Thursday, February 28, 2008


It's nice when it's quiet. Life can seem peaceful then. Orderly and untroubled. No reason for concern. A fella could drift off to happy slumber. There clearly isn't a problem in the world. How could there be? It's so quiet. And silence, we're taught from the earliest age -- is golden.

I've been in the rain forest when it goes quiet. It's the oddest feeling. Because it's not a sign of serenity. It's a signal that something is very, very wrong. Birds stop singing. Tree critters freeze. Even insects have the good sense to STFU. Something dangerous has entered the neighborhood and nobody wants to be noticed until it moves on.

We can all recall some grizzled B-Movie character scanning a hostile horizon and muttering "It's quiet. Too quiet..." just before all hell breaks loose. And we all know the cliche is accurate.

In the natural world, silence defeats the predator and it moves on, knowing it can't find prey now than it has been detected. In human endeavor, the opposite is true.

In our world, silence means nobody noticed the window breaking. It means whoever heard the scream decided not to get involved. It means that the victim is too intimidated to speak.

So the human predator succeeds and gets to victimize again and again and again.

The rest of us are expected to suffer in silence for any injustice we may receive, especially when that injustice is meted out by our 'betters', the guy who signs our paycheck or authority in general. They have the rights and privileges. A "good" person "turns the other cheek" and leaves retribution to a higher power that may not ever appear.

I beg to differ.

A thousand years before the biblical exhortation to love our enemies and leave their punishment to God was written, a man named Confucious asked this simple question: "If you reward evil with good -- how do you reward good?"


Y'see not rewarding evil with silent compliance is not really a bad thing. It's a basic human instinct to protect yourself from harm. So why do people who are exploited, misused or unfairly vilified come to think of themselves as "troublesome" when they make any effort to merely defend themselves?

That's simple too. Because thinking that way helps the people who don't have your best interests at heart continue to take advantage of you and increase their grip on the power they've already gained by your silence.

Don't like the fact that some faceless bureaucrat is going to decide if your script is "offensive"? Maybe you should have said something when faceless bureaucrats were deciding what got made in the first place.

Every minute you keep quiet about things that upset you because doing so might hurt your job chances, damage your rep as a team player or eliminate an opportunity to cozy up to the "right" people; every single time you turn a blind eye to something you know is wrong -- you make the people doing those unfair things stronger and you ensure that your future chances of ever defeating them become less likely.

I'm not couseling you to become Paul Kersey here, creeping around Manhatten with your .38 and a mind bent on revenge. But I do remember seeing "Death Wish" on its opening night in a Manhatten theatre and watching an entire audience rise to its feet and cheer with a deafening, primal roar the first time their vigilante hero pulled the trigger.

That experience didn't teach me that revenge was a good thing. It schooled me in the cathartic power of breaking the bonds of expected behavior. It instructed me that self defense doesn't mean letting the other guy pound on you for a good while before you can react.

I know this goes against everything you've ever had drummed into you about being a good little Canadian artist. But fighting back can actually be quite constructive. Here's why:

1. It stops you from being injured any further. In less than ten years of bureaucratic stranglehold and corporate lying, we've gone from a vibrant industry that couldn't find enough people to make its films and television to one that's a shadow of its former self and in danger of completely disappearing.

For too long, too many of us have shaken our heads and shrugged, "What're you gonna do?"

Gee, I don't know, how about "something" -- "anything"!

The first step in getting out of a hole is not letting anybody make it deeper.

2. Fighting back puts the people who would control you on notice. Most of us human types follow the path of least resistance in life. If you bite, spit and scream and the next guy doesn't, they'll move on to him, or at least back away from you. And they'll have serious second thoughts about whether they can actually get away with whatever they had planned.

And that gives you the chance to make some moves of your own.

3. There really is such a thing as Creative conflict. You use it in your writing. Start using it in your life. Sure, it'll make some people get out of your way -- but, ask yourself why they even thought they could get in your way to begin with!

You're the artist here, the one with the ideas and the big dreams. Empires and fortunes are built on that stuff. Take charge and start dictating just how it's going to be from now on.

And try this -- the next time a dog barks at you, bark back. I guarantee you'll get his attention if not his respect. The next time somebody bumps into you at the supermarket, don't say "sorry". And the next time some faceless bureaucrat decides to take one more of your freedoms -- tell them "No!" and mean it!

There may not be a lot of us, people. But there's enough. And this has to stop.

Silence is only golden when it is being practiced by an audience listening to your uncensored words.

Monday, February 25, 2008



An old joke, but unfortunately apt, especially in Canadian Show Business.

I've received enormous response to the experiences I related in chasing earnings made by some of the films I've made. Thanks to all of you who wrote. Apparently, many of us share the same pain.

And while it's comforting to know I haven't been singled out for special treatment; it also brings home the point that we have a serious problem in this country when it comes to accountability.

As I said in the original post, these issues could all be resolved if Telefilm Canada would simply allow the artists they were incorporated to support and the tax paying community that supplies film funding to verify that our government has the same numbers we do.

It wouldn't be a tough job. Just get somebody to put the paper I send over top of the one already on file -- hold it up to the light. If they match, they match. If they don't -- Lucy's got some 'splaining to do.

Until that happens, Telefilm retains its position along with an out of touch regulator and our mysteriously enriched production entities as the axis of weasel that keeps Canadian artists from realizing their full potential.

Among the items forwarded to me from readers was a study published by the Communications Department of Penn State in 2001 which states, "the Canadian television production industry has been able to grow and prosper to the point where Canada now ranks only second to the United States in exports of television productions to the international market..."

Wow, second only to the USA in foreign sales! Ahead of the UK, France, Germany, even Bollywood!?! And yet, somehow, these earnings never get that programming into profit nor trickle down to the country's artists....

Does that seem logical to you?

Someone else linked me to an article written by Doug Saunders for The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting entitled "A Cheaters Guide to Canadian Television" or "How to Bilk Taxpayers and Influence People". Among his many revelations, Mr. Saunders includes a reference to the exclusive and expensive Muskoka vacation area near Toronto and a body of water the locals have dubbed "Lake Telefilm" because of all the film and TV executive properties which dot its shoreline.

Some of those vacation homes belong to the same executives who regularly go hat in hand to the CRTC or publish financial statements claiming their programming hasn't made a dime.

On a more troubling level, I was also supplied figures from SOCAN (The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) suggesting that sales territories communicated to them by Alliance Atlantis on my films aren't listed in those provided to me and the Writers Guild of Canada.

So this whole affair begins to shade a little darker.

Not that my gut didn't tell me it was headed that way from the beginning.

The financial reports I'd received from Alliance on the Harlequin films were initially troubling because they didn't reconcile with the claims the company had made to their shareholders in its Annual Reports.

But if you recall, I said I departed Alliance because I couldn't align myself with the corporate culture. And that had nothing to do with an office dress code that seemed dictated by the latest "Banana Republic" catalogue or the constant feeling that at any moment somebody might stuff a couple of soup cans into my hands and ask me to take a "personality test".

All productions are rigorously budgeted and those budgets are often revised to reflect the realities of production. Unexpected costs, currency fluctuations and savings all conspire to alter the final numbers.

One of my final formal duties on the four films I co-wrote and executive produced was to deliver what's known as an EFC, an Estimate of Final Costs. The production's line producers, accountants and production managers gathered to compile that and we were all in a pretty good mood.

All our records indicated we were well under budget with only a couple of outstanding invoices in dispute for reasons related to rental car insurance or incomplete employment schedules. All quite normal and amounting to an insignificant future expense if they had to be paid.

I signed off the EFC and left for what I figured was a well-earned vacation.

Two weeks later, I was back in the office as a lawyer from Business Affairs handed me the final audited cost report I needed to sign. The bottom line number, however, was now over budget. I inquired about the discrepancy and asked to see the line item budget that would support it. He said that wasn't allowed.


I made it clear I wasn't autographing any budget I hadn't read. He suggested that would put me in breach of contract. I thought over the troubling incidents I'd shouldered aside to bring the films in on time and under budget, decided a breach of contract suit could be the least of my worries -- and walked.

Nobody sued.

About a year later, I received my first financial statement and requested the audited final costs of the films in the hope of figuring things out. After a bit of a tussle, my lawyer managed to acquire them.

Because government funding regulations in Canada require that final production costs are vetted by independent auditors, I decided to get in touch with those guys to see if they could shed any light.

There were two audits. One for the two Canadian location films and one for the two that we had filmed in Europe. Each had been done by a different audit firm.

The first had been published under an impressive scroll font indicating a triple name partnership of some repute. Despite the fact that Alliance was headquartered in downtown Toronto, this firm was tucked into "Suite 201" of an address on the far Eastern edge of the city. Initially, this didn't strike me as odd. When you find a good accountant, most producers will walk a mile of shattered glass to get to him.

But my suspicions were aroused when I pulled into the parking lot of a rundown strip mall and further heightened when I discovered "Suite 201" was on the lone floor over a Korean nail salon.

I went upstairs to discover not one large suite which might house three accounting partners, but a warren of tiny offices. "201" bore the nameplate of a single accountant. But the name didn't match any on my audit letterhead.

I entered a sparse office with a single desk, one chair and a polite man of South Asian descent working on a pile of receipts. I apologized for interrupting and told him I was looking for the triumverate of auditors. He visibly tightened.

"They're not here."

I told him I'd realized that much, asked if maybe I had the address wrong or they'd moved since the document I was holding had been created. He asked to see the papers. I handed them over and said I just needed to ask the auditors a few questions. He was perusing the document now and looked scared.

"Who's asking questions?"

I told him right now it was just me. But he was getting really nervous. So I assured him that I knew he hadn't created the audit and just wanted to find the guys who had. He handed back the papers.

"Sometimes they use this office."

I looked around at the single desk and chair. "All three of them?" I asked.

He looked trapped. I wish I could account for that with my imposing presence and threatening nature. But it's far from the reality.

"They're in Montreal. That's all I can say."

I tried to ask a few more questions, but he didn't want to know. So I thanked him for his help and left.

But it got me wondering why a respectable Canadian production giant would farm out a government required audit to a firm in Montreal that would then feel the need to publish it under a Toronto address that they and the production company both knew they didn't occupy.

It didn't fall into any category I could define as "the normal course of business".

A few days later, I saw the photograph of an RCMP Officer I'd interviewed for "Top Cops" in the Business section of the Globe and Mail. He'd retired from the Mounties to work as an investigator for an accounting firm. I called to congratulate him and related my story. He laughed for an uncomfortably long time and invited me down to "meet some people" he thought I needed to meet.

His people were forensic accountants who soon uncovered other aspects to the audits that seemed normal to me but drifted off that scale for them. One audit, for example, had been generated less than 48 hours after the reporting period it covered. Something that people who do this work find somewhat unusual.

The forensics guys were also able to define specific dollar amounts for costs that didn't reconcile with anything in my crammed bankers boxes of related documents. Two of their repeated questions were, "Where's the Government in all this?" and "Why did Ottawa accept these numbers?".

I told them I didn't know. Production company records disappear into a black hole at Telefilm impermeable to even the Freedom of Information Act. There is no way to access what a film or television program earns in those foreign markets we apparently excel at selling, nor is there any way to be certain the audited costs of those same productions are accurate.

That said, some accuracy in financial reporting may soon arrive through the foreign investment of Goldman-Sachs in the CanWest purchase of Alliance-Atlantis and the film and television library in which my films reside.

Interestly, the current head of Telefilm and others intimately connected with many of those library titles suggested the Goldman Sachs acquisition was a "threat" to our cultural integrity. And perhaps threatened something else of greater concern to these players...

I say that because the executives at Goldman-Sachs must deal with two words foreign to most Canadian corporate accounting -- Sarbanes Oxley.

The Sarbanes-Oxley laws were enacted in America in 2002, in response to the outrages at Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, Tyco and others, making corporate executives personally accountable for their company's financial reporting. I hope the powers that be at Goldman-Sachs knew what they were buying into up here. If not, I'm certain they are quickly learning.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the system put in place when television arrived here in 1952 and Parliament stipulated "Canadian television must safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada" might finally be realized through the intervention of foreign ownership from the very nation Parliament was trying to protect us from.

As I write this, Karlheinz Schreiber and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney are converging on Ottawa to explain envelopes of cash exchanged in hotel rooms. David Radler of Canada's once eminently respected Hollinger Inc. reports to prison in Pennsylvania while his partner Conrad Black faces the same fate next week in Chicago. Across town, executives for Nortel, once our largest, most prestigeous corporate citizen, await arrest warrants that may send their top echelon of executives to the crowbar hotel for a very long time.

The impression given by some of our once respected Captains of Industry (and any number of quotes in the NY Times by Wall Street heavies) is that corporate governance in this country is unreliable if not downright crispy.

If the film and television business managed to escape that malaise, our Federal Government and Telefilm is in the perfect position to prove it. If we slipped, maybe it's time to come clean, balance the long overdue accounts to our artists and taxpayers and figure out where we go from here.

But if my own suspicions prove correct, there could also be a lot of lakefront property in Muskoka available real soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


After a couple of weeks of relentlessly dealing with the dark and frustrating aspects of Canadian Show Business, it's nice to wake up to a day when several of our colleagues share the spotlight with cinema greats from around the world.

Yeah, I know, the Academy Awards are tawdry and over-hyped and a stage set for spectacular emotional trainwrecks. But the truth is, you don't get there without talent, a certain amount of unique artistry as well as some help from your friends.

There's a reason those speeches go on so long. There really are too many people to thank.

There are several Canadians nominated this year. Ellen Page for Best Actress in "Juno" along with the director of that film, Jason Reitman.

I know the cards are stacked against "Juno" because it's a comedy and competing with the battery of heavy hitters behind and before the cameras in "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood", not to mention the emotional wringers that "Atonement" and "Michael Clayton" put on display.

But as magnificent as all those films are, "Juno" is the one in this bunch that really touched me -- so I hope it manages to pull off an upset.

Sarah Polley is nominated for adapted screenplay, but she could easily have also been nominated for her achingly beautiful direction on "Away From Her".

We also have two nominations for best animated short. Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski for "Madame Tutli-Putli" and John Raskin for the John Lennon inspired "I Met the Walrus". I'm rooting for a tie.

But one Canadian I hopes gets some recognition hasn't had much press. Paul LeBlanc is credited for creating the bizarre hairstyle Javier Bardem sports in "No Country for Old Men". And for several years he was my next door neighbor.

I was breaking into the business as an actor and Paul was already becoming recognized for his astonishing ability to enhance character using little more than a pair of scissors and a comb.

Whenever a new script dropped in his mailbox, Paul began an arduous and intense research of the period, the location, as well as the economic and social stratas of the characters -- all based on how people in that time and place and particular walk of life would have worn their hair. This guy did his homework.

I attribute much of my own work ethic to what I learned from him. More than once, he'd find me on the front step, learning my lines and ask about the story and the character. A day or two later, he'd be cutting my hair or delivering a hand woven mustache or wig that suddenly gave the character a dimension I would never have found on my own.

Paul already has an Oscar for "Amadeus", a BAFTA award for "Big Fish" and a Genie for his overall body of work. Despite all that recognition, he still lives outside Moncton, preferring to work on films that locate there rather than moving to LA.

More than any other form of human expression, film is a collaborative art. The actors, the directors and sometimes the writers get a lot of notice from the public. But no film achieves any significant success without the dedicated contributions of every single member of the production.

I'm certain that green dress in "Atonement" wasn't envisioned by the writer or Natalie Portman; and the breathtaking tracking shot of the chaos at Dunkirk in the same film wouldn't have happened without several hundred extras, grips and AD's working with incredible precision.

Somebody you've never heard of came up with that Dancing Elk flag and the inspired casting choices in "Juno" and somebody else carefully shepherded Daniel Day Lewis home at night or made sure a nice cup of tea was handy as he wrestled that beast he unleashed onscreen in "There Will Be Blood" back down into his inner depths.

Try to envision "Michael Clayton" without its controlled editing and muted color tones. Consider whether Javier Bardem would be a lock for Best Supporting Actor if Paul LeBlanc hadn't cut his hair.

There are 24 frames in every second of a film and every one of those frames only makes the final cut because years of talent, struggle, dedication and collaboration come together inside it with a single goal -- to tell an entertaining story.

The vast majority of people who work in this business will never be nominated for an Oscar. But in honoring those who are, we acknowledge the work of them all.

Today's Sunday offering is an example of that dedication to craft. This was created by three animation students from France. It's their homework. A school project that took them six months to complete. I hope they got an "A" and I won't be surprised if someday all of them are picking up an Academy Award.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Monday, February 18, 2008


As they did a couple of weeks ago at the CTF hearings, Canada's broadcasters use every television festival, industry convention and government hearing to avow their commitment to providing Canadians with the very best television possible.

According to their oft repeated mantras, they're continually out there beating the bushes for great shows and learning what their audience really, really wants. They'll go on ad nauseum about the back breaking process they endure trolling foreign markets or US network previews to find quality product; and wax poetic on the tenacious dedication of their own crack development teams.

"Nobody tries to produce a bad show."

"Our success depends on giving our viewers what they want."

And if the regulators would only let them have a little more free money and a somewhat longer leash -- oh, well, then -- what wonders they could achieve.

Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words and the actions of our broadcasters in just this past week, as their words to the CRTC were still echoing around that hermetically sealed Gatineau hearing room, indicate how they really operate.

Let's start with CTV and "Dexter".

For those unfamiliar with Miami's most famous fictional serial killer, "Dexter" is a Showtime series about a charming homicidal monster. It's intelligent, challenging and utterly original -- all those things "Good" television is supposed to be.

Yeah, there's blood and people speak like actual adults from time to time. But personally, I find the blood on "Dexter" more rooted in the drama and easier to handle than the gore on "Nip/Tuck" or "CSI", two other CTV series. And pretty much any language used on the show is more than familiar to Canadian audiences after six uncut seasons of "The Sopranos".

But, despite its critical acclaim, CTV didn't pick up "Dexter" for Canadian audiences after season one -- or season two. Nor did they, upon learning CBS was bringing "Dexter" aboard to shore up its WGA Strike damaged slate, decide the time might be right to run the unexpurgated 55 minute episodes. A decision that could have been seen as an attempt to provide quality programming to an audience left without a lovable homicidal maniac since Tony Soprano's untimely blackout.

Only CTV didn't do that. Instead they simulcast the CBS 47 minute cleaned up and cut down version.


Well, it might be that they thought the CBS cut was better. Sometimes "Less" really is "More". But the truth is, CTV needs to shore up its own numbers right now and simulcasting with CBS is the easiest way to do that.

You see, when a US series is simulcast in Canada, the foreign network feed is replaced by one rebroadcast from Canada. Somebody throws a switch and the American version, with all its commercials, news bumpers and scrolling Tornado warnings, becomes whatever is on offer in Canada. It's the reason you don't see all the Superbowl Commercials or might be led to believe an actual Canadian Tire or Pizza Pizza blimp is gliding over a NASCAR track.

In return for protecting us from buying adjustable beds or realizing that cordless drills down there cost a fraction of what they do here, our broadcasters get to lay claim to the viewers who were watching the station they've taken hostage.

That means that when Global says 2 million people were watching "House", they mean that 600,000 were watching on a cable or satellite channel attributed to Global and 1.4 million were staying on FOX to be in line for the immediate Brittany updates at 11:00 instead of having to endure something about transfer payments on "Global National" before they get to the really important stuff.

Now, as we all learned during the recent CTF hearings, "Audience reach" (ratings) are one of the "Metrics" (Measurements) used to determine "Envelopes" (free taxpayer money). Meaning that even if the viewers watching "House" had fallen asleep on top of the remote so nobody could change the channel from FOX, they help increase the amount of money that flows into Global/CanWest coffers.

As I've said, one of the high points of the hearings for me was watching the CanWest Reps present an earnest argument for their overall ratings to be a "Metric" in determining the size of their envelope and the Commissioners dutifully exploring just what that might mean. Next day somebody from the CTF stated, "Uh -- like -- we already do that, eh?" indicating that nobody on either side of the hearing table had even the first clue on the matter.

Do we need much more evidence that the CRTC is staffed by buffoons who don't know Jack about the industry they're regulating? Actually, I'll give you some in a minute. But first I want to introduce you to another Canadian broadcaster dedicated to quality.

Two years ago, a consortium consisting of CTV and Rogers Communications was awarded broadcast rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. They promised to deliver finer coverage of these athletic events than anyone in Canada has ever done before. An obvious dig at the losers at the CBC since everybody knew the only broadcaster here who's ever done the Olympics was them.

They also promised to bring a vibrant new broadcast style to the games, doing things that would make them exciting to the partners' core 18-49 demographic. And to do that, they promptly hired the CBC's Olympic anchor Brian Williams, who'll be 64 when the torch arrives in Vancouver -- and a year later brought over the Executive Director of CBC Sports, Nancy Lee, to produce the show for them.

So much for being the new guys with fresh ideas.

Next Sunday, the consortium, through Rogers Sportsnet, has its first opportunity to show what they can do. The next leg of the World Cup of Skiing takes place in Whistler on that day and it's a chance at a dry run on the very slopes where the Olympic Downhill and Slalom races will be held. It's also a world stage to preview any new broadcast technologies and innovative approaches to sports reporting.

But instead, Sportsnet will only have one reporter on site and call the races -- off a monitor -- in Toronto.

Uh, Guys, that's not innovative. That's how sports were broadcast in the 1930's.

Before becoming an actor, US president Ronald Reagan was a radio sportscaster in Iowa. Because live feeds of baseball games were either technically impossible or unaffordable, Reagan regularly "broadcast" Chicago Cubs baseball games from play-by-play copy relayed via telegraph from the ballpark.

During one game between the Cubs and their arch rival the St. Louis Cardinals, that was tied 0-0 in the 9th inning, the telegraph went dead. Reagan vamped, calling foul ball after foul ball until his operator reconnected, learning the batter (now approaching a foul ball record) had popped out on the first pitch.

I sure hope nothing like that happens to Sportsnet. God knows what the guy in Toronto with only his monitor to go by will do. And it makes you wonder where that lone reporter at Whistler is going to be. Will he be in a position to cover every skiier who goes down or off course? If there's rain or fog, will he know who's leaving the starting gate and when? Will he be fluent in enough languages to interview competitors and coaches from Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Japan -- you know, the countries where World Cup skiers come from?

It's not like those eventualities won't arise, since even somebody with only a passing interest in World Cup Skiing knows they regularly do.

But Sportsnet obviously doesn't care and according to reports has already royally pissed off the International Ski organizations it'll need to work with in 2010.

Nice going guys -- way to save a buck!

But as we've said before -- all Canadian broadcasters care about is not spending money. Even when they have marvelous programming of great social import, they don't get behind it.

In the Comments section here, you'll find the director of "Mayerthorpe", the made for TV movie on the murder of four RCMP Officers, reveal that the first ads for the film appeared seven days before its broadcast -- and never anywhere but where they were vitually free of charge -- on CTV.

Two days before the broadcast of "Mayerthorpe", CTV was using it as an example to the CRTC of their deep commitment to Canadian stories and promising how much more programming just like it they would do -- if they only had a little more Free Money from Canadian Taxpayers.

Our broadcasters, so ingrained at having finished programming literally handed to them, seem to follow the "If You Build It They Will Come" philosophy; failing to realize that's the case when you have the only baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield featuring legendary players who are dead -- but it's not necessarily what works in a country with 662 different channels to choose from.

No wonder Jim Shaw is pissed! No wonder I am! His customers and "my" audience are being treated like shit while simultaneously being force fed with it. And nobody from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on down gives a damn!

Did I ask if you needed more evidence that the CRTC is staffed by buffoons? Well here it is -- from a morning Press Release....

"The Conservative government has appointed a former party candidate to the CRTC - the country's broadcast regulator.

Marc Patrone was a declared candidate for the Conservatives in May 2005. But he returned to his job as a legislative journalist before an election was called.

Heritage Minister Josee Verner announced his appointment as a full-time member of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Verner said Patrone's experience "will greatly benefit the CRTC."

Before joining the Liberal supporters screaming "Hypocrisy and Patronage", take a moment to remember that most of the other boneheads on the CRTC are former bagmen and party flacks those guys appointed.

The sad truth is none of our governments have taken Broadcast regulation seriously enough to appoint people who actually care about broadcasting let alone serving the needs of Canadian audiences.

Instead they staff the Commission with people with the same commitment to quality as our broadcasters. The new guy's credentials indicate he's been a reporter for CTV and Global -- so at least he'll remember who used to sign his paychecks.

He's also a failed Country singer, so the Commission is now able to claim it has heard the creative unions and appointed "one of their own" to its ranks.

Expect a "Christmas with The Rankins" special on CTV or maybe a Hank Snow Bio-pic. Oh, wait, that's period -- it'll never get green-lit.

God, it just goes on, doesn't it?

Friday, February 15, 2008


One of the most rewarding things I've done in life was learning to scuba dive. It has allowed me to explore the completely different planet that exists under our oceans from the Caribbean to the Great Barrier Reef. From glistening transluscent jelly creatures to forests of fan coral, the beauty on offer down there is endlessly overwhelming. And it's almost impossible to describe the thrill of swimming with giant sea turtles, stingrays and even sharks.

On one of my earliest dives I also came face to face with an Atomic submarine. We were swimming off the coast of Grand Cayman when this gigantic shape suddenly loomed out of the endless blue. It was a British submarine ascending the bottomless Cayman Wall and silently gliding past on its way into Port.

Later that evening, we ran into the ship's crew partying ashore and told them of seeing their arrival. One of the lads was their sonar operator, who described getting a visual fix on our dive party so the Captain could breeze past without incident.

A new machine designed to take you underwater in style has just "surfaced" in that legendary nation of hardy seafarers -- Switzerland. And no matter what your swimming abilities, this is definitely the coolest way to explore a reef. Anybody who's got one -- I'll be shotgun.

Enjoy your Sunday.


I've frankly been overwhelmed by the reaction to the post just below this one touching on the accounting practices within the Canadian film and television industry. Over the last couple of days, this site has attracted more readers than I get in the average month. And that is both gratifying and troubling.

Gratifying because like any writer, it's rewarding to know that people are reading and responding to something you've written. Troubling because of what's been written to me in return.

By last night, I'd received a boatload of Comments and private emails. However, most will never appear appended to the "Eden" post. Not, as some may assume, because their writers don't agree with me. In fact, not one reaction falls into that category.

No, what I've been reading over the last 24 hours is a litany of personal humiliation at the hands of Canadian producers and broadcasters; artists being silenced, work being misappropriated and other tales of show business greed and misdeeds that range from the possibly criminal to those merely morally reprehensible.

And I'm not sure what to do with all that stuff. I sought advice from several friends last night, receiving recommendations from "Don't say anything" to "Print it all" including the compromise option of offering the material with the names redacted or disguised.

But none of those choices work for me.

Although I'm not a journalist and the blogosphere doesn't cleave much to journalistic principles, I've always felt you've got to follow that MO if you want to be taken seriously. I don't have physical proof or witnesses to what's been relayed, nor the time to do the legwork in finding such.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm not interested in being a conduit for gossip or assisting somebody with their own personal axe to grind.

I'm also a guy who has always believed in the knock out punch rather than the bitch-slap. So I want to do what's right. In my world, you get respect and whatever room you feel you need until you prove yourself unworthy -- and then you never get either one again. That's a cruel path to take with somebody else's foes.

But there is too much pain in these letters and comments to be ignored and what we're up against in getting rid of that suffering feels like a mythic task.

Canada has always been a nation that has devoured its young, its most vibrant and most promising (the "Tall Poppy Syndrome"). And that's not done out of spite. It's done to protect the Oligarchs and institutions already established. They're terrified of any renewal or change that might lessen their power. As a result, we've become a living embodiment of the myth of Saturn.

According to this ancient tale, it had been foretold that one of Saturn's sons would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown his father. To prevent this, Saturn ate each of his children as soon as they were born. His wife finally hid his son Jupiter in exile. And, as predicted, Jupiter returned home to overthrow his father.

Take a moment to visit this CPAC LINK and watch last Friday's submission from four Canadian screenwriters to the CRTC hearings on the Canadian Television Fund. You have to click the [>] button past the first clip to reach our guys.

What is patently obvious throughout is that the Commissioners have no clue what these writers are talking about. I don't know Aaron Martin and, not being in his prime demographic, I don't know much of his work. But he's a pretty smart cookie and watching him try to remain courteous and respectful and even get his head around the lunacies being suggested by the CRTC would be darkly funny if it wasn't also so damn tragic.

Aaron, you are among my new heroes. And I have no doubt, you will soon move into exile, where like such Jupiters as Jim Carrey, Paul Haggis, David Shore and the creative forces behind (the not Canadian enough to compete for a Genie) "Juno", you will be part of a culture that will one day fell our own Saturn establishment.

Click back on that CPAC link and you can witness a completely different tone of engagement between the Commissioners and satellite provider Bell Expressvu. And this is doubly ironic because Expressvu is part of a corporate entity facing a multi-Billion dollar class action suit in its telecom divisions while covering that alleged malfeasance with the false claim that their actions were mandated by the CRTC.

Less than a week later, Expressvu itself is on the wrong end of yet another Class Action suit over billing practices that, if proven, will result in criminal sentences.

Yet they get the kid glove treatment and the goody bag while the kids with a passion for their country receive a surly, cold shoulder.

And Canadian writers aren't the only ones reeling from the stench of what goes on within our production community. A friend who runs a well-known international charity recently turned down a six figure donation from a Canadian film and television producer after vetting his company. His exact words to that producer -- "You're not doing your charity penance here."

What does it say about our "respected" establishment favorites when even those fighting starvation, HIV and medical need around the planet decline much needed donations rather than be associated with them?

Something within our industry and our nation needs serious attention.

And right now, I need some help in figuring out what to do with all these letters. Do I send them to the CRTC, who I already know can't be trusted? Do I provide them to journalists who might enjoy leading a two-day "Cause Celebre" before moving on to some other topic? Are they the fodder for yet another WGC pity party?

It's so odd to live in a free country and feel you have nowhere to turn to find justice.

Maybe our only choice is to make some Class Action attorneys extremely wealthy through what we know.

Please send me your suggestions. I promise they will be printed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008



(***with apologies to "The Eagles" for re-purposed content -- and bladder warning -- this is a long one, so pee first***)

It looks like the WGA is back at work and even CBS mogul Les Moonves, demonized early on in the process, is touting the deal as fair and reasonable for both sides as well as acknowledging his personal respect for writers. Likewise, WGA President Patrick Verrone has credited Fox mogul Peter Chernin and Robert Iger of Disney for breaking the deadlock so a solution could be found.

And those expressions of appreciation and trust are great because they go a long way toward healing the rifts that have developed over the last months and draining away the last bad blood. As I said in Part One when this dispute went Postal, nobody "wins" a strike and the final contract will be imperfect.

It takes well-intentioned people on both sides of labor and management to make a collective agreement work and should one side or the other abrogate their new responsibilities or take advantage of some remaining loophole, then the whole painful process has been for naught and the industry will be back on the road to turmoil and loss.

I'm certain the feeling in Los Angeles, New York and other WGA production centers parallels the one I had after successfully negotiating the first Writers Guild of Canada collective agreement with Independent Producers. It was a new world, a lush and verdant Eden with plenty of low-hanging fruit for everyone.

Little did I know...

"Galaxies unfolding;
New Worlds being born
Pilgrims and Prodigals creeping toward the dawn
But it's a long road out of Eden."

In this negotiation, the WGA gained something that has been in Writers Guild of Canada contracts for some time -- residual earnings derived as a percentage of Distributors Gross. We collect our residuals, or "royalties" as we call them, differently. Our Independent Producer Contract has always followed the philosophy that "When they make money, we make money".

It's part of that Canadian tradition of treating people fairly.

Unfortunately, being "fair" hasn't worked that well for Canadian writers.

That's because some Canadian producers, protected by the privacy cloak of a public funding system controlled by agencies such as Telefilm Canada and further sheltered by regulators like the CRTC, who do not appear to police their own rulings that stringently, have been left free to make enormous profits.

Profits that are not shared with either Canadian taxpayers, whose money fuels their businesses, or the artistic community to whom they are contractually obliged to financially report on their Distribution income.

For decades, Canadian producers and broadcasters have gone, hat in hand, to the Federal government and the CRTC crying poor, declaiming their inability to compete with the gigantic Hollywood machine unless they receive Billions in production subsidies and protected status in the broadcast realm. And they have received both.

To be sure, Canadian artists have also benefited from the largess of the Canadian public under this system. Quite honestly, most of us thought we were just getting the chance to help our country tell its stories and build a culture for our neighbors and our children while defining Canada's face for the rest of the world.

And none of us were getting rich in the process.

But some were.

Appearing before the CRTC hearings on the Canadian Television Fund last week, one of our finest screenwriters, David Barlow, stated the following:

"Over the past decades, I have watched production companies and specialty channels being built on the back of Canadian television programs financed with public funds. I have seen these production companies and specialty channels prosper. I have seen hundreds of people employed by these companies and I have seen these companies and their libraries of Canadian television programs bought and sold in mega-deals and I have seen the major shareholders in these companies become multi-millionaires.

Canadian television programs don't make money? It all depends on how you do the accounting."

"We're riding to Utopia;
Roadmap says we'll be arriving soon.
Captains of the old order clinging to the reins
Assuring us these aches inside are only growing pains.
But it's a long road out of Eden..."

So let's talk about Accounting -- Creative Accounting.

In 1994, I co-wrote and Executive Produced four movies of the week for Alliance Communications (later Alliance-Atlantis) for broadcast on CBS. These were based on Harlequin Romance novels and I was initially contracted to do 16 of them. But I quit after completing the first four, unable to square the company's corporate culture with my own (however flawed) code of ethics.

I believe my exact words at the time were, "I didn't spend 25 years working my way up this business so I could become a pimp."

As you may suspect, there's some baggage here.

Under our agreement, Alliance was (and still is) required to provide me with ongoing financial statements tracking my share of profits from these films, both as a Producer and as a Writer. And from the beginning I was troubled by the reports I received on either side of my hyphenate. So I engaged a well-respected forensic accounting firm to help me figure things out.

Among my concerns was the lack of reported income from foreign distribution. The following is one small segment of that forensic accounting report...

"Various annual reports and the prospectus issued by Alliance referred specifically to the International distribution of the Harlequin movies.

1995 Annual Report (May 1995) Pg. 10 - "The Harlequin Romance Movies were pre-sold to all of Europe and Latin America -- 61 Countries in all."

Supplemental Short Form Prospectus (August 1996) Pg. 34 - "Examples of the global appeal of the Company's product include its made for television Harlequin Romance Movies, licensed in 90 countries..."

1996 Annual Report (August 1996) Pg. 4 - "Our television movies and mini-series such as The Harlequin Romance Movies have delivered winning ratings to our broadcasters.

We have built an international client list in over 100 nations whose demand for our product continues to rise as we deliver hit programs like the ones mentioned above..."

Sounds fairly rosey. Should be a good little earner! However, the report goes on to examine the financial statements provided to my production company and the Writers Guild of Canada...

"To June 30, 1996, the Harlequin movies appear to have been distributed to only 25 countries....not 61 as the 1995 Annual Report suggested."

Or the 90 that would be listed two months later in the August, 1996 prospectus. Or the indeterminate number over 100 which followed in the next Annual Report...

In a follow up statement, dated December 31, 2002, Alliance-Atlantis' list of territories sold had risen to 51 (actually 50 since they listed Trinidad and Tobago as separate countries) -- but still not 61 or 90 or a hundred and whatever...

Now, don't for a minute assume Alliance may have been less than forthcoming with their investor documents. First of all, that's seriously against the law. Second, those documents are assiduously policed by any number of Securities watchdogs and we in Canada are especially aware of what Bulldogs those guys are, right?

So one can only assume the smaller market totals reflecting far less distribution were some kind of inexplicable oversight in reports to parties who -- coincidentally -- might have greater difficulty acquiring information and less institutional assistance to clarify any confusion they may have had.

I found that out the hard way, finding my legal representatives stalled and stonewalled to the point where it made no economic sense to keep them supplied with Aspirin and ice packs to keep butting their heads against an immovable object.

Because Public money was involved, however, and knowing how stringent Telefilm and other government run funding agencies are in the ongoing documentation they require from producers, I figured that might be the best place to verify the earnings of these productions.

But I discovered that despite being tasked with dispensing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on Canadian production, Telefilm, as a Crown Corporation, is not required to provide any such detailed information to anybody -- even under freedom of information laws.

In other words, they spend our tax money on what they deem fit and if one project makes a boatload of cash or another loses its shirt, you're not allowed to know the details -- even if you're only trying to find out if they got the same numbers you did.

Now, that's odd, isn't it?

Like, they're part of the same government which oversees all the legislation that governs labor-management discourse and contract law. So, you'd think if somebody asked if what was being reported under a legally negotiated Canadian collective agreement or contract matched what was being reported under a legally binding agreement with a government department, it wouldn't be a big deal to run your finger down a couple of columns and check.

But apparently it is.

Mind you, we've had other major producers (not Alliance) admit in court that they kept one set of books for Telefilm that showed profits and another for investors that showed losses, or outright falsified the nationalities of their "Canadian" writers to maximize funding and nothing much happened to them either.

Makes you wonder why Canadian producers are so loathe to challenge Hollywood. Honestly, these guys are fricken bullet-proof!

But, between that and the revolving door that seems to exist between those employed by Government funding agencies and the executive offices at major producers they occupy immediately before or after those gigs, it does make boy detectives like me start conjuring a lot of fanciful possibilities.

See, in the netherworlds of stuff like stock frauds and money laundering (not that I'm suggesting -- just a colorful metaphor) this kind of arrangement would be known as a "closed system", offering the participants all kinds of ways to line their pockets without any outsiders getting a peek.

Not that such a thing could occur in Canada. I mean, when was the last time anybody here used a government department to funnel money to their friends?

Besides that time with the thing...

And I wasn't the only one having a problem with financial reports. According to the Fall 2001 issue of "Canadian Screenwriter", the Writers Guild of Canada was grieving 119 Alliance-Atlantis projects for "non-reporting of distribution advances and/or excessive or unverified fees and expenses."

But even an organization as dedicated as the WGC could not sustain legal combat on that many fronts, although they put up a damn good fight. In late 2003, they finally had to throw in the towel like I had and move on.

The grievances were withdrawn with the Guild accepting that the reports and payments (if any) it had received by the settlement date were a "full and final satisfaction" to that date of some 283 titles produced by the Company or its acquisitions and associates between 1983 and 2002.

I was a little pissed by this. But I took the pain I had endured, multiplied it 283 times and knew the only sane choice was to move on.

But since few, if any, of these titles were earning enough Distribution income to get above water, a couple of questions have dogged me.

First, how did A-A keep getting the lion's share of Government funding year after all 19 of those years if they weren't showing Telefilm a significant return? I know nobody's allowed to know the answer to that, but it still seems worth asking.

"Weaving down the American Highway
Through the litter and the wreckage and the cultural junk
Bloated with entitlement;
Loaded on propaganda
Now we're driving dazed and drunk..."

Second, those titles make up 1/4 of the legendary 1200 title Alliance-Atlantis library created with $2.5 Billion in taxpayer funding that changed ownership in December 2007 after "rigorous" examination by the CRTC.

And we all know how medieval Konrad and the boys can get when the chance arrives to kick some privileged semi-monopoly butt!

This library was acknowledged in the Globe and Mail as "By far the most profitable piece of Alliance-Atlantis...its margins are huge and there is zero new investment required."

And then Globe writer, Gayle MacDonald, added this, "Goldman Sachs was eager to get its hands on the library - and on the tens of millions in revenue it generates each year." (G&M 06/25/07)

Which made me ask this -- I know "CSI" makes money (even after the bullion shipments that are hived off the top to SAG, DGC, WGA and its gross participants) but how is the rest of this well past its broadcast stale date library delivering such spectacular annual revenue when so many of its titles are not even in profit?

Perhaps with the library now in the control of (depending how much you trust the diligence of the CRTC) CanWest or Goldman-Sachs, the next financial report on these titles will finally clarify many of my questions.

But I'm not confident in that.

You see, I wrote and produced another series that was in profit from Day One, and returned buckets of royalties to its writers for many years -- until CanWest started running it EIGHT TIMES A WEEK for THREE SOLID SEASONS.

And oddly enough, since that started, it hasn't earned another dime!

Not possible, I know, but this is Canada.

I'll save that story for Part Three. You need to pee. And somebody at CanWest needs to give some serious thought to returning some phonecalls.

"Behold the bitten apple, the power of the tools
But all the knowledge in the world is of no use to fools
And it's a long road out of Eden..."

-- Don Henley, Glenn Frey & Timothy B. Schmit (Privet Songs/Red Cloud Music (BMI)/Jeddrah Music (ASCAP)

Monday, February 11, 2008


Windowless, airless rooms have been designed that way for a purpose.

If it's a casino, it is to cut you off so completely from the real world that you lose all track of time, better uses for your money and the immutable laws of probability. You are separated from the herd and its natural instincts, so you may be fleeced or gutted without the next crowd of suckers being able to see the process in action.

Slaughterhouses are windowless and airless for similar reasons. No right thinking person could witness what takes place there or endure the stench and ever consume another steak or pork chop.

The CRTC does its work in a similarly airless, windowless room for many of the same reasons.

For the Commissioners, it is a place where reality can be replaced by spin, where the Canadian audience is gutted and fleeced to enrich our broadcaster casino owners and the country's artists are butchered into cuts labeled "cultural" or "commercial" as a way of reducing their chances of changing a corrupt status quo.

Courtesy CPAC (where the hearing videos are still available for viewing) and a cold that left me unable to do something more productive, I watched all five days of hearings and spent the following weekend struggling not to fall into despair over the future so obviously being constructed for my industry and my country. For I firmly believe that even if we win the faux contests that were staged last week in Gatineau, we lose.

Cultural or commercial streams, board memberships, metric adjustments, who cares.

Yet they were the primary thrust of the Commissioners' concerns. As panel after panel of well meaning and decent Canadians was called forth, all I could see was the macabre machinations of a system that wasn't about to be fucked with.

I watched people like the incredibly passionate and dedicated Maureen Parker of the Writers Guild; Alan Golubov, who has wrangled the DGC as masterfully as he ran any production set; Richard Hardacre, perhaps the most eloquent president ACTRA has ever had and his truly noble right hand, Gary Neil, a man who has given his life to three generations of actors -- I watched all of these people follow the presentation script of appearing much like kids presenting their class project, while it was clear what they had to say meant little to the powers that be.

The fix was in, guys. And the real problem preventing the creation of successful Canadian programming won't be remedied.

This current round of determining the content and financing of Canadian programming was initiated by Shaw Communications with its threat to withdraw contributions to the Canadian Television Fund because it didn't feel its subscriber audience was being well served. That led to a CTF taskforce recommending that the funds available be further divided into streams determined by the cultural or commercial potential of a program.

That concept was rightly attacked by the artistic guilds as the insult to Canadian artists and clear attempt to ghettoize and marginalize them that it is. It was a concept, however, that was embraced and emboldened with rapacious zeal by representatives of the private broadcasters.

Some weren't as outlandish as Rogers, forgetting its manners its first time at the grown ups table and announcing "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" as they insisted that the world would fall apart unless they were given complete control.

Boy, corporations sure pattern themselves after their founders, don't they? I used to think anyone portraying Ted Rogers as a grasping psychopath was nuts. But after seeing the "we can run all this ourselves" approach of the new kids on the block, I can give up any notion that Ted might offer free NFL tickets here to pay Toronto taxpayers back for the great deal he got from them on the Rog Mahal.

Oddly enough, the guys who created the crisis, Shaw Communications, weren't on their side, as the Rogers, CanWest, CTV Bell Globemedia -- uh -- media had led us to expect.

In fact, those crazed Cowboys from out West were very clearly on the side of the artists. And that's where my faint hope for the future resides.

I know, I know, Jim Shaw proved himself to be the self-righteous little knob everybody with a cultural agenda, a beret (or both) said he was; by petulently refusing to turn up in person for the hearings because he wasn't going to get to present his little brief to the "A" team of the Commission.

In Cowboy terms, Mr. Shaw has officially labeled himself "All Hat and No Cattle". Nice going, Sugarfoot! You had a chance to take on the Big/Bad system and win some hearts and minds in the process and you blew it because you weren't going to get to measure dicks with Konrad.

Turn in your spurs, cowpoke! You don't have a big dick -- you just are one!

Now before you think I'm abandoning the disgraced icon I've been championing for some time around here, I'm not. I'm just demoting Jim Shaw from any respected status.

What his own "B" team had to say at the hearing remained the only submission by the rich and privileged semi-monopolies appearing that actually attempted to get to the truth of what goes on in Canadian broadcasting.

Shaw's major points to the Commission were these:

1. Private Broadcasters use CTF money to subsidize their Cancon obligations.

That point was also made by the Producers Association, CFTPA, and others. To wit, while broadcasters in most countries (USA, UK, Australia) typically pay license fees amounting to 70-80% of program cost, Canadian broadcasters pay 30%; using their CTF production envelopes to replace the money they used to invest in programming. And even though that practice was specifically forbidden when the CTF was created, nobody stops them.

One documentary maker described getting the bulk of funding for a Canadian film on the Yangtze River from foreign broadcasters inspired by its commercial potential when no Canadian broadcaster would take the risk on such a nebulous "cultural" offering.

Indeed, it was pointed out in several submissions that our broadcasters now even expect Producers to fully finance the online and new media elements the private broadcasters incorporate into their own corporate websites. These pikers simply don't spend their own money on anything related to either their core business or their future.

Shaw point #2. By being allowed to spend CTF money instead of their own on Canadian content, the private broadcasters free up more money to purchase foreign programming thereby further denying prime-time shelf space to Canadian shows.

That's a reality that the nets themselves trumpet at every opportunity.

No less an establishment authority than "Variety" has commented on the unseemly and ridiculous bidding wars that Canadian networks get into in order to purchase American shows, even the universally acknowledged as mediocre ones.

As the guys from Shaw so perfectly put the argument -- "You repeatedly hear that CTV has a better US line-up than Global. They never talk about Canadian shows being part of a competitive slate."

The Shaw people also drove home the reality that such activity drains our capacity to build viable businesses, something every Canadian producer will confirm is absolutely true. Unless they've got a development deal on the bubble with a broadcaster -- then they'll shut up if they know what's good for them.

3. The CRTC should require Canadian Broadcasters to make Canadian programming their Number One priority in Prime Time.

Not something anybody interested in the Canadian business can argue with -- except the broadcasters. Despite repeatedly being told by many, with evidence backed up by a Decima poll conducted by the DGC, that 10/10 Canadian shows resonate most strongly with Canadians and get the highest ratings, broadcasters have not budged from a formula that sees only 7% of Prime Time slots held by Canadian shows.

Why? Because the CRTC doesn't make 'em. And why doesn't the CRTC? Because the Broadcasters tell the Commissioners what's good for them -- and their political masters. All the obsequious, "By your leave, Commissioner..." and "If the Commission would grant me another moment..." drivel you heard all week was just so much misdirection.

The CRTC will only do what's best for the broadcasters. Always have. Always will.

Shaw point (no matter how pointless it may seem by now) #4. "We need more opportunities for creative people in Canada to be creative."

More than anything else the Shaw people had to say, this told me that they were after the same goal that Canadian artists have been seeking for as long as I've been one. Despite what you may have assumed or read elsewhere, it is not Shaw Communications which wants the industry to move to creating more 8/10 or 6/10 shows. It's CTV, Global and Rogers. Although it might also be a scare tactic cooked up by the CTF taskforce to make us feel relieved and grateful when they fall back to the status quo.

And why would our broadcasters want to bring back Billy Ray Cyrus and churn out more episodes of an under-performing series like "Doc", copy an abject failure like "Zoe Busiak" or launch yet another "Best Years" that can't even survive a single season?

For the same reason they want two funding streams that will increase their percentage of the free money pie -- somebody else will pay the freight to get that US actor who stars in an 8/10 show. Somebody else will have paid for the development of that non-WGC script. Somebody else will have under-written the on-set experience for that non-DGC director.

In short, somebody else will cover more of the costs so it doesn't come out of the Canadian broadcaster's pocket.

And even if Canadian product sells better in foreign markets than semi-Canadian, they'd rather sell that. Because admitting to the changing reality would mean they would have no choice but to spend more of their own money on Canadian content that Canadians like Shaw subscribers want to watch.

And that's not going to happen as long as Broadcasters run the CRTC.

As the Shaw delegation made clear, we are perpetuating a system that perpetuates failure, that does not create a return on investment, where the production experts are lawyers and bankers and in which programming is seen as an unacceptable cost instead of an opportunity.

Indeed, I had to wait through five solid days of testimony to hear the word Canadian broadcasters use most often when discussing our work. But finally, on Friday afternoon, there it was, creeping quietly out of the mouth of a representative of CTV in describing Canadian programming requirements -- "onerous".

Nobody would use language like that in polite company in front of powerful regulators who control the funding agenda -- unless they knew who was really calling the shots.

In the end, that's why I believe Jim Shaw stayed away from these hearings and his company remains a pariah among all players in the broadcast industry. Shaw rocked the boat. They spoke the truth. Yes, it's the same truth that's been spoken for decades by the artistic guilds, but the Commission has made it abundantly clear they're only giving those plebes lip service.

When it comes from Shaw, it means somebody essential to the revenue stream isn't getting with the program.

And besides, why take the word of somebody who actually creates programming or has to sell it to subscribers when you can simply continue to follow orders from people who haven't had much success in developing it and have a pretty good deal going without adding any heavy lifting?

Jim Shaw, the artists unions and I know truth doesn't matter at the CRTC. Their job is to make sure public money keeps flowing into the private coffers of the Broadcasters. They might throw us a bone in the end and forget those twin streams, while still maintaining one that continues to enrich people who don't contribute their fair share to the industry.

Luckily, that still won't create a thriving, competitive industry that might threaten the status quo.

And in time, what continues to go on in these airless, windowless rooms will smother all creativity and any spark of rebellious, entrepreneurial spirit. And that's the plan.

Take some comfort in the fact that at least Billy Ray Cyrus won't have to borrow money from his kid.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


In the week following the 1969 Moon landing, Air Canada launched a promotion booking free reservations for their first flight to the Moon. I immediately hustled down to their streetfront office in Regina to book a ticket, discovering from the helpful clerk (isn't it amazing how much Air Canada has changed) that I was the first person in the province to apply.

It was a beautifully warm Summer day, the height of vacation season. Dozens of customers came and went at the other wickets, purchasing real flights to real places, as my Air Canada guy manipulated whatever teletype/phone system they used back then to make sure I got on a flight that still hasn't been scheduled almost 40 years later.

In some ways, he was as excited by this diversion from his daily routine as I was by the prospect of traveling into space and an hour or so later he had my reservation confirmed. He promised that the ticket would follow in the mail and a week later it did.

What arrived wasn't the standard form red carbon booklet the airline used at the time, but a certificate with the Air Canada logo emblazoned across the Moon, assuring whoever read it that the bearer had indeed reserved passage for one "Return" trip to our closest heavenly body.

Every now and then, I've wondered if the manifest for that flight is sitting in some Air Canada exec's desk drawer as he or she methodically puts together the other elements necessary to take these patiently waiting passengers to their destination.

Now there's a cute little MOW concept with built in product placement for you. Oh, wait, science fiction, no Canadian network would accept the pitch...

Nobody is certain when tourist travel to the Moon will finally become a reality. But within the next year, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic hopes to begin sub-space flights. Tickets are $200,000 each, and unlike Air Canada, Sir Richard requires a $20,000 deposit with your booking. Still, more than 200 people have already booked and there are 85,000 on the "considering it" list (including me).

I mean, I'd be more than happy to wait for Air Canada to get their act together, but I'd also like to get into Space while I still look dashing in my astronaut suit.

The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars.

Here's a sample of what's in store aboard Virgin Galactic.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, February 08, 2008


No matter how you look at it, this hasn't been a good week for Canadian culture.

It was an even worse week to be laid up with a massive cold and have to find some way of keeping yourself entertained. Man, if you thought primetime TV was turning into a wasteland, try navigating the desert that constitutes the day parts!

As a result, I watched the CTF hearings online and caught the press conference announcing that the NFL's Buffalo Bills will be playing some future games in Canada. When left to my own devices, I consistently prove I don't have any.

I dubbed the Bills' press conference "The Fogey Fest" because it featured a head table of impossibly old and undescribably rich guys wheezing through their dentures and trying to make it to their next injection of sheep hormones as they salivated at the opportunity to gouge yet another fortune from the great unwashed.

Octogenarian Ralph Wilson, owner or the Buffalo Bills, allowed that he didn't know much about Canada beyond how much he used to like "Canadian Club" -- generating big laughs from Ted Rogers, septegenarian owner of the Toronto stadium where the team will play.

Rogers responded by giving Toronto taxpayers the gears for paying $600 Million for the Skydome he recently purchased and renamed after himself for a mere $25 million. The message being, "I'm so rich I can fuck people sideways and they'll take it because without me they won't be able to watch a mediocre football team."

As Wilson stumbled over memories of paying "Cookie" Gilchrist's electric bill and several of Ted's jackals mapped out the bright and shining future of NFL football in Canada; the owners of the Toronto Argonauts, the city's current professional football team, smiled co-operatively. Being less old and less rich, they had been thrown the bone of ushering their season ticket holders to the front of the box office queue, so the older, richer guys could suggest bringing in some American culture was actually "good" for us. But the tightness of the Argo smiles gave me the feeling they were also enduring the symbolic boning of their team, their league and what both contribute to Canadian culture.

See, that's how this country works...

When there's a choice between Canadian Culture and maybe making a shitload of money, it's the culture that gets screwed.

The giddy glee of those backing the Bills arrival (and perhaps permanent residence in Toronto) made it pretty clear that their eyes were only on the premium that could be charged the locals. Tickets that go for $46 in Buffalo are expected to fetch as much as $1500 north of the 49th -- even without the legendary tailgate parties that would violate countless bylaws within the staid city of Toronto.

Nobody seemed to have given a single thought to the "culture" that was being stolen from Buffalo -- at least not until Ralph was called on the carpet by a couple of US senators to explain himself this morning. Hard as the concept may be for Canadians to grasp, American politicians actually take an interest in the cultural needs of their constituents.

The CTF hearings were discernably different only because it was the arguments rather than the participants that were ancient. The basic concept of putting personal financial interest before what might be "culturally" beneficial to the country was just as obvious.

I'm going to get into the hearings in greater detail tomorrow, after I have a chance to read the transcripts. But basically everybody wanted more money for doing less.

My fave moments were many. Mostly, they related to all the development execs who've never programmed a hit painfully explaining how hard it was to program hits. It was like getting batting instruction from somebody who'd never actually made contact with a baseball.

The Shaw guys were fun, insisting they had only percipitated the crisis which led to the Hearing in order to increase the programming choices for their subscribers -- failing to mention that Superchannel still isn't on Shaw Cable because it competes with the Movie Channel Shaw holds a financial interest in; and they stalled the "Gay" channels as long as they did because the kind of people who like that kind of thing make them feel -- "icky".

The Global Girls were hysterically funny, insisting the "original metric" that determined the size of their network envelope was wrong and should be determined by how many people were actually watching their overall schedule (96% US rebroadcast) rather than basing it on the anemic number of Canadian shows they offered. Friday afternoon, the folks at CTF pointed out that what Global wants is exactly how the envelope is currently determined -- something Global, not to mention the Commissioners who endlessly grilled them on their "new metrics" clearly didn't know.

That's how Culture is administered in Canada -- by people who don't have the first clue what they're talking about.

Somebody who did know what she was talking about, and split my emotions between tears of joy and exasperation was Maureen Parker of the WGC. The Guild was the lone presenter I witnessed who exposed the two-tier cultural/popular funding plan that's been proposed for what it was -- another attempt to ghettoize Canadian artists, so the wannabe TV execs could blow a few bucks on better known American playmates.

If you don't have the talent to develop successful programming, you can at least purchase those that somebody else's skills have made familiar to the public.

Faced with the wall of Commissioner arrogance wielded in the passive aggressive cloak of the "Devil's Advocate" Ms. Parker finally lost her temper with the feigned ignorance of what was being plotted with a firm "It shouldn't be this hard."

And she's right. It shouldn't. Culture just is, as has been masterfully described here. But it is hard because standing between the artists and the audience are all these old Fogeys, who only understand bleeding all of us for profit.

If this two-tier thing goes through, I'm moving to Buffalo. Those guys understand culture -- and they created it all by themselves.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


The dog in the picture above is a trained Killer. Not a natural born killer -- a "trained" one. His name is "Hector" and he is one of the more than 50 fighting pit bulls rescued last summer from the "Bad Newz Kennels" operation owned by former Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick, now serving 23 months in prison on convictions for animal abuse and staging dog fights.

Federal agents who raided Michael Vick's kennel estate found Hector and his fellow gladiators in cramped cages or chained to buried car axels. All were malnourished. Many were injured, scarred from fights on which Vick and his customers had bet large sums of money as they enjoyed the illicit privilege of watching the animals rip each other apart. Some of the dogs had nerve damage, others bore the marks of chemical and electrical burns. These were "Killers" who had been horrendously tortured in an effort to make them more vicious and lethal.

Among the items seized on the property were pry bars used to open the jaws of fighting dogs, treadmills on which they were trained and 'rape stands' where female dogs were restrained to be forcibly bred. Most of the female dogs rescued had had their teeth pried out so they could not bite during breeding.

Initially, the captured animals were taken to pounds and shelters as material evidence, with most of the investigators figuring they would soon have to be destroyed. After all, everybody knows what Pit Bulls are like. And these had been especially trained to be even more mindless and brutal.

But before they could be euthanized, several animal welfare organizations came forward appealing for the opportunity to try and rehabilitate the dogs. Their pleas found immediate sympathy with the investigators, for instead of holding what they thought would be aggressive animals, the arresting officers were encountering terrified and traumatized dogs, who seemed eager for some kind of humane contact.

Within hours of being removed from their fighting kennel, Michael Vick's dogs were proving that far from being a danger, they were desperately in need of love and understanding. One of the toothless females, named Georgia, went out of her way to lick anyone who approached to show her friendliness. Others took any opportunity to play. A few, more traumatized by their ordeal, shied away in fear, completely defeated and expecting to be punished or killed.

Eventually, the dogs were put into the care of eight different rescue organizations across the US such as "Bad Rap" in Oakland, California and "Best Friends" in Kenab, Utah. Evaluated individually for their responses to obedience training, child and animal friendliness, Mike's dogs were categorized from those the rescue workers felt could one day become family pets to those who would need a great deal of therapy but could still enjoy a happier life. Only one animal was destroyed as being beyond recovery.

In their new shelters, the dogs were provided not only good food and clean water, but other items they hadn't had at "Bad Newz" -- their own beds, squeaky toys and full time caregivers, one of whom curled up with them at night.

While many people fear Pit Bulls, these dedicated rescue workers knew that most aggressive dog behavior is born of fear and that Mike's Dogs could be taught to trust again and therefore lead normal, happy canine lives.

Less than six months after his rescue, Hector is one of the first to find himself living life as a "pet"; sharing a home with two humans and three other dogs. He's given to raiding his human companion's underwear drawer and gallops around the house with the other dogs, engaging in all their games without incident.

His new owners have discovered he loves to snuggle his blanket at bedtime, has a peanut butter fetish, is mesmerized by classical music and whimpers with joy when he is hugged.

In short, Hector has become pretty much anybody's idea of the family dog; living testament that the evil one man tried to instill in him has been undone by the kindness of another. He's still socially inept at times. What dog isn't. Now and then, his humans will notice him lost in thought and wonder what terrible memories he may be reliving. But then Hector turns to them and wags his tail, letting them know the trained killer is no more.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


*** This is the last of my four NATPE updates. I hope they've been helpful or at least somewhat informative. Next week we'll get back to the usual bitchin' about hockey, Canadian TV and those rare moments from my own life that are just so damn interesting.***

The highlight of NATPE for me was getting to spend half an hour with Rishad Tobaccowala, the smartest guy in the world (at least my world). CEO of Denuo, a Chicago based media strategist and consultancy whose clients allocate more than $45 Billion a year in media spending, Tobaccowala was recently named one of the world's "Five Marketing innovators" by TIME magazine.

While the rest of us struggle to get a handle on how the Internet is changing the way we make television, Tobaccowala has gone a step further, examining how it has changed our audience, believing that it's only by knowing what they have become that we can realize what we must now be.

If you are seeking a media Guru, this is your guy.

And like all Gurus, Tobaccowala's wisdom and insight comes at a dizzying rate, intended to be of meaning to the accolyte who has evolved enough to understand it and pass over the heads of those who have not.

So, I'm just going to list many of the quotes from that half hour, in the hope they will have as much meaning to you as they did for me.

"People keep trying to align the future with the past. But the future will not fit into the containers of the past."

"Success is 10% intelligence and 90% knowing the direction of the current."

"Because of the access granted by the media, people are watching, reading and listening more than at any other time in history. And interaction surges as they seek new ways to increase engagement."

"The most watched content on Youtube is professionally produced because people can tell the difference between real stuff and crap."

"Obscurity is the new poverty."

"The audience has become God-like, no longer constrained by time, place or even by body."

"We are becoming hybrids. For while the world is becoming digital we remain analog."

"We live in a world that is culturally, legally and linguistically diverse. But we each belong to global tribes based on our interests. The people who gather annually in Davos have more in common with each other than the peoples or countries they come from."

"You can facilitate but you can't control."

"Distribution used to be a choke hold. But because of a combination of broadband and wireless and the Internet, the advantages of distribution have fallen. Now you can get audiences without distribution."

For me, all of this epitomizes the central message of NATPE 2008 -- "From here on -- just as before -- it's about the Audience."