My Name Is Joe, And I Watch Canadian TV

Denis McGrath has a very thoughtful post on the lack of coverage of home-grown Canadian TV product.

Speaking only for myself, I think I definitely don’t post enough about Canadian shows, though it’s sometimes hard to know exactly what to say. As Denis points out, a lot of Canadian TV coverage ghettoizes it by putting all Canadian shows into a separate category from U.S. shows; the issue becomes “what’s the state of Canadian TV?” or “How is Canadian TV doing?” instead of just treating a Canadian show as a piece of entertainment, in competition for your viewing time with all other shows in the same time slot.

Some Canadian shows have, I think, managed to prove that there’s a way out of the ghetto. Kids’ shows especially. The viewers of the Family Channel don’t see The Latest Buzz or Life With Derek as CanCon; they see them as shows, no different from the American shows on the same network. They argue over whether they prefer the realistic family shows or the fantasy wish-fulfilment shows, not over whether they prefer American or Canadian product. For one thing, these shows don’t really identify themselves as Canadian. Not that they deny that they’re Canadian, but they don’t go out of their way to demonstrate it, and a new viewer doesn’t always know if they’re Canadian or not. Which is one way around the innate suspicion that Anglo-Canadian audiences have of their home-grown shows.

Not to blame the TV industry for my own shortcomings, but I do think there is a tendency on the part of TV producers and promoters to worry unduly about what makes a show genuinely Canadian, and to emphasize the differences between Canadian characters and Americans, or the Canadian way of doing things vs. the American way of doing things. The truth is, life in Canada (particularly English-speaking Canada) isn’t that different from life in America; you can go for days without doing or saying anything that’s specifically Canadian. Sometimes the sense of Canadian identity is baked into the premise — The Border, for example — but sometimes it isn’t, and yet such shows are often sold to the audience as CanCon. That’s not, again, to pass the buck and blame them for the whole problem, but other genres/channels have proven that it’s possible to cultivate an audience that doesn’t care if a show is American or Canadian.

Update: Will Dixon at Uninflected Images Juxtaposed has real-world evidence that contradicts my assumptions about the Family Channel demographic.

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