More on Canadian TV

<p><strong>WE STAND ON GUARD FOR THEE:</strong> Responding to yesterday’s column about Flashpoint, the collaboration between CTV and U.S. network CBS, a reader sent me a link to a post on The Legion Of Decency, a blog written by Newmarket-based screenwriter and perpetually disappointed Leafs fan Jim Henshaw.</p>

 




WE STAND ON GUARD FOR THEE: Responding to yesterday’s column about Flashpoint, the collaboration between CTV and U.S. network CBS, a reader sent me a link to a post on The Legion Of Decency, a blog written by Newmarket-based screenwriter and perpetually disappointed Leafs fan Jim Henshaw. Surveying the crop of new shows recently unleashed on our northern airwaves by the national networks – shows like The Border, JPod, Sophie, The Guard and Murdoch Mysteries (imagine CSI: Victorian Toronto) – Henshaw strains to maintain some professional courtesy, but is forced to come to the conclusion that “there isn't a Mad Men, a Dexter or a Breaking Bad in the bunch. There's no pretender to The Wire, no series remotely trying to challenge the creative skill of Jekyll or anyone even attempting to re-imagine a genre in the manner that Battlestar Galactica did.”

 




The funniest line in the Variety story announcing the CTV/CBS collaboration was the one where an insider reported that the U.S. partners had been reassured that the largely Canadian production would look “as good as any American production.” For Canadians, the words have an embarrassed smack, especially if your memory can still access the dreary lighting, lethargic camera work and yard sale art direction shared by literally dozens of shows that once tried to compete with American primetime slickness – titles like Seeing Things, Street Legal, Forever Knight and Due South.

 




Those days are gone now, and thanks to two solid decades of being used as a cheap backlot by the American studios, we can approximate the production values of all but the biggest-budget U.S. shows, and even make Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal substitute credibly for New York, Chicago or Los Angeles without resorting to garish neon, drifts of trash, conspicuous graffiti and extras dressed to look menacingly “punk.”

 




It’s not good enough, though, for Henshaw. “’See we made a TV show that looks like a TV show.’ is fine and dandy but there's supposed to be more to this business than just keeping your pencil inside the borders of the template you're tracing,” he writes to which I can only add: Bravo, and yeah, man, and testify!





Henshaw recalls being at a CBC seminar back when The Beachcombers still had pride of place in their schedule, and hearing the network’s head of drama say with a straight face that she wished that Twin Peaks had been brought to the network first. She was met with laughter, the only reasonable response, then as now, to the idea that any non-cable Canadian network would let a truly strange, original show make it to primetime without being “shunted aside or watered down to get to ‘what our audience wants’ although the programming supervised by many of these people indicates they don't have the first clue who that audience is.” It’s the sort of simple truth that elicits a grave nod and a rueful shake of the head – gestures that are practically part of a bonding ritual of cultural recognition for anyone who’s grown up in front of the small screen in this vast yet desolate land.




rick.mcginnis@metronews.ca

 
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