Thursday, July 08, 2010

Quit Bitchin'!

Once again the Legion hosts a guest blogger. Today we welcome Will Pascoe. Will's one of those all around, well-rounded writer filmmaker whattayagot kinda guys. He's written a great book about Baseball. Directed award winning documentaries, including a festival fave about Noam Chomsky and was recently nominated for the WGC's Jim Burt Screenwriting prize. I'm hoping to entice him back later this summer to describe sharing tacos and baseball talk with Tom Hanks.

And just as there's "No Crying in Baseball", Will believes its time for some of us to stop whining about the state of Canadian television.

All responses to this post will be vetted and responded to by Will. I got fish to clean.

rookie blue

In university, I had a friend who used to mock me for listening to what he called "cheap Canadian rock". For the record, I listened to music from everywhere, but I was a fan of several Canadian bands and was proud of it. I still am.

A few years later I saw him at a friend's BBQ and he asked me if I still liked "the CanCon" music. I said I did, and he made his usual wiseass comments. A year later, I had become a Canadian screenwriter and I saw him again and he asked me if I was still into “that CanCon”, I said yes, but it also now included CanCon film and TV.

Despite the naysayers, it seems Canadian TV is on a roll of late. Canwest's press release touted the numbers for Rookie Blue where 1.8 million Canadians watched the premier. Almost 7 million Americans did too.

Was it a surprise? Not really. In the month leading up to the premiere I couldn't throw a stick in Toronto without hitting an ad for the show. I was in LA two weeks ago and everywhere I went I saw Rookie Blue promos. Whether it was on TV, billboards or bus shelters, ABC/Global/Canwest/Jim Shaw/Whoever was doing a tremendous job getting the word out.

Well, something worked. Almost 2 million of us tuned in, and Global was only too happy to tout those numbers to anyone who would listen. 1.8 million viewers for anything in a country of 34 million people is great. The Canwest press release stated the Rookie Blue premiere was watched by more Canadians than the premiers of Flashpoint, the Bridge, and the Republic of Doyle and was the highest watched new Canwest drama in years.

Despite the strong start, the naysayers were already chiming up -- it's the premiere… of a summer show… on a slow TV night… during a full moon, etc. Yes, they have a point. People will tune in to see a premier. They'll watch it, gauge it and decide if they're going to invest more hours of their lives in it over the course of the next few months. But people do that for any show. Not just Canadian shows. Again the naysayers were telling me -- they won't get over a million for the second episode… holiday weekend… the US ratings will drop dramatically, etc. Well, surprise, surprise. The second episode brought in 1.4 million Canadians. Oh yeah, it did that on Canada Day when a large part of our nation is either getting drunk at a cabin in the woods or shooting off fireworks on the street -- neither of which lend themselves to television watching. And another 6 million plus Americans tuned in as well.

My point is, perhaps (just perhaps) if the networks actually PROMOTE IT, people Canadians (and Americans) will watch it. I suspect most TV viewers could care less where the show actually comes from. They just want it to be good. So, 1.8 million Canadians one week and 1.4 the next and over six million Americans? I'll take those numbers any time. That's more than Mad Men gets after three fantastic seasons. (I love Mad Men, but for all its acclaim, the show has a mind boggling tiny viewership mostly composed of people who work in advertising, fashion or television it seems).

CTV's Flashpoint gets over a million Canadians to watch it on a Friday night week after week -- even when it's a repeat. Every Sunday night, CBC's Heartland forces a million and a half Canadians to eat dinner at 6pm or 8pm so they can catch it live at 7. And now Global's Rookie Blue is getting a million plus viewers in the summer when even I, a TV junkie by any definition, hardly turn on the television. Three vastly different shows on three vastly different networks. And while each of these shows succeeds on their own terms, one of the big reasons has to be that their networks have gotten behind these shows in a big way and have done an exceptional job of promoting them.

The next time the CRTC holds its hearings and the networks fly up to Ottawa to scream about loosening CanCon regulations because "Canadians won't watch Canadian shows", I hope someone from the various unions -- or god forbid a regular TV viewer -- pulls out these network press releases touting the numbers of Canadians watching their Canadian shows, as proof that we will support Canadian drama if we know about it, because at the end of the day, it seems a lot of us are.

And while there are still many issues and challenges in the broader Canadian TV industry, (which I leave for smarter people like Henshaw and Dixon to blog about), it's kinda nice to celebrate someone else's success for a moment because their success is our success and it's good for the rest of us working in Canadian TV. Who wouldn't like to be able to call our families the day after their show premiers to say that more than seven million people watched it? Getting a show made in this economic and broadcast landscape is hard enough, getting a broadcaster to spend money to promote it is even harder and getting seven million to watch it is impressive. That’s a show with our writers, our directors, our actors and our crew. And millions are watching. And they don’t care if it’s Canadian or not.

With each of the big three national networks having a hit show with a million plus viewers (so far) and Canwest announcing last week that they're doing a slew of new pilots, I’m wondering if we were slowly coming out of a dark age in Canadian television. Time will tell.

And my old university buddy who mocked me for love of CanCon? Last I heard, he was a large animal vet and spent most of his days with his arm up a cow's ass.

Too bad he doesn't have seven million people watching.

"Rookie Blue" runs Thursday nights at nine (eight Central) on ABC and Global.


Bytowner said...

Maybe Mr. Pascoe's veterinary friend ought to consider writing his own pilot script. Not sure which channel(s) he should tailor it for, though. Discovery Channel, perhaps?

Rusty James said...

I've never heard about it - cuz I live in Montreal and only watch tv when the seasons hit dvd.

But that title - ROOKIE BLUE - does everything that the aforementioned Cancon series don't: tell you what the show is about!

Now I'm interested.