Why can’t Canadian network viewers see Dexter in all its bloody glory? It’s a question John Cosway asks in his well read blog The Toronto Sun Family. The former Sun man is a big Dexter fan, as are many of us. The series, starring Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) as a Miami forensics sleuth, has been thrilling viewers for two seasons on the U.S/ cable network Showtime as well as here in Canada on The Movie Network and Movie Central.
The premise of the series is both edgy and creepy: Dexter Morgan (Hall) tracks down evil serial killers in his spare time. He then carves them up and liquidates them in his lab. He’s an avenging monster, but he’s doing the community a tremendous service. Hall is hypnotic in the role, turning a cold-blooded killer into a remarkably sympathetic character.
All out of fresh episodes of their powerful CSI’s due to the writers strike, CBS called up Dexter from their cable farm team. They’ve prepared an edited version of the series for CBS viewers, starting with tonight’s Season One premiere (10 p.m.).
The original, uncut episodes are too disturbing and profane for network television audiences, at least in the U.S., where CSI is about as bold as you can push it. Even the edited version of Dexter doesn’t cut it with at least one U.S.-based parents’ group. (For an interesting article on that debate, check out this Time magazine article here.)
Canadian networks, however, have sliced through those standards in the past, especially CTV, which took the bold step several years ago to run uncut episodes of The Sopranos in prime time. Big Tony let fly with every F-in epitaph and whacked with abandon and CTV enjoyed high ratings. Did they get a lot of complaints from outraged Canadian viewers? Fagetaboutit.
CTV also aired FX’s racy Nip/Tuck and MTV’s The Osbournes uncut in Canada. The Osbournes never aired uncut in America, where Ozzy’s F-bombs were always bleeped. Not so on CTV, which I always thought was a mistake–the bleeps were funnier and you never needed to actually hear the language to understand what was going on. (Hell, you could never understand what Ozzy was saying anyway.) Nonetheless, CTV demonstrated how different community broadcast standards are in Canada.
That point was hammered home to me Friday night when I happened upon an uncut version of Team America at 10 p.m. on Teletoon. This blast of satire from the South Park creators is peppered with F-bombs, especially shocking since they all fall out fo the mouths of marionettes. While Teletoon isn’t a broadcaster, it is a popular specialty channel, aimed at children in earlier hours. Hard to imagine this getting a similar window in the U.S., where NBC was reeling that same morning after Jane Fonda blurted the “C” word on The Today Show. (Fonda was talking about being asked to appear in The Vagina Monologues. There’s an explicit take on Fonda’s slip up here on YouTube.)
So why, Cosway asks, is CTV showing CBS’s new watered down, edited version of Dexter? Eric “The Watcher” Kohanik has the answer in this week’s TVTimes. “To capitalize on Canada’s simulcast rules,” writes Kohanik, “CTV needs to show exactly the same version that CBS does. That way, CTV can follow the ridiculous Canadian practice of getting the American TV signal deleted from Canadian cable and satellite systems and having its telecast show up on both channels. This allows Canadian networks to sit back and inflate their ratings artificially–and, of course, bilk advertisers for more money.”
Kohanik is right–this unchecked business ploy is far more obscene than anything that takes place on screen in the uncut Dexter episodes. The long writers strike, however, has depressed ratings at both CTV and Global, where U.S. simulcasts are far and away the main money maker. CTV can’t afford to stand apart and get too cute with uncut this or that when getting the numbers back up until fresh CSI’s arrive is everything.
For viewers who feel cheated out of the full Dexter experience, you can always go out to a video store and buy or rent the entire first season in an uncut DVD boxed set. As for whether CTV or CBS will really score with this cable crossover ploy, may they have better luck than Global had with importing HBO’s edgy Big Love on their lineup. The acclaimed drama, starring Bill Paxton as a Mormon with three wives, drew just 275,000 viewers and finished a distant third nationally in Canada when it aired on Global last Thursday night.
The big question tonight: will Dexter be cut to ribbons to conform to network standards? Let’s hope it survives better than The Sopranos did in this inspired early clip from Mad-TV.