'The Bridge,' 'Flashpoint' both cross border

MONTREAL — Canadian TV shows keep creeping across the border to the U.S. networks and that’s clearly good news for the Canuck production biz.

But some in the Great White North wonder whether they are giving away too much in terms of coin and creative control.

Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, underlines the irony that giant American broadcasters are profiting from Canada’s public-funding system.

It costs U.S. networks much less to snap up Canuck shows than to develop a homegrown one-hour drama, partly because shows are cheaper to make in Canada and partly because they usually arrive in the U.S. fully financed.

A lot of that funding comes via incentives provided by the federal and provincial governments — straight out of Canadian taxpayers’ pocket.

So a network like CBS, which recently acquired Toronto cop drama “The Bridge,” is getting a great deal, says Parker.

CBS already airs another Canadian cop drama, “Flashpoint,” which follows a Toronto emergency response team.

Last week, Ion Television joined Stateside buyers and snapped up two Canuck one-hour dramas, “The Border,” about a cross-border security force, and “The Guard,” about coast guard rescue specialists working off the coast of British Columbia.

Commercial broadcaster CTV is at the forefront of this push into the States with “Flashpoint,” The Bridge” and “The Listener” (coming this year to NBC).

Susanne Boyce, president of creative at CTV, knows there is some grumbling among local industryites who fear that producers will succumb to pressure to make the shows less, well, Canadian to attract a U.S. web. But she says naysayers are missing the point.

“CBS gives fantastic notes” about “The Bridge,” she says. “But creative control rests with the producers. We will stand up for the authenticity of the Canadian-ness (of the show).”

“Flashpoint” and “The Listener” are clearly set in Toronto, and Boyce says “The Bridge” will be as well.

She also has no problem with the notion that the American networks are able to buy these shows at a discount thanks to the public funding system. She notes that the sales expose local writers and producers to a much larger audience “and is that good for the Canadian industry? Uh yeah.”

“The Guard” exec producer Shawn Williamson agrees the Canuck shows are a good deal for U.S. buyers but he says they’re also just good, period.

“We can provide very cost-effective product that looks as solid as anything on television, but at a price,” says Williamson from Vancouver-based Brightlight Pictures. “The U.S. networks have become a bit more educated about how the Canadian system works. We don’t need a U.S. sale to produce a show. But our hope is that we can rely less on the Canadian system and more on co-producing with the U.S. and take less money out of the Canadian system.”

Williamson is happy to sit down with U.S. network execs to talk about the creative side.

“You want your partner to mold your show to work for their viewers,” he says. “So it’s not a bad thing at all.”

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