EXECUTIVE HUBRIS and other lurid Canadian stories


Degrassi : The Next Generation – Press

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EXECUTIVE
HUBRIS

and other lurid Canadian stories

JOHN DOYLE

Friday,
June 8, 2001

CTV is big on the phrase “21st
century.” Although we’re well into the 2001, it’s
actually not a phrase you hear very much unless you keep
listening to that old T. Rex album, the one with the song Twenty-first Century Boy.
I think it was used in the movie Billy Elliot.

Anyway,
after just a few minutes of CTV’s new-season announcement, the
network revival of the Degrassi High series was called
Degrassi with a 21st-century twist” and a
return of a certain CTV political program was called “The
21st-century version of Question Period.” As much
as the persistent use of the phrase was meant to give us a
welcome-to-the-future buzz, CTV’s launch of its new season was
very traditional in many ways.

For a start, in the
style of Canadian TV networks, it’s the executives who are
presented as the true stars. CTV (a division of Bell
Globemedia, like this newspaper) promoted the announcement of
its new season with posters and other paraphernalia designed
to resemble a fake movie poster. It was a poster for something
called “The Season” and, where the names and faces
of the starring actors might be placed, there were the eyes of
various executives and, instead of names, it read “The
Chief, The President, The Buyer, The Seller.” Below were
the names of the execs, on the poster line where you’d expect
the stars. The phrase “with Special Guests” appeared
at the end. Those would be the people who actually star in the
Canadian and American TV shows the network broadcasts.

There’s
hubris here, of course, and nobody will thank me for pointing
that out, but Canadian TV is such a strange corporate animal
that the executive-as-star isn’t unexpected. Here, where
Canadian programming often plays second fiddle to acquired
U.S. programs, the executives have enormous power. They can
decide to spend millions of dollars that launch careers and
keep hundreds of people employed. Or not. Canadian TV
executives are well-known and their decisions scrutinized with
an extraordinary intensity. Mind you, there was no need to
scrutinize one decision — a CTV executive described the
revival of Degrassi as “a no-brainer.”


The Degrassi
announcement caused the most fuss and there was a classic
photo opportunity when the cast of the old show were placed
next to the youngsters who will star in Degrassi: The Next
Generation
. The detailed and affectionate questions from
reporters provided a remarkable instance of a Canadian show
being treated with the intensity that is normally reserved for
glamorous American shows.

But while reviving the
Degrassi franchise might be a no-brainer (if it’s any
good), CTV’s decision to air a second season of The
Sopranos
was an example of the weird and wonderful world
of Canadian broadcasting. It’s been emphasized in this column
that cable and specialty-channel television are driving the
American television business, setting standards that cannot
possibly be matched on commercial networks. And yet, after all
the fuss, The Sopranos turns up here on a channel that
anyone can get with a pair of rabbit ears on their TV set.
When CTV aired the first season of The Sopranos last
fall, the decision smacked of stunt-programming aimed at
countering CBC’s Olympic coverage. Now The Sopranos
will air, unedited, on Sunday nights, week after week as the
new TV season starts. And an awful lot of people will find out
what TV critics and their pay-TV watching neighbours are
talking about.

Nobody is talking very much about the
new American shows that CTV has acquired because hardly
anybody has seen them. The network is sticking with the Law
& Order
brand, having bought Law & Order:
Criminal Intent
, and that means you can watch the original
Law & Order on Wednesdays, Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit
on Fridays and the new one on Sunday
night. Soon, probably, there will be a series based on that
shampoo commercial that was inspired by Law &
Order
. There was one small example of the vagaries of the
TV business yesterday. CTV has purchased Bob Patterson,
a new sitcom vehicle for Jason Alexander, who played George on
Seinfeld. Yesterday, there were wire-service reports
from Hollywood that the show is already experiencing
difficulties with staff departures and feuds on the set.
Everyone remembers what happened to The Michael Richards
Show
, the last vehicle for a former Seinfeld
star.

CTV is also big on TV movies, with about a dozen
being announced yesterday as completed, in production or
coming soon. Among them are the inevitable attention-grabbing
true-crime stories — AKA: The Albert Walker Story is
about the Canadian con man who was convicted of murder in
England and The Investigation is about the hunt for
Clifford Olson. The American networks are shrinking the number
of TV movies they air, while here, the genre keeps going.
That’s because Canadians haven’t see enough of their own lurid
stories and literature on the small screen, and now they’re
going to see more. Maybe that’s the real 21st-century twist on
Canadian TV. CTV’s presentation of its new schedule was a
bewildering experience. It started early and went late, and
many of the CTV staff looked like they were on the verge of a
breakdown, but at least it wasn’t held in the dark.

Graft Alert: CTV gave me a latte, value about $2. At
the CTV party, I had a glass of wine, value about $2.50. The
WTN network has done a very noble thing on the graft front —
instead of hosting a party for TV critics and handing out
gewgaws, WTN donated $20,000 to the Breast Cancer Society of
Canada. As a way of getting good will from TV critics, that’s
a no-brainer.

Pioneer Quest (Sunday, 9 p.m.,
History Television) brings the peculiar Canadian Reality TV
series to a close. In the series finale, we watch the two
couples celebrate Christmas, endure the bitter cold of a
Manitoba winter and then the heavy rains of spring. While it
was never meant to attract a mass audience, Pioneer
Quest
is certainly going to stand as an example of
television working simultaneously as entertainment and
education. The closest any one of us can get to picturing how
Canadians lived 100 years ago is watching Frank and Alana
Logie and Tim and Deanna Treadway on this TV series.

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