Ronnie Rowe Jr (left), as Zeke and Aml Ameen (second right) as Junior in The Porter

On February 22, it was announced that CBC’s The Porter led all shows at the 2023 Canadian Screen Awards with 19 nominations.

Two days later came news that this same well-reviewed series about Black Canadian railway workers fighting for job protection in 1921 was cancelled.

The series was co-created by and featured veteran actor and the podcast guest Arnold Pinnock. He and several others were singled out with nominations for the project, including co-stars Aml Ameen, Ronnie Rowe Jr. and Mouna Traoré as well as guest star Alfre Woodard.

It was also recently announced that another one of the most-nominated shows for the 2023 CSA Awards, Pretty Hard Cases, will also not be returning. Two other shows ending runs on CBC, Strays and Diggstown, picked up nominations. A couple of long-gone series, Tallboyz and Departure, also linger into the 2023 CSA race.

The Porter had to pull into the station not because it was cancelled by CBC — the public broadcaster wanted a second season — but because the American broadcaster (BET+) chose not to re-up. This is a caution CBC will have to factor into their planning going forward. If, in today’s pricey world of Peak TV, where it often takes two countries to bank a competitive series, you still have to schedule to eyeballs as well as to agenda.

Even with today’s diminished broadcast expectations, The Porter simply did not play to enough viewers — at least in as far as heads are currently counted in Canada. A few years ago, when the CRTC made renewal of the OMNI TV licence a jump ball (before handing it back to Rogers), some questioned whether Numeris was sampling from panels that truly reflect the changing face of Canada.


In any event, broadcasters now can obtain exact data, not just estimates, from set top boxes. CBC likely knows exactly how many Rogers or Bell customers, for example, watched The Porter.

Based on true events, the series had genuine drama, was well written and well cast. Reviews were generally very positive, including mine. Still, many viewers gave the series a pass. There’s a lot of competition, every night, and other well-made and well-meaning shows have been cancelled. I’m sure I wrote 25 columns urging viewers to watch Arrested Development back when everybody was watching American Idol. You can lead a horse to water, and you can also overdo it with the “Eat your vegetables” approach.

Did it hurt that The Porter was a true story and therefore very much a history lesson? Well, so was Roots — one of the most-watched TV shows ever. Another hurdle: in this era of Peak TV, it is challenging opening any show not already based on a familiar property or spun-off from some existing franchise. Another strike may have been that, aside from Woodard, there were no big names to help bring fans to the series.

Marketing is also key, but here it must be noted that CBC did aggressively promote The Porter on the biggest megaphone they buy rights to: the Olympic Games. The Porter, however, did not appear to get a lift from The Games.

Another strong promotional tool to break worthy shows through the clutter is an award show. Unfortunately, the Canadian Screen Awards take place in April. The final gala, hosted by Samantha Bee, airs this Sunday, April 16, on CBC.

That’s too late. Winners might just as well grab their statue, exit stage left and go directly into oblivion.

Although the calendar is becoming less and less relevant with streaming shows and others emerging 12 months of the year, April is traditionally when a broadcast TV season ends. Renewal decisions have already been made. No amount of award statues can save a show in April.

There’s also a weird delay with the CSA’s, which seems to include nominations for shows that harken back to a previous season. Shows come and go so quickly now that is just too long a lag time.

There’s a reason why America’s top TV award show, The Emmys, airs in September. That’s the start of the season. When Fox hosts the next Emmy Awards on September 18, look for them to cram the stars of their new and returning shows on the red carpet and among the presenters on that occasion.

April may be a fine time to have a week-long fund-raiser for the Academy. By holding the CSA’s in the spring, however, for shows that need the promotion the most — such as The Porter — the train has already left the station.

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