Surfs Up at Canwest Fall 2010 Upfront

Canwest kicked off three days of Canadian upfronts with their “Coming Attractions” press event Tuesday in Toronto. You could tell it was the Global launch in Yorkville because there were dozens of ACTRA protesters outside the Hazelton Hotel.
A couple of times in recent years, ACTRA and others have singled out Global for being naughty CanCon providers. I spoke with Leah Pinsent on my way into the Global launch, and have to say, my God, the woman had the most luminous skin! She really should be headlining some Global TV series.
Anyway, what burns Pinsent and her partner Peter Keleghan as well as Wendy Crewson and Paul Gross and the other usual suspects who generally take part in these pre-network bash bashings is that, well, dammit, the Canadian private networks bitch and moan to the CRTC about broken business models, about how they need carriage fee loot or they’ll shut everything down, about how they need the hand outs to save local TV–and then they go right back down to LA and load up on American crap. Once again, the privates will spend almost $800 million on US fare, less than 10% of that on creating prime time scripted Canadian content.
At first glance at the Fall 2010 Schedule Global unveiled Tuesday (and will show off Wednesday morning to advertisers), there is little evidence this trend will be changing anytime soon. Instead of a reboot, Global and others (Rogers previews their buys Wednesday in Toronto, CTV Thursday) seem to be locked in the same slick buy American business plan.
Global, for example, showed clips from the five-and-a-half new hours of programming they’ll introduce to their schedule this fall. The entire Global 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. schedule is 100% American, except for one new Canadian drama airing this fall on Friday nights: Shattered starring Callum Keith Rennie (left with co-star Molly Parker).
While Rennie was great last season on Californication, to be honest, the Shattered clip shown in the comfy Hazelton screening room didn’t seem that compelling. Basically, Rennie’s character seems messed up and he’s gonna see a shrink about it. Lonestar, a new Monday drama, is about a weasel who plays everybody for suckers, including the wife and girlfriend he keeps juggling. Brian Keith and Jon Voight both have daddy roles.
When I suggested to top Global show fetcher Barb Williams that this seemed more like a movie than a series she shot back oh yeah? Seems like the life story of too many men I know. Advantage Williams.
Hawaii FIVE-O (right), which has been getting some buzz, had that catchy theme song and the “Book ’em Danno” phrase in the clip. Williams says the two leads have chemistry to burn. A half hour comedy, Outsourced, is going to raise a brown flag in Brampton. Set in an Indian call centre, the high concept clip I saw made Mike Myers “The Love Guru” seem like a documentary. A new Thursday hour, Love Bites, had some star power in the pilot thanks to Jennifer Love Hewitt and played like Love American Style forty years later.
Williams says she avoided the “Take the U.S. shows with the Canadians” move this go-round (and there are many) and just went for what worked best in the slots she had to fill.
Some aggressive fall scheduling moves by the US networks forced Williams to shake up established shows on other nights but generally Global got lucky. Glee will go Tuesday at 8 until January, a risky non-simulcast but Glee seems more and more like an 8 o’clock show. The loss of 24 and Heroes Mondays opened up perfect simulcast slots for Lonestar (below, with Adrianne Palicki, James Wolk and Eloise Mumford) and Hawaii.
Williams says she didn’t get to play with Jim Shaw’s money on this trip to Hollywood (the new ownership deal won’t likely kick in until September) but did scare up enough Canwest loot to get the shows she wanted. A fair number of U.S. shows were left on the table this time, she said. Every second show being shopped Stateside featured either cops or lawyers, she added. Global did spend for one of the law dramas, Outlaw, starring Jimmy Smits as a supreme court judge who leaves the bench to kick some law ass. Damn.
As for the optics of having that one skinny hour of CanCon on Global’s fall 2010, Williams says she makes no apologies. “Everybody’s under the same requirement to have 50% Canadian content in prime time and we all get there by August,” she says. (The giant loophole, of course, is that the CRTC defines “prime time” as from 6 p.m. to midnight–with Canadian supper and late night newscasts and self promoting red carpet fodder as the free spaces in Canadian TV Bingo.) Her job is to find and build hit shows that will bring eyeballs to her schedule and eventually help build audiences for Canadian shows. She has to play her strongest hand in September, and if that’s all American Aces, that’s the game she is playing. The other guys will be playing with the same red, white and blue deck come September.
More Canadian shows are in development for Global, Williams promises. Like the ABC co-production formerly known as Copper, Rookie Blue (premiering later this month), they may be looking at summer runs.
Yet take heart, Leah Pinsent. Williams does have plenty of new Canadian scripted series in the works over on Global’s money making specialty channels. I’m just back from set visits to two upcoming Showcase series shot in Halifax–Haven and the bizarre Trailer Park Boys follow up Drunk and On Drugs. The sexy sci-fi series Lost Girl is currently in production in Hamilton, as are several future TV-movies and miniseries. Canwest also has that Canadian version of Wipeout in pre-production; Canadians will get to run the red balls down on the famous Argentina obstacle course. The series will be the big whup this fall on TVTropolis.
Global also plans to bring their History Television hit Ice Pilots, NWT (above) in for a landing on the main network schedule in a Sunday at 7 berth. A second season of the Yellowknife fly boys reality series will premiere in January on History. Mikey is probably already ordering new Air Buffalo T-shirts and underwear.
Global had a hot hand last June, picking up four big winners–Glee, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Good Wife and The Cleveland Show. They enjoy a schedule on the upswing and have a fair chunk of the weekly Canadian Top 30 CTV used to own, especially among the 18-49-year-old demo, especially in Canada’s biggest cities. In the most incredible comeback story of them all, they grabbed the No. 1 spot with Canada’s most popular show in 2009-2010–the 10-year-old reality series Survivor. That’s a series you can’t kill with a lit stick, and bodes well for the launch of their new Reality Channel in July.

3 Responses to “Surfs Up at Canwest Fall 2010 Upfront”

  1. “Instead of a reboot, Global and others (Rogers previews their buys Wednesday in Toronto, CTV Thursday) seem to be locked in the same slick buy American business plan.”

    *Seem* to be locked in the same slick buy American business plan? *Seem*?

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  2. I suspect Barbara Williams’ (VP of content for Canwest) assertion that Global TV invested upwards of $160 mil in Canadian content this year can be taken with the same seriousness given to Brian Mulroney’s insistence that he only got together with Karlheinz Schreiber “once or twice over coffee.”

    Unless Canwest can make significant contributions to the development and creation of high-end Canadian-made dramas and comedies (and, no, “Top Chef Canada” and “Wipeout Canada” don’t count), perhaps they should be barred from accessing the Canadian Media Fund and any other envelopes used to support Canadian programming. It’s laughable that when it comes time to renew their broadcast licences, the private networks can’t say enough about their commitment to Canadian artists, culture and our collective identity — yet every year at this time, we see the same old thing. Especially from Global.

    It’s not as if American broadcasters are coming up with heaps of riveting new programing either. Yet Global figures Canadians just can’t live without a rehash of “Hawaii Five-O”? Really?

    (Bill, I’d be interested to know how much Global spent on “Hawaii Five-O” and their other acquisitions if you have those stats.)

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