Television upfronts used to be such an exciting time of the year for me. Upfronts are when all of the TV networks, over the course of about a week, unveil the TV series that will make up their schedules in the upcoming year. I’d eagerly sit down with the released schedules, pour over them, excitedly looking at and marking down all the new series that seem worthy of checking out come fall. However, now that we’re a few weeks out from upfront week, particularly Canadian upfronts, there’s something that’s really been bothering me. My Canadian TV loving heart was utterly disappointed at the sheer lack of new Canadian scripted originals that were announced.
During upfront week, every network has its own day to announce its schedule for the coming year, and there’s understandably a lot of competition to make a big splash and catch everyone’s eye. This competition is most likely what’s behind press releases that are sent out announcing Corus’ “40 Outstanding Canadian Original Series” or Bell Media’s “70 Original Productions for 2019/2020 Season.” The networks clearly want us all to believe how committed they are to supporting original homegrown Canadian content. If only it were true.
Corus may have unveiled 40 Canadian originals at upfronts, but if one were to dig further through the massive press release, they would find that only two are new scripted original series. Both Nurses and Departure, a co-production with the U.K., are being held until midseason, meaning there’s zero scripted originals on the fall schedule. Two scripted series out of 40 ends up being a paltry 5%, a far less attractive number to tout to the press.
Meanwhile, Bell and its “70 original productions” are actually spread out over its entire family of networks, with its largest and most-watched network, CTV, only having two new original scripted series coming in the next year. The new drama series Transplant and Albedo, yet another co-production with Vudu in the U.S., will both premiere at midseason. Elsewhere, Citytv has only Dead Still, a co-production with Ireland, Vagrant Queen and more episodes of the freshman series Hudson & Rex coming new to its slate. While Global, CTV and Citytv can’t be compared to CBC, which receives government funding, it’s a very scary thought to think where Canadian TV would be without the national broadcaster.
Instead of funding and picking up Canadian scripted originals, each of these networks license American show after American show to then simulcast throughout the year. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all this has to be that time and again networks are sending out a message loud and clear. It’s a message that they’d rather choose U.S. shows that maybe won’t live past one season, in favor of dipping into the massive talent pool that is Canadian TV and developing a new Canadian scripted original instead.
The talent in Canada is immense, diverse and incredible, and if given a shot, can be so much more than just procedural after procedural after procedural. Earlier this year CTV’s new original comedy series JANN premiered to 1.4 million viewers on its way to becoming the most-watched new Canadian series of the year. Canadian TV often does character better than anyone else out there. Thanks to budgets being far lower than those in the U.S. and an overall lack of funding, Canadian shows offer up more creativity and character focus. Networks, please stop choosing to simulcast U.S. shows that have no Canadian creatives involved and instead, fund the homegrown talent and allow them to see what they could do with some real budgets and backing.
The lack of support for new Canadian scripted series by networks is also hindering and preventing the industry from growing and taking some much needed steps forward. How can the talent pool continue to be built when there’s so few shows? People in all positions — writers, directors, actors, etc. — need to progress through the ranks to gain experience and nurture their talents. In order to do so, Canada’s existing talent needs to be continually invested in so that it not only grows, but also to prevent good talent from leaving for the U.S. With so little work in Canadian TV, many actors, writers, directors and other personnel take off to the U.S. in search of work. Just imagine if Orphan Black never happened and we missed out on Tatiana Maslany?
The lack of series being ordered and developed by networks also leads to a lack of diversity in the industry as a whole. With so few spots available on only a handful of shows, it means there are less and less chances for diverse voices to be heard. Many diverse voices lack the traditional experience needed to land a position, so sometimes people need to take a chance, invest in unproven talent and allow them the opportunity to make a name for themselves. This becomes rarer and harder to do when there’s so few series being made and less chances for failure allowed.
The global demand for Canadian TV is also high and very present. The number one question asked of us here at The TV Junkies is “when will TV Show [fill in the blank] be available in the U.S.?” In recent months, both Workin’ Moms and Letterkenny were picked up as originals by Netflix and Hulu. Shows such as Schitt’s Creek and Wynonna Earp have built loud, proud and powerful fanbases, while others such as Baroness von Sketch Show and Burden of Truth have also done well airing in the U.S. The Canadian voice is special, valuable and worth something. Fans are craving more of these Canadian stories and networks need to invest in telling more of them.
The Canadian culture is what others want to aspire to with its attitudes toward gender, diversity and belonging. Canadian storytelling is far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to issues such as LGBT representation and female equality, and viewers are now actively seeking it out and hungry for it. For far too long Canadian TV has been seen as “lesser” than its U.S. counterpart but that’s simply no longer the case. Networks, please let the huge amount of talent that resides in Canada spread its wings and truly show the rest of the world what it can do.
In the meantime, as we wait another full year until the next round of upfronts from the Canadian networks, here’s hoping that executives and those in power of making these decisions take a step back, look at the talent out there and see the success of recent Canadian hits in the global market. Everything these networks need is already at their fingertips, but before all that talent takes off and leaves for greener pastures, please neglect that urge to simulcast. Instead make and invest in more Canadian original series. If that happens, then that will be the real news to triumph and shout about. Those of us who love Canadian TV and truly see the potential held by this industry cannot wait. Please don’t disappoint us again.
Thoughts on the new series announced by networks for 2019/20? Sound off below!
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.