Praising & Panning U.S. TV

Canuck solon takes U.S. to task at TV salute

TORONTO — The love-hate relationship between Canada and its closest friend and neighbor has never seemed more apparent as the Banff Television Festival kicked off Monday.

“It is perhaps not a time when the Americans need to be reminded, least of all by me, that they have the best television in the world,” Sen. Laurier LaPierre said in his opening address.

Always an outspoken proponent of Canadian culture, he praised and admonished the U.S., saying, “success in speaking to the world does not entitle America to speak for the world.”

LaPierre’s comments come as Canadian drama struggles to stay afloat. A group of unions, including Canadian actors union ACTRA, issued a statement complaining about the irony of the fest’s centerpiece “Tribute to the U.S.,” given the poor state of the local industry.

As part of the tribute, David Chase accepted the Award of Excellence on Monday evening. HBO’s Sheila Nevins, PBS’ Peter McGhee and sitcom vet James Burrows are to receive lifetime achievement awards today.

Rubbing salt into Canuck wounds, American and British TV made a strong showing at the Rockie Awards Monday evening. The U.S., the most nommed nation this year, took a handful of prizes including “The West Wing,” for top continuing series; Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” for comedy; and “Frontline: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero,” from PBS’ Helen Whitney, for social and political documentary. “Farang Ba” (Crazy White Foreigner), a U.S.-Thailand docu co-production, took the statuette in the sports category.

Across the Pond, the BBC’s “Tomorrow La Scala!” picked up the made-for-TV movie statuette, and “Daniel Deronda,” from Andrew Davies took miniseries. Channel Four’s “Andy Warhol — the Complete Picture” took the arts doc prize, and a special jury prize went to BBC’s “Pear Shaped.”

The top prize went to “Chavez — Inside the Coup,” a thriller charting the overthrow of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his return to power 48 hours later. An Irish production — with funding from the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Finland — pic, directed by Donnacha O’Brian and Kim Bartley, also picked up the prize in the information and current affairs category.

The top HDTV prize went to “Drawing A-Bomb Memories,” a Japanese documentary depicting the horrors of the Hiroshima bombing. Program also was the history and biography category Rockie winner.

“The State of Television” is a theme that promises to be much explored this week, and on Monday the need to lessen the overwhelming prevalence of U.S. television came up repeatedly.

CRTC chairman Charles Dalfen kicked the day off by reiterating his goal to see Canadian drama programming join the top ten shows on Canuck TV, and lamenting the fact that the home grown stuff makes up just 11% of drama seen by Canadians, (7% if you exclude pubcaster CBC.)

Again, the biggest TV factory in the world next door, was cast as the villain. He called for “an open conspiracy” among stakeholders, regulators, broadcasters, producers, and funding agencies, to promote Canadian drama. Meanwhile, Liza Frulla, a member of the Standing Committee on Heritage, which is skedded to release a long-awaited report on broadcasting on Wednesday, addressed the CRTC’s Dalfen.

Hinting that the Heritage Committee would contradict a recent Industry Committee report advocating the elimination of foreign ownership restrictions in telecommunications (the “thin edge of the wedge” that promises to lead to cable and broadcasting,) she asked Dalfin whether the CRTC’s regulatory regime would protect Canada’s cultural interests.

“Ancient Chinese wisdom,” said Dalfin. “When you see two tigers fighting, climb up the nearest tree. That is the CRTC position.”

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, a well known champion of culture over industry, is at odds with Industry Minister John Manley, who, predictably, holds the opposite sentiment.