CTV plans ambitious program expansion

CTV plans ambitious program expansion

VINAY MENON

CTV plans to do something next season it has never done before air six original Canadian series.

This morning, the network will announce its 2004-2005 production order, which includes Instant Star, a new half-hour drama series billed as, “The O.C. meets Canadian Idol.”

CTV will also announce plans to renew dramas The Eleventh Hour, Degrassi: The Next Generation, and Sue Thomas F.B. Eye. On Monday, production started on Robson Arms, another new Canadian series scheduled to air next season, which revolves around the tenants in a Vancouver apartment building.

A note of sobering caution: Before the champagne is uncorked it’s important to remember that, as usual, everything is subject to the dreaded f-word “funding.”

Today is the deadline for networks to submit their order to the Canadian Television Fund (CTF). In about six weeks, the networks will learn which proposed shows will receive money from the funding agency.

So what does today’s announcement mean?

It means CTV, which has already lined-up producers and is actively developing scripts for these projects, is committed to Canadian content. The culture cops and government bean-counters will decide the rest.

“This year’s production order represents the single-biggest production order ever for CTV,” says Susanne Boyce, CTV president of programming and chair of the Media Group.

“It gives CTV six original scripted series for next year’s 2004-2005 schedule, the most ever for CTV. More than that, today’s announcement is as much about quality programming and not just sheer quantity. I’m happy to say that our production order will guarantee both.”

As discussed in Saturday’s dispatch, the industry finds itself at an interesting crossroads. Despite last year’s crippling $37.5 million cut to the CTF, Canadian TV is in the midst of a creative renaissance.

There has been a welcome and long-overdue change in how execs now approach domestic programming.

“We are much more interested in quality than quantity,” says Boyce. “I’m looking for successes. I’m not looking just to put stuff on the air.”

CTV will also announce plans to renew Corner Gas, its hit rookie dramedy.

The network is also poised to develop 10 original movies for next season, including One Dead Indian (about Ipperwash native Dudley George, based on the book of the same name by Toronto Star reporter Peter Edwards), SARS, North Of Hope, Friend Of The Family, Playing House, The Man Who Lost Himself: The Terry Evanshen Story, Spirit Bear and Tripping The Wire: A Stephen Tree Mystery.

We’ll have to wait and see how funding plays out. But the industry, led by companies such as CTV and Alliance Atlantis, is clearly benefiting from some recent philosophical changes.

“I think the people who make television started to look for innovations in how to create new shows,” says Semi Chellas, the co-creator of The Eleventh Hour.

There is a greater emphasis on writing and production values. And shows are now developed with patience. In the show’s first season, Chellas was given a seven-script development deal that allowed her to spend a year researching stories.

Brent Butt, the star and creator of Corner Gas, says he has also detected a change inside the executive suites.

“Everybody who is involved with this project seems to love TV,” he says. “And I’ve worked in situations in the past where network executives don’t even seem to like TV. They seem to be holding the job until they can become curator of a museum or something.”

The reality, unfortunately, is that Canada, with its relatively small population, will always have a tough time balancing dollars and sense.

“It’s too bad we don’t have the market that can constitute a profit,” says Butt. “Our show is a hit show, it’s drawing more viewers than almost anything (else). But if you look at the dollars that are generated from advertising revenue, it’s nothing.”

Something else may change in the years ahead. Boyce, with fingers crossed, believes within five years we’ll see a Canadian series broadcast on both sides of the border “… and making money.”

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