Who knew the answer to saving Canadian television would be revealed in an ad for mayonnaise…?
As Canada's television networks announced their fall schedules this week, it became clear that there would be little if any increase in Canadian production and that all the tears shed over their "broken business model", "catastrophic advertising losses" and the need for an infusion of Public funding to "Save Local TV" were just more of the false drama our broadcasters manufacture so they don't have to manufacture any real drama.
Once again, more than $800 Million has been bled out of the Canadian economy and Fedex'd to Hollywood by Rogers, Global and CTV, much of it for programs that will be cancelled by this time next year.
Meanwhile, these same networks will spend about 10% of that total on homegrown fare, much of it for programs that should have been cancelled by now for lack of audience interest.
With a blanket renewal of series already on the air and barely a new hour on any of the private nets, the creative community faces another season with no growth and even (as a result of smaller episode orders in some areas) a further decline in the number of local job opportunities and income.
Despite a growing number of Canadians experienced in producing world class television and new blood graduating from the country's film schools and universities on an annual basis, there seems no interest on the part of our various levels of government in finding jobs for these people.
Indeed, each and every level of government, be it municipal, provincial or federal spends a lot of money to support the destruction of the very jobs those people could be working at and bolstering government coffers through their taxes in the process.
I'm not talking about any lack of support for the arts or the way they overlook how the CRTC skews prime time from the universally recognized 8 pm - 11 pm heavy viewing periods to 6 pm to midnight, so our domestic networks can virtually eliminate Canadian comedy and drama from their schedules while continuing to qualify their Canadian-ness with the news and gossip shows that sandwich the real Prime Time hours.
These are issues all of us who blog about Canadian TV have railed against for years, endlessly trying to make the Public or the Powers That Be wake up to the real reasons the Canadian programming they deserve is not available to them.
I thought I'd run out of new ideas to offer in addressing these issues. And then, this morning Will Dixon posted an ad for Hellman's Mayonnaise.
An extended commercial, it asks us to consider the damage being done to Canadian family farms as well as our economy as a whole, raising the issue of the nutritional value of what we're eating and the additional costs involved in importing the vast majority of the food we consume.
Will asked his readers to simply replace the words "fruits" and "vegetables" with "American films" or "American TV shows" and consider the Hellman's argument in a wider context.
Try it for yourself here.
Those of us who know Uncle Willis, know he is capable of moments of sheer brilliance and watching the ad, I had an insight into Canadian television which had escaped me until now -- as well as an inspiration as to how we might get Canadian television to deliver more homegrown Canadian television.
You can't watch an hour of any American show running on a Canadian network without being inundated by ads paid for by one or another of our governments.
There are ads urging you to use public transit in your city or attend a local music festival. There are commercials for Provincial lotteries, nearby tourist attractions and government run casinos. And the Federal government pays for advertising urging you join the armed forces, buy Savings bonds, give up smoking or purchase more eggs, milk and cheese.
On one level, this is quite surprising. Despite all the advantages and support they get from government in the form of simultaneous transmission, genre protection, program financing and local programming assistance funds, our broadcasters depend on even more Public money being funneled their way to purchase air time for government backed messages.
And without that money, the networks clearly wouldn't be able to fill their commercial breaks with ads purchased solely by private industries with a product or service to sell.
And that would mean they wouldn't have those millions of dollars they cart down to Hollywood every year to keep JJ Abrams and Jerry Bruckheimer in nice houses and pools and Ferraris.
Therefore Canadian governments are actively involved in supporting American studios and artists while at the same time reducing the work opportunities for those working in Canadian television and film production.
So, instead of continuing to visit those windowless committee rooms to plead our case, instead of filing endless briefs and marching and lobbying and doing all those other things that never get us anywhere, how about if -- as citizens and taxpayers -- we simply asked our governments to do one thing…
Let's ask them to only buy ads on Canadian made shows.
Is that too much to ask?
If that single, simple alteration became a requirement of how public institutions spent public money, I'm betting we would see a sudden and huge network interest in launching Canadian shows.
This wouldn't cost the average Canadian a penny more than she now pays to fund these government initiatives. Indeed, since CBC would see a massive influx of ad revenue because it already offers far more Canadian shows, maybe they wouldn't need as much money as they know require from the public purse.
More ad revenue immediately available for Canadian shows might also make them the cash cows the networks insist they need to drive their business models.
I suspect we'd additionally see more Canadian product pushed into those plump and rosy Prime Time slots simply because the income was guaranteed, in the process exposing them to more people than they usually find in their traditionally less visited time periods.
And this might not even be something that requires a Parliamentary vote to begin with.
Somebody with more knowledge on the subject needs to weigh in here, but didn't we do almost exactly this a couple of decades ago with magazines?
If I recall correctly, that action resulted in a mini-golden age for those guys as well as American publications like "Reader's Digest" and "Time" publishing a Canadian edition to cash in on the gravy train.
So this might be an easy administrative tweak somewhere in the bureaucracy nobody even has to vote on. But even if it is, what member of Parliament, Provincial Legislature or Local council is going to vote against creating Canadian jobs?
This could turn everything around, Folks. Let's roll!
Oh, and everybody go buy a jar of Hellmann's Mayonnaise to thank them for the inspiration.