personally glad to see Mark Dillon at Playback write something up on it.

Effectively, the WGC took to task Canada's History Channel airing of the contemporary forensic crime series, CSI: New York. Led by Exec Director Maureen Parker, the guild's contention was that the show didn't comply with History Channel's conditions of licence mandate, and they forwarded their concerns to the CRTC.

The (CSI:NY) program follows forensic detective Mac Taylor and his team as they solve crimes in The Big Apple, and Parker questioned how it fits into History's stated mandate to provide docs, movies, minis and programs that "embrace both current events and past history, with a special emphasis on documentary and dramatic programs related to Canada's past."

Surprisingly, the CRTC agreed with the missive, and forwarded it on to the network owner, Alliance Atlantis Communications.

The CRTC passed the letter over to AAC, requesting that the caster respond. AAC did so, and its defense is a doozy. It argued that the show did in fact fit within History's mandate, since "CSI: NY is based on New York-specific situations and locations, set in the city that became synonymous with one of history's most significant and notorious events, 9/11."


Short strokes: CRTC took exception and requested AAC take immediate steps to correct the situation. And AAC responded that they stand by their argument.

Oh right, one other thing...Alliance Atlantis Communications owns History Channel. And they own half of the CSI franchaise. Make sense now?

Okay, there's nothing new going on here. Over the past several years (in Canada and the U.S.), as more and more smaller networks have been swallowed up by much larger media conglomerates, we've all seen shows (generally owned by the same companies that own/produce the programming) end up airing across several different networks. The fact that it is AAC here in Canada makes it a bitter pill to swallow.

To some in the industry, the Alliance Atlantis story leaves a bad taste, the company having been built up in part as a domestic prodco with public funding aplenty. The margins just weren't good enough producing Canuck films and TV shows, so the media giant abandoned that game to focus instead on its lucrative broadcast business and its stake in the American-produced CSI shows.

And, of course, AAC still owns half of the CSI franchise, so it is only natural that it would like to fill its channels with the shows, as it has done with the original CSI series on Showcase, Action and Diva.

Mandate adherence aside, what this practice effectively does is take away a lot of timeslots for new or original programming. And with broadcasters now demanding (and getting) worldwide rights for all programming they commission, it allows them to play it across several platforms and networks (generally also owned by them) without any compensation coming back to the producer who came up with and made the product to begin with. Sneaky...but again, not new.

And let's face it, this is only the tip of the iceberg. I've often wondered how CSI: Vegas and CSI: Miami constituted edgy groundbreaking boundary-pushing television to justify it airing on Canada's Showcase network. Or even how Street Legal, Law And Order, and Without A Trace qualifies as innovative and relevant arts and cultural programming in order to air on the Bravo network here in Canada.

We've all been muttering about the sorry state of Canadian television (specifically drama) for a while now. And there does seem to be a consensus, in the creative/blogging community at any rate, that nips and tucks and tweaks won't cut it. Some big things need to change, perhaps even break. We need the CRTC to step up to the plate here... (Denis McGrath outlined a very reasonable plan of attack not long ago) and one of the first steps in getting more new and original Canuck programs on the air is to have timeslots for them to play in. Removing a lot of these 'inappropriate' (depending on the network) programs could be a step in the right direction.

It will be interesting to see is if the CRTC stands by its decision. If they do, it won't be over...I think it'll just be beginning.


CAROLINE said...

The next gripe they should take on with History is JAG. It is ripped from the headlines in the same way that Law and Order is but totally fictionalized, and there is absolutely no basis for them running it.

Glad to see Maureen is taking them on ... most prodcos are too chicken, for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

I'm not against violent revolution. It would only take a couple of weeks and Canadian writers could be in control of the whole game.

Once we secure control of the military we re-take Maine from the Yanks which would then make all Stephen King's stories take place in Canada.

Once we get that Stephen King money we could hold the world economy hostage until we get more Canadian produced dramas on TV.

jimhenshaw said...

There's a popular talk show host in Toronto who does a semi-regular bit on all the recent History Channel programming he's seen that doesn't remotely have anything to do with history.

He also does a great impression of Anne Medina's post movie wraps and bemoans whatever happened to her journalistic ethics.

And the truth is, you could do much the same with the poker on the sports channels and what passes for unique content on many of the other "specialties".

Caroline's right about the Prodco's too. Back in 1999, David Duchovny won a landmark case against Fox for similar self-dealing on "The X Files".

The same process operates here, reducing the money paid to producers and private investors (and in the process eliminating the royalties due writers). It has gone a long way toward undermining the industry for more than a decade.