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The One and Canadian Idol
..and Canadians take it on the chin once again


Okay, so here's the set up (as I understand it):

The CBC -- the venerable vaunted and very, uh, (I dunno, something else with a "v") -- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has announced it will be making a reality/pop series called The One, licensed from a European original. Now whether the CBC should be getting involved in reality series (which I seem to recall were predicted in the Book of Revelations as a sign of the coming Apocalypse), that's another debate. The point is, apparently as part of its deal to make a Canadian version of The One...the CBC has agreed to also air the American version of the One. Furthermore, apparently that was the same deal with the earlier Canadian Idol -- rival network CTV had to show the American version if it wanted the rights to make a Canadian version (and here you thought it was showing American Idol out of love of good music).

At least, such back room deals are rumoured: Neither CBC (regarding The One) nor CTV (regarding Canadian/American Idol) have officially confirmed such were the deals...yet neither have they denied it, either. So, assuming, for the moment, the rumours are true...

People have been mumbling about whether the CBC should or shouldn't do such a thing, whether clearing an hour of its schedule to show an American reality show is in the spirit of being the "Canadian" Broadcasting Corporation...but I haven't seen too many people question the basis of the deal to begin with.

And maybe they should.

I mean, these sorts of talent/reality shows have been licensed to countries all over the world -- yet I think Canada is the only country that was told it could only have a franchise...if it agreed to broadcast another country's franchise, too!

And though I don't want to get too alarmist, I think what we're seeing is a pretty blatant slap-in-the-face, if not outright attack, on Canadian sovereignty. You see, I'm guessing that what's at the root of it is that when the European producers sold the franchise of its show to the American producers, they sold rights, not to the American market, but to the North American market -- completely ignoring the fact that Canada is a separate and sovereign territory. Then when Canadians decide to get in on the act...they are told, "Sorry, mate, we already sold your rights...to the yanks!"

Picture it this way:

Your neighbour gets his house painted -- maybe in a gaudy purple. You don't like the colour, but you think it might be a nice idea to paint your house, too. You go to the paint store, mosey up to the counter with a few cans of paint...and the kid behind the counter says, "Sorry, I can't sell you any paint."

"Why not?" you ask, surprised.

"'Cause I made a deal with your neighbour that if you ever wanted to paint your house, you'd have to hire him to paint half of it...in purple!"

Assuming he's kidding, you say: "Hah hah. Right. I mean, how can you negotiate the rights to my house and my property with a guy who doesn't own my house and my property? That's bizarre, illegal, and frankly, immoral."

The kid stares at you blankly.

Sensing he's not kidding, you say: "Look, this is absurd. Any rights to my house and how it's painted have to be negotiated with me, not my neighbour. You're capriciously doubling my costs -- not only do I have to buy paint from you, but you're now saying I also have to pay my neighbour to paint half my house a colour I don't even want. No one else on my block is expected to do such a thing. You're acting as if I don't even exist. How can you do that?"

"'Cause it's my paint," sneers the kid behind the counter. "And as far as me and your neighbour are concerned...you don't exist."

See my point? I think you'd be pretty ticked if you were to run into a situation like that...but that's basically what's happened with these reality show franchises.

Maybe if Canadian networks had held firm and shown some solidarity by refusing this "arrangement" the first time it came up, they could've sent the message that Canada expects to be treated like what it is: a country, instead of a colony. Instead, CTV caved first and fast, agreeing to air American Idol even as it made its own version. When that happened, it sent the message to the foreign producers that this new business strategy was a great one, that Canadians could be slapped around...and like it, and there was no reason to rethink it for the next show down the line.

This notion of Canada being treated -- or not treated -- as a separate, distinct nation has come up before, and will do so again. Some time back I wrote an essay about how Canadian movie posters sometimes use slogans like "The #1 Movie in North America" when what they really mean is "The #1 Movie in the United States", but by saying "North America" they imply a movie is doing better at the Canadian box office than it is, basically trying to erase the notion that Canadian tastes might diverge slightly from American ones. (Then there was the story I once read of a reporter calling up a Hollywood studio trying to find out the Canadian -- as opposed to North American -- box office numbers for a movie and was supposedly told: "We don't have to tell you bastards in Canada anything.")

I've also noticed how a local TV listing carries a little box for each day titled "Best Bet", supposedly highlighting the "must see" show of the night. At first I noticed that not once did it ever choose a Canadian program as a best bet. Then I began to notice that even on nights where a hit Canadian show like Corner Gas was on, or some high profile CBC TV movie was premiering, an American program was still selected as the "best bet"...even if it was just a rerun of a low rated sitcom. And then I realized it wasn't just Canadian programs, but anything on a Canadian network that wasn't simultaneously airing on a U.S. network (such as a British import) was never chosen as "best" of the night.

I began to wonder if the selections did not originate with the Canadian paper at all but were maybe syndicated, and maybe many papers listed the same "best bet" for the evening...and that the source for the selection was an American supplier. An American who wasn't maliciously dismissing the Canadian programs...but who simply wasn't aware they existed. The result being that, day after day, week after week, Canadians open up their TV listings and are led to infer that even a teetering on the edge of cancelation rerun of a critically panned Hollywood sitcom is still a better bet than anything Canadian.

Getting back to the reality show franchises...

What's perhaps ironic is that there has been (some) murmurings from American quarters that Canadian Idol might actually be a slightly better show than American Idol. The format a little tighter, the emphasis a little more on talent and music rather than look and image. But by marrying the American and Canadian versions together, CTV sends the message, even in Canada, that Canadian Idol is nothing more than an also ran, a show that is only a second thought to the American version because, after all, even the Canadian network feels it has to show the American version.

And Canadians are stuck with neighbours they barely know carving up the rights to their house without even consulting them.

That's all for now,
The Masked Movie Critic

June 30, 2006

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