Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where'd everybody go?!

I enjoy my regular jaunts around the blogosphere and today I hit upon an entry by Mr. Henshaw entitled "What does it all mean?"

In his post he talks about how many of the people he's talked to - okay, pretty much everyone he's talked to - couldn't give a care about TV these days, let alone TV of the Canadian variety. At the end of it all he asks the question "Why doesn't our audience care anymore -- and how do we get them back?"

Now, this is something that's been sitting in the back of my mind for a while now, something that's been crawling under my skin - it's the fact that so many people are working so hard to create good TV and they're being let down where it really counts.

Simply put: People don't care because they're not given a reason to.

I know I've always considered myself a proud Canadian - I'm an active voter and quite intrigued by the politics that run my country.

But up until a couple years ago you couldn't PAY me to watch Canadian TV. Sure, I'd seen The Littlest Hobo and Zardip's Search for Healthy Wellness when I was growing up but as a young adult Canadian TV just looked so boring. It always seemed like a pale imitation of something that was already being done better; Like buying Nyke or Pumal in the hopes that no one would notice from a distance. It was like the shows were made not because they were good, but because they were Canadian. Now, I'm sure there was good TV in there, I'm sure there were solid stories and great character development. But no matter what, it just seemed... off.

Interestingly enough, that's one of the things that made me decide that I want to stay here to write. We shouldn't have to copy others, we can tell great stories on our own.

And we're doing it.

In recent years things have been getting better: Corner Gas, Little Mosque, JPod, BloodTies, Sophie, The Border. We're getting better.

However I think there's still a large chunk of the country that sees Canadian TV in general as, well, boring. Unfortunately a lot of that 'Canadian TV' moniker gets dumped on the CBC. "You watch CBC (read: Canadian TV) for Hockey and News and that's it". So it ends up that the 'old' people watch what they're used to watching (news, hockey) and the 'young' people watch other (American) channels.

So. How do we change that? Well, the good news is that it's easier than some might think. The sad part is it means 1) More work for the already overworked and 2) breaking some new ground.

It all begins and ends with promotion. And if you think that promotion is only what you see on TV and Radio, the internet and the ol' news paper - well, please come over so I can smack you.

See, I think that's what really bugs me. In this country Promotion is so two-dimensional. Especially for Canadian TV. My GAWD.

Just to be clear, I saw the promotions for ELIJAH and they bored the hell out of me. It did not make me want to watch that show - and I DO actually watch CTV these days. I even have access to a PVR and it didn't inspire me to tape it. Why? It didn't sell me. There was no hook that made me say 'hey, this looks interesting' - though AFTER finding out about the story from Mr. McGrath's blog (reading it after it's airing no less) and that it was about the Meech Lake accord, THEN I was interested.

What kills me about Canadian TV promotion is that it is Lazy. I'm sorry, but it is. And I'm speaking entirely as a TV watcher here - well, TV watcher with a bit of a background in Promotions. See, you gotta get out there - and not just on TV. I mean, beat the F'n streets. I mean get the main actors on prominent Canadian talk shows (other than radio!) Do live webcasts and appearances. I mean WORK.

At least until things get better.

I ran my own promotions company back in the day (promoting independant Canadian Artists, Filmmakers and Musicians, no less) and I'll tell you that one of the greatest disservices we do to our own is treat them like one of our own. We sit here and wonder why Canadians look down on our celebs until they make it elsewhere? Well, that's why. We don't give them any glory here. We don't make them feel and look like Celebrities.

We don't have a separation between our heroes and our everymen.

Why the hell would anyone feel anything but contempt for someone who's supposedly 'famous' here but unrecognized by the masses? Celebrities are made because everyone agrees that that person is someone special, someone worth knowing more about, someone worth following.

Our viewers aren't even given that option. They look down south and see people swooning over Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt - but no one cares about Natalie Brown or Adam Beech. They're beautiful people as well (as are many other fine Canadian actors and actresses) but what do we know about them?

Someone like Sonja Smits (her Imdb profile doesn't even have a picture!!) or Eric Peterson or Paul Gross (None of them have IMDB photos!! shame on them!) should be rightfully mobbed in this country. Let alone up-and-comers and established directors.

We see all these people down South getting glory and being mobbed but here, hell, I've waited behind Don McKellar in line to get to the ATM before and no one batted an eye.

We don't have a celebrity culture for our celebrities so there's no DRAW for them (or reason to follow them) when they do come to a show.

And it's not that we don't care. It's that we're not MADE to care. Promotions for Canadian TV are a piss-poor, lackluster shade of what passes for B-Level in the States. And THAT's the problem. Our TV is growing up, we're working to move out of the US's shadow, we're telling our own stories - but our Promotions are poorly-funded carbon copies of what the US is doing. (Emphasis on 'poorly funded' - I know there are a good number of you out there working as best you can with what you got).

But the proof is in the pudding (sorry for that).

We're a smaller population with a larger geographic dispersal. Just cause you put up a 10 second promo on TV... it guarantees you nothing. We have to WORK. We have to start putting aggressive promotional clauses in Actor's contracts. We have to start building interest in people who choose to stay here and what they're doing. Why are they staying here? Why NOT hop off to the States?

We can use that 'homegrown' thing as more than just an ante chip - people are passionate about their country (Go watch a good Hockey game).

And that's what's missing. I want to connect with the people I'm supposed to connect with on TV, with the characters I'm supposed to care about. I want to know more about these people who snub their nose at the 'easy' (easier) system and fight to keep it here in their own country.

I guaran-damn-tee you that if we start seeing some actual damn passion (yes, it's bolded) from people all down the chain then you'll have people watching. You'll have people tuned in.

Promotions is NOT just the guys (or gals) in suits playing with Photoshop or their Avid rigs (though it's a large part). It's every single person along the chain being so unabashedly INTO their work that they cannot help but WANT to talk about it (uh, you know, PROMOTE IT).

It's people working their asses off against failure rates so abysmal that you're almost better off flipping burgers or sitting in a cubicle.

Yet people continue to fight to tell stories or promote stories or direct stories. Why? Because they believe. They have passion. So USE that. Every step of the damn way, all down the chain. Show the viewer why YOU ARE WORTH THEIR TIME and they will come.

I guarantee it.


EDIT: Yes, I recognize the fact that I'm giving people shit for copying American-style advertising (poorly) and then suggesting that we adopt another version of the same thing. The truth is that Americans have Promotion down to a science and their 'celebrity' system is, hands down, one of the best forms of promotion that I've ever seen.

Hey, what can I say? If you're going to copy something, copy the best and make it your own. Unfortunately while we don't have the money to make something like that happen here, we do have the Heart (which seems to connect with Canadians more anyways). Start with small, grass roots promotions - talk about shows WHILE THEY'RE BEING MADE. Build a buzz. Fan the flames. Build on it with passionate, infectious enthusiasm.

What do we really have to lose?


Stephanie.... said...

Awesome post! I'm bookmarking you. :)

I know alot of people who had absolutely no idea that jPod even existed... CBC says they promo'd it sufficiently, but if that younger demographic isn't watching the Ceeb in the first place, then what good is it?

I've written alot about this lately too:

Elize Morgan said...

A lot of programming gets a less-than-ample amount of promotion (yes, even American stuff ;>) because of lack of significant demographics/questions on the program itself. Some networks just push the mainstays (your CSIs, etc.) because it's automatic numbers for them, and be damned for the new shows. A variety of amazing concept Fox shows have been cut because of lack of promotions and/or questions about promotions (Firefly is an excellent example)...

But the big demographic problem that's kicking around right now is related to youth "disinterest" in TV. Now the thing is -- lots of kids are still watching the shows... they're just not buying cable. Cable is *expensive* so they don't pick it up (for the sake of this let's say... the 28- 29 group) or they watch the shows they like on the Internet (often illegal). These numbers aren't caught so half of the "true" demographics are slipping through.

The other issue is near and dear to my heart :) Getting new media involved, in some ways of viral marketing, can be a huge bonus too.

jimhenshaw said...

Great post Brandon and I couldn't agree more. Promotion is the entire answer to the problem, but it would make a huge difference.

We no longer live in a world where the passive approach of running ads or putting up billboards or bus posters will garner much attention. We've got to be front and center wherever people are emgaging the media, grabbing their attention and making them listen.

That old "Canadian shows are boring" mantra is gradually fading, but we need to give it a public stomping once and for all. And brazenly strutting our stuff would do that.

jimhenshaw said...

I meant to say "isn't the entire answer..."

M. Daly said...

Not all Canadian shows are considered boring. We here in the States have been begging Lifetime to renew Blood Ties which they failed to do. We are contacting networks such as TNT, Sci-Fi, USA, and others in attempt to get them to pick the show up. Needless to say we have swooned over Dylan Neal, Christina Cox, and Kyle Schmid, all fine Canadian actors. This is a totally Canadian production, something that you all should be very proud of. Please contact the stations up there and tell them how much you love this show and want it to continue. Help us, help you, promote Canadian actors and productions. We love the show down here.