January 12, 2006

Hollywood TV shows on Canada election radar

By Etan Vlessing

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - U.S. imports like "Desperate
Housewives" and "Survivor" have become an election issue in
Canada as the local TV industry demands action to protect and
fund homegrown series facing stiff competition from Hollywood.

Many entertainment industry representatives weighed in
Thursday to add their voices to demands raised this week by the
country's actors union that local TV programs get better air

As Canada's four main political parties stake out positions
in the lead-up to a January 23 national vote, numerous cultural
groups urged Federal politicians to ensure more primetime shelf
space for homegrown TV shows.

Operating astride the American market, Canadian
broadcasters have long depended on U.S. network hits to drive
their primetime schedules. Currently, the "CSI" franchise and
ABC hits like "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and "Grey's
Anatomy" are doing big numbers for market-leading CTV Inc.,
while rival CanWest Media Works, which operates two national
networks here, is drawing its biggest audiences with reality
series like "Survivor" and "Fear Factor."

Gail Martiri, director of policy at the Writers Guild of
Canada, called on the next federal government to inject another
CAN$95 million ($82 million) into the Canadian Television Fund,
the main source of subsidies for independent producers looking
to get their shows onto primetime schedules here, with a focus
on homegrown dramas.

"Those are the shows reflecting Canada to Canadians, and
using the most talent," Martiri said.

At a press conference held Wednesday by the Alliance of
Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, actress Wendy
Crewson said, "Unfortunately, Canadians are overwhelmed by
Hollywood content from American broadcasters. They're dumping
their product into Canada."

Jumping into the fray the next day was Guy Mason, CEO and
president of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn.
(CFTPA), which represents major independent producers. He urged
Ottawa to reinstate the minimum drama content and expenditure
requirements for Canadian private broadcasters that were
eliminated in 1999.

"We'd like to see the Canadian content strengthened and
we'd like to see the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission) playing a larger role in
ensuring a more equitable relationship between broadcasters and
producers," Mason said in an interview.

Despite an end to spending requirements, Canadian private
broadcasters still must air homegrown shows in at least 50% of
primetime slots here.

Only CTV's "Corner Gas" and the CBC's "Hockey Night in
Canada" routinely make it into the top 20 of most-watched TV
shows in Canada. Critics insist private broadcasters too often
push indigenous shows to the margins of their schedules,
reserving the best primetime slots for popular U.S. series.

Glenn O'Farrell, president and CEO of the Canadian
Association of Broadcasters, representing private broadcasters,
argued, "The suggestion that the CRTC turn the clock back and
reintroduce spending levels doesn't make any sense, at this

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter