TORONTO — Two well-known personalities on either side of Canada’s English/French cultural divide are taking a crack at the underperforming English-Canadian drama market by putting a twist on the format formula.
One is French-language producer Jocelyn Deschenes, whose Midas touch — he has half a dozen shows on TV in Quebec — has earned him a reputation as the David E. Kelley of Canada’s belle province.
The other is Citytv cofounder Moses Znaimer, the televisionary behind Chum Television’s signature urban streetfront TV format.
Their skein “Rumours” is set to air on pubcaster the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in the fall.
“Rumours” is the English-language translation of French Canadian hit “Rumeurs,” the fourth season of which airs in Quebec on French-language pubcaster SRC.
The dramatic comedy is set in a women’s magazine, a la “Just Shoot Me,” but sans laugh track and with a story arc more reminiscent of a telenovela than a sitcom.
Deschenes and Znaimer met at a Societe Radio-Canada launch two years ago and got to talking about why Canada’s English-language film and TV industries lag behind French-speaking Quebec’s.
They decided to pair up to shoot an English-language pilot of “Rumeurs” for the larger English-Canadian market.
Rather than wait for coin from federal funder Telefilm, the two co-funded the pilot — not a huge drain since they hit on a way to cut production costs.
“The hardest part of developing any fiction is working through that initial script, getting the characters to mesh; that’s where most of the money is lost,” Znaimer says. They used the “Rumeurs” set in Montreal and translated the script into English, the only changes being the incorporation of colloquialisms and a local reference placing it in Toronto.
“Bingo,” says Znaimer, “you’ve got an entirely new show that comes in at just over C$300,000 ($270,000) per episode.”
With the exception of Jennifer Dale, the cast, which includes David Haydn-Jones, Amy Price Francis and Sadie LeBlanc, is comprised of newcomers.
“Rumours” and “Rumeurs” share the same set and crew, with one shooting while the other is on hiatus.
“Rumours/Rumeurs” is one of the few examples, alongside worldwide telenovela hit “Betty the Ugly,” of a format being applied to something other than a gamer or a reality show.
Producers believe cultural differences won’t be a problem since the storyline is a universal urban one.
“You change the cultural references of course,” says Deschenes, “but other than that, the relationships, the behavior, the attitudes and everything is downtown urban life in 2006. You see the globalization of the world.”
CBC has ordered 20 half-hour episodes and Deschenes and Znaimer have further ambitions for the series.
“If we can do it for English Canada, we can do it for South America, everywhere,” says Deschenes.
To this end, the contacts Znaimer made from distributing Chum’s streetfront chic format worldwide are coming in handy.
He and Deschenes co-own the rights outside of Quebec, and Znaimer says he is working on selling the doubling-up formula for a Spanish/Portuguese combination out of Sao Paolo, Brazil. “I’m in heavy negotiations with people I’ve done business with in Brazil,” he says.
Both agree it plays to Znaimer’s strengths. “I’ve pulled off all my media endeavors by trying to be particular and local while also dealing in a formula,” says Znaimer.
The two are also collaborating on translating another hit French-Canadian series, “Vice cache” (Hidden Vice), whose plot Znaimer summed up as “Desperate Househusbands.”