The Problem With TV in Canada

February 25, 2009

Tonight’s episode of Lost looks like a doozy. Entitled The Life and Times of Jeremy Bentham, it promises to be a look at recent events in the life of the mysterious John Locke. I hope some questions are answered, but hey, so far this season, answers are flying faster than Frank Lapidus in a stalling helicopter.

Something else is encouraging: Apparently, five minutes have been added to this week’s episode. That’s unusual, but welcome. Five extra minutes of Lost? No problem.

My one big concern, though, is this: I might not get to see them. See, when US shows air in Canada, we don’t see the same thing Americans do. Canadian networks — there are three major ones, CBC, CTV and Global — buy the rights to American shows and air them, usually at the same time. But Canadian telecommunications law requires that those version be superimposed over any US network feed. So, if Lost airs on ABC in the US but on CTV here, and I’m watching ABC, when Lost comes on, the CTV feed is popped onto the ABC slot.

What invariably happens is someone messes it up. Every Canadian knows how frustrating it is to tune in to, say, the new ER only to see the first seven minutes of some Canadian program on the wrong feed. Eventually, someone at the cable company figures out the mistake. But it happens again.

So I suspect that tonight at 10 p.m., when Lost is nearing its conclusion, everything will go south and I’ll get the first five minutes of something stupid, some Canadian show like Little Mosque on the Prairie. Yeah, we have a show called Little Mosque on the Prairie.

See, there’s another thing about homegrown TV. We actually have laws dictating how much Canadian content, or CanCon, has to be broadcast, both on the radio and on television. Hearings are underway right now to explore how to apply those regulations to the Internet, too, which is kind of scary.

And on top of that, public funds are channeled to producers in order to create Canadian television programming, which tends toward a level of suckness you can’t quite imagine if you don’t live here. For whatever reason, whenever someone makes a Canadian TV show, they seem to think “Well, it’s Canadian, so let’s have lots of mountains and lakes and outdoorsy stuff.” In the rare occasions when producers try something new, the shows tend to fail quickly.

Some good Canadian TV shows:

  • The Beachcombers: Cheesier than you can imagine, but fun family fare, an outdoor adventure series with a great cast and a great soundtrack. Every Canadian can whistle it.
  • The Littlest Hobo: Various incarnations of this series about a roaming genius dog still air on Canadian TV.
  • Night Heat: This was a gritty cop show in the 1980s, ahead of its time and very well-crafted.
  • Kenny vs. Spenny: This is not for the faint of art. But it’s deadly funny, and still airing.
  • ENG: Another 80s creation, this was a mature show about TV news.
  • Corner Gas: The current kingpin of Canadian television, this is the smartest sitcom on television today, in any country.
  • Trailer Park Boys: Not for everyone, but it has its own kind of brilliance.
  • The Kids in the Hall: If you have never experienced this classic sketch comedy show, seek it out. You’ll never be able to watch SNL again.
  • The King of Kensington: This was really right-on in its first season, but slipped quickly. It still airs here and I watch it when I can.
  • The Newsroom: This satire of television news looks like a take on The Office, but it aired ten years earlier.

I could go on and on, really, because there’ve been a lot of Canadian TV shows. But those are the ones that spring to mind as things I’d watch again. As for crap, well … Danger Bay. Neon Rider. Material World. Rene Simard … That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t have the hard drive space or bandwidth to list all the bad Canadian shows.



  1. If it’s any consolation, according to the Cogeco guide at least, it seems that Lost is scheduled from 9-10:06 so here’s fingers crossed!

  2. Yeah, I’m with Cogeco too, and it says the same thing … but then again, it’s Cogeco. Fingers crossed here, too.

  3. The Newsroom didn’t get enough love in the day. What, no mention of Bizarre?

  4. Ah, yes, John Byner and Bizarre. I forgot about that chestnut. Anyone else interested in the history of Canadian TV should look for an enclopedia-type book called TV North; it’s fairly detailed.

    Cogeco showed all of Lost, by the way. And I’m glad.

  5. Kids in the Hall was a staple for me for a good 10 year stretch (82-92, give or take)…

    Kenny vs. Spenny had some good episodes too.

    You’re leaving out a bunch of kids TV too. My kids love Angela Anaconda (a Canadian toon), and back when they were younger they liked many of the Canadian imports (unfortunately that included Caillou – whiny, poor attempt at a Charlie-Brown-clone, awful role model that he was).

  6. Ah, the cartoons are a show in themselves. My kids loved Caillou, sadly. And my brother was a tech on Angela Anaconda … groundbreaking animation, whether you liked it or not.

  7. I take it you were too old for Degrassi? Or how about the Edison Twins? Oh man… the Edison Twins. I had such a crush on the girl Edison twin.

    • That’s the problem with lists like this. I start off complaining about something, then realize how much of it I actually like. I saw some Degrassi, but not much, and likewise the Edison Twins … quality stuff. Isn’t My Secret Identity a Canadian show? Or did it just look like one?

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