Last week’s announcement by the Canadian Television Fund capped off a godawful few years for Canadian dramatic TV.
The CTF announced that nearly two-thirds of the fund’s applicants — including stalwarts like This Hour Has 22 Minutes — were walking away empty-handed. Not one of the CBC’s movie applications was approved. That comes on the heels of a 25-per-cent cut to Ottawa’s share of the fund in the recent federal budget.
Sheila Copps, the heritage minister who defended that cut immediately after the budget, reversed herself and suggested Canadians angry about the reduction should talk to Finance Minister (and leadership rival) John Manley.
But Copps has some splainin’ to do herself. Back in 1999, the CRTC relaxed Canadian content regulations at the behest of broadcasters, who assured the commission that once the red tape was cut, the cameras would roll on a panoply of ground-breaking, heart-warming, national-pride-inducing TV series. Probably. Any day now.
Having been given what they asked for, broadcasters promptly started killing Canadian TV series. In 1999, there were 11 Canadian one-hour series on the air; there are fewer than half that today, and after the CTF announcement, their number is likely to dwindle further.
Last year, feeling the heat from the creative community (and possibly wanting to avoid being bodily ejected from the Banff Festival), Copps announced an informal review of the CRTC regulations. But since then, there’s been only an eerie silence from Ottawa.
Well, not total silence.
Liberal rural caucus chair Andy Savoy wants to eliminate the rules that prevent foreign ownership of Canadian broadcasting companies. Won’t that make matters worse, you might ask? He assures us Canadian culture would be as safe as houses: “I would rely on the same tool we have now for content issues, and that is the CRTC.”
Uh-huh. Because that’s working so well right now.
Sooner or later, we’re going to have to make the decision: do we want Canadian drama on TV or not? If the answer is no, then fine — a lot of very talented, creative people whose lives are currently on hold can get on with their careers, move south of the border or start pitching nice, cheap reality TV shows.
But if the answer is yes, then we’re going to have to start ponying up. At the very least, it means tax dollars to encourage production and stronger regulations to require broadcasters to carry more Canadian drama.
The Coalition of Canadian Audio-Visual Unions released a report on the state of Canadian drama in March. The executive summary doesn’t consist of a reproduction of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” but that was probably an oversight.