Thursday, December 11, 2008

Running/Falling Up That Hill

Really liked what Denis had to say this morning about how Canadian TV shows (and movies) are generally treated as 'different' by journalists and television critics in this country.

By hiving off and making sure that Canadian TV is usually only talked about in this separate bubble, it subtly reinforces the point of view that it's something different, something, in the stentorian tones of my long-gone Catholic youth: something slightly unholy.

This kind of disconnect and separation is what allows a lot of the misapprehensions and fictions to keep bubbling through; it's what allows some people to turn up their noses at Trailer Park Boys and talk about it like it's an object of shame, and not a show that brings hordes of fans out every time the actors make a personal appearance. It's what allows a double standard where Canadian shows are judged (sometimes) by a harsher yardstick -- and 'judged' is probably the wrong word, what I really mean is "dismissed."

Go read the rest of what the big guy has to say.

And like DMc says, it extends far beyond just the media. I'll get into conversations with regular folk all the time about something I worked/am working on, and invariably I'll hear: "I've never heard of that!"; or "I didn't know that was Canadian."; or (and most commonly) "But it's Canadian, right?"...that last one being the big 'qualifier' or justification for why they didn't watch it.

And though we must take responsibility for the quality of the programs we put out there, the stigma is really hard to overcome. And it's instilled so young. A quick story.

Over the past five years my kids have watched Family Channel a lot. A LOT. And two "Canadian" shows made a positive was Radio Free Roscoe, the other was Life With Derek. The young 'uns were big fans of both programs, but I remember when it was revealed that they were homegrown. Really. Really? That was the almost 'in shock' was like they heard me but didn't actually believe me.

They still watched...but it was like the experience was tainted somehow.

More recently, two other programs showed their true colours to the kids, Naturally Sadie and The Latest Buzz. They would watch these series, but not happily...really only to get through them until the next show came on (usually a Disney or Nickelodeon effort). I clearly remember when I recognized one of the writers or directors names and mentioned it aloud, and thus it came up that these two shows were also homegrown, and the venom that spewed forth from my youngsters was palatable. "I knew it! I knew they were Canadian...because they're just soooooo bad!"


My youngest aren't even teens and yet that's what had somehow been impressed upon them. How is this possible? I certainly don't walk around the house muttering: "Canadian TV and movies suck!" Where was this attitude and opinion coming from? I asked and got the usual criticisms: the shows looked cheap and not as slick or polished....the actors were weak (and remember, they're measuring 'acting' against Miley Cyrus or Jaime Lynn Spears)...but mostly, it was that the shows were just kinda lame.

I pointed out some American shows that seemed to fall into the category of 'lame', and got this sort of begrudging..."Yeah...I guess...but the Canadian shows also feel or seem 'different'."

That word again. And as you can guess, it wasn't 'different' in a good way. And in all of these examples, the kids didn't know the programs were from here initially, but discovering that definitely painted them in a negative light....lame somehow equaled Canadian.

Like Denis concludes, I don't know how to fix this problem either....but it's like it's ingrained in our DNA or something. And if the media at large treat our programs as different, that certainly can't help. Look, I know our stuff has to stand on its own two feet...and be able to measure up to American or UK/foreign programs in terms of quality and entertainment value. But if every single program we produce has been consciously or even subconsciously stamped with the label of: "Oh, but it's Canadian, right?", is it any wonder we're always running/(falling?) up that hill?

EDIT: Maclean's Jaime Weinman posted his thoughts on McGrath's piece the same time as me, and interestingly enough uses some of the same examples I did:

Some Canadian shows have, I think, managed to prove that there’s a way out of the ghetto. Kids’ shows especially. The viewers of the Family Channel don’t see The Latest Buzz or Life With Derek as CanCon; they see them as shows, no different from the American shows on the same network. They argue over whether they prefer the realistic family shows or the fantasy wish-fulfilment shows, not over whether they prefer American or Canadian product. For one thing, these shows don’t really identify themselves as Canadian. Not that they deny that they’re Canadian, but they don’t go out of their way to demonstrate it, and a new viewer doesn’t always know if they’re Canadian or not. Which is one way around the innate suspicion that Anglo-Canadian audiences have of their home-grown shows.

I would've thought the same thing about a lot of our kids shows being 'exempt' so to speak Jaime, if I hadn't witnessed otherwise.


morjana said...

Hi, Will.

From the other side of the border, an embarrassed US comment on "Canadian."

I think as you may know by now, I'm a very devoted Stargate SG-1/ Stargate Atlantis fan.

I remember when DaVinci's Inquest was still in it's first run status in Canada, and it winning Canadian awards year, after year, after year ... Gemini's, Leo's, Writers Guild of Canada, Directors Guild of Canada ... and I was ticked off because DaVinci's was winning and NOT Stargate.

(Thinking of course, that only Stargate could have the kind of quality that I was seeing every week...)

And then ... DaVinci's was syndicated in the US.

Oh, my.

What a marvelous series! (And it recently became available for viewing on HULU in the US.)

Well...that opened my eyes, and I quickly became a daily visitor of IMDB, investigating the details of the shows I was watching.

And discovered quite a few of the shows I enjoy watching (especially those first run in the US) ARE filmed in Canada -- Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files -- and many movies as well.

And then I noticed that the shows and movies filmed in Canada ... were usually not discussed that much in American media.


So...I was surprised to see that the US attitude apparently prevails in Canada too!

Maybe it's because "you" Canadians are so polite, don't you know? :p

Anyway, long story short, I've been trying to re-educated my brain that quality doesn't necessarily mean home-grown.

Anonymous said...

You mean you don't get "I've never heard of that!"?

ME said...

Good points, Will and Jamie. Family programming is one genre where we do excel, not just locally but our shows sell really well internationally, too. But we're not very celebratory of these success stories.

Life with Derek has sold crazily well, at last public count in 120 countries in 19 languages. Why don't we hear more of these good news stories? I guess that is part of our Canadian psyche too, you don't want to be seen to be too successful.

It's frustrating because lately, I've been hearing people bemoan money (or specifically, the lack thereof) as being the problem. Well, I say poppycock! We can make quality shows that touch people, have great stories, and are entertaining. That comes from the brain and the heart, and as well all know, it costs the same to make a crap show as a good one, sometimes more to make a crappier one!