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.


Diane Kristine Wild said...

Phew. Nice to have this side represented. I was feeling disloyal for not being so opposed to the notion that the CTF needs a serious overhaul, that the way Canadian TV is funding seems to have created a welfare state, and that we should have a hell of a lot more good and/or successful Canadian shows than we currently do. But I don't know enough about the industry to make any sort of intelligent argument about it. Thanks for actually saying what a lot of the audience feels, rather than just paying lip service to the audience while promoting your own interests.

ME said...

I don't dispute you. But I think the entire CTF system is fundamentally flawed and should be dismantled in favour of a higher tax credit that is conditional to broadcasters ponying up a minimum percentage of budget out of Canada and being restricted on profit share from international sales. That way, if you got your domestic commission and one decent other pre-sale, you'd be greenlit and financed, without having to play the CTF lottery (that's pretty much what it is). Not only are your odds not good, but it holds up projects for months. The biggest failing in the system is the people making the decisions on who gets the money. Consensus all round seems to be the choices haven't been good. You make good points. Nice to see you back around and talkin' sense.

jimhenshaw said...

What Dix was trying to say was that Jim Shaw and Canada's writers are all trying to counter broadcaster mediocrity. But being from Western Canada, which is closer to the real "Deadwood", it came out as a Swearengerism.

DMc said...

Except, Jim, the CRTC came back with a proposal to "fix" things based on Shaw's whining that was infinitely fucking worse.

Look -- we know what the problem is. Cable substitution. Get rid of that, and now the Canadian networks better try and make something good, or they'll fail.

But they want to take away our welfare, and not their welfare.

In a bullshit system that's gotten harder over the last nine years, we're still managing to make a few shows of quality.

Forgive me if I'm not on board for blowing up the system before there's something in its place that might actually work, or help.

We got told, "wait and see" in 1999, and we waited, and we saw.

Shaw's feeding into the bullshit line that there's nothing good being made. And that IS a bullshit line. So we call bullshit.

Feel free to side with the guy with the two private jets. Just don't expect the rest of us to line up and say, yay howdy.

Jason Chesworth said...

I agree with everything *but* the Swearengen comparison...Swearengen is way more compassionate at the end of the day....and hip.

Shaw is more like Bullock...angry and thinks he's the Sheriff, even when someone else is wearing the badge.