THE FAMILY PLOUFFE/LA FAMILLE PLOUFFE

Canadian Serial Drama (Teleroman)

La famille Plouffe was created in 1953 in response to a lack of francophone television programming in Canada. Unlike its counterpart in English Canada which could pick up shows from American stations, the francophone division of the CBC, la Société Radio-Canada was compelled to develop its own programs with very few resources. The early programs grew out of Quebec's strong tradition of radio drama, a tradition grounded in serial narratives. One such serial Un homme et son péché was heard by nearly 80% of the Quebec audience. It was only natural that such a formula would find its way to television. Téléromans, as these serials were called, were launched in the fall of 1953 with the debut La famille Plouffe which was broadcast live every Wednesday night. It was an instant hit and its phenomenal success prompted Radio-Canada to develop more shows of this genre which came to dominate the weekday primetime schedule.

The Plouffe Family/La famille Plouffe chronicled the daily life of a Quebec working-class family in the post-war era. It was an extended family which included: Théophile, the father, a former provincial cycling champion who had traded in his bicycle--and his youth--for work as a plumber; Joséphine, the naive and kind-hearted mother who doted on her adult children like a worried mother hen; Napoléon, the eldest, and protector of his siblings who mentored his younger brother Guillaume's dream of one day playing professional hockey; Ovide, the intellectual of the family whose education and love of art and music gave him an arrogant demeanour; and Cécile, the only daughter who, like many women in the post-war era, must was faced with the choice between the traditional values of marriage, children and security and new aspirations of career independence.

Plots were generally cast in the form of quests whether for love, career advancement, security or a sense of personal and national identity. These themes were woven with the daily problems and choices which confronted members of the family. Some commentators have argued that the Plouffes reflected the common experience of the "typical" French Canadian family and that viewers in Quebec could easily identify with the characters, their aspirations, the plots, and the settings. As nostalgic as this view may be, the Plouffes were still fictional. Moral ambiguities were almost always resolved to fit the conventional values of post-war Quebec. Women were expected to be homemakers, wives, and mothers. Those women who strayed from these norms, such as Rita Toulouse, were often depicted as wily and unpredictable. Men were expected to be good providers and strong patriarchs as symbolized by the fact that Théophile let his treasured bicycle fall into disrepair. It was only to be expected that Cécile would opt for marriage to Onésime Ménard and that Ovide would reconcile his elitist aspirations with his working-class environment.

A year following the successful premiere of the original series, CBC programmers decided to launch an English version. The version was essentially the same as its French counterpart, though modifications were made in the script to remove profane and vulgar language and any references to sex. The scripts were written by Roger Lemelin, the original and only French author, and the same cast of actors were used for the live broadcasts which were aired later in the week.

This decision was a unique experiment. Using the magic of television, all Canadians were able to follow the same story and though The Plouffe Family received good ratings in some smaller Canadian centers, the CBC's own internal surveys showed that the experiment to create a common Canadian cultural icon was a failure. In large cities where viewers had access to American stations, anglophone Canadians preferred to watch American programming. By the end of the 1958-59 season, the CBC had abandoned the practice of broadcasting language-versioned programming.

La famille Plouffe/The Plouffe Family was a unique "made-in-Canada" live drama. Nostalgic memories of its success prompted a return to the family kitchen in a television special Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe in 1982 which was also versioned and broadcast to anglophone Canadians. After more than two decades of separate programming, another attempt was made to broadcast a series to both English and French audiences in the late 1980s. The series Lance et compte/He Shoots, He Scores (1987-1988) was intended to appeal to Canadian common love of hockey, but like earlier experiments, ratings demonstrated that francophone and anglophone viewers wanted very different kinds of programs. The true legacy of La famille Plouffe was its influence in the development of the téléroman which was and has remained a uniquely "made-in-Quebec" television genre.

-Manon Lamontagne

 

CAST

Théophile Plouffe............................ Paul Guèvremont Joséphine Plouffe.............................. Amanda Alarie Napoléon Plouffe................................. Emile Genest Ovide Plouffe.......... Jean-Louis Roux, Marcel Houben Guillaume Plouffe ...............................Pierre Valcour Cécile Plouffe................................... Denise Pelletier Gédéon Plouffe.................................... Doris Lussier Démérise Plouffe ..........................Nana de Varennes Onéisme Ménard............................... Rolland Bédard Rita Toulouse ......................Lise Roy, Janin Mignolet Blanche Toulouse .................................Lucie Poitras Jeanne Labrie ..............................Thérèse Cadorette Stan Labrie........................................ Jean Duceppe Révérend Père Alexandre....................... Guy Provost Martine Plouffe............................... Margot Campbell Aimé Plouffe ...........................................Jean Coutu Flora Plouffe................................... Ginette Letondal Agathe Plouffe........................ Clémence Desrochers Rosaire Joyeux .............................Camille Ducharme Jacqueline Sévigny........................ Amulette Garneau Alain Richard ...........................................Guy Godin Hélène Giguère.............................. Françoise Graton Alphonse Tremblay.......................... Ernest Guimond

DIRECTORS
Guy Beaulne Jean Dumas Jean-Paul Fugère (both versions)

PROGRAMMING HISTORY
194 episodes, live broadcast, black and white

Société Radio-Canada/CBC
French Version

November 1953-May 1959        Wednesdays 8:30-9:00 English Version
November 1954-May 1955            Thursdays 8:00-8:30 November 1955-May 1956            Fridays 10:00-10:30 November 1956-May 1958                Fridays 8:30-9:00 November 1958-May 1959              Fridays 9:30-10:00

FURTHER READING

Raboy, Marc. Missed Opportunities: The Story of Canada's Broadcasting Policy. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990.

Rutherford, Paul. When Television Was Young:Primetime Canada 1952-1967. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Trofimenkoff, Susan. The Dream of Nation. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Gage, 1983.