Monday, November 30, 2009

Okay, So That Didn’t Get Us Anywhere…

How about we talk to the people we’re supposed to be representing instead?

Interesting initiative from the CRTC this morning.

After two weeks of entertaining the hopes and dreams of government-made Billionaires and realizing that those who want to “Save Local TV” won’t guarantee that any of the money they get will actually go toward doing that while those who seek to “Stop The TV Tax” are only too happy to keep collecting it from their customers; the Commissioners found they were no more enlightened than they had been going into the recent TV hearings.

So now they want to know what you think.

Scott Hutton, Executive Director of Broadcasting for the Commission, explains here…

Wow! Let’s find out what the Audience wants! What a concept!

For some, (including me) this may smack of another cynical attempt to pretend interest in input when decisions or compromises are already made. But as my multiple divorces prove, I can be wrong sometimes too. So maybe this is worth our participation.

Throughout the hearings, I was repeatedly struck by how diligently Commissioners parsed the submissions they heard, extracting fibre evidence so unnoticeable from each proposal that they would have made Gil Grissom proud. And then, after exhibiting that due diligence, they would ask questions proving they didn’t have even the first clue as to how the industry they regulate operates.

Nor, though repeatedly asking for new ideas, were they able to grasp them when they arrived.

How many groups copied them on the Nordicity report that indicates Canadian TV shows make money? Five? Six? And maybe it’s just me, but weren’t they copied on it a year ago as well? And yet, no matter how often it plopped on their desks, they still didn’t seem to be able to get their heads around what was on its pages.

They also felt the Writers Guild of Canada’s proposal for funding Primetime programming was “very complicated”, while insisting the world they’ve created of “Must carries”, “second tiers” and an endless list of acronyms that mean completely different things to different parts of the industry is crystal clear.

However, from the opening moments, it was evident Commission Chair Konrad von Finckenstein had heard Heritage Minister James Moore’s Summer admonition that the impact on consumers needed to be foremost. And then came the admission that the 1999 ruling that gutted drama production was “wrong” and even a frustrated final day rant by Commissioner Timothy Denton asking why he couldn’t just turn on his TV and see Canadian shows that offered him some “entertainment”.

So maybe we are finally getting somewhere and maybe this is our opportunity to get a little further.

You can access the CRTC’s Online Consultation here. Your views can be communicated until Midnight December 21, 2009.

Please take the time to kick in your thoughts. It might actually mean you’ll finally get the kind of Canadian TV you deserve.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 95: The Cat Piano

Some wrestle with how to tell stories in a world of multiple platforms.

Some simply do it.

My own theory is that those who struggle are thinking backwards, assessing what the market might want first, measuring the profit margins of the available platforms, risk averse to any content that can’t be exploited universally and determining what might be worth pursuing and what will make cost recovery harder.

Abhorring any loss, they then crunch numbers, calculate who needs to partner with whom, lobby for tax credits or regional incentives, compromising every step of the way in order to cobble together a strategy that might succeed…

The ones who simply do it, usually just start with a story.

They figure out what they want to say and how they want to say it. In the process, the appropriate platform reveals itself. It’s a trait some call “having a confident aesthetic”.

In the wilds of Southern Australia --- okay, downtown Adelaide --- there exists a company called “The People’s Republic of Animation”. As their name implies, they produce animation and have since the day three of its principals got hold of an 8mm camera at the age of 14.

They produce animation for movies, television, commercials, games and pretty much anything else that might be able to support a story told through moving graphics. And their aesthetic is very confident indeed.

Some of their work is light and funny. Some has a sponsored purpose. And some works, like “The Cat Piano”, are simply achingly beautiful to experience and striking examples of craft.

After a couple of weeks of observing the growing pessimism at the future of storytelling in this country, it’s nice to find proof that it not only survives but thrives elsewhere.

Feel Hope restored by “The Cat Piano” – best enjoyed in its full screen format.

And then enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The National Party

It’s Grey Cup Weekend in Canada. And for the second time in three years, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, my home town team, Saskatchewan’s team and (to the eternal chagrin of the Toronto Maple Leaf’s marketing machine) Canada’s team is vying for football supremacy.

We won in 2007. Last year we don’t talk about. And this year, the prevailing wisdom is that we’ll have our asses handed to us by the grid-iron juggernaut known as the Montreal Alouettes.

None of that matters. What matters is that we all have an all-inclusive ticket to what replaces New Year’s Eve as the biggest party in Canada. 

This morning, a friend in Moose Jaw (Yes, international visitors, such a place exists) sent me this aerial photo of Saskatchewan residents heading for the big game in Calgary.

rider rush

Meanwhile, another friend, already arrived in Cow town, sent this picture of the burger place across the street from her motel.


Ah, Western Canadians! Plain spoken and always a little Rough(rider) around the edges.

The annual East-West contest has been engaged. And fear not for those of the Alouette persuasion who will soon descend on Calgary in their own thousands. They’ll give as good as they get and receive the same all-access party passes. And then a fabulous time will be had by all.

There will be parades, fancy dress soirees, all night-parties that end in street breakfasts served from Chuck wagons. Horses will be ridden through hotel lobbies. Cops will kiss cheerleaders. Stetsons will mingle with Habitant toques and people whose first language isn’t either English or French will argue over the point spread.

“Montreal by 9 and a half! Oh, I definitely want a piece of that!”

But in the end, our National Party, Grey Cup Weekend, is not about where you’re from and who you root for. It’s about celebrating being Canadian and being a part of a sport that isn’t played anywhere else but here and yet stirs passions from coast to coast to coast.

And like all things truly Canadian, passion means more when it includes a generous portion of FUN.

As of last night, Safeway, Western Canada’s largest supermarket chain, was rushing 10,000 watermelons to Calgary to provide Rider fans with their required game-day headgear.

rider melon

Instructions for creating your own at home can be found here.

After two weeks of listening to the masters of Canadian mainstream media speaking to the CRTC and declaiming that Canadians have little interest in supporting things Canadian, local and otherwise Not-American, the highest television ratings for the week will be achieved by featuring a prairie backwater and an English minority city better known for Hockey dynasties and F-1 Racing.

Those ratings will also come via a cable sports network (TSN) that doesn’t enjoy anywhere near the audience penetration of any of our national over the air broadcasters.

Since TSN is also owned by CTV, it makes you wonder what kind of Local TV payday could have been realized had company management chose to provide their potential Sunday night audience with the Grey Cup Game instead of “The Amazing Race”, “Desperate Housewives” and a repeat episode of “CSI: Miami”.

And in a curious turn where football life imitates Canadian Arts, one of the major stories coming out of this year’s Grey Cup is also about Canadians trying to come to the fore.

In a league that has mandated a maximum of 20 Canadian players on any team’s 42 man roster, this year’s final will feature more Canadian starting players than ever before. During the season, 10 of the 12 Saskatchewan players on the field at any time carried a Canadian passport and Montreal wasn’t far behind.

I’m told both teams had to trade Canadian talent they didn’t want to lose to other teams in order to meet the league quota.

Isn’t it interesting that TV isn’t the only Canadian industry where the guys in charge think the product has to be imported in order to be good or attract an audience?

And isn’t it even more interesting that despite proof that they’re wrong, the guys who run things don’t learn?

Maybe it’s really only a very small group of Canadians who suffer from our supposed National Inferiority Complex.

The rest of us are apparently already enjoying the National Party – and without even having to be told it’s good for us – or that we have to pay more to get it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Panic Attack!

The CRTC hearings on Canadian television are mercifully drawing to a close. 10 solid days of one group or another whining about a broadcast system that doesn’t work, can’t make money and somehow isn’t able to support home grown content.

Most of the people testifying have said the same things they did last year, which was pretty much exactly what they said two years ago.

Two years…

How much could have been accomplished in two years?

How much original work could any one of us have created in that time that might have contributed to the culture – or maybe our own bank accounts?

Oh, I know, I know, there wasn’t really any development funding, certainly not at the level you’d need to envision something that made an impression on people.

And there really hasn’t been any production money around unless you were aboriginal or weren’t sure if you were gay or definitely knew you were “challenged”  or you lived in a remote part of the country (pick any combination of three to qualify).

And all of the networks weren’t sure if they had timeslots or big enough envelopes or how to monetize your idea across multiple platforms.

“And it’s EXTRA HARD to write when you can’t see it amounting to anything, Dude!”

“Yeah, and somebody was always leaving a flyer on my bike advertising $2 Crantinis and a free screening, so there was that too.”

Ultimately, the fact that we didn’t really accomplish or create much can’t totally be blamed on any of us artist types, can it?

I mean, it’s not as if we’re living somewhere that has all the showbiz advantages.

Somewhere like, y’know – Uruguay.


Two years ago, a guy named Fede Alvarez, who lives in Montevideo (which even though it has video in its name is not a cinematic hotbed and remains just the capital of Uruguay) decided that if he was going to convince people he was a director, he should maybe “direct” something.

But all he had was $300 – and what can you do for 300 bucks that anybody’s going to notice? I mean, c’mon!

However,  Fede had a friend who believed in his talent named Mauro Rondan, who was an animator. And between them they owned or knew somebody who owned software like Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, 3dMax, FumeFX, Glu3D and AfterEffects.

So Fede shot what he could in a weekend and then he and Mauron worked on it for the next two years, figuring it took them six months in total if you were adding up the hours like you would on a real film, by the time they were done.

No Media Funds, no grants, no preferential point systems or government assistance programs. Just Fede and Mauron and their $300 dream.

And what they ended up with, while we were all still carping about how unjust the Canadian broadcast system is, was this…

Is anybody starting to wonder, like I am, if the problem in Canada isn’t that we don’t have enough rules on how TV should get made here, but that maybe we’ve already got waaaay too many?

Maybe figuring out how to do what we do without getting involved in and playing along with all this government bullshit might just get us a whole lot further.

What I know for certain is that while we await the Commission’s verdict on what we may or may not be allowed to do for the next two years, Fede Alvarez is hanging with a lot of people who want him to direct their movies or are willing to finance one of his own.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Braveheart, Baby!

I received a tweet from the Writers Guild of Canada earlier today that said…


Maybe things look and feel different inside those suffocating government hearing rooms, but that sentiment is about 180 degrees from my own read watching on television, a reaction fully shared by the three other WGC members I’ve spoken with since.

I promised myself I’d wait until I’d heard everybody make their presentations at this latest round of CRTC Hearings on the current state of Canadian television, before offering my reactions, and I think I’ll stick with that. 

And for those of you not following my occasional hearing room Twitter feeds, relax, they seldom rise above this level…


Meanwhile, I’d like the members of my Guild, both the writers and those who toil beyond all reason on our behalf, to take a look at this video. This is how you testify at a Government hearing that intends to make rules for people in the Arts.

An added bonus for those in Toronto, heading off tonight to hear Al Gore insist he doesn’t have feet of clay, is the chance to see him in an earlier incarnation, when he was less concerned with your carbon footprint and merely wanted to curtail freedom of expression.

We’re fighting for our lives and our livelihoods, people. Perhaps it’s time to stop hiding who we really are and what we’re capable of doing.

Braveheart, Baby!                  

Gee, “Hedonism, Religion, Death and Sexuality…” isn’t that what we’re supposed to be using our talents to explore instead of this endless bureaucratic minutia?

Monday, November 23, 2009

“Dr. Suzuki to Emergency! Stat!”

As all hell breaks loose in the world of Global Warming, Canada’s leading voice for environmental protection and climate change seems to have suddenly gone quiet. Where is the reaction to last week’s bombshell revelations from Dr. David Suzuki?

Did he know about any of this?

And if he did, what does he have to say now?


For those who still get their news from the mainstream media, on November 19, 2009, a large amount of climate change related data was stolen from servers at the University of East Anglia by a hacker and subsequently posted on the web.

Contained in the hundreds of purloined documents, verified as authentic by Phil Jones, director of the institution’s Climate Research Unit, are scientific papers, research test results and emails overwhelmingly suggesting that Global Warming has been a well orchestrated fraud.

The released files include emails between some of the most respected scientists researching climate change in which they collude to make certain their findings support their Manmade Global Warming thesis when the actual test results do not.

Instructions are given on erasing any email trails that might reveal their collusion. And in some cases, people are instructed on how to destroy the reputations of fellow scientists who might question their findings.

The material contains countless passages like this one, “I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which were not always the same. I worried that you might think I gave the impression of not supporting you well enough while trying to report on the issues and uncertainties.”

In other words, researchers aware that peer approval and billions in research grants were only there for those who supported the concept of Anthropomorphic Global Warming were willing to skew or bury contradictory results and maybe find ways of helping the cause at the same time.

You can find more thoughtful explorations of the implications of all this through the links at the end of this post.

But I still want to hear from Dr. Suzuki.

Like most Canadians, I learned most of what I know about Science through the CBC radio show “Quirks and Quarks” which Dr. Suzuki started in 1974 and “The Nature of Things” his CBC TV series that has been a network mainstay since 1979.

I’d venture to say there is barely a Canadian with any environmental awareness who doesn’t owe it, in whole or in part, to the good doctor. He’s long been one of our most admired citizens and in the past years has also been our point man on Climate Change, hammering one local or foreign government after another for dragging their heels in addressing Climate Change.

A couple of years ago, however, I was stunned when Suzuki angrily walked off a Toronto radio show after being asked a fairly benign question about the so-called “Global Warming Debate”. As far as Suzuki was concerned, the debate was over, the science was settled, man-made emissions were the cause of the problem and without an immediate change to the way we live, the planet was doomed.

He wasn’t wasting his time changing minds anymore.

It was the phrase, “the science is settled” which bothered me and bothered me more as I heard it from other environmentalists and political activists like former US Vice President Al Gore.

It was a phrase that seemed to be spit in the face of people sincerely asking what they felt were legitimate questions. It was the way environmental activists pulled informational rank on anyone who would dare question their facts and predictions.

We know this is true. There is no longer any debate. The science is settled.

There have been several times in history when the science was apparently settled. There were times when 13 year old virgins were prescribed by doctors as the only way for a man to get rid of Syphilis, times when every Victorian era doctor carried a jar of leeches in his medical bag to alleviate depression and a famous moment when the Catholic Church settled science by giving Galileo the choice of repudiating his proof that the Earth revolved around the Sun or being turned over to the Inquisition.

Science is never settled.

But for David Suzuki and others in the environmental movement it was. And anyone who dared question them was humiliated or shunned.

Meanwhile, the movement evolved from doing scientific research to dictating social policy. How many times have you heard somebody slam Stephen Harper or some other world leader for wanting more information before initiating “Cap & Trade” and “Carbon Offset” legislation that promises to make some people very rich and others far worse off than they are now.

That’s always been swaddled in the promise of a cleaner planet, a planet free of all kinds of impending catastrophes and a planet that will then be able to support several future generations of our species.

But now it appears the “settled science” was entirely something else.

And I’m not sure that comes as a complete surprise. There’s something about the way Climate Change advocates have conducted themselves lately that has caused many people to wonder if they really knew what they were talking about.

About a week ago, Al Gore, former VP, Nobel Prize winner for his Climate Change work and owner of an Academy Award for the grand-daddy of all environmental films “An Inconvenient Truth” appeared on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” with Conan O’Brien. Here’s a snippet…

Let’s take the misinformation in order here…

“Geo-Thermal Energy is a relatively new solution to our energy problems.”

Actually, in places like Iceland, it’s been in use for more than 300 years. And the ground source heat pump was invented more than 100 years ago.

"Two kilometres or more down there are these incredibly hot rocks.”

Geo-Thermal energy can be accessed by drilling as little as 75 and at most 300 feet. And if you want to get to the “really hot rocks”, you’ve actually got to go down about 3000 kilometres.

“The Earth is extremely hot, several million degrees.”

Well, nobody’s been down there with a thermometer yet, but best estimates from bouncing sound waves off the center of the planet say the temperature is probably around 5000 degrees Centigrade.

“We have a 35,000 year supply of energy just from Geo-Thermal.”

Actually, since Geo-Thermal energy is stored energy from the Sun, it’ll last as long as the Sun does.

“They’ve figured out how to do the drilling with new drill bits that don’t melt in that heat.”

At 300 feet, you’re looking at a ground temperature of around 200 degrees. Hot for us, but not damaging to most metals. The metal with the highest melting point is Tungsten, which begins to liquefy at 3410 degrees Celsius and that’s been in common usage since the 18th Century.

“Deeper than we’ve ever drilled before.”

BP has one oil well in the Gulf of Mexico that is already 5 km deeper than the hole Al wants to drill.

How smart am I to know all this? Not that smart at all.

I found it all on Mr. Gore’s last invention, the Internet, in about 20 minutes.

Better question might be, “Is it possible that the guy running against George Bush in the 2000 American Presidential election was even dumber than the eventual winner?”

And it kind of makes sense that this is all spewed out to a TV host whose parent company, GE, will be one of the big winners in Cap and Trade legislation and probably isn’t equipped to know the holes in Gore’s argument in the first place.

And since much of the show’s audience was already half asleep or hooked to a bong, Gore’s “facts” just automatically get accepted as fact.

Just like what appears to be a lot of Global Warming “Research”.

But I want to hear all this explained by Dr. David Suzuki. If he was duped by the research in the same way we were fooled, I’ll understand.

But if he’s been lying to me, lying to Canadian kids and supporting those lies with the taxpayer money that funds “The Nature of Things”, I think we have a right to know.

Speak up, Doc. Tell me the Emperor actually has some clothes.


Background on the CRU Hack can be found here and here. Both of these links now include additional links to mainstream media who have been slow in responding but must know this is not a story they can afford to ignore.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 94: Home Cookin’

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assert that among the tribe of screenwriter and TV Producer bloggers, I’m the best cook.



I thought not. And nobody’s allowed to nominate novelist Jim (“Legends of the Fall”) Harrison, who both writes and cooks in an entirely different league from the rest of us mere mortals.

Except for a couple of actors I’ve met along the way, who went on to own restaurants, most showbiz folks are less than expert in the kitchen. Oh, they’ll know a superior Pad Thai when they dig into one or that something in the Paella is lacking. But conjuring one up in the first place? Not likely.

Most people in the Biz prefer to dine where the food is considered trendy or at least good value for the money.

I, on the other hand, am known for a legendary Texas Chili and have been begged by noted chefs to give up the secret ingredient to my exceptional Eggs Benedict.

And where did I learn my craft?

Home Economics class.

Come again?

When I was in Grade Seven and Eight, one afternoon a week, we were trucked across town to a school outfitted with classrooms for “Industrial Arts” and “Home Economics”. The boys went to the former, where we were given a grounding in drafting, woodwork, electrical wiring and forming things out of plastic.

Meanwhile the girls learned to cook, sew and design table settings.

Nowadays this would be called “sexist” at best and “profiling” by many. But in the 1960’s we were merely being prepared for our assigned lot in life, darning hubbie’s sox or fixing a lamp so the little woman could get on with her sock repairs.

The guy who taught our masculine arts would be considered a sadistic borderline psychotic today and actually that’s what we thought he was back then as well. He had a thick Scottish accent, always wore sleeveless sweaters, the better to show off his Naval tattoos, and was known for regularly impaling 12 and 13 year olds with the very same sharp instruments he was supposed to be teaching us to use safely.

This was a guy who had probably dodged one Nazi U-boat too many and the slightest ripple in the waters of his classroom drove him to immediate battle alert. When we initially entered his classroom, we thought the giant first aid kit was to help us in case somebody ran afoul of a band saw or lathe. It didn’t take long to learn it’s primary purpose was to keep us from bleeding to death until he could boot us out the door for recess.

Anyway, on one of our Industrial Arts days, we arrived to discover that our tormentor had managed to shave off his own thumb while demonstrating how “not” to use a table saw. The kids fortunate enough to be present claimed there was still blood dripping off the overhead fluorescents.

Left with nobody to teach us or a classroom still awaiting a wet crew, we were ushered over to Home Ec, where the lesson of the day was making tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Since this was my favorite lunch at the time, I was immediately interested and a half hour later had discovered just how easy and fun they were to make.

From there on I was glued to “The Galloping Gourmet” and “Madame Benoit”, the most famous cooking shows at the time. And through them I learned that cooking wasn’t either difficult or even hard to do really well and that most often what you whipped together on your own was far superior to what came out of a can or would set you back a few bucks in a restaurant.

Nowadays, there are any number of TV shows and internet sites that teach you how to cook. But in the categories of also being entertaining and simplifying the process to the point where even idiots like me can come off looking talented, there is none better than “Good Eats”.

“Good Eats” has been around for 13 seasons now, with host Alton Brown correctly describing it as “Julia Child meets Monty Python”. And I defy anyone to watch any episode and not be immediately capable of recreating the recipes of the week. What’s more, you’ll also learn shortcuts and tricks that have taken 5 Star Chefs a career to discover and which will immediately amaze and/or dumbfound your friends.

Let’s start with something simple like breakfast.

Watch the video.

Make breakfast the “Good Eats” way.

Feel suddenly superior to your fellow man.

And Enjoy your Sunday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Tale of Two Business Models

This is the story of two Canadian businesses and how they changed over time. One got very big and one didn’t. It isn’t some MBA thesis. It’s just my recollection of the events. But it’s offered as something to consider with regard to what it tells us about the people in those businesses and which of them you think best represents what this country should maybe emulate and be about.



I grew up in South Western Saskatchewan in the 1950’s. The first time I saw television was at the two pump B/A (British American) gas station not far from my home. The two brothers who ran the place had bought a TV set while on a fishing trip to Minnesota, set it up in the station’s front office/store and erected a 30 foot aerial to bring in signals from North Dakota and Montana.

There might’ve been Canadian TV at the time, but those big aerials could only pull in a signal from a few hundred miles away. And there were no Canadian stations within that distance of us.

Since the gas station was right next door to the hockey rink, some of us kids would drop by after the after school game, crawl on the tractor tires that were always stacked in the office and watch some television.

If one of us had a dime, we’d buy a coke out of the cooler or a chocolate bar that got passed around during “Tales of Texas Rangers” or “Mighty Mouse”, the shows that ran in the late afternoon, usually around the time the station signed on for the day. Sometimes, we’d just sit there watching the Indian head “technical difficulties” slide while the station tried to get things up and running.

At night, our places on the tires were taken by farmers, cowboys and hired hands watching “Gang Busters” or “Perry Como”. Somebody usually brought a six-pack to the evening, bottles of which would be discreetly slid out of sight when the Mountie came in to buy gas or a deck of smokes.

Maybe a year later, we got our own TV, which was around the time broadcast stations opened up in Medicine Hat and Swift Current. Suddenly there was local news and weather and sports, farm reports and on Sunday afternoon some old guy who wrote his own songs would turn up on the Swift Current station to play the piano and sing them.

That was the extent of local programming. But it all had a personal connection to everybody who watched.

Back then, the Canadian stations near us didn’t have access to network programming. Film cans would arrive by train. They’d run the show and put it back on the train to the next station in line and await the arrival of next week’s episode.

Often, those shows came with (and were paid for by) embedded ads for products available everywhere like Buicks and Coca-cola and Campbell’s soup.  As far as I can remember, there was no such thing as a national newscast, live sports or everybody in the country watching the same episode of anything on the same night.

The business model for Canadian TV was pretty close to the one that supported the brothers who introduced me to television. They both looked at what their audience or clientele needed and supplied it as best they could. One offered news and weather and diversion, the other pumped gas, repaired pick-up trucks and, in winter, trucked fuel oil to the houses and farms where people didn’t burn coal.

Neither had access to any government money and even health care wasn’t paid for back them.




Canadian television made a quantum leap in the late 1950’s and early sixties. The government built giant microwave towers from coast to coast to coast that were made available to the industry and suddenly we had the CBC, a national newscast, Hockey Night in Canada and live Saskatchewan Roughrider games.

Almost overnight, there was a new delivery system. Film cans didn’t need to be put on trains anymore but there was now film to go with the newscasts – often available the same day as the events that they covered had occurred. 

This sudden interconnectedness meant that everybody now got to see the same shows at the same time – or at least on the same night. The programming changed too. There were live concerts on CBC, quiz shows like “Front Page Challenge” and “Fighting Words”, Canadian comedy from “Wayne & Shuster” and live dramas set in Montreal or about Canadian soldiers in WW2.

Something for everybody, encouraging more and more people to buy into the technology.

There were also shows that followed the American episodic model like “Last of the Mohicans”, “Cannonball” and “RCMP”. They were just as slick as the US shows and suddenly us kids were torn between retread western tales we’d seen a million times on “Roy Rogers” or stories we’d never heard about guys like the Mountie we all knew or battles our dads and uncles had been in.

TV overall was more immediate and pervasive. You could watch “Bonanza” in Yellowknife at the same time it was running in Calgary, in fact those Government funded microwave towers had created a delivery system that brought almost anything that was on TV almost anywhere in the country.

We all watched the coverage of the JFK assassination as the story unfolded. We saw Lee Harvey Oswald murdered live on a Sunday evening and the Beatles debut live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” a dozen Sundays later.

Assisted by a delivery system they hadn’t had to pay for, Canadian television stations began to prosper and referring to them as “a license to print money” came into the vernacular.

Meanwhile, the brothers had to cope with an Esso station moving into town and the loss of their fuel oil business. Propane and natural gas had arrived, also from industries who had government help to get it to their customers.

The government didn’t step in to bail the brothers out when most of their business model had been erased, however. So they looked around at what the changing landscape of their town seemed to need and began stocking generic auto parts and selling Japanese motorcycles. Somehow they got by and maybe even did a little better.

By the end of the 1960’s, the CBC was predominantly supported by tax dollars. But they and the private stations still sold local ads or shared in the national ad revenue from the American series they broadcast to expand their programming and services.

Almost every local station still did their own afternoon kid shows and magazine shows featuring hosts who would become Governor Generals and the like. There were more variety shows like “Don Messer’s Jubilee” and more “Wayne and Shuster” and “Front Page Challenge”. But they weren’t doing as many series and those they did were less about entertaining and more about issues, shows about big city Coroners and crusading MP’s like “Wojeck” and “Quentin Durgens”.

Somehow or somewhere it seemed to have been decided that they had to do something different from what Canadians actually wanted to watch.

Those shows didn’t have to make a profit for the CBC and the newly formed CTV network stayed away from them as much as possible, relying on what they brought in from elsewhere while becoming an even more profitable “license to print money”.



Once more, it was the delivery system that evolved. By the early 1970’s, you didn’t need a big aerial or rabbit ears anymore. This little coaxial cable was snaked through a hole in the wall by a guy you usually had to wait for all day to arrive.

But it was worth it, because now you didn’t get snowy pictures or lose the signal entirely when the weather was bad. You got a lot more channels too, sometimes one for each of the 12 numbers on the dial! And from further away too and with even more of the American shows you’d heard about but never actually gotten to see. 

Every now and then the guy had to come back to fix something and you had to wait all day for him again. Or you forgot to pay your bill and they turned off the signal. Not getting TV for free was hard to get used to. And paying to watch TV while still having to sit through commercials was a little annoying. But you understood that the TV guy and the cable guy each had to make money so you bought in to the system they had.

The cable companies promised better service and more variety in return for their own “license to print money” which meant having specific territories they could depend on. Semi-monopolies. A part of the country where nobody else could have a cable company.

So the government gave them that. And they also let the Canadian networks “simulcast” meaning replace the broadcasts of the American shows on the cable dial with their own signal, so they got higher ratings and more ad revenue. As additional help, the government also banned Canadian companies from buying commercial time on border stations.

Anything to keep those money presses printing.

Meanwhile, B/A went out of business and the Japanese got national distributors for their motorcycles. Car companies started pushing people to use their service centers instead of local mechanics and natural gas pretty much wiped out what remained of the fuel oil business.

There was no government help for the brothers or the people who now worked for them.

Despite having health care for any stress issues they might have had as a result and a few weeks of unemployment insurance, the brothers just regrouped and turned the garage into a truck wash and a place where long haul truckers could park for the night. The office was refitted with tables and a short order grill that stayed open 24 hours. They didn’t have a license to print money, but they kept people working and kept meeting the needs of their community.



By the time the iPhone and tablet PCs that could stream television shows from the internet arrived, the road where the brothers had built their first truck stop was long gone. So was the truck stop.

The government hadn’t stepped in with hundreds of millions of dollars to help them out the way they were now putting hundreds of millions into Canadian television programming. Despite the fact that those tiny little local TV stations had become giant corporations making hundreds of millions of dollars, the people who owned them and had enjoyed decades of having “a license to print money” insisted they now couldn’t afford to even produce their own local news anymore, let alone any drama or comedy.

They also couldn’t even have stations in a lot of places anymore and certainly couldn’t give Canadians High Definition television until many years after the warranties on the HD televisions most of them already owned had expired.

The men who ran these mega-corporations wore thousand dollar suits and Rolex watches and rolled around in limos and had private elevators to their offices. They bought and sold each others’ companies on a whim and were the toast of Hollywood where they arrived each year with almost a Billion dollars to help people in Hollywood buy fancy homes and swimming pools and bling they could flash on gossip shows. Meanwhile, the people who worked for them wondered if they would have a job in television much longer or could afford to keep paying the rent with what they made from the one they were trying to hang on to. 

Whenever those broadcast executives in the fancy suits needed more money, they just marched up to Ottawa with an army of just as fancy lawyers and American media consultants and threatened to put their employees out of work and hold the technological advancement of the country to ransom.

It really was a shame, but a business that had been built on Billions of dollars of taxpayer money, was simply going to have to receive Billions more of it to survive, and even then, that might not be enough.

Meanwhile, the brothers have stopped caring about whether or not they ever see their first dime from the government.

They’re retired now and fishing full time. Despite the lack of government subsidies and not having protected territories for their business or a grant or two when technologies changed, they somehow got by.

You see, when the road closed, instead of crying poor and begging for welfare, they simply looked at where their business and the rest of the world was going and made a few changes.

They took their employees 30 miles away to a highway that wasn’t going anywhere and built a new truck stop. And then they built another and another. They needed to do that because they looked after their customers and they just kept coming back. And the boys also felt obligated to make sure there was a future for all the employees who had helped get them where they were.

By the time they decided they’d rather just go fishing, they had dozens of truck stops that employed almost as many people as the Canadian TV networks.

On the down side, neither of them ever owned a second suit, let alone one that cost as much as their first car. They never owned a watch that could have put one of their kids through school. They never asked a consultant in New York what the guy down the block needed. And nobody in Hollywood ever bought them a drink or a hooker.


Yesterday, our broadcast networks were back in Ottawa to beg for more money. They wore their best suits and made sure they filled up rows of seats in the hearing room with expensive lawyers and high-priced consultants from New York. Mostly they just pointed fingers at people who had the money they didn’t and suggested it should rightfully be theirs.

They needed government money and cable owner money and when they said it might also be nice to have most of the money earned by the people who make their shows, a helpful CRTC Commissioner said, “Well, maybe we can help you out with that…”

What they didn’t want anybody to talk about was that their business model hasn’t been in step with the times for a generation and no matter how much money gets poured in, won’t survive much longer.



The first public test of an internet based television system called Sezmi will roll out today. It’s a system that was first presented to people in the industry a year or two ago at various confabs and conventions. It basically replaces television networks as well as cable or satellite delivery systems.

You buy a set top box that connects to the internet and sends a HD image to your television. You program the embedded DVR to select whatever you want to watch from local or cable television, the internet, movie libraries, web videos, streaming web sites anywhere in the world.

You decide what you want to watch and what you’re going to pay for it. Nobody makes that decision for you or demands money for bundled channels you never tune in or programming you don’t want. Get your news from somebody standing up in Toronto or sitting down in Australia. The choice and what you’re willing to pay for it is completely in your hands.

Sezmi isn’t the only system like this that will become available in the coming months. But it signals the next major evolution in the delivery system which has driven this industry from the beginning.

Watching television continues to get more convenient, more immediate and more user friendly.

But the day of the well-dressed man with his hand in your pocket is at an end.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lazy Sunday #93: Fighting Gravity

Dress up anything you want as “The Right Thing To Do”. Champion the most Just cause you can find, one that is only about being fair and treating people with the simple decency they deserve and others already enjoy. Then put any one of those up against money and power.

And money and power will always win.

Oh, you’ll be told it will all get better “someday” or “when the world is ready”. But those are money and power lies.

Change only comes when enough people say “Enough” and make those with money and power realize that changing is the only way they’ll be able to hang on to them.

Friday afternoon in Vancouver, the British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed a bid by Women Ski Jumpers from around the world to have their sport included in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee and the International Ski Jumping Federation have long held that the sport is simply “too dangerous” for women.

You know, like hockey and downhill skiing, where grown men regularly get killed and where they already compete,  is too dangerous for them. In the same way that throws and lifts in figure skating are too dangerous for them unless they are cushioned by wearing enough sequins. Much as the balance beam and uneven bars would be too dangerous if they weren’t prettied up to look like a Pedophile’s wet dream.

A Canadian court that has regularly ruled honor killings of women and multiple marriages accepted in foreign cultures can’t be conducted in Canada has reversed itself by saying that it has no right to impose Canadian values, such as basic gender equality, on an outside organization like the IOC.

A Federal Government massively funding the Games, one which also asks Canadian men and women to fight and die in Afghanistan so little girls can go to school and not be treated like livestock, insists it mustn't interfere.

CTV, The official broadcaster of the games, who would require me to sign a letter swearing that I would not discriminate by gender, race or sexual preference (among other things) before I could produce a TV series for them, just shrugs its shoulders and asks you to notice how cute their on-air talent looks in their IOC sanctioned sweat suits while trotting cross-country with the Olympic torch.

Why stand up for your core values when there’s money and political style points to be scored?

Everybody knows the Olympic Games are corrupt. From French skating judges who can be bribed, to Chinese Government officials acknowledging IOC President Jacques Rogge won his job by promising the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing, to old, white men from Europe who apparently only have the sport of jumping off mountains to affirm their possession of testicles, the Olympics repeatedly prove their hallowed “principles” are an empty, inside joke.

But they’ve got money and the influence power brings.

And they know there are many Canadians who’ll stoop to their bidding to carve off a little of that for themselves.

Hotel rooms for the Games in Vancouver are already being rented at seven times their normal rate. Restaurant menus are being printed with increases of 500% for two weeks in the dead of February. Everybody from taxi drivers to marijuana salesmen are getting ready to make a killing.

Who cares if a few little girls niave enough to believe they could compete in a Man’s sport get thrown under an incoming tour bus.

What’s more important anyway, the basic human right to be treated equally or the chance to sell some pins and toques at 50 times what it cost to make them?

Where are the voices of all the female hosts and reporters that CTV has lined up to gush over the Games? Or do they already know that keeping their pretty little mouths shut is the only way they got where they are in the first place?

Where are the male ski jumpers? Or would their masculinity and courage be revealed as somewhat lesser if a woman rocketed off the same ski jump they do – or even, God forbid, flew farther? I guess you don’t want to be revealed as the dick-less little douches that you apparently are, do you guys?

Vancouver is going to suffer a serious hangover when these Olympics are over. Hardly anybody is likely to have made any actual money and what they do make will be quickly taxed back to pay for all the bloated fiscal miscalculations that built them.

You’d think a city made notorious by the slaughter of dozens of local women on a nearby pig farm wouldn’t want any more female scalps bleeding from its belt. But you can’t put a price on a good time, can you Vancouver?

CTV, meanwhile, will discover that while they may get record ratings, it really won’t translate into more viewers after the party is over and may actually cost them the many who missed all the special February Sweeps episodes of their favorite American shows that the network won’t be able to program for 17 days.

And mostly, we Canadians may too late realize that “owning the podium” isn’t all its cracked up to be when we’ve also told some of our sisters and daughters they don’t really belong there.

Is there nobody in this country with the courage of these women ski jumpers, with even a portion of their dedication and drive, who can call up the IOC and say, “Hey, maybe you can pull this shit in Beijing and Buenos Aires. But you can’t do it here!”

At least then we might be able to look at Vancouver 2010 with some pride, as a moment when the values and promise of the Olympic Games were truly respected and realized.

Please take a moment to meet some of the athletes we Canadians won’t allow to compete on Canadian soil -- or snow.

There’s one more video on this topic I’d like you to sample. It’s by British singer KT Tunstall and really gets at the heart of what women ski jumpers are about. And stay for the final frame, which kinda says it all.

You’ll find it here.

Hang in there, Ladies. You’ve got more class and character in any one of your broken bones than every member of the IOC or International Ski Jumping Federation has in their entire bodies.

And could you, who don’t jump off mountains with boards tied to your feet, please find the time today to contact CTV, your home country’s Olympic Committee or anybody who’s planning to attend the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and ask them just what values they want the “Youth of the World” who have been “Called to Vancouver” to embrace.

Please take one moment to help some people who just haven’t been able to say “Enough” loud enough.

And then – enjoy your Sunday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 92: Working Class Heroes

This Sunday, I’m being lazier than usual. Part of that’s procrastination. This is the day I clean out the garage so there’s somewhere to park the car come winter.

Where does all this crap come from?

Where the hell is it supposed to go?

So, in lingering over a second cup of coffee, I listened to CBC Sunday Edition instead and heard a reprise of one of their old shows. (Guess somebody’s being lazy over there too). But their repeated program had a special meaning for me, because of the reaction I’ve gotten to the post below this one.

Yesterday, I wrote about an idea I had to shake up the Canadian TV business, maybe revitalize it and perhaps in the process help save the jobs of a lot of other Canadians who work as far from creative pursuits as it’s probably possible to get.


A lot of people thought I was being funny or just shit disturbing. But I wasn’t. I was deadly serious.

And in wondering why I’d gotten that reaction, I realized that a lot of people in Canadian show business don’t think such things are possible. Whether through personal experience of a cratering industry or by buying into the lies of the networks or the welfare state mentality of our Arts bureaucracies, they’ve come to believe that they really don’t have much power or influence or the ability to change anything.

But we can.

If you search through this site (I’d find all the links for you but, like I said, I’m being lazy today) you’ll find stories about me as an actor who’d barely started his career and had no noteworthy credits helping to break the stranglehold American Equity had on Canadian actors, literally preventing us from “telling our own stories”. You’ll find others about the founding of the Writers Guild of Canada, which now fights hard for Canadian writers but was little more than a dream 30 years ago.

Those weren’t sudden aberrations in the lives of the people involved. They were part of a continuum that has bound the needs of creative and working people for about as long as anybody can remember.

There was a time when playwrights like Clifford Odets filled Broadway theatres with plays that demanded his audiences consider the lives of the blue collar workers whose rights they mostly ignored. Woody Guthrie did the same in music and John Steinbeck added those working voices to some of the greatest books in American literature.

Later, that torch was picked up by screenwriters like Dalton Trumbo, Rod Serling and Paddy Chayevsky.

Change can happen and people who do what we do can be a great part of it.


But somewhere along the way, we were co-opted into thinking we weren’t working people anymore. We were elevated to an “Artist” class, a somehow “better” caste where we could sip at the free bar in a roped off tent and rub shoulders with people, who in another time would have been courtiers to Louis XVI and now have titles denoting the ruling families of various Arts Councils, innumerable Arts Funds and Telefilm.

Those people want us apart from our true audience and stabled to serve the needs of political agendists and social engineers, not entertaining working families and making their days a little easier to bear by way of a hot serving of popular entertainment. 

The Sunday Edition show this morning was about a one-of-a-kind concert that took place in 1952 in Blaine, Washington at the Peace Arch Border Crossing, familiar to anybody in the lower mainland of British Columbia. American singer, Paul Robeson, a well known activist and outspoken Black performer had run afoul of one “Red-scare” group or another.

But because they couldn’t actually prove he was a Communist or a threat to the nation, his country had opted to silence him. And while domestic Media conglomerates were as compliant then as they are now, Robeson’s detractors also had to make sure he didn’t find a platform somewhere outside their borders.

And so, Robeson had been forced to surrender his passport and was not allowed to travel outside the country.

But on a sunny May afternoon, Canadian locals of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union arranged for Robeson to sing off the back of a pick-up truck parked under the Peace Arch, accompanied only by a piano.

And 40,000 people turned up to listen – as well as remind their governments that Art has meaning to all people, not just those with smooth hands and a little more money than others.

Our audience, the people who really need us, doesn’t live in windowless rooms in Ottawa or linger near the shrimp tray. They work for a living. And in helping them, we help ourselves.

Enjoy your Sunday. I’ll be in the garage.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

How To Make Friends and Influence People

buy american

So, it’s Saturday and I’m reading the morning paper – happy to be at the end of a week where it became clearer that not much is going to happen in the Canadian television business until this whole “carriage fees” issue gets settled and the Canadian Media Fund issues its new guidelines for funding programming here.

So – like April.

We’re basically in tread water mode until April.

Oh, there’ll still be some stuff getting made. And we’ve now got no excuse for not working on that script we’ve been meaning to write if we had time. But until everybody in broadcasting knows:

A) how much of somebody else’s money they have to spend


B) how many Americans they can have showrunning or writing or starring in or directing their “Canadian” shows

…nobody is committing to anything major.

For the next 6 months, the only people getting a regular pay check in the Canadian TV business will be the bureaucrats who oversee our operations. Why the government has to keep paying them when there is little or nothing to oversee is an argument for another day.

However, getting back to that morning paper. I found a story that not only offered a solution to our problems but might also help out tens of thousands of our fellow Canadians facing imminent unemployment.

The illustration above, comes from a story in the National Post, available free here and for $2 on your newsstand – most of which either goes to bankruptcy lawyers or Goldman-Sachs. So, if you could help them out by buying the hard copy, that might save a couple of jobs too.

The gist of this story is that the $787 Billion American stimulus bill signed into law by President Obama this summer is literally killing a lot of Canadian companies.

Across the USA, products marked “Made in Canada” are banned from import and use in projects using that stimulus money. Even if they’re the only version of the product available and especially if they’ve already been part of the work already done. To qualify for the cash to finish these projects, some cities and states are cancelling orders and even being forced to rip out the Canadian goods they’ve already installed.

The “Buy American” rule in the Stimulus package was a well meaning but not well considered one. Yes, it guaranteed that US Tax dollars were spent creating American jobs – except where companies like Goldman-Sachs, who got us into this mess, used it to pay off people in their foreign subsidiaries – but it also transferred the suffering both offshore and to American companies that had previously been managing to somehow keep the lights on.

One Canadian company, for example, is laying off workers because it can no longer sell into the US. But the American companies that once supplied it with raw materials are also laying off workers because the Canadian company is no longer buying.

Now, Canada could retaliate with its own “Buy Canadian” policy, but that would likely just make things worse.


Unless we could find a way of hurting the Americans just enough to make them rethink their policies, while not hurting ourselves that much in return.

Now what industry that we both share could do that?

Show Business.

Right now, Canadian TV networks spend $700 million purchasing American programming. Virtually all of that programming is already available to us from the American networks delivered by Canadian cable and satellite. What if Canadian networks were told they couldn’t spend that money anymore?

That’s $700 Million pulled out of the US economy in the click of a remote button.

Would the American Industry retaliate – maybe.

But total sales of Canadian programming to US networks is a fraction of our spend. And a lot of it goes to US nets who are selling little into this country in the first place and really need the low priced programming we supply.

We might not get hurt at all.

And how badly would we feel any damage if even a small percentage of that $700 million was invested in new Canadian programming to fill up the now gaping holes in the Canadian networks Prime Time schedules?

The domestic production industry likely wouldn’t suffer. It might actually see a job creating boom in new production.

Would advertisers pull their sponsorship from Canadian networks?

Not likely. There are already rules prohibiting them from buying ads on cross border stations and they still need to get the message out about the goods and services their clients offer.

Would Canadian networks suffer?

Absolutely not.

Haven’t they been telling us for weeks how important local TV is to them and how it must be saved?

Here’s their chance to finally save Local as well as compete head to head with American networks instead of just rebroadcasting the same old shows. Here’s their golden opportunity to build future revenue streams through a library of original programming they’ll be able to sell on DVD and iTunes and market to countries with less stringent trade rules than the US.

And if Canadians have so warmly embraced “Flashpoint”, “Battle of the Blades”, “Corner Gas”, “Trailer Park Boys”, and countless clones of American reality shows – why wouldn’t they just as warmly embrace more of the same?

Meanwhile, let’s add a surcharge on American films coming into the country or even on movie tickets if the film is American. Practically every other country in the world has done that without worrying about choppers of Marines massing on their borders. We almost did it a couple of times

Will it reduce the number of people going to see American movies in Canadian theatres? Of course not.

Will it cause studios to pull their films from distribution here?

Are you nuts? Have you seen how much money they make in non-domestic markets that already ding them on every imported film or for a few cents on every ticket dollar – or both?

And in the world of theatre and concerts – are the promoters not going to be willing to pay a little more to get those money machines over the border? Are the people regularly paying $100 or more to see “Jersey Boys” and “U2” going to flinch at another buck or two that’s then rerouted to support Canadian theatres and bands?


Suddenly, by limiting our “trade war” to just one small industry, we’ve potentially created a job boom here.

And how does that help the Canadians who now make sewer pipes and industrial pumps who are losing theirs?

Well, a little bit might get spent on some infrastructure projects here. But more importantly, you don’t take almost a Billion dollars out of Hollywood without somebody picking up the phone to call the guy whose campaign they helped to finance.

And then the guy who needs to get re-elected puts down his basketball and calls his Canadian counterpart and says, “What’re you doing to me?”

And then the Canadian guy makes sure his hair’s in place and answers, “What’re you doing to me?”

And then they figure something out.

And then Canadian companies start selling their pipe and pumps to California and California companies get to bid on projects here.

And maybe that means that us guys in Canadian Show Business who won this little skirmish don’t get to keep all we’ve gained and Global gets “House” back and CTV has some cop show with initials for a title every other night.

But us show biz types would still be far better off than we are now.

And some of those people whose jobs we helped save might have realized we’re their neighbors and work for a living just like them and they might decide to sample what we have to offer instead of the same old stuff.

Couldn’t that work?


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 91: Trying To Keep Up

I’m sure the television business isn’t all that different from any other line of endeavor these days. Everybody’s just scrambling to keep up. 

This week the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation revamped its news services in an attempt to reach a wider audience, a younger audience, Hell, any audience.

Our leading private network continued a process of trying to make itself the lead story and center of attention by embedding on camera personalities in the Olympic torch run.

And the once hard-charging Canwest broadcast system, reduced to creditor protection status, was in court scrambling around the remaining pieces of its empire in an effort to hang on to what little hope of recovery it has left.

Meanwhile, independent producers and industry creatives are in a constant state of flux, working countless permutations and combinations that might get a show on anything from conventional television to an iPhone app (and maybe somehow on something in between).

Our world feels like it’s speeding up, pushing us to run faster, work longer, embrace technologies we don’t even know how to operate, let alone understand and try to still pay at least lip service to every email, text, instant message and tweet that comes flying at us.

I have Facebook friends I would never want to have a cup of coffee with and follow folks on Twitter that I not only don’t know, but don’t even know who they are --- for the simple reason that I need to understand a little of what they understand, because their insights into what’s going on might (even slightly) inform my own.

Yesterday, I asked an overwhelmed guy in a tire store for a particular brand of snow tire. He’d never heard of it. I pointed out the sale ad in his company flyer. He showed it to his partner, who wondered when the heck those had come in. Only the kid in the back who changes the tires knew where they were piled.

A couple of months back, I decided my father didn’t need to deal with the creaking desk size PC that allows him time to have a nap between when he turns it on and when it’s finally ready to work. I took him to a computer store to look at laptops priced at a fraction of what his old unit had set him back. As the salesman rattled off all the things one of these babies could do that he and his old machine had never dreamt of, I watched him physically tune out.

“Are you all right?”, I asked.

“This is all science fiction,” he answered, “and I’m not Buck Rogers.”

Well, none of us are Buck Rogers. But we can’t stop the world and get off either.

We are living in exponential times.

I don’t have any solutions to our dilemmas, but I think getting a handle on how fast it’s all moving can at least make us realize we’re not alone, not somehow incapable of understanding and, perhaps most of all, less afraid of change.

Maybe what follows will help.

Maybe not.

But take it on board and then try to enjoy your Sunday.