Saturday, July 28, 2007


To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments regarding the CRTC Task Force report on the Canadian Television Fund.

Many of us working within the Canadian TV industry welcomed your announcement of this long overdue and much needed re-assessment of the Fund’s administration and its ultimate goals.

That said, I must express my own disappointment that the Commission chose to follow a review process conducted out of public view and without the participation of directly affected stakeholders such as the artistic community of writers, directors and actors working in the industry, as well as the group who’s interests the Commission is specifically obliged and mandated to protect – the owner of the public airwaves – the Audience - the Canadian public.

Compounding this oversight, which has clearly skewed the Task Force Report, the recommendations do not include a single piece of supporting evidence justifying their inclusion.

Further abusing any semblance of a democratic process, the Commission has rejected utilizing these recommendations as the basis for a full public hearing to openly assess the Fund and allow dissenting opinions or other options to be heard. Instead, the Commission has chosen to proscribe a very short 30 day window for interested Canadians to respond – in writing.

This appears to contradict the clear promise made by Commission Chair Konrad von Finckenstein that the regulator “…should be guided by the following four principles: transparency, fairness, predictability, and timeliness."

Okay, I’ll give you points for timeliness. But your actions belie any acceptable definition of transparency and fairness.

Perhaps I should also congratulate you on predictability, for the CRTC continues its long tradition of protecting the corporate interests of Canadian production entities and broadcast networks over the needs of all others affected by your policies and rulings.

You also continue a tradition of basing policy and regulatory rulings on non-existent myths of a struggling industry shackled by an abundance of second rate Canadian talent.

In 1999, the Commission dealt a body blow to the indigenous Canadian television industry in allowing Canadian Broadcasters to meet their content quotas with cheaply produced reality and information style programming. In the ensuing 8 years, the once vibrant and growing production of Canadian drama and comedy has been reduced to 10% of its former output.

Thousands of Canadian jobs were lost. Thousands of Canadian artists were forced to leave the country in order to continue their careers. And Millions of dollars that might have been earned by the domestic distribution and foreign export of a unique and definable Canadian cultural product never materialized.

It would now seem that in considering the implementation of a split Fund that would make more Canadian tax dollars available to foreign artists under an 8/10 content rule, the Commission intends to further reduce the opportunities for Canadians to participate in what remains of their own industry and additionally reduce the exposure of what is Canadian to audiences at home and abroad.

The downward spiral of Canadian television drama was immediately clear to former CRTC Chair Charles Dalphen who, in a speech delivered on November 6th, 2002 to the members of ACTRA said:

"I believe we have a common goal: a healthy and distinctive Canadian broadcasting system that makes the fullest use of all the great creative talent that we have in this country. And let me emphasize that I do mean all the talent."

But rather than listen to Canadian artists, the CRTC of that time chose to side with Broadcasters crying poverty and the need for assistance in finding an audience.

I beg you not to continue this Broadcast centric view of what will create a vibrant and healthy Canadian television industry. For if you continue on the path you have been following for most of the last decade; if you do not begin to listen to others, there will be no need for a CRTC in another 8 years, because there won’t be an industry in need of regulation.

Allow me to address the myths on which you have based your regulatory policies…


In the late 1980’s, Paramount Pictures of Los Angeles planted a production in Toronto entitled “Friday the 13th”. While its content might be beneath the interest of those who achieve the status of CRTC Commissioners, it had a vast worldwide audience during its three season original run of 74 episodes. It remains in very profitable distribution twenty years later.

I (a Canadian) was head writer of the series and additionally in charge of hiring the other writers we used.

To meet Canadian content regulations of the time, a 50/50 rule was followed during the first season. That meant that 50% of the episodes were written by Canadians and 50% by Americans. The same percentages applied to directors. Two of our three lead actors were Canadian and the majority of guest artists were American.

By the second season, 75% of the scripts were written by Canadians and the percentages of Canadian directors and guest artists were increasing.

By the conclusion of the third season, the vast majority of all our writers, directors and actors were Canadian. That was a conscious corporate decision made by Paramount Pictures, not as a way of furthering Canadian culture or to save money, but to make greater profits because the quality of the product provided by Canadian artists equaled or exceeded the product delivered by the available pool of American talent.

As a result of their expose on this series, a large number of Canadian writers, directors and actors entered into development deals for new programming from American networks and producers or launched successful international careers.

In the early 1990’s, I served as head writer and producer of the CBS television series “Top Cops” – once again, a series I doubt would draw the viewing interest of any member of the CRTC. But for four seasons and 96 episodes, it remained one of the most popular programs on CBS. At times it achieved as much as a 26 share – meaning one quarter of the available audience, an audience equaling the entire Canadian population of the time, was watching that series.

“Top Cops” was American in content. But 100% of the writers, directors and actors used on the series were Canadian. The series has been distributed in hundreds of countries and remains popular in Canada today.

So popular, in fact, that the CanWest system has broadcast it on several of their specialty channels, 8 times a week for three full seasons.

As a result of their expose on this series, a large number of Canadian writers, directors and actors entered into development deals for new programming from American networks and producers or launched successful international careers.

At this moment, three of the most popular programs in the USA and Canada, “House”, “Bones” and “ER” are show run (written and produced) by Canadians. Canadian writers and actors once employed by Canadian series now make up a significant percentage of all American prime time programming. Yet, according to our networks and production entities, they aren’t quite good enough to work in their own country.

The Commission might be interested in contacting some of these internationally recognized Canadian artists, now working elsewhere, to find out how often they are approached by Canadian networks and production entities to create Canadian programming. You will be surprised at how seldom that occurs.

How did my own career fare as a result of the above mentioned titles? Over the last 20 years, I’ve had dozens of development deals that resulted in successful and profitable programming from American studios and networks. I’ve worked on programming produced in Europe and Australia.

How many development deals have I been offered in Canada? One.

Of further interest to this discussion is that this single deal received CTF financing and was cancelled at the absolute last stage of development. And it was cancelled because the Canadian network executive in charge did not feel that Canadian actors could be found who were “good enough”.

Because of the diversity built into the script, that meant this particular network executive felt they could not find two black Canadian actors who were “good enough”, one Asian actor who was “good enough”, one South Asian actor who was “good enough”, one Hispanic actor “good enough” or one actor over the age of 50 who was “good enough”.

Shortly after this cancellation, one of the actors we’d attached to the project was offered a continuing role on the popular American series “24”.

If the CRTC intends to favor the 8/10 rule change, work opportunities for Canadian artists will decrease, as will the opportunities for the thousands of future artists currently studying film and television arts in Canadian Universities, Community Colleges and film schools.

If these people have no future, why are we training them? And why are Canadian taxpayers paying the freight for those costs as well as subsidizing production that will fund the graduates of foreign film schools instead of their own children?

What we are dealing with here is not a lack of marketable talent, but a failure of the entrepreneurial ability of Corporate Canadians to develop, finance and market this talent to the world.

Which brings us to the second myth…


While Canadian Broadcasters continue to cry poor and request additional assistance from Canadian taxpayers to produce programming “nobody watches”, their own numbers contradict this position.

From Statscan July 4, 2007

Ad revenue for the whole Canadian TV industry rose 7.6% to $3.3 billion, while subscription revenues jumped 11.3% to $1.6 billion.

Specialty television made $447.8 million in profits before interest and taxes, slightly less than the $449.2 million they earned in 2005. However, the segment's 22.2% profit margin was the second best recorded in 10 years.

Private conventional television broadcasters reported revenues of $2.2 billion in 2006, which is unchanged from the previous year. This segment still ranked first in terms of revenues, but the gap between it and the specialty television segment has closed. Advertising sales accounted for almost 92% of private conventional television revenues.

On the other hand, specialty television revenues increased 11.2% to just over $2 billion. This segment's advertising revenues jumped 14.7% to $900 million, while its subscription revenues totaled $1.1 billion, 8.9% more than in the previous year, say the Statscan numbers.

The pay television segment, however, had the strongest growth in 2006, with revenues climbing 17.7% to $482.3 million. This is largely due to the growing popularity of video-on-demand and pay-per-view. Revenues from those services soared 41% to $157.4 million in 2006. For a fifth consecutive year, the pay television segment had the best profit margin of the industry, generating for its owners more than 25 cents in profits before interest and taxes for every dollar of revenue.

After falling 5.2% in 2005, revenues for the public and non-profit television segment (CBC, TVO, et al) rose 15.6% in 2006 to $1.4 billion. The resumption of activities in the National Hockey League had a positive effect on advertising revenues, which climbed 44.2% to $351.1 million.

Okay, so Canadian Broadcasters are doing well, but they’d like to do better. Who wouldn’t? But it would seem clear given this and the recent Billion dollar mergers involving CTV/CHUM and CanWest/Alliance that Canadian taxpayers don’t really need to be on the hook to support 8/10 programming, if the broadcasters want to pursue that production model.

And perhaps its time to take a hard look at what our Country’s production entities are actually earning as well.

A number of years ago, I was involved in a dispute over the reporting of distribution earnings and audit procedures with a Canadian production entity. In pursuing additional sources of information, we attempted to access reports submitted by the producer to Telefilm Canada.

Because Telefilm is a Crown corporation, much of that information remains confidential and is not accessible by anyone questioning the financial reports they are receiving from Canadian production companies.

Were the Writers Guild of Canada, the Directors Guild of Canada or our performers’ Guild, ACTRA, allowed to discuss the concept of whether 8/10 programming will actually benefit Canadian producers in an open hearing on justifying such a rule change, you would learn that there is a very long history of these Guilds questioning the financial reporting and audits provided to them.

As the forensic accountants in my own case commented in assessing the material in question, “Where are the Government agencies here? How are they accepting these numbers as accurate?”

Perhaps we're not getting the same numbers...

During a libel trial between plaintiff Sullivan Entertainment Group and the original rights holders of the “Anne of Green Gables” franchise, assessed in favor of the defendants by Ontario Superior Court Justice J. MacFarland on January 19, 2004, this issue was of paramount importance.

As reported by the Globe and Mail during the trial:

“On Friday, the court heard testimony that Sullivan Entertainment used two systems of accounting: One for Telefilm Canada and other equity investors in its television productions “Anne of green Gables” and “Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel”, and another for the Montgomery heirs. The first shows profits, the second losses…”

Motion picture and television accounting and the business practices defined by the terms “industry standards” have long caused great contention and litigation within the industry.

As recently as this week, Writers Guild of America negotiator John Bowman stated the following in his opening remarks to negotiations between the Guild and the American Motion Picture Producers and Television Producers.

“First of all, I want to congratulate our corporate partners at CBS, Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, Viacom, and NBC-Universal on what appears to be another great year for entertainment revenues and profits. Box office is up, and broadcasters are getting ad rate increases across the board, driven largely by digital content created by many of the people in this room. We are all of us very fortunate to be working in an industry that is thriving. It is thriving not only because of the content created by members of the DGA, SAG, AFTRA, and the WGA, but also because the CEOs of these companies are proving to be extremely adept at finding ways to monetize the Internet and other new technologies.

There is a real disconnect, however, between what the companies are reporting to Wall Street and what they’re saying to the talent community. Investors are hearing about the changing landscape in entertainment and exciting new markets to exploit. In contrast, the AMPTP communicates nothing but problems to the Writers Guild. Problems like-and this was mentioned by AMPTP at a recent press conference-ad skipping, even though NBC Universal had just announced a one billion dollar DVR deal. And while WGA member revenues have not kept pace with industry growth-we are a line item that is definitely under control-the companies balk at giving us a fair and reasonable share of the industry’s success.”

If the CRTC wishes to support 8/10 content, you must provide proof that those who would benefit can supply documented figures that they are financially hampered by 10/10 content; figures which can be substantiated by an independent and unbiased source who has access to those numbers, such as Telefilm Canada.

In closing, let me say that there are a myriad of other options which might do more than watering down the 8/10 rule to create a successful Canadian television industry. There are hundreds of creative artists who, through their own experiences in creating successful Canadian drama could be supplying the Commission with their knowledge, expertise and “creativity”.

Yet we are consistently ignored and marginalized by the CRTC. No matter how often we’ve been right in the past, we are either not included or dismissed in the next discussion, while the industry on which we depend for employment continues to dissolve around us.

In speaking to the 2007 Broadcast Invitation Summit on June 26, CRTC , Chairman von Finckenstein stated:

“I think this is just the right time for us to convene here at this first Broadcasting Summit. And I’m very pleased when I look around and see that all the 'RIGHT' people are here.”

Mr. Chairman, the creative community of the country was not there, nor were representatives of your mandated constituency -- the public.

Okay, so we’re the “WRONG” people.

But you’ve been listening to the “right” people for a very long time and Canadians are no longer telling their stories to either themselves or the rest of the world.

Please do proceed with a revamp of the CTF, but please make sure that all Canadian voices are heard in the process and that they are all required to provide evidence for their claims.

Yours truly,

Jim Henshaw

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lucy! Ju Gots Some Splainin' To Do...!

My recent comments on the CRTC have been turning up all over the place. Gawd! Epstein publishes one errant email and all of a sudden I'm the screenwriter's Che Guevara...

But following the links referring here as a result has been interesting and educational, with a lot of traffic coming from a blog and website I wasn't familiar with. It's called an offshoot of The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies and TV which featured an interesting assessment of my character and career.

It reads as follows:

"So what's my point? I dunno. You tell me.

It's just there's a feeling that a lot of Canadian artists bemoan the lack of support and enthusiasm they receive from the public...even as they are often the worst practitioners of national pride. At Canadian filmmaker Jim Henshaw's blog, he makes some good points in an earlier blog (Sunday, April 15, 2007 "A NATION OF AMNESIACS") about Canadians having amnesia about their own history, and angrily denouncing Canadian executives who were cool to his proposal for an uber-Canadian movie. Yet the joke is, if you look through Henshaw's cv, he's spent most of the last thirty years working on movies and TV shows that pretended they were American. In other words, he's spent decades contributing to that very amnesia -- a climate that marginalizes Canada and Canadian culture -- then is surprised when he's having trouble drumming up support for his Canadian project!

(Okay, I have a certain sympathy for Henshaw -- long ago Henshaw wrote and starred in a very Canadian comedy called A Sweeter Song, and for that alone he deserves kudos. In fact, Henshaw is presumably one of those embittered cultural soldiers that have accrued over the years. A guy who got tired of banging his head against a wall, and so decided it was easier to sell out than keep fighting. So I do have sympathy -- 'course, Henshaw also wrote the episode of Friday: the Thirteenth: the Series, "My Wife as a Dog", about which the less said, the better)."

Well, accurate factually (and thanks for the compliments "Pulp and Dagger") but I think the essence of me has escaped you, much like it escapes most people who search for the meaning of what it is to be Canadian by expecting to see it constantly exhibited and championed in the work of this country's artists.

The truth is that few if any of us ever aspired to be "Captain Canada", wrap ourselves in the flag or spend our careers writing about the lonliness of Maple Sugar tappers. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

We're just writing or otherwise creating what comes from inside us, and while that's shaped (as we are) by where we live, I don't think any of us are consciously trying to speak with a Canadian accent. We're simply trying to tell our stories to anyone who wants to listen and will hopefully pay for them.

I grew up on the prairies and love this country, and while I've been over most of it, including nameless places well North of the Arctic Circle, I've never been East of Quebec City --and special as I'm sure it is, don't have any desire to go. There are other countries and cultures on my list that have a far greater priority -- for reasons that are my own. I don't think that makes me less a Canadian.

As a teenager I was with a band that opened for "The Guess Who", "Mashmakhan" and "Crowbar". But I mostly listened to Dylan, Hendrix and Zeppelin. Was I a cultural traitor even then? Is some kid today who likes Shakira more than Avril Lavigne betraying his or her culture?

And I hate the kind of attitude that suggests an artist who's left this country (usually to work with Americans) has "sold out". I don't consider Robbie Robertson, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers or James Cameron "sell-outs". They're guys who went where their hearts told them they could best realize their dreams.

Y'know, it's interesting that we seem to be okay with calling people who work on US TV shows "sell-outs" when we would never use that term to describe a Canadian actor choosing to work at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in London, or a Canadian tenor taking off to perform at La Scala in Milan. How come Leonard Cohen isn't taken to task for spending most of his life in hedonistic bliss at the Chateau Marmont, or Peter Jennings for eschewing the CBC for ABC News?

We're a funny bunch. We don't have anything remotely emullating a NY Times, an MIT, a Metropolitan Opera, a Broadway, Hollywood, Mayo Clinic or NASA and yet we piss on any Canadian who chooses to embrace them.

When I started writing, I was writing independent films. I didn't think of them as CANADIAN independent films. I thought of them as low-budget movies I had to write to get the chance to write something bigger.

When I went into television, my choices were "The Beachcombers", "Danger Bay" or "Friday the 13th". I jumped at the chance to write something I thought would be cool. It also paid about 10 times as much!

It may not have been patriotic, but let me tell you, there are a couple of Canadian ex-wives able to live in very nice Toronto neighbourhoods today because I made those decisions!!!

Yeah, nobody wants to do my Canadian history movie. But then, nobody in Canada wanted to do the dinosaur and cleavage scripts I wrote on either side of it and sold to Americans and Australians. Were they Canadian culture? Actually, yeah they were! They were written in Canada by a Canadian.

I realize Canadians don't usually lay claim to their cultural lock on giant lizards -- or cleavage for that matter. Having been all over the world, I will attest to the fact that pretty much every indigenous film industry has a couple of dinosaur films those nations think of as their own. So how come we can't too? I mean, we could -- and in the cleavage department, it's well known that Canadians take a back seat to nobody!

I did a bunch of George F. Walker's first plays when I was acting. Today, George is recognized as probably the greatest living Canadian playwright. Where were those early plays set and who were the main characters?

"Bagdad Saloon" -- in Bahgdad, starring a bunch of Arabs, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein and Doc Holliday.

"Ramona and the White Slaves" -- Hong Kong, with a family of Austrian ex-pat opium addicts.

"Beyond Mozambique" -- uh, somewhere beyond Mozambique, featuring an Italian Doctor, a Chinese priest, and an American movie star. A Mountie makes a brief appearance.

Were the themes Canadian? Well, a few years ago, I saw "Beyond Mozambique" performed in Sydney, Australia. The audience fell about laughing in exactly the same places they had in Toronto. That play touched people who knew little if anything about what its like to be Canadian -- because it wasn't written with its meaning to Canadian culture in mind. It was written to make people laugh, no matter what passport they were carrying.

"Pulp and Dagger" takes a swipe at an episode of "F-13" that he didn't like. He could've mentioned that one of the episodes I wrote is the only horror script ever nominated for a Gemini, or that another one was nominated for a Humanitas and a third was honored by the NAACP, but that wouldn't serve his view of the tawdry nature of American "culture" when compared to what's available above the 49th.

We actually had a great time making "My Wife As A Dog" (the title a take-off on Lasse Hallström’s Oscar nominated film) -- and interestingly enough, it has remained one of the most popular episodes of the series. It's been almost 20 years since it was shot and it's still playing all over the world.

I suppose I could've written episodes of "ENG" instead, but I wouldn't have reached as wide an audience -- and I sure as hell wouldn't be cashing regular residual checks from them.

Ya see, "Pulp and Dagger" one reason that Canadian artists leave or "sell out" is because when they work for Americans, they actually get paid. When we work for Canadian producers, we usually don't.

I once wrote and produced a series that was in profit on CBS from the end of year one and has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties to Canadian writers. The same series has been re-running 8 TIMES A WEEK for THREE YEARS on a Canadian channel accruing not a single additional dime.

Maybe some of the great minds concentrated on defining Canadian culture want to figure out that one!

I also once wrote an action film for an American company that didn't do very well, because it wasn't very good. But it still runs occassionally and still generates a few extra bucks for the retirement fund. Around the same time, I wrote a Canadian TV film that played in the US and out-rated NFL Football.

We beat fucking football!!! Do you know how close to impossible that is?

Well, that film's been sold in hundreds of countries and been playing regularly for years. But the Producer was Canadian -- so no one who worked on it has seen one more dollar than they were paid in advance.

I'm about as far from an "embittered cultural soldier" as you can get "Pulp and Dagger". Because I never wanted to be (or saw myself as) a cultural soldier in the first place. All that time I was doing those hundreds of Canadian plays, I was also doing Sam Shepherd, Beckett, "The Sunshine Boys" and being an animated Bear.

I've probably written and produced as many films and TV episodes in the rest of the world as I have here. And you know what? That means more people have been exposed to what it means to be Canadian than if I'd focussed completely on writing about Mounties and hockey players and how hard it is to get your health card replaced.

Let me explain how that works.

I wrote an episode of "Top Cops" that garnered a 26 share, meaning in one night and one performance, it had an American audience approximating the entire population of Canada at the time. Included in the script was an anecdote from my life embodied in the philosophy of a New York cop.

After the episode ran, I got letters from hundreds of cops (and not just American cops) appreciating the sentiment and asking for copies of the script, because it so perfectly represented their lives and their feelings.

That's how it works, "Pulp and Dagger". Deep down, we're all the same us humans. But an American would never have put those words into the mouth of a tough, no nonsense New York cop. A Canadian did because in his culture the sentiment didn't make you any less tough or no nonsense.

And they got it.

And it meant something to them.

Stop thinking of Canadian culture is some Holy Grail or cause you need to fight for. It's who you already are and what you already create. Let some critic waste his life defining it. Just do the work and try to enjoy the weekend.

Oh yeah, and like I said, do it for Americans. At least they pay you.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


It's odd watching the news and seeing people you know featured in the lead stories.

That's happened twice this week. The first occurred when elephants "rampaged" through my home town of Newmarket on Thursday morning. The second was the conviction of Media Baron Conrad Black -- or Lord Black of Crossharbour as he's known in the British House of Lords.

Actually it wasn't a very big Elephant rampage. But it's the only one to happen in Canada in living memory -- or at least mine. Two of the beasts escaped from a circus performing a few blocks from my home, the third member of their troop sleeping through the whole affair. One was captured chowing down a nearby park, the other arrested after consuming a neighbor's flower bed and a tree.

But it was fun watching a couple of the cops I regularly run into at my local coffee haunt trying to keep straight faces on television as they described the perilous take-downs and assuring the public that the dangerous fugitives, identified as "Suzy" and "Bunny" were safely back behind bars.

Less humor appeared on screen following Lord Black's conviction on Friday morning. Watching him leave the court accompanied by his wife Barbara Amiel and lawyer Eddie Greenspan, I recalled encounters I'd had with all three of them.

I met Conrad Black when I was still an actor. Caught in a sudden downpour one afternoon, I ducked into a Yorkville bookstore. There was a sleepy clerk at the counter and one other customer, Conrad Black.

He wasn't a Lord then, just a multi-millionaire (maybe already a billionaire for all I know) owner of several newspapers and quite the local celebrity. He was standing in a corner, browsing a biography of Abraham Lincoln. I asked if it was any good. He answered, "I've only perused page 284. But that suggests it has some promise."

I asked if he'd seen the great Richard Burton film "Prince of Players" about Lincoln's assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, and Booth's more famous actor brother Edwin. He had and we got into a great conversation about the assassination and the events that followed, somewhat inspired by my telling him a little known fact -- Edwin Booth saved Lincoln's son Robert from being run over by a train a year before the president was assassinated.

Whatever he was or turned into in the business world, Mr. Black was quite charming that afternoon. I invited him to the play I was doing and about a week later he came, leaving a nice note at the box office thanking me for the performance.

Barbara Amiel and I didn't have the same convivial experience.

Back in 1982, I was hanging around with screenwriter John Hunter and producer Peter O'Brian as they put together what might be the best Canadian film ever made, "The Grey Fox". It became the first movie I ever invested in. If you've never seen it, please rent or buy the DVD. Despite being one of the most successful Canadian films of all time, it still hasn't made its money back.

Hard to believe, I know, but that's how the business works in Canada.

Anyway, the movie came out in 1983. It's a western about real life train robber, Bill Miner, who was inspired to follow that career by the early silent film, "The Great Train Robbery". While it won almost universal praise and launched a new career for its 62 year old star, former stunt man and cowboy, Richard Farnsworth; Ms. Amiel, then an editor of the Toronto Sun, savaged it.

Actually her review didn't have much to say about the film, but questioned whether public funds (Telefilm was an investor too) should be used to glorify murderers.

Being a guy who has trouble listening to horseshit, I wrote a letter to the editor, pointing out that Bill Miner had never killed anybody and listing a number of great films that had "glorified" or at least examined the lives of criminals.

My letter appeared a couple of days later, but with the points I was trying to make edited out and a reply by Ms. Amiel suggesting that some people (that would be me) defended Canadian films no matter how bad they were.

I realized writing back would be pointless. But we got to finish our conversation a year or two later, when Eddie Greenspan introduced me to her.

During the 1980's, Greenspan, one of Canada's top criminal lawyers, hosted a CBC radio series, "The Scales of Justice", which dramatized famous Canadian court cases using actual trial transcript. The series was produced by Ms. Amiel's ex-husband George Jonas, and I was one of the rep company that regularly appeared on the show.

It was a fascinating experience. Most of the scripts were written by fantasy novelist and fellow prairie boy, Guy Gavriel Kaye, chosen because Greenspan felt they exhibited the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian legal system. Sometimes the real lawyers came in to play themselves and more than once, I got to watch heated debates between some pretty astonishing adversaries as the cases were re-argued for our benefit at the table reads.

One night Barbara Amiel dropped by to watch a recording session and Eddie introduced her to the gang. We got talking and I mentioned my letter to the editor. Although she obviously didn't remember it, Ms. Amiel stood her ground. While I didn't agree with her, it was obvious she was a tough cookie.

But that was all years ago, so let's get to the Silver Backed Gorilla and Friday's events.

As time rolled on, Conrad became a Lord and Barbara went to England looking for (among other things I'm sure) a new husband. She apparently told friends she wanted to find "A Silver Backed Gorilla". As one can never fully understand the ways of the human heart or what turns somebody on, I won't get into what that might mean. But as the story goes, she attended a speech Conrad was making, turned to Maclean's columnist Alan Fotheringham and said, "Now that's a Silver Backed Gorilla!"

They married. Much Gossip column fodder ensued, all of which I'll leave to "Vanity Fair" and a whole slew of Brit tabloids.

Meanwhile, I got into writing cop shows and spent about six months hanging with the Toronto Homicide Squad. One of the things I observed during that time was that when Homicide cops like somebody as a suspect, they start dropping by unannounced to "ask one more question" or "go over things one more time". That makes the suspect uneasy and sometimes he says or does the wrong thing.

One night, I entered the Homicide office in Toronto with two of the detectives to find a third detective literally dancing with glee. We asked why and were told that a suspect's lawyer had called to insist he lay off the unscheduled visits. The lawyer was Eddie Greenspan.

My two detectives started dancing too. I asked what was going on. They told me when a suspect hired Eddie, that told them they probably had the right guy.

Watching those three cops dance always stuck with me. So when Conrad Black hired Eddie Greenspan to defend him on fraud and racketeering charges in Chicago, I wondered if that meant he was Guilty. On the other hand, not all Eddie's clients have been Guilty, so it might mean he just hired the best lawyer he could think of.

During Friday's newscast of the verdict, a couple of the commentators discussed whether Conrad would have been convicted by a Canadian jury. I suspect he wouldn't have even been charged in the first place.

It's interesting that the conviction that might put him away for 20 years, obstruction of justice, occurred in Toronto, videotaped by Black's own security system. But nobody in authority here even wagged a finger at him.

There's a growing Canadian tradition of some of our leading citizens remaining society and media darlings here while getting put away by American juries.

Alan Eagleson, former head of the NHL Players Association, was still enjoying free hockey tickets and lunches with senior politicians in Canada when an American court finally nailed him for defrauding the players he'd been hired to represent.

In fact, Carl Brewer, the first player to accuse Eagleson of wrong-doing, publicly thanked the US Courts for Justice he claimed could not be found in Canada.

Big Al was followed by Bernie Ebbers, co-founder of Worldcom, one-time darling of the Canadian business elite and now doing 25 years in a Louisiana federal prison.

Garth Drabinsky (as yet unconvicted of any crime) continues to produce television series for the CBC, while under the shadow of fugitive arrest warrants issued by the US government. It's interesting that criminal charges on the same issues, though laid by the RCMP in late 2002, still haven't reached trial five years later.

And now there's Conrad. As recently as Wednesday, all four Toronto newspapers were confidently predicting his complete exoneration.

Somehow, the courts and the media here appear to treat these people much differently than their American counterparts. And somehow, I don't think whatever that "somehow" is, it will be appearing on a beer commercial flattering us with how much better we are than Americans.

I called the richest guy I know yesterday to ask him how he felt about Conrad's conviction. This guy's a multi-millionaire too -- and he couldn't have been more pleased. He's worked hard for his money, building a hugely successful company on sweat and talent and being good to his clients.

But being rich isn't easy. Okay, lots of things are harder. But when you're wealthy, everybody figures you must've pulled something to get somewhere they aren't. And the Kenneth (Enron) Lays and Lord Blacks of the world cement that impression to the average guy on the street.

My friend hoped what happened to Conrad might inspire Canadian business and our courts to get rid of a few more of our bad apples. Like me, he wants people who use their power and influence to personal ends to become an endangered species...

...just like the Silver Backed Gorilla.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


"Never bite the hand that feeds you -- unless it prevents you from feeding yourself."

-- Thomas Szasz - Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry State University of New York.

Sometimes I think they do these things when they think I'm too busy to react. Here I am, working on three shows at once, five if you count the two I'm not being paid for (yet) and the CRTC decides to review the CTF and calls for comments -- by July 27th.

How's that for democracy in action?

A systemic change that will have a massive impact on an already struggling industry and we'll give you -- oh, less than 30 days to gather your thoughts and respond -- in the middle of summer, when most of those affected are up to their eyes because it's the height of the production season, on vacation, or weren't paying attention because the edict was issued on the Friday of a long weekend.

Y'know, I thought Konrad Von Finckenstein's predecessor took the weasel cake, but it appears he's got tricks Charles Dalphen never had the balls to try...

On the other hand, Chuck had the stones to just flat lie to our faces. Here he is from a speech delivered on November 6th, 2002 to the members of ACTRA:

"I believe we have a common goal: a healthy and distinctive Canadian broadcasting system that makes the fullest use of all the great creative talent that we have in this country. And let me emphasize that I do mean all the talent."

And while that was as hollow as Chuck's assurances his commission would react to the devastating body blow the CRTC's 1999 decision watering down content rules had delivered to Canadian drama; now the CRTC wants to water them further by getting rid of some of us pesky Canadian artists.

Hey, Konrad, any chance you might consider diluting the CRTC to something in the 8/10 range by bringing in Americans or Brits or even Canadians a little less beholden to the Canadian broadcast industry than some of your guys?

How about mandating our networks hire a contingent of American or British or Australian or Dutch execs who've actually developed successful programming, instead of some of the hitless wonders we have to pitch and deal with year after year after year?

Any chance improving the marketability of Canadian TV that way is on the table?

I took a call this morning from a writer friend practically in tears. He's been in development for months with one of our major networks on a script they first described as "an incredibly exciting page turner" -- and then called to say they wanted to change the premise.

Guess it showed too much promise of actually being successful.

If you're a professional Canadian screenwriter, the Writer's Guild of Canada has sent you the following letter. If you're not a Canadian screenwriter but care about television in this country, you have an equal responsibility to read it and respond.

Hi writers:

We know writers are never far away from their computers and this is a good thing because you need to send e-mails/faxes/letters to your Member of Parliament and the CRTC about the CRTC Task Force’s Report on the Canadian Television Fund (CTF). Nothing in this report is good news for writers. In fact, this report directly attacks your ability to work as a writer in this country.

The Report makes a number of ill-conceived and ill-informed recommendations, but the main thrust is that CTF (currently a public/private partnership) should be divided into two separate pools – one being the Heritage contribution of $100 million, renewable annually, and the other being the $130 million or so from the Broadcast Distribution Undertakings (BDU’s) – ie, the cable/satellite companies.

The Heritage pool will become the "cultural" fund – aka "must do Canadian stuff.” A producer will still need all ten Canadian content points to access this money. Also, development funds will come out of this smaller pool of $100 million whereas, in the past, it was a percentage of the full $230 million. The Heritage pool will also pay for minority groups’ TV projects – aboriginal films, projects funded by the educational broadcasters, French outside ofQuebec, etc. The CBC's guaranteed envelope will also come out of the Heritage pool rather than of the total $230 million CTF.

The BDU pool – $130 million – will be "a more flexible and market-oriented private sector funding stream,” which is supposedly devoted to funding “hits.” The flexibility they’re talking about is in the form of lowered Canadian content points, specifically a drop from 10 points to 8. This means either the writer or the director (worth 2 points each) or one of the top two leads (worth 1 point each), do NOT have to be Canadian. Canadian producers will now have the “flexibility” to pre-sell their program to an American broadcaster, who can insist on an American writer. This isn’t a new phenomenon. A lot of our “industrial” production works this way. What’s new is that for the first time, these programs would be eligible for CTF funds. Now, American writers will be charged with writing programs that “reflect Canadian experiences.” – CTF’s mandate. And our regulator is supporting this policy change.

The CRTC has given the industry a July 27, 2007 deadline to file comments on these proposed changes to the CTF. In the WGC’s official response we are requesting that at the very least, a public proceeding to give everyone an opportunity to hear the dissenting opinions on the CTF. We’d also like to see factual evidence to back up the report’s assumptions. Because we don’t think there is any. Programs written by, directed by and starring Canadians do better in the ratings than the “any-town-USA” stuff the broadcasters/cable operators are shilling.

You can help fight for your livelihood by e-mailing your comments on the CRTC’s Report on the CTF to the CRTC through the Commission’s web site at Click on E-Pass in the top menu, then click on participate in a CRTC public proceeding, then find the sentence to submit a comment related to a public proceeding and click on the word “form.” Then you scroll down to , click on it and submit your comments. Attached you will find a copy of the Public Notice CRTC for your review. Also attached is a sample letter to the CRTC that you may choose to use. We have put both documents as well as a copy of the Report on our web-site for your information (all three are available in the WGC Members' Only section).


Maureen Parker
WGC Executive Director

And for all you pro writers who have a tendency to cower and cover and suggest some of the things I write might be "career suicide", I got one thing to say...

Time to Cowboy Up! Because keeping quiet now will certainly be career suicide.

I'll be responding to the CRTC and I'll be posting that response here in the next few days. I beg you to do the same.

I once walked off a television series that was masquerading as a Canadian production while all the decisions were being made in LA. I left behind a New Yorker Cartoon I would have posted here if their copyright restrictions weren't so onerous.

It featured a little Scotty dog being interviewed on a radio talk show and saying, "But you must understand, the hand I bit was not very nice." One of the confederates I left behind told me he spotted the faux Canadian producer reading it the morning after my departure, then taking it down and sadly folding it into his lapel pocket.

That producer, like many others in this industry, knew how the game here was played and had no choice but to go along with it. Perhaps it's time those truths were more widely known.

Former CRTC chair Charles Dalphen one more time, "If Canada is possible as an independent country, it seems to me that Canadian TV drama is not only possible but essential. A country that does not have access to its own stories is a country that has no soul."

These people play you, boys and girls. They tell you what you want to hear and then look after the interests of their friends instead, giving with one hand and taking away much more with the other. It's time to bite the hand. It is stopping us from feeding not only ourselves but the souls of our fellow Canadians.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


"I believe in God as much as anyone on earth. It's his ground crew I'm not too sure about." - RONNIE HAWKINS.

I briefly considered the Priesthood in my early teens. Then I discovered girls and that idea went right out the fricken window.

But I had a good Christian upbringing in a small town where the faithful were so few that all faiths gathered for whatever Anglican, United Church, Baptist, Methodist or Lutheran pastor or priest happened to have our town penciled in on his rural route that particular Sunday.

I think that experience had some part in making me tolerant of whatever others choose to believe.

Basically, I'm a live-and-let-live guy; figure if your version of "what it's all about" gets you through the dark times with less pain and makes you a better person than you otherwise might be, that's a good thing.

But I'm starting to question my own tolerance level...

I've had the misfortune of getting on the wrong side of Christian fundamentalists in the past.

This week I watched a truly disturbing BBC documentary entitled "Undercover Mosque" which gave me the opportunity to listen to the most vile ideals being promulgated by fundamentalists of a different stripe, who laid out the apparently immutable rules for beating wives, murdering converts from Islam and marrying off 9 year old girls.

Video link here. Brace yourself. It's a tough one.

Meanwhile, the Vatican announced that it intends to restructure the Mass to add back a prayer excised in the 1960's in which God will be asked to "show mercy even for the Jews" and advocates converting Jews by "lifting the veil" on their imperfect faith.

At the same time, a group of senior Church of England Bishops announced that the recent flooding there was "God's judgment on the immorality and greed of modern society" and claimed that "laws which have undermined marriage and pro-gay legislation" have provoked God to send storms which have left thousands homeless.

"Flying planes into buildings is a faith based initiative. Religion is a neurological disorder that justifies Crazies." - Bill Maher

All this hasn't driven me to buying Christopher Hitchens new book, "God is not Great", but it sure explains why it's a runaway best seller.

I mean, exactly how much of your brain and basic humanity are you required to shut down as you move up the ranks of an organized religion?

It may well be bucketing frogs in England this week, but I went to school there and remember Wimbledon being rained out on a fairly regular basis. And if it being a little wetter this year means God doesn't like Gays in England then how come He made sure they had stunningly perfect weather for Pride Week in Toronto?

Don't these narrow minded fools realize that people can see what's going on all over the world these days? Their flocks no longer have to take direction from the one guy in the village who could read a book -- and apparently, even centuries later, still sticks to reading no more than just the one!

I honestly do believe a spiritual life can be of benefit to you and watching "Undercover Mosque" made me despair that parts of Islam fall for the same happy horseshit that the Jerry Fallwells of the world spew to their Christian brothers.

Last summer, I completely alienated a Catholic friend bemoaning the lack of attendance at his church by suggesting "Maybe the Priests should stop fucking so many of their parishoners' kids."

Sorry, but I tend to opt for the less tactful approach when the answer to somebody's question just seems so damn obvious.

Anyway, it feels like its time for those of us of any faith to finally demand our own particular Ground Crew start practicing what they preach. And if they don't, we'll just stop going to that particular place of worship and cut off the donations.

Quite frankly, you can't be a spiritual leader if any part of your message includes hatred or intolerance for anyone. I'm done giving these guys a free pass because they're holier than I am. Because, apparently, they're not.

"Think about it. There's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who has a special list of ten things He does not want you to do. And if you do them, He will make you suffer forever! But He loves you. And He needs money!" -- George Carlin

As the week drew to a close I read an article in Psychology Today indicating, among a catalog of other human faults, that Muslim terrorists are driven less by a devotion to Islam than the frustration of not being able to get laid in repressive or polygamous Muslim states.

It made me get on my knees to thank God for allowing me to discover girls when I did.

In closing. Our hymn for the day is by Garth Brooks and fairly encapsulates my spiritual beliefs. Even if you don't like Garth (You Fricken Philistine!) hang in for the final shot of the Twin Towers. It's an ironic reminder of how far our tolerance of intolerance has really gotten us.

Here endeth the lesson for today.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


I've experienced a number of career incarnations in my life, moving from Cowboy to teen idol to actor, then writer and now producer. Each stage has allowed me to learn things about the previous levels I wish I'd known when I was in them.

For example...I spent 15 years as a professional actor. Worked a lot. Counted myself pretty good at the job and earned a respectable living.

But I also endured those moments that drive actors crazy. I've touched on this before, but chief among the agonies of actors is not understanding why you didn't get a part, being unable to perceive what level of craft, intelligence or talent you lacked that kept you from working.

This great unknowing drives many actors to distraction. I think it's at the root of much of the self-absorption symptomatic to the profession and explains the tenacity with which some cling to the tried and true tricks that seem to be working for them.

It wasn't until I was a few years past acting and into my writer stage that I had an experience I believe should be a requirement of entry into the acting profession -- the opportunity to sit on the other side of the audition room table.

During my tenure on "Friday the 13th", I began sitting in on auditions. Present on the "other side of the table" (now my side) were: a director, a casting director, a producer, a guy working the video camera -- and me. Facing us -- one actor.

I knew we were going to break some hearts and shatter some hopes on audition days. When we were done some of the folks we'd seen would be buying champagne and others would be wondering how they'd make this month's rent.

So, I saw my job as making sure that the best talent was hired for each available role. No pals of the director, heart-throbs of the producer or casting director favorites. Now that I was there, this was going to be about the best actor getting the job!

Only -- it didn't work out that way. In fact, in one case, we hired the worst actor who auditioned. And I was perfectly onside with that.

For that was the day that I finally understood that talent and technique aren't everything. While the choice of who works and who doesn't is heavily weighted by those elements, something else is the deciding factor.

We were casting a family of four -- Mom, Dad, Buddy and Sis. Dads were up first and we read three actors. One guy totally aced it. There was tacit agreement. We had the perfect dad. I was elated. The guys on my side of the table were all on my page!

Then the moms came in. They were all good. But Mom #1 (the best actor) felt a touch too young for Dad #1 and Mom #2 was far too hot for a guy like him. In fact, all things considered, our best option was Dad #1 and Mom #3. Okay, we decided to look at how the kids mixed in before making final decisions.

By the end of the day, we had selected and eventually went to camera with:

Dad #2
Mom #2
Sis #3
Buddy #5

We hadn't hired a single one of the best actors.

All over town that evening, four actors who were head and shoulders above the others in their respective category were probably wondering what they had done wrong. Maybe we hadn't liked their choices, an inflection, a gesture, their hair or what they wore. Perhaps we hated their agent, disliked something they'd done in the past or had said at a party.

It was none of those things.

We'd simply found the chemical elements which, when combined with the two compounds we already had (the show and the script for this week's episode) produced the reaction we needed.

It wasn't personal. It was business.

But here's the thing -- the business couldn't have been done successfully unless what we saw in that audition had been extremely "personal". What we were ultimately reacting to was simply the spark of someone's immutable and inimitable individuality.

The same reality applies to writers.

All around the blogosphere, there are very capable and talented people giving writing tips and all forms of professional advice. And if you're interested in becoming a better writer, you should take what they have to say to heart.

But the script you deliver needs to do more than follow the rules of writing and contain all the information necessary to translate your vision to whatever sized screen.

It needs to include -- you.

It needs to have a voice that couldn't come from anybody else. Because if it does, then that somebody else has as much a shot as you do -- and you'll both lose out to somebody who shows the now Producer me something I know comes from the heart.

I still write four or five original scripts a year. At least one or two spec pilots and the rest features. There's a certain amount of forethought that goes into their potential marketability but that's not the final deciding factor in whether or not they get written.

I'm also known for telling people that I don't really know what my scripts are about until I get about three quarters of the way through.

What I mean by that has nothing to do with story, character or the approach I've structured. I know those backwards long before I write "Fade In:". But it's not until I've lived with the characters I've created in the world I've constructed for them that I understand what they and that world really means to me personally and how I'm going to fit my perception of Life's truths into the work.

Because, quite frankly, if the script doesn't have "me" in it, then what's the point of "me" writing it?

I mean is Phil Collins the best drummer in the world? Is Pete Townsend the top Guitar virtuoso? Well, no -- but for the bands they've been in -- absolutely. Because what both those musicians brought to their writing and performing was something no other individual could have provided Genesis or The Who.

A few summers ago, I went to a Bryan Adams concert. I've seen him a few times and the show is always pretty great. But for some reason, things weren't clicking on this night. The tunes sounded by-the-numbers. Even the audience seemed to have fallen into a predictable set of reactions. I thought maybe it was just me -- and then something very special happened.

The local radio station had run a contest where the winner could go onstage and play lead guitar on one of Bryan's hits. Well, the time came to introduce the winner and this goofy looking kid walked out, nervous and flustered but ready for his 3 minutes of fame.

Bryan's guitar player found him an axe and stepped out of the spotlight. The band kicked in -- and the kid absolutely KILLED! He was magnificent! Adams shot a look to the band that said, "Shit, have we ever been doggin' it!" All of a sudden the audience and the band found a new energy and the concert just exploded.

All because that kid, who could've just played the charts, waved to his buddies and moved on, added something that was totally his, something nobody else was bringing that night. His skill as a player got him onstage. Sharing who he was made it a memorable moment.

Too many of the scripts I read lately are well written -- and soulless. I don't know if that's because it's all too easy to follow the philosophies of a Robert McKee, a John Truby or a Syd Fields and turn out what passes very well for a screenplay. I don't know if it comes from the belief that fitting the formula of this season's blockbusters or last year's network success will lead to similar good fortune.

For all I know, they're being written by writers trying to be what they think is politically correct, or what will find the good side of a development exec or a funding body.

Funny thing about all those approaches is -- they don't work. If your script reads just like everybody else's, those doing the hiring will stick with writers they already know.

You have to be like those actors and that concert kid. Even if you're not the most proficient, you'll get further by sharing something no one else can offer -- because it can only come from you.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


July 1st is Canada's July 4th, our national celebration of who we are, what we stand for and how much we all like each other. Officially, it's held on July 1 because that's more or less the date we gained our independence from Great Britain. Unofficially, it's because it's pretty much the earliest date we can be certain the hockey season's over and that it'll also be warm enough to Barbecue.

Your typical Canada Day Celebration features a great concert, fireworks once the sun goes down (at this time of year that's around 10:00 pm in the South and never on the Northern border) not to mention a significant depletion of the National Beer Surplus.

July 2nd in Canada is also called "Hangover Day". For those of you in-country, I hope you're having a great one.

For you readers elsewhere, welcome to "JimmyFest 2007" featuring some of Canada's best bands performing live and fireworks to close. Fire up the grill and pass me a Rickard's Red, time to party!

Happy Canada Day Everybody!