Why did two of the January CBC start ups succeed and two others fail?
It is a very Canadian question. Six weeks from now one will ask why Fox dumped three of the four shows they are launching this month. Most prime time network shows fail–in fact, historically, only 20% succeed.
So, two out of four, 50%–that’s a miracle in television.
As for the notion, put forward by one of the jPod producers, that the shows didn’t get enough promotion, well, PLEASE. These shows were promoted so heavily I began to think they might be American shows on CTV.
The fact CBC decided so quickly to move on from MVP and jPod, whatever you think of the merits of those shows, indicates that CBC is finally in the network television business. How many CBC shows in the past, from Tom Stone to, yes, Intelligence, limped into a second season when it was crystal clear after four or five weeks that it would not and could not connect with enough viewers to be sustained on a broadcast network?
Clearly, quality is not much of a factor in determining hits, or Intelligence would run for a decade. (It might yet: John Doyle reported in yesterday’s Globe and Mail that producer Chris Haddock–together with John Wells–is versioning the series as a pilot at Fox. Try FX or HBO). Other smart shows that should have run forever are Arrested Development and The Wire (which ends its five-year-run tonight on The Movie Network/Movie Central). Some shows are just the best shows ever–for people who don’t normally watch television.
MVP was slick and sassy out of the gate–and maybe it never should have opened on a Friday–but all that sizzle provided very little heat. Canadians just weren’t interested in the secret lives of hockey wives. Maybe they were just too busy this winter shoveling snow.
Denis McGrath makes several good points on this subject over at Dead Things ON Sticks, starting with a shout out to Mary Leckie, one of the executive producers on MVP. He refers to a quote from Leckie in that same Globe and Mail piece where she dusts herself off and says, “this is a tough business and I can’t slam anyone. We move on.”
It is a bloody tough business and Leckie is a total pro, she will move on. She’s built a solid rep making TV-movies about such all-Canadian stories as the Halifax harbour explosion or the Avro Arrow. Those were both monster hits, drawing over 2 million viewers each, American idol numbers.
Odd then, that when she tried to take the ultimate Canadian theme–hockey–and turn it into an American-style soap opera–it got slammed into the boards. It is almost as if, as a publicist remarked to me a week or so after all four new CBC shows launched, that Canadians simply do not want to watch Canadian-produced shows that ape American-produced shows.
It is the classic Canadian TV conundrum–give them what they want, which is CSI, House, Desperate Housewives. But do it for a quarter the budget AFTER you go through the already complicated enough government funding padiwacks.
Or do what ultimately works best in the States–give somebody with passion and vision a shot, leave them alone, and see what they can do on a Canadian dime–like Mike Clattenburg (Trailer Park Boys), Brent Butt (Corner Gas) or the ultimate do it yourselfer, Steve Smith (The Red Green Show).
So many factors, including plain dumb luck, go into making a hit TV show. If anyone tells you they know the formula, don’t make eye contact, keep your head down and slowly back out of the room.
But some conclusions can be drawn from looking at the fate of the four January start ups:

  • The Border may have benefited the most from the gap in U.S. action fare due to the writers strike. There was no new episodes of 24 at all this season. The big budget police procedurals, the CSI‘s, Without a Trace, NCIS, Bones–all shelved. If you wanted your cop fix, hey, what about this new show? Isn’t that the CN Tower? Cool. Reviews? Promotion? Doyle wasn’t a fan, but most critics recommended it, including me. If you watched CBC this winter or rode a bus, subway or streetcar, you couldn’t help but be aware of it. It helped that when you did watch it, aside from the paint-by-numbers pilot, it was pretty damn good. It was also incredibly timely, seemingly ripping stories about organ harvesting and terrorism off the headlines the week they were breaking.
  • Sophie did not get great reviews, certainly not from me, but something about Natalie Brown seemed to vault this thing into the winner’s list. It may be the ultimate Canadian TV series–it looks American (there’s a Sex and the City vibe happening), its based on a proven hit somewhere else (Quebec, which, trust me, in TV terms is somewhere else), has been picked up by an American network (ABC Family) ands it stars a no-name star who is nevertheless is an instantly recognizable face. The thing that often distinguishes Canadian talent from Americans is that the Canucks have worked everything from Stratford to Second City to the Sponge Bob show at Canada’s Wonderland just to make a living. Primarily through her luscious Bailey’s spots, Brown has one of those faces that is remote control proof. She’s beautiful, she arrests you with those eyes, but she also comes pre-sold, even though viewers do not know her name. In a country without a star system, the no-name star is Queen.
  • I Liked the pilot for jPod more than any of these pilots. I sat and watched it with my son, who is 15 and buried in his Nintendo den at this writing playing the game he tells me he was born to play, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I don’t expect him to emerge until March 17, when school resumes. So he was hooked at the start by the jPod promos and keen to see the series. he loved the pilot, although we both agreed it went on to long. He kept watching–and liking the series. I never watched a full episode again. It’s often a bad sign when I like a series anyway. Critics burn out on same old formats that tend to click with mass audiences. I never watch CSI or Grey’s Anatomy, I think I saw Friends twice. I’m bored easily, so I’m always looking for that blast of original. I love shows like Wonderfalls, Keen Eddie and Arrested Development. Like those shows, jPod may have been too different for the mass network audience. Cut it in half and cut the zany parents out of it (as fun as it was to see Alan Thicke and Sherry Miller strut so wild, it was part of another show) It could have been the highest-rated show ever, for example, on YTV. It was an original little show on the wrong network.
  • I’ve written about what didn’t work on MVP before. The other point I’ll make is this: MVP, more than any of the others, needed a star, a big name TV headliner, to bring viewers to the party. Not to take anything away from a strong and attractive cast, but in a large, sexy ensemble, even a U.S. soap needs a Heather Locklear or a Teri Hatcher to spark a few tabloids into a cover frenzy. The one area CBC really needs to work on moving forward is creating and promoting its stars. You rarely see names attached to promos for Intelligence or The Border and while it is great that the industry embraces and salutes and knows all these people, if you pulled 100 Canadians out of lines at supermarket check outs, 100 could not name any of the stars from those shows. You can’t have a show called MVP and not have a most valuable player.


  1. As usual you really nailed it. I think the problem with MVP is simply the writing. Just bad lazy writing. Yes it didnt score big on its first night but Cheers was the least rated show its entire season. MVP could have and should have been a water cooler show. The ones you compel your friends to watch and so by 5 or 6th eps the numbers go up. Instead, those who watched were either bored to tears, or found the stories and dialogue laughable, and not in a good way. I watched most eps because I’m in the business and know people on the show, and not once was my interest piqued, other than seeing Dylan in a towel. Leckie is a good producer, but a great producer would have kicked ass in the writing room. Like you said, they needed a Heather Locklear to bring something because no one else was.
    As for Sophie, again the writing is lazy and sometimes the opposite of funny. Thank god for Mimi Kuzyk who at least brings some life to her scenes.
    Please producers, look around for new, fresh, smart writers.

  2. Uh, well…just as a point of information — who do you think hired the old writers?

    It’s been my experience that at least half the time you can point to the writing as being bad on a show, it’s a fault of a decisionmaking process that does not encourage, or get the best work from the team.

    I can name you ten incredibly talented Canadian TV writers who could easily be doing top, top quality work and aren’t, because they’re not being allowed to…

  3. I agree with you DMC. So is it that producers don’t recognize great writing? Or is it the heavy/many hands of the network?

  4. There’s a saying that there’s a thousand ways a show can go wrong and only one way it can go right.

    Sometimes networks…
    Sometimes producers…

    Sometimes it’s the system that marginalizes writers. Sometimes circumstance. Sometimes it’s reach exceeding grasp.

    Point being there’s no one reason.

    And Frank’s point isn’t always wrong, either….

  5. nowriting producers shouldn’t be in writing rooms.

    great shows are run by people who write.

  6. There are a number of good writers out there, with track records, that aren’t being hired (or re-hired) to work certain shows because they won’t tell the producers and the networks what they want to hear i.e. that comedy won’t necessarily offend some portion of the audience, that in drama characters can evolve without serialization.

    And another thing, writers in Canada are just not given the time to work with one another, on each others scripts. The money, they are told, isn’t there. You get what you pay for.

  7. My God, Bill — people leaving anonymous concepts with insight. It almost seems like some nether world…

    Jill Golick (jillgolick.com) once posted an interview with a Canadian writer on HOUSE and the timelines they had to work out the script material was just staggering, compared to the timelines Canadian (smaller) staffs have with each other.

    And I just finished listening to a podcast of This American Life where they had a bit on the writing room for THE ONION. Apparently, for each week’s 16 stories they go through 600 potential headlines. 600!

    That’s the level of work and culling and anaylysis and craft that leads to excellence.

    Whereas in Canada, you have less weeks to work before prep and much of the time is spent navelgazing about the Bible or the one pagers, and not on the actual nitty gritty of working out the stories.

    …and yes, the axiom is true — the shows that are considered successes in Canada are all writer run.

  8. You’re certainly right Bill about the unpredictability of what makes a hit show, but I will never ever understand how anyone could find Intelligence interesting.
    Haddock can try to sell it to Fox – watch as he’s laughed out of the room.
    Didn’t he actually get on the air once down there with another detective show with an American lead?
    It bombed so quickly I can’t remember the name.

  9. Allan, far from being laughed out of the room, Fox is remaking Intelligence as a pilot, in a coproduction with John Wells. It might never make it to air, but that’s the nature of the business – as Bill says, most shows don’t succeed. The fact that you personally don’t like it doesn’t mean much, though. I don’t have to understand why people like Joss Whedon in order to acknowledge he’s critically acclaimed, either. Sometimes our opinions just don’t matter to anyone but ourselves.

  10. The series was The Handler starring Joey Pantoliano, it ran on CBS in 2003-04. Haddock is well respected in Los Angeles. My earlier post made it sound like he’s just shopping Intelligence when really he’s partnered up with John Wells in developing it for Fox.

  11. The Border are Sophie aren’t “hits’ by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s get real here: none of those shows made it in the top 30 most watched programs in canada.

    Rick Mercer and Little Mosque are bonafide CBC hits and the coporation still hasn’t been able to provide canadian viewers with a must see dramatic series in the last 10 years.

    There’s something really wrong with the way these shows are put together if more canadian would rather watch Jeopardy on CTV!

    The border is getting just a few more thousand viewers than Intelligence was and as such will probably only last anotehr year before it’s put to rest.


    On another note, it’s interesting that none of the TV blogs have picked up the incredible events that have unfolded in Quebec and radio-Canada over the last couple of days:

    “Tout Sur Moi” a television series in it’s second season was called by Radio-Canada and the fans protested (even if the ratings are low).

    Well guess what, the powers that be decided to reverse their decision yesterday and the series will now go into production for a 3rd season.

    It’s the first time in the history of Radio-Canada that a series has been cancelled and returned to the air so quickly because of the demand by fans of the show.

    Something to think about.

  12. Artemus has to decide if the numbers are his bible or if they’re not.

    There’s a whole bunch of reasons why numbers, like scripture, can be quoted by anyone to serve their purposes.


    If the numbers are the hill you’re going to die on, though, you should get them right. Little Mosque has appeared in the top 30 programs several times. And the lowest recorded numbers for the Border were not a few thousand more than Intelligence. The lowest recorded numbers for The Border were about sixty thousand more than the highest recorded numbers for Intelligence.

    If you compare averaages, you’re talking about three times more.

  13. Little Mosque and Rick Mercer aare hits because they often get over a million viewers regularly.

    “The lowest recorded numbers for The Border were about sixty thousand more than the highest recorded numbers for Intelligence.”

    In it’s first season, Intelligence was getting an average of 430,000 viewers.

    Don’t take my word for it, check an independant source:

    When it comes to talking about “The Border”, you have as much credibility as a politician talking about ethics.

    Why don’t you go censor your own blog instead of trying to be a spin doctor for a melodrama filled with clichés, cartoon characters and poor camera work. That’s all you’re good for anyway.

  14. You are both talking numbers. Those for Intelligence were not adequate. It was a good show, given a fair shot and decent promotion (despite complaints to the contrary) but it just did not find an audience. The numbers for The Border are not stellar, are variable and soft. Next season will be the test. I hope it makes it.

  15. Agreed. Next season will be the test. Just like it was for Intelligence, which got beat by eight year old reruns of Blue Murder on Showcase — in their ninth run.

    I loved the show. I will miss it.

    But the number you’re quoting for Intelligence is based on adding two airings together in Season one. (It ran at 9pm and at midnight.)

    I agree, me speaking about numbers for The Border is highly suspect. But so are you spinning, for whatever reasons, Intelligence numbers using faulty metrics that don’t add up.

    I see the goddamn reports. And I won’t quote the numbers regularly because the numbers are not the full story. And when people like you go in and cherry pick this or that, it just proves how asinine it is to put stock in data that you don’t fully understand.

    Also, it’s amazing that you’ll argue against the numbers, but then you’ll hold up Stursberg’s arbitrary one million mark as proof of something.

    W. T. F?

    The trends were clear for CBC, based on all the various factors. They made the right call.

    Good shows sometimes die.

    Deal with it. Don’t be a whiny little bitch.

  16. Yah, you should be more like the cherry picker and whiny bitch DMC who did quote the Border ratings as if they were great until they started going south, and even then wouldn’t admit they were padded by the writer’s strike. But see, he understands the numbers. God, if there was only this much comedy on Canadian tv intentionally.

  17. Yawn.
    The point is not whether “I understand” the numbers or not.

    The point is how you report, or misrepresent data — and the mechanism by which you back up your analysis. Brioux here has got a column. I put my name to my posts, and my blog, so yup, you gutless fink, that means you can zero away in.

    But I also know enough not to claim that “The Border” outdraws “Mosque” – cuz it doesn’t. I don’t mix numbers that aren’t comparable, and draw conclusions that aren’t supportable — from the veil of being “anonymous.” You want to carp and feel like Jack the Lad? Get thee to the Teamakers, sonny. Those of us with the guts to attach our names to our opinions smile, and pat you on your adorable little sad, anonymous, grasping heads to send you on your way. Because we know that if we get something wrong, we gotta correct it. So that tempers saying, oh, I don’t know. A whole bunch of bullshit.

    The dood who said that next season is the test nailed it.

    Sadly the credibilty of the anonymouses is blunted somewhat by the fact that all the smack they talked about Mosque turned out to be shit. Remember those soft Fall numbers? Well, now there they are, back up to their launch settled 1 million. That puts a lot of the number quoters into a bad position — except none of them ever had the balls to own up to that opinion. So they skate.

    You wanna critique, that’s fine. You wanna use numbers? That’s fine. Get the numbers right, compare apples to apples and sign your fucking name. otherwise, you are, indeed, a whiny. little. bitch.

  18. uhhh dmc, I think you forgot this…

    “Sweep the trolls out Brioux! Dare!

    …in your rant. So how’s that censorship gig working out pal?

  19. Numbers, they can bite you in the ass. Everyone knows Sophie is awful, just the worst kind of stuff, but they had to live with the numbers, sure they followed Mosque but, hey, they were up against Idol. So, lacking the courage of their convictions (wait, scratch that, they have neither) they picked up 18 more … only to see the numbers crash. Uh-oh. Why did they imagine that a show they knew stank was worth renewing? Good programmers can see a good show and go with it. It’s an art not a science. The guys at the CBC now? Rank amateurs.

  20. dmc said:
    “I agree, me speaking about numbers for The Border is highly suspect. But so are you spinning, for whatever reasons, Intelligence numbers using faulty metrics that don’t add up. “

    First off, I have no ties to any english CBC shows and therefor no reason to spin anything. (I work on french Tv in Quebec and our show gets roughly 1.5 to 2 million viewers each week).

    Second, I only mentioned the intelligence audience figures because you challenged my assesment that The border is getting thousands of extra viewers.

    If you have any proof that The Border is getting millions more viewers than intelligence did, then by all means, show us your proof.

    My conclusion is that the ratings for The Border aren’t astronomically higer than those of Intelligence and if Intelligence was cancelled, there’s good evidence that The Border will get the same fate after season 2 (while there are exceptions, the CBC typically lets it’s dramas run for 2 seasons before cancelling them).

    And one of the anomymous posters is right: you kote ratings only when it suits you. And when some people (not me) made criticisms in your blog, you closed the ability to add comments in that thread.

    I don’t think you’re detached enough to make a valuable critique of the show you work on or competing shows.

  21. “The border is getting just a few more thousand viewers than Intelligence was…”

    Your words, bub. “A few more thousand.”

    I don’t have the access to the week by week historical numbers, as a freelancer. Do you?

    But I’ve seen them. Your statement, when you compare apples to apples, just isn’t accurate. Own it or swallow it. Your choice. If you want to prove it, should be easy enough to do. But you can’t, because what started as neat little hypberbole for you has now got you backed into a corner. Why not just admit you overstated your position?

    “If you have any proof that The Border is getting millions more viewers than intelligence did…”

    There you go again. Millions? Like, a one with seven zeroes behind it? Please point to me where I said this. Find the comment.

    You know, if you can’t get the numbers right, and you can’t get what other people said about the numbers right, maybe it’s just best to stay away from the whole numbers or comparison thing. It’s clearly not your strong suit.

    My “bias” is clearly upfront. It’s not like I have ever hidden who I wrote for. But you, in making your point, can only do it by massively flattening the ratings for both shows — based on nothing. And then misstating my claims in the other direction.

    Then, to top it off, there’s this:

    First off, I have no ties to any english CBC shows and therefor no reason to spin anything. (I work on french Tv in Quebec and our show gets roughly 1.5 to 2 million viewers each week).

    Hmm, yes. So your monkey-with- an- organ- grinder one note tune running down all English Canadian programming (the focus of pretty much every one of your comments) isn’t motivated by any bias at all.

    Nope. Course not. No bias in Canada. Between French and English.

    Well gawrsh. Thanks for clearin that up.

  22. > Your words, bub. “A few more thousand.”

    Yes. That’s what I said. Thousands of extra viewers (“des milliers de telespectateurs”)… You obviously have comprehension problems. If it had been millions of more viewers, I would of said as much, but it wasn’t so I didn’t.

    If you claim to have viewership numbers that prove that the border has millions of extra viewers, then by ALL MEANS, SHOW YOUR PROOF.

    “one note tune running down all English Canadian programming”

    On march 11th I wrote:
    “Rick Mercer and Little Mosque are bonafide CBC hits”

    So much for running down ALL English Canadian programming. You’re such a liar. No wonder nobody believes the crap you write.

    By the way, that quote about those 2 shows being CBC HITS is posted IN THIS VERY THREAD! But reading comprehension doesn’t seem to be your thing when you can simply write crap and then more crap.

    But please, keep digging yourself into a bigger hole by writing more crap: it just makes you look as bad as everyone thinks.

  23. “as bad as everyone thinks’

    Cranks like you – it’s a badge of fuckin honor, my friend.

    Maybe one should cut you a bit of slack for the language thing. You certainly express yourself better in English than I could in French. But “a few more thousand” as an English phrase does not mean fifty thousand. It certainly does not mean a hundred, or two hundred thousand more. That’s the appelation you chose. It was wrong. End. Of. Story.

    YOU repeat the mendacity of claiming that somehow I suggested “millions” of viewers, which is distorting my view in the OTHER direction.

    Honestly, if you can’t stand on your own points, and you have to distort the views of others — then what does it matter what you have to say? It’s over.

    And if you want to try to get out of the general drift of your incredibly self serving and slanted argument by whingeing that you acknowledge Mercer, then wonderful. Very strong. Nobody buys it.

    You write from a poison pen bias and accuse others of same. Well, J’accuse, bub. Plain and simple. Get in line with the ‘mouses.

  24. don’t censor me dmc!, don’t censor me bro, don’t censor me bro!…


  25. Intelligence ratings from the 1st season at a glace… 443 thousand for the first episode, 341 thousand for episode 2. The week of nov. 14th, 520 thousand viewers. The border last week… 595 thousand, this week 631 thousand. Februray 14th, 494 thousand.

    Artemus is right… the difference in audience figrues, no matter how you calculate it, is in thousands… not hundreds, not in millions.

    He also nailed you with his positive comments on Mercer and Mosque, but your ego is too bloated to admit you were wrong. I read the hatred you wrote about Global’s The Guard on your blog…. you have zero credibility.

  26. Denis is a douchebag.

    No woman on earth would ever want to spend any time with this retarded ugly overweight fat fuck.

    His right hand is his girlfriend.

  27. dmc, you’re so biased that you’ve become completely obnoxious.

    The ratings for the border aren’t that hot. And as several people have already pointed out, the show isn’t getting millions of viewers, only thousands.

    Why do you persist in making up shit? the numbers don’t lie.


  28. Jesus christ you guys are all fucking idiots. I read dmc’s blog, and it’ sfunny. the guy’s an asshole, but an entertaining asshole. And he’s didn’t claim millions watched . that’s your distortion. he also write he LIKED the Guard, you douchebags. try fuckin reading. if any of you had an opinion worth listening to, maybe you wouldn’t be such dicks.

  29. You’re right, he is an asshole.

    here’s what the asshole wrote in this blog:
    “The lowest recorded numbers for The Border were about sixty thousand more than the highest recorded numbers for Intelligence.”

    Thanks Peter for proving numbers that prove beyond any doubt that this asshole writes lies.

    Here are lomre lies from the asshole:
    “YOU repeat the mendacity of claiming that somehow I suggested “millions” of viewers”

    I NEVER said such a thing. Everyone can plainly read what I said in this blog:
    “Yes. That’s what I said.”
    “If it had been millions of more viewers, I would of said as much, but it wasn’t so I didn’t.”

    Notice the use of “I” which referes to ME, not him.

    Only an ASSHOLE would think that when I talk about what -I- wrote and didn’t write, that somehow it means I’m putting words in -their- mouths.

    DMC: You are the biggest asshole ever to grace the internet!

  30. “biggest asshole?”
    wow. somebody needs to spend some more time on the internet! LOL!

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