Not since the 1994’s Due South has a Canadian TV series been able to crack the American market and air in network primetime. That show was seen on CBS in the US as well as on CTV north of the border.
But the prolonged writers’ strike has sent the US networks looking a little further afield for fresh content, and suddenly, Canadian programming is a hot commodity.
It makes sense – Canadian cities look like American cities, the accent is almost identical, and aside from a few funky pronunciations, a self-depreciating sense of humor, and the funny-colored money, few Americans will likely ever notice.
At the end of January, CTV, Canada’s largest private broadcaster, announced that CBS Paramount Network Television had picked up the network’s new primetime show Flashpoint, currently in preproduction. Flashpoint (working title) is a new police drama about an elite, big-city Strategic Response Unit (SRU), inspired by Toronto’s Emergency Task Force. CBS has picked up 13 episodes of the one-hour series, which was greenlit by CTV in December.
The series is executive produced by multiple Gemini Award-winner Anne Marie La Traverse (Hunt for Justice: The Louise Arbour Story, Tripping the Wire) for Pink Sky Entertainment and Bill Mustos for Avamar Entertainment in association with CTV and CBS Paramount Network Television.
Then just two days later, CTV announced that another of its new original drama series had been picked up by a US broadcaster. The Listener (working title), from Shaftesbury Films, will air on NBC primetime in the U.S. The show, which was also greenlit by CTV in December, centers on a big-city paramedic who can read people’s thoughts. NBC has ordered 13 episodes of the one-hour series, currently in prepro with shooting set to begin this spring.
“Two different series, two different American networks, two different producers–one huge success for CTV’s original development team,” said Susanne Boyce, president, creative, content and channels, CTV. “It’s been an incredible week.”
“There seems to be a new pattern emerging at American TV networks, which have lately become more open to working with production companies outside the US.,” said Christina Jennings, chairman and CEO of Shaftesbury Films.
Last fall, CTV’s quirky hit comedy series about life in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan–Corner Gas– began airing on Superstation WGN, debuting to rave reviews.
And at press time, ABC Family, bought the Canadian comedy series Sophie. The show, currently airing its first season on Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC, tells the story of a young talent agent whose life is going down the tubes. ABC signed on for 13 episodes of the show and has bought an option for the second season. Created by Montreal studio SphÃƒÂ¨re Media Plus, the program is an adaptation of the successful Francophone series Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin (The Highs and Lows of Sophie Paquin).
The CBC also reported that producers of The Border, which debuted last month on CBC, are currently negotiating with US networks CBS and ABC. The Border is about a group of special agents dealing with issues along the Canada-US border. Executive producer Peter Raymont describes the show as “24 with a conscience.”
In a recent CBC News report, Raymont said: “Frankly, whether or not there’s a writers’ strike, I think there’s more interest in the United States in Canadian drama productions.”
It has also been widely reported that Global TV is courting American broadcasters with its new series The Guard, about a Coast Guard search-and-rescue team off the Pacific coast.
With the major US networks virtually abandoning their 2008 pilot season, Canada’s producers suddenly have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to export Canadian-made shows, and it couldn’t come at a better time for them, with the Canadian loonie hovering at around parity with the US greenback, minimizing incentives for so-called runaway producers to come to Canada.
This changes the rules of the game. Instead of just servicing “runaway productions,” Canada has a chance to build an export business. And if these shows can get a foothold, and develop a healthy audience share in the US., they may become more than just temporary placeholders during the strike.
Written by Scott Lehane