Monday, September 24, 2007
The first rush of press/blog reactions to the recently issued CRTC report on the state of Canadian television were heady stuff for us creative types.
After years of being whipped by a perfect storm of reduced funding, fewer time slots for drama and a propaganda campaign insisting "Canadians won't watch Canadian programs"; it was heart-warming to learn that somebody inside the Commission had realized the truths we've known and lived with far too long.
In their report, lawyers Laurence Dunbar and Christian LeBlanc, in addition to proving there are still some trustworthy lawyers in the world, had the courage to confirm that the Canadian television industry is predicated on principles that ensure there will never be a real Canadian television industry.
D&L came out firmly opposed to simultaneous transmission and genre protection of specialty channels while fully in support of prime time content quotas and consumer choice in purchasing channels. And while that earns them the gratitude of creative artists, it also makes you wonder:
a) What they were smokin'?
b) Where will the poor shmuck who hired them be working next week?
c) Does the law firm they partner in after nobody else will touch them specialize in anything other than lost causes?
It's still unclear if the CRTC will act on any of the report's recommendations or whether it will end up mouldering amid the previous interventions, comments and Royal Commission findings that have championed many of the same things. But I'm fairly certain that's where it's headed.
I hope I'm not overdoing the cynical here, because I'm just being realistic. These things won't happen because...
Simultaneous Transmission or Simulcasting has been standard practise as long as there have been TV networks in Canada. And although our guys trumpet their independence while rebranding the imported show with their own logos and colors and promo stylings to make them appear of local vintage; they operate as little more than "per-show" affiliates of the American Nets from which they purchase the broadcasting. Watching CTV or Global or CITY is often no different from catching the feed from the Tribune station in Toledo or Fresno, instead of the crisper version on ABCNBCCBSFOX.
Basically, we're the grindhouse circuit, taking whatever's thrown off the truck and augmenting it with stuff the geeky kid next door makes in his garage.
An additional benefit our nets accrue is the ability to coat-tail on the costly marketing campaigns necessary for launching and maintaining a hit show -- often having to do little more than slap their logos on that material as well.
But the big advantage is the CRTC rule which allows them to substitute Canadian Ads in the commercial breaks, a perk that has made them fortunes.
What the Dunbar/LeBlanc report addresses for the first time is the obvious reality that people making massive commercial profits off shows they pay less to broadcast aren't going to lessen those profits by placing Canadian programming that costs them more to acquire in these lucrative prime-time time-slots.
And on a purely bottom line, "Buy Low Sell High", that's only good business level -- who can blame them?
I'm always amazed by Canadian producers insisting how well they're doing on Saturday nights on Global or CTV or CITY opposite hockey. Because you know that coming in a consistent 2nd or 3rd or 4th in that one horse race is the equivalent of being a lounge act in Vegas, where everybody is either passing through on their way to catch the big show or concentrating on the craps table.
God, American networks don't even program Saturday nights anymore and here, that's the showcase position!
In other moves to back Canadian creatives, the report recommends content quotas in prime time and the elimination of genre protection for specialty cable. The first would see even more of those simulcast slots replaced while the second probably allows Lonestar to follow the History/CSI roadmap and bill itself as a "history" channel or alternate to the Aboriginal Network because of all the Westerns they run.
Let's get this straight. The CRTC can't offer Canadian nets financial assistance in the form of additional commercial breaks and six months later saddle them with fewer cheap shows to exploit and more competition.
It just won't happen.
So why did Dunbar and LeBlanc write this report? I don't know. They had a free summer. They're young and needed the money. They have an uncle who once won a Gemini and never worked again. Maybe all of the above.
What they missed is -- the entire concept of broadcasting as we know it is over.
We're in Tiger Country here.
Think about it. Minutes after a new episode of "Lost" airs in the Eastern time zone, it is available online to anyone anywhere else in the world. Maybe not completely legally available, but it's available. The concept that you can move the CTV simulcast to Tuesday, Friday or opposite hockey is a suicidal choice for either the show owner or the broadcaster or probably both.
And yeah, you could have five versions of Life/Slice/Whatever (given the current CBC schedule, it seems there are already two). But when that programming is about as bargain basement as it gets, will competition in the genre really spur an increased investment in the creative community?
I mean we've already got about 11 sports channels and I defy anybody to either tell them apart or define the cultural contribution of their non-game programming.
Point is -- what this report clarifies more than anything else is just how ill-conceived and protectionist Broadcasting policy has been in Canada; designed not to nurture or present a Canadian perspective to the world -- but to make sure a handful of well connected corporations pocketed a few extra bucks.
And now, when the US networks are already implementing business models that say the future is in downloading and streaming, our protected little fiefdoms have become islands that will soon have no goods to import for resale and nowhere to create their own after paving everything over so the "Etalk" celebrity limos and design show smart cars have someplace to park.
To even enter the download game, our nets need the equivalent of 2-3 original shows per night and that's simply beyond the factory design of plants that have only had to create 2 or 3 per season (at a reduced production run of 13).
I mean, we're here with the raw material if they want to gear up the line. But I'm thinking that might be a long wait.
Face it. Canadian Broadcasters are already done and their future looks even worse.
IPTV is a technology currently sweeping Europe and debuting stateside very soon. The acronym stands for Internet Protocol Television which delivers television content and VOIP through a broadband internet connection. I tried it last month in France and it's very cool. Crack a beer. Hit the couch. Watch a show. Send an email or place a VOIP call during commercials. Check out the storm warning crawl by linking directly to the weather satellite and then order the cool boxers Jim Belushi was wearing on "According to Jim" from JC Penny.
The French version of IPTV also has 60 premium Channels not available on their standard broadcast systems -- meaning new players, new markets, new possibilities in a format that will definitely attract new viewers.
Added to this, the Telecoms who own many of our current broadcasters face the double barrelled profit threat of new competitors like Quebecor, who promise to lower rates with increased services and a lawyer from Saskatchewan named Tony Merchant, who has filed a class action suit (join here) to force repayment of Billions allegedly illegally collected from cell users by Bell, Rogers and Telus.
If their corporate owners are looking at competition reducing their income or a divestiture of major assets to repay their customers, how much money do you figure there will be for some edgy little TV show set in Moose Factory?
Nope. As this grizzled vet of the Canadian network wars hunkers Sgt. Rock style in a muddy fox hole dead center of "Tiger Country", my rain-soaked compass is telling me the true way out for Canadian artists is to stop playing this game.
Forget the interventions and the letter campaigns. Forget fighting for funding that mostly goes to somebody else. Forget searching for greener pastures in other countries and start selling your stuff directly to your audience.
Who says your show can't be the foundation of an IPTV channel, an AMAZON UNBOX download stream or an ad supported presence on JOOST, CHIME.TV, SPIRALFROG or one of the dozens of imitators already re-inventing those models?
That's a far brighter future than anything the CRTC might deign to allow -- and we all have better places to be on Saturday nights.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I took a class from Marceau once. He was a very funny and generous guy, full of jokes and giggles. And gosh, what can you really say when a mime dies. I mean...
...and that's about it... ;)
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
When I was still acting, I was doing a play in London, England. One afternoon, I wandered into Harrods. Their book department included one of the largest magazine displays I’d ever seen and I often dropped by to pick up reading material I'd never encountered before.
This particular afternoon, I stumbled across something far more interesting.
A very wealthy looking Arab guy walked in, followed closely by a woman dressed in the complete burka, veiled and robed so heavily and completely, you could only see her eyes. He said something that I took for “Wait here!” and left her by the magazines as he went off to find a clerk.
He was looking for something apparently hard to find for the clerk had soon taken him deep into the stacks. The woman purused the magazine stand for a moment, looked around to make sure nobody was watching and moved to the Fashion section. Then, making sure she couldn’t be detected, she took the corner of an issue of "Vogue" between two fingers and peeled it back ever so slightly so she could peek inside.
From where I was standing, I could see the utter amazement in her eyes as she stared at the high fashion models visible inside the barely open pages. Taking another glance to make sure she hadn't been seen by her male companion, she cautiously fingered her way onto another page, staring again at images clearly forbidden to her.
A moment later, the guy and the clerk were back, sorting through a number of books, so she had to turn from the magazine and stand around like she wasn’t looking at anything.
As the two men haggled over something or another, I went over, picked up the copy of "Vogue" and stood near the woman, flipped it wide open and slowly turned page after page as if I was studying each photograph in detail, but making sure she could see the pictures.
This went on for about 20 minutes. He glanced at me a couple of times, probably assuming I was gay or some kind of haute couture perv and finally called her over as he bought his book.
I put the magazine back and went back to browsing. A couple of minutes later, they left, with her once again following a few steps behind him. As the woman passed, she turned her eyes toward me with the warmest look I’ve probably ever had from a woman.
I wonder if any of these guys have any idea what’s really going on the heads of their wives, sisters and daughters -- or how much better their marriages and their lives would be if they did.
Monday, September 17, 2007
I've always thought of Jim Shaw as our own version of Al Swearengen, the completely immoral brothel owner of "Deadwood".
Like his fictional counterpart, Jim is wealthy, cunning, manipulative and doesn't mince words. Neither is afraid of throwing his weight around or viciously attacking those who don't see things their way. And both achieved success by owning pretty much the only game in town, a game that was also pretty much rigged in their favor.
That said, there's a thin line between "Bullying" and having a clarity of vision that might give a Jesuit pause. You may not enjoy dealing with somebody who's always on your ass. But sometimes the constant riding and jerking of the chain gets you where he (and maybe you) wanted to be all along.
In the world of "Deadwood", Al Swearengen's robber-baron and feudal warlord attitude is the chaotic spark that leads to civilization and I'm thinking that Jim Shaw's recent salvos at the CTF are the kind of insurgent wake up call we need to get a baseline of creativity back into Canadian television before its too late.
The Writers Guild of Canada sent me a letter this week, suggesting I write the CRTC and much of the immediate world to chastise Jim for suggesting Canadian TV isn't as good as it could be and that the CTF is spending a lot of money on shows most Canadians don't watch.
Normally a firm a supporter of the Guild, I'm not getting with their program this time. Because, quite frankly, Canadian TV isn't as good as it could be and the CTF is spending a lot of money on shows most Canadians don't watch.
Don't get me wrong! I don't begrudge the CBC (or any other broadcaster) getting financed for programming I'll never watch, as long as somebody's watching it -- either in enough numbers to ultimately justify its production or as part of an audience that would have never gotten the programming they want or need without it.
I believe that's what Jim Shaw really wants from the CTF because that would make his customers happy and it might encourage them to purchase more programming, or at least have that option as opposed to getting the same damn thing on 10 different channels.
I believe that's also really what was behind the CTF when it was created.
But I think most of us know that's not how the Fund's being used.
The painful truth is, that an annual infusion of $250 Million for this long should have built some stability in the industry, greater variety of choice and more than a handful of hits by now.
We should all be asking why those things aren't happening, why you can still count the number of current Canadian hit shows without taking off your sox and most importantly why OUR AUDIENCE isn't being served -- instead of lobbying to keep the status quo.
The Fund was founded to support the creation of high-quality and culturally significant programming, to cover the risk gap on shows that might not get made for any number of reasons -- including being "too" Canadian. But now broadcasters regularly include what funding a producer might receive from the CTF in calculating how much they can lower their own contribution to development costs and licensing fees.
The Fund wasn't supposed to replace broadcaster investment. It was put there to encourage niche projects (like "Trailer Park Boys" before it found an audience) as well as enhance productions with higher production values so those shows could find wider (as well as foreign) markets.
Shouldn't we all be asking how so much of that money ended up funding bland MOWs that make up the bulk of programming on Lifetime, or why our broadcasters have so little faith in their own development choices (or staff) that most of their annual 'envelopes' are spent on renewing series that couldn't find an audience of any kind in their initial seasons.
Mr. Shaw's most cogent point for me to date has been this -- "Where is the incentive to produce anything good if you're gifted everything?"
Our current system does not require Canadian broadcasters to base their homegrown programming choices on ratings and their development decisions on filling needs within the Canadian market. If it did, and the CTF were really there to support programs considered culturally valuable but demographically risky, we'd end up with a much broader spectrum of choice -- and work opportunities.
I also get the impression both Jim Shaw and I are being jobbed a little by what feels like an orchestrated outcry against his position. Because he's listed shows he apparently doesn't like, it's said that he wants to be the one who decides what gets made -- and I haven't seen him say that anywhere.
Now, I wouldn't want Jim Shaw's tastes deciding what gets funded any more than I want that job done by you or me. But more than anything, I don't want those choices to be made by faceless bureaucrats through a funding system that isn't accountable for its choices.
And when somebody who has to answer to irate customers that want to know why their cable dollars aren't buying them anything fresh or exciting raises the issue, I get suspicious of the motives behind those telling him to shut up, be happy with the cards he was dealt and to put some more money in the pot.
It's like some other Al Swearengen is running the game.
So, I'm backing Jim Shaw here. Never met the man. Don't know much about him beyond his apparent good taste in Cowboy boots. But he's right!
The system isn't working and the CTF has created a virtual welfare system where a thriving industry once existed. I firmly believe that's all Jim Shaw really wants to change -- and so do I.
Monday, September 03, 2007
She's not my dog, but we're pals. She belongs to friends who travel frequently and sail, activities at which she does not excel. So, on those occasions, she stays at my place. I refer to this as "joint-custody". Her owners say she's "sleeping over with the boyfriend".
Lexie is a very well-trained animal.
Therefore, when she's around we do the stuff she's not allowed to do in her properly domesticated home life.
I've always owned or been around dogs, so I long ago learned that they're intelligent, sentient beings capable of many of the interpretive processes and emotions you and I share. I'm sure we don't think or feel in the same way but I'm not prepared to say whose version is the best.
I'll never forget walking her in the woods one afternoon after a week of heavy rain and coming across a massive mud puddle. We shared a look and I swear the same simultaneous thought -- then we dove in to splash around and get absolutely filthy.
It's an amazing feeling to sense you've communicated with another species, getting a window, even for a moment into how they might perceive and relate to the world.
On another walk, Lex and I came across a very bored horse grazing alone in its paddock. The horse took an immediate interest in us and the dog in particular. They sniffed each other, followed one another along the fence line, each making feints and dodges as if wanting to play.
Along with the bales of hay and water that had been left for it, the horse's paddock included a large heavy rubber ball. As we turned to leave, the horse kicked it through the fence rails to us. Lexie corraled it and I threw it back in the paddock. The horse kicked it back to us again.
We spent a long time repeating the process.
If you can understand the thrill of communicating with one species, consider interacting with two, who are also interacting with each other...
This is Michael Vick. Scumbag for short.
Michael used to be an athlete I admired, easily the most exciting player in the NFL and maybe all of professional sport.
Michael will not be playing in the NFL season that opens on Sunday because he's going to jail for participating in dog fighting and killing many of his animals.
If Michael and Lexie had ever met, I'm certain she would have seen him as a creature she should befriend and he'd see her as one he could brutalize, turn into a fighting dog and then enjoy watching as she either tore apart another dog in the fighting ring or was torn apart herself.
If she had survived the ordeal, but not shown the agression that would win her the opportunity to fight to the death again -- Michael would have taken her for a walk in her beloved woods and either hung her from a tree or held her under that mud puddle until she drowned.
A lot of people are wondering how Michael Vick could have thrown away the $130 Million dollars he was being paid to play his sport and his once respected reputation as the new face of the NFL for the transitory thrills of a dog fight.
Others analyse the aggressive, competitive nature and elite status of professional athletes, attempting to unearth the source of Michael's downfall.
The answer to all those questions is simple. Residing in Michael's magnificent athlete's body is the mind of a twisted little fuck.
Something in Michael enjoys seeing other sentient beings suffer. The sight of another creature in agony or desperation gives him a woody. In short, some part of him is just plain evil -- and I'm quite happy that he'll never play football again.
I long ago learned to trust the art not the artist and that many of the people I admired for their work in movies and on television are not the people you want close by in the flesh. But few of them repeatedly sink to the level of depravity that Michael Vick practised.
Talent can buy you incredible privilege, but it also comes with enormous responsibility. Many choose to ignore those responsibilities. It doesn't deminish their talent, but it certainly removes them from the list of those we should emulate.
There are those who claim Michael will be back one day and people will cheer for him again, but I doubt that will happen. In the funny way our world works, he'll do most of his time for gambling, a crime nobody really thinks of as major and not much for the acts which truly sicken most people.
Therefore, the basic concept that if you've done the time you're done with the crime won't come into play here. If Michael isn't seen to be doing time for abdicating his humanity, (as well as making a few bucks off it) then people just aren't going to forgive him.
I'm not a fan of life sentences or eternal damnation, and god knows there are things I wish some people would forgive me for -- but I also believe that you're not totally off the hook until you can convince those people the demons that got you in trouble in the first place have been finally dispatched.
Please, please, please do not click on the link I'm about to post if you are easily shocked or harbor even the slightest homocidal tendencies. But this is what Michael did to his dogs. Forward it to Michael's apologists, the moral relativists who insist there are 'worse' crimes he could've committed and all those other sports fans who can only get a woody from watching guys like Michael play football.
Unlike the whack-jobs of PETA and their ilk, I know there's a difference between us and the other species with which we share this planet. But when we choose to torture and degrade them for sport, we degrade ourselves and any claim we make to being superior.
Perhaps Michael Vick will realize the error of his ways and find a path to redeem himself. I truly hope that ending awaits him. But that achievement won't encourage me to watch him play again and I hope he does both of us the favor of directing his talents elsewhere.
Now excuse me while I go and scratch this silly old dog's belly.