What's Buzzin'?

Be sure to take a look at Jill Golick’s interview with Brent Piaskoski, the creator of Family Channel’s recently-unveiled multi-camera family sitcom The Latest Buzz. By the way, the director of the pilot and several other episodes is the veteran U.S. TV director Brian K. Roberts, who not only has directed zillions of TV episodes but wrote an early episode of The Simpsons. (“Will You Take Us To Mount Splashmore?”)

We talk a lot about areas where Canadians are trying to catch up with their American counterparts, but here’s a field where I think we’re ahead of them Yanks: shows for what I might call middle-aged children. (That is, too old to be little kids and too young to be teenagers. Yeah, I know some people call them “tweens,” but I believe the PC term is “middle-aged children.”) The Latest Buzz, which has done very well for Family Channel, is a low-budget multi-camera comedy shot on videotape, like Hannah Montana or Zack and Cody. (The success of those shows means that we’ll see more shows with that multi-cam format; earlier shows tended to be one-camera with more flashy editing, a la Lizzie McGuire.)  The multi-story format described by Piaskoski is also something you see all the time on those Disney Channel shows; they always have an A story, a B story and a short running gag bit to serve as the C story.

The difference is that The Latest Buzz is better than those shows — smarter scripts, less obnoxious characters, more natural acting from the kids. It is essentially a kids’ show, but it’s a pretty good kids’ show that doesn’t talk down to its audience. A lot of the kids’ sitcoms produced in Canada, like Naturally, Sadie and Life With Derek, have been better than their U.S. equivalents, and we’re also good at “issue” dramas for young audiences (the Degrassi franchise) and wholesome family dramas with horses in them (Heartland, anything connected with Avonlea).

When you see how many corners are cut by U.S. family shows — I’m not talking about budget, I’m talking about scripts that clearly aren’t as good as they could be, actors who don’t do the best work they’re capable of (Miley Cyrus is charming and there is no reason why she shouldn’t be giving a charming performance, if her show were better-directed) — you appreciate that Canadian family programming is quite good. Which is important. A good show for family audiences is hard to make and it’s good that Canadians are making them.

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