The attitudes of the major U.S. networks towards Canadian programming has changed dramatically since the success of the CBS import FLASHPOINT and the global economic crisis. Canadian TV distribution exec Noreen Halperin told The Globe & Mail:
"It's an extraordinary change in the lay of the land from even a year ago[…] The shift with some of the network presidents has been exceptional."
Last year's strike by the Writers Guild of America, she says, "paved the way, and allowed a show like Flashpoint to be sold. Once it aired and was a success, it made people take notice. That, coupled with the economic downturn, means all broadcasters are looking for interesting alternatives. The Canadian way is one of these," adds the TV veteran, who says Americans can save up to 50 per cent by splitting costs.
She brought Canadian showrunners Tassie Cameron and Ilana Frank to L.A. to meet with network chiefs to pitch their pilot script COPPER in hope of finding a U.S. home…and co-financing.
A year ago, Halpern adds, it would have been ludicrous to assume that Cameron and Frank – both highly respected on their home turf – would get easy face time with big U.S. players. But times have changed. CBS will make six fewer pilot episodes this year than in 2008, when 15 were produced. And everyone's feeling the pinch from the freefall in advertising.
"The U.S. networks, like the ones in Canada, are clamping down in an enormous way to find cost savings," says one veteran Toronto producer, who asked not to be named. "They're all pulling back on the kinds of salaries that actors, directors and writers are being paid. They're taking a week-by-week approach to green-lighting new shows or renewing old ones.
Canadian shows are continuing to find homes on cable networks like Lifetime, Ion and Oxygen, for whom shopping up north for cheap content is nothing new. But whether the high interest in Canadian programming at the Big Networks will continue probably depends more on economics than content, and whether CBS's second Canadian series, THE BRIDGE, and NBC's midseason pickup THE LISTENER (already an international success) can perform as well as FLASHPOINT.
(Thanks to Denis McGrath for the tip)