term "Canadianization" is used by some Europeans as a metonym for
their fear of the audience fragmentation new satellite technologies
would bring to their orderly systems of state supported public service
broadcasting. But if the presence of alternative programming choices
is this powerful, how did distinctive Canadian programming survive
alongside the largest and most enclosed media giant in the world?
Decades before cable and satellite, when the country was only 75
years old, the majority of Canadians could flick a dial and find
ABC, NBC and CBS, plus dozens of local American stations. In the
1970s and 1980s Canadians had a cornucopia of specialty channels
on cable, albeit the mix was controlled by the CRTC (Canadian Radio
and Television Commission). By the mid-1970s, parts of Southern
Ontario rivaled New York City for television choices. Yet here stands
Canada--its electronic frontier as permeable as the world's longest
unguarded border, still a separate nation-state. Canada's response
to and appropriation of other sources of television may serve more
as a success story for other national contexts than a model of dire
1952, when the CBC first went to air, thousands of Canadians along
the border from coast to distant coast had already set their aerials
to receive signals from the many American stations within range.
And it is true that even in those early days, American television
genres shaped the expectations of Canadian viewers about the conventions
of television. At the same time, these types of programmes were
beginning to differ significantly from the radio prototypes--variety
shows, soaps, quiz and game shows--which had also been familiar
beyond the northern border. Viewers were also enjoying the more
televisual treatment of sports, documentaries and dramas.
American television, these programme genres were usually clearly
separated. However, the multi-talented first CBC head of programming
Mavor Moore and his producer/directors (who were drawn from the
National Film Board, the theatre, radio and off the street) were
interested in experimenting with the forms of television. For example,
on series like Horizon and anthologies like Robert Allen's Scope/Folio/Festival,
Daryl Duke's Q for Quest and Mario Prizek's Eyeopener
they combined dramatization with panel discussions or documentaries
after the early years of experimentation the genres for the most
part settled back into their self-defined places and thus the history
of Canadian broadcasting can be summarised in terms of separate
compartments, reflecting not only the sharpened distinctions made
for the viewers but also the developing administrative empires .
In the first 15 years of CBC TV arts and drama producers broadcast
the first full-length opera, programmed evenings of jazz, poetry
and avant-garde drama (the outlawed American play The Brig,
scripts by Pinter, Albee, Beckett, Arrabal Anouilh). They adapted
Shaw and Chekov. They broadcast live the family serial The Family
Plouffe in both French and English, wrote and broadcast musicals
for television (Anne of Green Gables is still performed on
stage) and trained writers new to television on half hour adaptations
of Stephen Leacock's Sketches of a Sunshine Town. They produced
ballet, Gilbert and Sullivan, regular classical music, folk and
jazz concerts and made a quite successful Hamlet under severe
limitations imposed by a tiny drama studio. Until 1967 almost all
of the output was in black and white--colour came late to Canada--and
live or live to tape until the late 1960's. They stirred up a major
controversy (duplicated in the United Kingdom when the BBC bought
the film) with Ron Kelly's direct cinema experimental drama, The
Open Grave. Kelly had the nerve to treat the Resurrection as
a breaking news story, full of interruptions and improvisations,
using familiar reporters from CBC news and the following scenario:
the previous Friday, Joshua Corbett had been hanged for alleged
terrorism, though in fact he has disrupted the war industries with
his pacifist ideas. Now his grave is empty and neither Mary Morrison,
a ravaged, rather vague middle-aged prostitute nor any of his other
friends know where he is. The film, intended for broadcast on Easter
Sunday made the headlines for weeks.
in the United States, series from radio (soaps, westerns, cop shows
and situation comedies) were transferred to television, for many
years series were not made by the CBC. On American television viewers
saw 1950s television anthologies like Playhouse 90 and Studio
One fade to black in the 1960s under the tide of strippable
series filmed by major studios or independent producers in Hollywood..
In the 1960's the CBC did introduce RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted
Police) and Seaway, two moderately successful independent
productions for an adult audience. These were followed in 1966 by
Ron Weyman's hugely successful and innovative in-house CBC series
about a coroner, Wojeck. However the CBC also kept anthology
drama alive for another three decades. With neither the inclination
nor the resources to succumb to the "disease of the week" nor "murder
of the week" staples of the popular American Movies of the Week
the CBC preferred to put a significant portion of its revenue into
drama specials and the long running topical drama anthology, For
the Record. This program was followed in the late 1980s and
1990s by explorations of the country's regions with The Way We
Are, and ethnic communities with Inside Stories. Anthology
disappeared, at least for to this date, in 1993.
Night in Canada was a staple of Saturday night radio in the
1930s and 1940s with the well-loved voice of Foster Hewitt shouting
"He shoots . . .He Scores ! ! !" from the gondola in Toronto's Maple
Leaf Gardens. When hockey came to television it continued to be
a consistent ratings winner right up to the mid-1990s. What began
as the "hot stove league" (commentary occurring between playing
periods), latterly became weekly tirades by the much-loved-or-hated
Don Cherry. Initially, the expert camera work and the on--air commentary
spoiled Canadians for coverage from the expansion teams but the
gaps have closed--although Canadian viewers are bemused by the electronic
pucks, cartoons and other "explanations" of the game by the U.S.
Coverage of the short season of then immensely popular Canadian
Football League (CFL) contests, including the Grey Cup Championship
Game, also began in 1952. CFL survival, now tied to television revenues
as well as an ill-advised expansion is in doubt in the 1990s. The
national curling bonspiels were another regular sports feature.
A much loved drama by W. O. Mitchell called The Black Bonspiel
of Wullie MacRimmon, first seen CBC in 1955, is still produced
in theatres around the country 40 years later, reflecting the Canadian
affection for this purely amateur winter sport.
Baseball came late to national Canadian television first with the
Montreal Expos and then the Toronto Blue Jays--who, though in two
different leagues, still echo the traditional winter hockey rivalry
of the two cities--and languages. As the Olympic coverage has expanded,
other sports receive more regular coverage: from skiing and gymnastics,
which are a natural for television, to track and field, swimming
and rowing. There are also annual events such as the rodeo competitions
at the Calgary Stampede and the Queen's Plate, the oldest horse
race on the continent. Women are used as colour commentators in
many of these sports--but they are also authoritative voices in
both gendered sports and horse racing, dressage and show jumping
where both sexes appear in one field of competitors.
recent years with the introduction of hemi-demi-semi finals which
create a Hockey season extending into June, many Canadians viewers
have complained that sports is dominating not only Saturday afternoons
and nights and Sunday afternoons, but too much week night CBC prime
time as well. Private broadcasters repeatedly urge the CRTC and
the government to force the CBC out of this lucrative field. The
CBC reply is direct. Government revenues have been cut in constant
dollars from 1982 onwards. Professional Sports programming, particularly
hockey gets ratings, makes money--and subsidises the coverage of
amateur sports which CTV and Global/Canwest will not cover. The
policy of displacing all other programming for 10 weeks when the
Hockey "finals" get under way in April continues. The 1995 Juneau
report on the mandate of the CBC recommends that the CBC scrap the
early rounds and get out of sports broadcasting except, of course,
cross-over between Sports and Entertainment has been the very successful
skating specials pioneered by Toller Cranston in the early 1980s
with Strawberry Ice. Brian Orser, Elizabeth Manley, Kurt
Browning, Elvis Stojko, and pairs champions Eisler and Brasseur,
have followed with specials which offer a little narrative, a lot
of music and spectacle, other international medal-winning skaters
and non-skating stars and superb special effects to complement the
From the mid 1930s to 1995, both the CBC and the private networks
were explicitly forbidden to sell time to radio and television evangelists.
The result was that the CBC offers weekly a church service drawn
from a variety of denominations and that individual stations program
local church services or sell time to a few evangelists on late
night or early-morning television. In 1995, the CRTC did license
a small evangelical station in Lethbridge Alberta.
the 1950s and early 1960s the CBC broadcast specific words and music
or drama programming keyed to Christmas and Easter, notably the
innovative drama The Hill and The Open Grave. In these
more ecumenical and culturally diverse times, such specific observances
outside of the church or synagogue have disappeared. Surviving for
many years however has been the popular, cheaply produced and musically
impeccable Hymn Sing. Man Alive the 25 year old programme
on ethical and moral issues continues and is widely sold abroad.
broadcasting initiative unique to Canada is Vision, a network run
by a consortium of several faiths. It is financed by sales of weekend
time to all kinds of groups from Jimmy Swaggart to Ba'hai. This
"Mosaic" programming, so identified, must conform to Canadian laws
regarding defamation, and a few programs have been pulled from the
air. Vision's weekday and primetime programming offers a mix of
documentaries, news, commentary, controversy, films and series from
other countries, and programmes made by the marginalised, most of
which offer an ethical perspective on the issues of the day as well
as addressing more permanent issues raised by the human condition.
These programmes usually present more questions than answers. The
network is provided on basic cable and also depends on viewer donations.
News and Current Affairs
their American cousins who spare only a half hour (including commercials)
for the national and, too seldom, international news, Canadians
take their news, news analysis, current affairs and documentaries
very seriously. They demand the best and they often get it. Since
1980 significant numbers have been willing to watch an hour of CBC
news analysis and documentaries from 10-1l:00 P.M. then switch to
CTV at 11:00 P.M. for another half hour. CTV depends more on American
and British feed that the CBC and too often neglects the regions
outside of central Canada but on national stories they often do
as well or better, finding fresh information or a different angle.
Both newscasts attract significant numbers. However, when a national
crisis such as the 1995 referendum looms, the CBC and CBC Newsworld,
a separate all-news and features network, combine forces to bring
Canadians detailed and comprehensive coverage and analysis. In those
circumstances, as the ratings indicate, the CBC is the first choice.
someone from another country asks who are the Canadian TV "stars"
the candidates are likely to appear among the following lists of
reporters and anchors rather than from the leads of a sitcom or
cop show. They are also likely to be told how Knowlton Nash resigned
as anchor of The National so that Peter Mansbridge would
stay home to replace him rather than taking up a far more lucrative
offer in the United States. And yet no one, anchor or reporter,
could ever be said to have influenced a country's opinion on a national
issue as Walter Cronkite is said to have done with the Vietnam war.
Canadians accord no individual in broadcasting that kind of influence
or impact, not even the late and much lamented anchor of The
Journal, Barbara Frum.
its history, Canadian television, particularly the CBC, as part
of its mandate, has emphasised News and Current Affairs. The nightly
newscasts began in the early 1950s--with film clips rapidly gaining
prominence. Anchors, many of whom were also reporters have included
Earl Cameron, Larry Henderson, Stanley Burke, Knowlton Nash, Peter
Mansbridge, Lloyd Robertson at both CBC and then CTV, Sandie Renaldo,
Hana Gartner, Alison Smith, Pamela Wallin and Sheldon Turcotte.
the 1970s the CBC and latterly CTV have used men and women in all
the hot spots and on most beats. Well-known reporters include Peter
Kent reporting from Cambodia, Anne Medina, an American who became
an incisive Canadian voice from Lebanon, Brian Stewart from Ethiopia
and Rwanda, Joe Schlosinger from all over the world, Bill Cameron,
Anna-Maria Tremonti from Russia and Bosnia, senior Ottawa correspondents
Jason Moscowitch and David Halton, Terry Malewski, Mary-Lou Finlay,
Ian Hanomansing, Eve Savory on social policy and Der Ho Yen on economic
known CBC current affairs and features series have included Close-up,
Telescope Quarterly Report and the much admired and feared 1960s
"gotcha" journalism of This Hour Has Seven Days whose cancellation
lead to debate in Cabinet, a crisis in confidence between management
and producers and a chilling effect on current affairs. After a
hiatus in the late 1960s the news and current affairs department
came back strongly with the fifth estate. CTV answered with
W5 (with Eric Mallins was added in the 1980s). Among the
widely acclaimed 1960s documentaries were Beryl Fox's cinema verite
treatment of Vietnam The Mills of the Gods, and Larry Gosnell's
Air of Death on air pollution. For over 25 years the CBC
has also offered a variety of analytical as well as descriptive
programming about science and the natural world on the weekly series
The Nature of Things.
Noon and Night Shows
quite recently CTV has had the only national "morning show" with
Canada A.M..--where lighter fare, news and national weather
was the backdrop for incisive questioning of national and international
figures. Norm Perry, Pamela Wallin, Valerie Pringle and Keith Morrison
gave a jump-start to sluggish viewers heading out for work or into
the day's work at home. In the 1980s Citytv (Toronto) and some other
local stations offered a lighter version of "breakfast television".
Newsworld offers full news and analysis to the country, updated
CBC, again unlike the American networks, did not leave the afternoons
completely to the soap opera and the rerun. From the early 1960s
Take 30 used the considerable journalistic talents of hosts
like Adrienne Clarkson and Paul Soles to provide women at home with
a daily half hour of news, current affairs, personalities, reviews,
interviews and regular features, including by far the most thorough
coverage at the time of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.
The program was replaced in 1994 by Midday, an hour at noon
for the same audience, updated to include regular gardening features,
analysis of popular culture and mini-documentaries. It is even more
likely than its predecessor to examine the topical serious issues
of the day from Quebec separation to the collapse of the fishing
stock on both coasts.
was an early (1953-63) national supper hour show which featured
personalities from politics and entertainment. With a chalk-tossing
weatherman, Percy Saltzman, the show was hosted by the genial Dick
MacDougal and hostess Elaine Grand, and later Joyce Davidson. For
the most part, however, supper hour shows of news, weather sports
and features have been the territory of local stations. Under severe
financial constraints and in some haste, the CBC closed some local
stations in the late 1980s and ordered the stations which survived
to cover a wider market with their supper hour shows--a decision
which devastated morale and resulted in much lower ratings in some
areas. The policy has since been reversed.
all stations in Canada, independently or publicly owned or part
of a network provide supper hour shows and news, weather and sports
at 11:00 P.M. The quality varies enormously but Toronto stations
(with a potential market of 3 million) will cover transit policy,
policing in the suburbs and "what's on" in the nightclubs while
CKNX Wingham (pop. 10,000 with a market of 50,000) will cover the
day's prices for cattle, the problems of the Saugeen Valley water
authority and the "snowfest" in Durham.
for children is specifically mentioned in the existing CBC mandate.
The CBC has offered very creative commercial-free, non-violent programming
on week-day mornings since its inception. Ed McCurdy, Raffi, Sharon
Lois and Bram, Fred Penner brought all kinds of music to kids. Puppets
like Uncle Chichimus and his friend Hollyhock were
followed by somewhat more sophisticated, much loved and very long
lived series such as Mister Dress-up with his puppet friend
Casey and The Friendly Giant with Rusty and his silent pal,
the giraffe Jerome. Romper Room on CTV and Polka Dot Door
on TVO (the Ontario educational network) were other popular programmes
for young children. Special segments in both French and English
were made in Canada as inserts for Sesame Street. Since its inception
in 1970 TVO has devised all kinds of award winning children's series.
older children viewing in prime-time there were 1960s adventure
series on CBC like Adventures in Rainbow Country and The
Forest Rangers. Both series were set in Canada's wilderness
and structured around the usual gaggle of boys--and a girl or two--who
get in and out of trouble, very little of it violent, with the help
of parents or adult friends. Both are still in reruns.
1970s and 1980s belonged to The Edison Twins who used science
to solve domestic puzzles, CTV's well-written family series The
Campbells, set just before the Rebellion of 1837, and the three
CBC Degrassi series which followed basically the same group
of young actors through three series as they grew up. Using workshops
and improvisational exercises, the series developed characters and
plots reflecting their own lives until the "kids" graduated from
high school This success lead to the more gritty Northwood
and Global's Madison as well as the excellent "tween" show
Ready or Not.
much more complex concept for the 1990s is the CBC's The Odyssey
which takes its viewer from the regular "Upworld" of school and
work where Jay, the protagonist lies in a coma into the "Downworld,"
inhabited entirely by children. Downworld is full of great adventures
(and wildly imaginative designs) which mirror and sometimes parody,
as a dream might, the world of consciousness. The basic quest narrative
(Jay seeks his absent father) has evolved over the seasons into
more interaction between the worlds.
the 1950s and 1960s Variety shows combined singers, dancers, puppet
shows, acrobats, animal acts and comedy sketches--including recurring
favourites on The Ed Sullivan Show like Wayne and Shuster.
In Canada there were copies of American programs such as Cross-Canada
Hit Parade, and Show-time, country and Western shows
like Holiday Ranch and then for twenty-five years The
Tommy Hunter Show. Light music shows starred home-grown favourites
like everyone's "pet Juliette" who sang pop favourites and
ballads and always said good night to her mom. CTV responded to
Canadian content regulations requiring cultural diversity with an
imitation English pub The Pig and Whistle and the home-grown
Ian Tyson Show.
special case was the much loved down East fiddle music of Don
Messer's Jubilee. With Marg Osborne and Charlie Cahmberlain,
Don Messer and his Islanders flourished for years on radio and then
on television--until the late 1960s music "revolution" persuaded
the executives in Toronto to cancel it for a limp imitation of similar
American shows called Hullabaloo. Re-edited for the 1990s
Don Messer's Jubilee was surprise hit.
CBC also discovered that in the 1990s an eclectic mix of every style
of Canadian music from grunge rock to Buffy Ste. Marie, hosted by
Cape Bretoner, Rita MacNeil is a major ratings winner. Running against
an American trend to narrowcasting, musical variety at least has
returned to Canadian prime-time.
Shows and Game Shows
nearly forty-year run of Front Page Challenge reflected the
Canadian preference for hybrid form and an emphasis on current affairs.
Part quiz, part-current affairs show, its guests included domestic
and foreign prime ministers, sports and entertainment celebrities
and ordinary citizens who had made the headlines. Most other Canadian
quiz shows have been "Canadian Content fillers," (produced to meet
requirements for Canadian content), and were merely less expensive
imitations of American game shows. On CTV Shirley, Dini Petty,
and in a more serious vein Jane Hawtin Live are successful
day-time talk shows. Pamela Wallin Live on Newsworld is a
1990s prime-time success story with a very wide range of guests
and subjects and a few callers. Other cross-country call-in shows
on Newsworld are oriented toward public affairs. Neither public
nor private television has been successful with late night talk
50 years Canadians have excelled in developing small companies who
perform satirical, usually topical revue comedy on radio and television.
The grandfather of them all was Wayne And Shuster. The grandmother
was the annual theatrical revue Spring Thaw. The proud children
were SCTV in the 1970s and The Royal Canadian AirFarce still
going strong on radio and television. The grandchildren are CODCO
(and its stepchild This Hour Has 22 Minutes) and Kids
In The Hall. With their gentle, literate yet often slapstick
parodies of both high and popular culture edited reruns of Wayne
and Shuster were popular in many countries. SCTV (also
in reruns) was so self-reflexive that it became a cult favourite
with a younger media literate generation as did Kids whose
executive producer, Canadian Lorne Michaels was so closely connected
to Saturday Night Live. In contrast to Kids in the Hall,
CODCO's much harder hitting satire and complex, sustained
characterisations were informed by the eloquence of Newfoundland
speech and a more distinctly Canadian sense of values. Some of
CODCO's original members now turn their biting wit on the week's
news in This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
For the first twenty years of CBC TV drama, in the absence of any
strong professional theatre, the general policy was that it should
entertain, inform, and reflect national and regional concerns (intermittently
and with significant gaps). It should experiment with television
as a medium, show Canadians what classical and contemporary world
theatre looked like and explore the relationship of the documentary
and the fictional. In the 1960s, the drama department was also expected
to inflect some forms of American popular culture (cop shows, mysteries,
sitcoms) and ignore others like soaps; and until 1992 continue with
anthology drama. Finally, in very occasional mini-series or films,
the "single" play, whether a light comedy, a theatre adaptation,
a docudrama or an intensely personal vision, would find a home.
its history the CBC has explored various dramatic forms to produce
biographies. A mixture of voice/over commentary, selections from
the works of fiction or the paintings etc., sustained satire, even
musical numbers have been used to produce a non-standard series
of biographies: the mix of drama, documentary and commentators in
The Baron of Brewery Bay with John Drainie playing Stephen
Leacock; the lives of artists Tom Thompson and Emily Carr; Kate
Reid as suffragette Nellie McLung; three versions of the life of
feminist Emily Murphy; Prime Ministers John A. Macdonald (several
times) and William Lyon MacKenzie King (once as a satire, Rexy,
once as a miniseries by Donald Brittain). Others less well known
included Brittain's Canada's Sweetheart the Saga of Hal Banks
(the imported thug who ran the waterfronts of Canada), colourful
newspaper editors and columnists like Bob Barker and "Ma" Murray.
The CBC also presented the trials of the assassin of D'Arcy McGee
twice and rebel/martyr Louis Riel three times: first as a two part
drama, then as an opera and finally as a lavish, revisionist miniseries,
shot in both languages in 1979.
lives of explorers, politicians, financiers and engineers were treated
in the hugely successful five part adaptation of Pierre Berton's
trilogy The National Dream. The miniseries combined contemporary
narrative, shot by Berton on locations across the country, with
dramatizations of the men who made it happen. In the 1980s Some
Honourable Gentlemen also depicted a wide variety of historical
figures--not all of them heroes.
successful experiments on the private networks include The Life
and Times of Edwin Alonzo Lloyd (with veteran actor Gordon Pinsent)
and Pierre Berton's inexpensive and fascinating half-hour vignettes
on Heritage Theatre.
of the most popular U.S. genres have never appeared on Canadian
television. Unlike every other developed country and despite successful
efforts in 1940s and 1950s radio, until the 1990s, there were no
soap operas, no teleromans (a francophone long serial form
at which SRC excels) on English Canadian television. There was only
one brief though seminal fling in the 1960s at short serials on
film. There is a very straight-forward reason for this. In the early
days the CBC had no interest. When CTV arrived in the early 1960s,
soaps were "too expensive" since they involved a sustained commitment
to TV drama. In the 1970s CBC TV tried the longer serial form using
Mazo de la Roche's widely popular Whiteoaks novels. Jalna
was shot using experimental techniques, multiple story and time
lines--and failed. In the same decade, the CBC also tried a twice
weekly night soap called House of Pride. Reflecting the CBC
mandate to show Canadians the five "Regions"--a largely fictional
but still potent set of geopolitical myths consisting of "the Atlantic
provinces", Quebec, Ontario, "The West" and British Columbia--House
of Pride was set and taped in five cities across the country.
Although ahead of its time (Dallas was five years away) logistics
and problems with the story lines killed it.
a hiatus of more than ten years two half hour daytime soaps appeared
on the private networks. Whether Global's early 1990s A Foreign
Affair or CTV's Family Passions, both co-produced with
several other countries, will survive long enough to be the training
ground and cash cow that Canadian television, both public and private,
needs remains to be seen. Perhaps because they are international
co-productions they seem to be more hodgepodge than tasty puddings.
take rueful pride in the export of talent that has happened throughout
our broadcast history: host Bernard Braden, many producers including
Sydney Newman to the United Kingdom; actors Raymond Massey, Leslie
Nielson, Lorne Green, William Shatner, John Colicos, Martin Short
and John Candy, producer Lorne Michaels, writers Bernard Slade,
Arthur Hailey, Anna Sandor and Bill Gough and literally dozens of
others to the United States. In the 1980s the independently made
satire The Canadian Connection, using several expatriates
explored the theory that Canadians were involved in a conspiracy
to take over Hollywood--and thus all of American culture. It has
been rerun several times.
didn't Canada simply export some of its entertainment programming
to the United States instead of its talent? The answers are many.
First, there was no star system in English Canadian TV until the
mid 1970s and then only fitfully--no actor was bankable. Since its
beginning, Canadian television could not retain some of its major
talent because it paid much less than competitors in other countries.
When talented individuals stay--and many do--it is because of the
life in Canada and the opportunities to do a very different kind
of work. Still, Canadian television has been shaped from the beginning
by a steady exodus. An American network bought the concept, writer,
star and much of the technical team of Wojeck which, after
being run through the network blender came as the barely recognisable
20 years later a summer prime-time run of the fairly gritty and
not overtly Canadian CTV cop show Sidestreet (which had been
scheduled by CBS at midnight, though run in Canada at 10:00 P.M.)
meant American stars had to appear as guests. More to the point,
the scripts had to be more straightforward with less allusion and
ambiguity. In the case of Danger Bay, in the 1980s a popular
family/adventure series set in part at the Vancouver aquarium, the
CBC and their independent partner had to struggle with co-producers
from Disney to allow a scene and a story line featuring the live
birth of a whale. One of the CBC's most successful exports, Road
To Avonlea has featured at least one American or British star
for an episode or two because Disney was co-producer.
perception that current events are raw material for the by now thoroughly
debased U.S. "docudrama", permeates U.S. society. In the North American
context of the 1990s it may be one of the most distinctive things
about Canadian culture that front page events are not yet seen as
fodder for the movie-of-the-week mill, nor Canadians, as they live
their lives, as featured players for next week's video releases.
fact Canadians still care very much about the differences between
evidence, argument, reenactment and the "make it up or leave it
out, whichever makes a more entertaining television movie" approach.
Canadian audiences can still distinguish between docudrama (real
people are characters), topical drama (foregrounding a contemporary
issue) or historical drama (a mixture of real and fictional characters
set in a time when most viewers will not have first-hand knowledge
of the "history" portrayed). The example of the very controversial
co-production with the National Film Board (NFB), The Valour
and the Horror, illustrates the difference. It is unimaginable
that Americans in the United States would argue strenuously for
months on end about the verisimilitude of both the documentary and
dramatized segments of three programs about World War II. Jeanine
Locke, a writer-producer of period and topical dramas made many
distinctive drama specials like Chautauqua Girl (which looked
at both 1930s prairie populism and the Chautauqua circuit), You've
Come a Long Way Katie (about alcoholism--Katie dies) and The
Greening of Ian Elliot (which combined the debate about the
ordination of homosexual ministers in the Unified Church and the
fight against the Aleimeda-Rafferty Dam).
From 1976-85 the CBC presented an anthology of what R.L. Thomas,
the first executive producer called "journalistic dramas". Searching,
topical, often controversial, innovative in subject matter and not
usually too didactic, For the Record attracted the best talent
in the country, in front of and behind the cameras. Some of the
most notable productions were A Far Cry From Home, Ready for
Slaughter, Blind Faith, Every Person is Guilty, I Love a Man in
Uniform, Maria, One of Our Own, and The Winnings of Frankie Walls.
Subjects included unemployment, the economic troubles of family
farms, euthanasia, aboriginal injustice, televangelism, wife abuse,
and a Francophone/Anglophone marriage at the time of the 1980 referendum.
the CBC made The Scales of Justice a series of drama specials
about well -known, (sometimes sensational, sometimes only half-remembered)
legal cases, they hired a well-known criminal lawyer to advise on
the scripts and serve as an on-camera/voice-over guide through the
intricacies of the law. The parts of the script based on testimony
and those based on speculation as well as the contradictions are
explicitly pointed out. The Scales of Justice appears two
or three times a year, presenting Canadian judicial and social history
without losing track of the ethical questions involved in docudrama.
In the late 1980s and 1990s miniseries the voice is also distinctive,
however dissonant to the English Canadian culture under scrutiny:
producer Bernie Zukerman's Love and Hate, explored the personalities
involved and also the cultural context of the terrorising and murder
of the wife of a well known Saskatchewan political family. His
Conspiracy of Silence: The Story of Helen Betty Osborne is a
searching account of the racism in a northern community. Liar,
Liar looked at the possibility that a child may lie about child
abuse and Life with Billy examined once again wife and child
abuse. Butter Box Babies recreated a period tale of neglect
in an orphanage and Adam Egoyan's Gross Misconduct was an
unsparing (and experimental) look at the destruction of a hockey
star. Many of these have been ratings hits on American prime-time.
them all, John Smith's The Boys of St Vincent, a 1993 CBC/NFB
collaboration is the best example of the survival of a distinctive
English Canadian television voice. It is also worth noting that,
like The Valour and the Horror, The Boys of St
Vincent eluded efforts at censorship through a court injunction
in Ontario and parts of Quebec because the NFB (partnered with an
independent company with a broadcast window and input from the CBC)
had the conviction and the resources to put these programs on cassette
for sale or loan. The miniseries had a Canada-wide airing a few
months later. No such "State" institutions exist in the United States.
More important is the fact that the commercial constraints on the
independent television film-makers and the American networks would
have ensured that such programs are not made. When shown on A and
E in 1994, some of the scenes from The Boys of St Vincent,
scenes which made the viewer a potentially complicit spectator--a
point vital to the moral challenge of the work--were simply cut.
Unfortunately this masterwork was not shown on the CBC without commercials
on the "publicly owned broadcasting system". The effect was very
damaging to the integrity of the work.
Most Canadian series are produced by the CBC and are inflections
or sometimes hybrids of American genres. Yet they show a different
legal or medical system, different urban landscapes (no mean streets),
very different ethnic mixes and attitudes, and are less violent.
They are also often less confrontational, although not always, as
illustrated by Streetlegal and its mid-1980s rival, CTV's
only high quality series E.N.G. In most of these series we
see actors who are comfortable working in ensemble, usually performing
in less extroverted ways than their U.S. cousins. The writers, producers
and executives have always been more comfortable with ambiguity
in characterisation, literate dialogue, sometimes open endings and
often complex subtext.
fact is, that if Canadians created many clones of an U.S. genre
like CTV's action adventure series Counterstrike they could
not compete with the production values or the stars and would not
be worth watching when the originals are a channel changers' zap
away. But it is also true that Canadians are utterly delighted that
the huge neighbour to the South broadcast in primetime 1994- and
then renewed mid-season 1995-96 CTV's Due South, the "odd
couple" comedy/cop show which features a Mountie from the far North
displaced to the streets of Chicago and Ray, his cynical side-kick.
Both cultures are satirised, but Canadians, saturated in U.S. popular
culture get all the jokes. Americans may well miss many of them.
It is true that Canadian popular drama has always been competitive
with "theirs" when time and money is spent on it. Note the success
of Wojeck, The Manipulators, the much loved period series
A Gift to Last, The Great Detective and sitcoms like King
of Kensington, Hangin' In, Max Glick, and the wonderful hybrid
mystery show Seeing Things. Co-producers David Barlow and
Louis DelGrande inflected the cop show to produce a protagonist,
Louie Ciccone, a shortsighted newspaper reporter with glasses who
has visions of murders he would much rather ignore, doesn't drive
or know which end of a gun is which, is rescued by a flying puck,
a cake and often by his wife Marge. Yet the series had a strong
moral centre, a lot of culturally specific topical satire and also
worked as a good whodunnit.
and First Nations
French fact in Quebec, the million francophones outside Quebec and
the aboriginal nations, who are scattered throughout Canada and
dominant in the North, have all been visible intermittently in English
Canada's television drama. La Famille Plouffe (1953-59 on
CBC, 1952-59 on Radio Canada) was broadcast live, sequentially,
in both languages. There were also a few efforts to reflect each
culture to the other in the arts. Festival presented in English
a handful of Quebec playwrights including Michel Tremblay's Les
Belles Soeurs. But For the Record produced just one contemporary
drama, Don't forget: Je me souviens in 1980. There has been
no other drama on this subject on the CBC in the last 16 years.
Yet television fiction is the site where the conflicting discourses
of society are made concrete, sometimes mediated and sometimes exposed
As the CBC itself admitted in its submission to the CRTC in 1978
"the perception of the need to reflect the two linguistic communities
to one another emerged in the CBC at about the same time as it emerged
in the country--gradually over the last half of the 1960s and then
early 1970s and then abruptly in the mid 1970s". Yes, the CBC presented
our fractious politics at length in the 1980s on The Nation
and The Journal in all kinds of specials during recurrent
crises--but not in fiction.
the other hand, Radio-Canada created its own mythology by de-contextualizing
and repeating months later, over and over, the "red-necks stomp
on the Quebec flag episode" during the Meech Lake Accord fiasco.
Radio-Canada also regularly ignores the Arts in the rest of Canada
as well as most anglophone popular culture, with a nationalist fervour
that also creates a deafening silence.
were a few "cross-cultural" dramas during and after the first Quebec
referendum in 1980. Miniseries such as the French Duplessis,
the very successful English Empire Inc. and the less successful
Chasing Rainbows (all set in Montreal, all lavish period
pieces) were dubbed into the other language. However, Lance et
Compte (He shoots! He Scores!) (1987) which was shot in both
languages, turned into a litmus test of both cultures. Lance et
Compte started on SRC with a million viewers and soon nearly tripled
to 2.7 out of a total viewing population of 6 million. There were
T-shirts, mugs, a fan magazine, a book, even sweat suits over its
three year run. Yet the same scripts in English using the same actors,
directors, producer and crew drew, at its peak in a hockey obsessed
culture, only 750,000 viewers.
is safe to say that at no time in its history did CBC English Television
depend on a soupcon of French for a distinctive flavour to its stew.
Although efforts in news and current affairs continue, if Quebec
leaves Canada the opportunities for shared music, drama, news reporting,
sports-casts and documentaries on a daily basis which have been
wasted over the previous four decades may be one of the clearest
discernible reasons for the divorce.
A more consistently distinctive motif in Canadian television has
been the representation of aboriginal peoples. The subject was first
fully explored by Philip Keately (producer/director) and Paul St.Pierre
(writer) who created a 1960s anthology with recurring characters
Cariboo Country, a contemporary television "western" which
was as far away as it could get from the U.S. TV Westerns so popular
at the time. The motif reappeared sporadically in other places throughout
the 1970s and 1980s: Claude Jutra's Dreamspeaker, Where the Heart
Is, A Thousand Moons, many episodes of Beachcombers,
a few episodes of Danger Bay, all of the short series for
children Spirit Bay, and most notably and controversially
in 1989 Where the Spirit Lives, a historical drama about
residential schools which was sold to PBS and around the world and
rebroadcast in Canada four times.
1992 the CBC presented four full seasons of North of 60,
set on a reservation in the North West Territories. Unlike Northern
Exposure, the U.S. cult hit to which it is sometimes so inappropriately
compared, North of 60 does not use aboriginal people as an
exotic back-drop. In its third and fourth seasons all but one of
the leading characters have been native. The series has presented
complex and sustained examinations of alcoholism, the effect of
residential schools and forced acculturation on individuals and
families, internal feuds and band politics, interference from government,
anthropologists and ill-informed animal rights activists, the ongoing
friendships and resentments between white band manager, store-keeper
and nurse and the chief, treatment centre staff, visiting artists
etc. There were also the drama specials Spirit Rider and
Medicine River, based on a novel by aboriginal writer Thomas
King. However stereotypes can still be found in reruns of the late
1980s Bordertown, the CTV "western" about a Mountie, a U.S.
marshal and a woman doctor from France (the series is a co-production
with France), or Global's steamy Destiny Ridge, and in the
CBC's 1994 Trial at Fortitude Bay. Nevertheless, since the
OKA crisis of 1990 and in the midst of an ongoing debate about cultural
appropriation, Canadians have changed what they watch and how they
watch it. Meanwhile, the long-running and evolving aboriginal motif
has now been claimed by those whose lives it reflects. Slowly the
fresh perceptions which can arise from First Nations writers, directors
and producers are making their way into the main stream of CBC drama.
The future of the CBC as it is now constituted is as uncertain as
the composition of the country as it is now constituted. Yet despite
its proximity to the biggest media giants in world, its "mixed"
structure and its inevitable ups and downs Canadian television and
the CBC in particular has retained a distinctive voice supporting,
amplifying and sometimes defining a distinctive national culture.
Richard. Culture, Communication and National Identity: The Case
of Canadian Television. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
Mary Jane. Turn Up The Contrast: CBC Television Drama Since 1952.
Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987.
Mary Jane. Rewind and Search: Makers and Decisionmakers of CBC
Television Drama. Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queens University
Knowlton. The Microphone Wars: A History of Triumph and Betrayal
at the CBC. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1994.
Frank W. The Public Eye: Television and the Politics of Canadian
Broadcasting, 1952-68. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
Marc. Missed Opportunities: The Story of Canada's Broadcasting
Policy. Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queens University Press,
Paul. When Television Was Young: Primetime Canada 1952-1967.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.
also Canadian Programming in French;
Companies, CODCO; Beachcombers;
Boys of St. Vincent,The;
Plouffe, The; Fifth
Estate, The; For
the Record; Front
Page Challenge; Hockey
Night in Canada; Kids
in the Hall; Man
of Things, The; National,
of 60; Quentin
Durgens, M.P.; Road
to Avonlea; SCTV
Network 90 (and Second City TV); Street
Hour Has Seven Days; Tommy
Hunter Show, The;
Valor and the Horror, The; Wayne
and Shuster; Wojeck