Summer season turns on small-screen heat

Canuck, U.S. fare among offered p'gramming

This article was corrected on June 18, 2003.

MONTREAL — The big two terrestrial webs Global and private web CTV are ramping up the traditionally dead summer by bowing local drama for the first time and, taking a leaf out of Blighty’s book, home-grown reality shows.

“The season starts now,” says Susanne Boyce, CTV programming prexy, who jokes about the great Canadian tradition of spending summer at the cottage. “They’ve got a satellite dish there.”

She adds: “The summer is no longer a crazy period. There are people watching and that has advertisers interested.”

The change in viewing habits has spurred Global and CTV to offer new programming, rather than the usual diet of re-runs.

“Repeats don’t work as well as they used to,” says Boyce. “Some, like ‘Law & Order,’ work and others, like ‘The West Wing,’ are a disaster.”

CTV is pinning its hopes on increased Canuck drama — despite government budget cuts to key funder, the Canadian Television Fund, which backs many popular shows.

CTV has three new made-in-Canada series “Comedy Inc.”, “Corner Gas” and “Keys Cut Here.”

Global had to cancel one new drama, “Falcon Beach,” due to Fund cuts, and others will feel the pinch in coming seasons as the cash crunch bites.

In February, the government chopped C$25 million ($18 million) from its annual contribution to the fund. Earlier this month, it reinstated $9 million but that money is borrowed from next year’s allocation to the fund.

The webs are looking to cheaper, homegrown reality programming that doesn’t rely on government handouts.

“We have to find ways to do things without the fund, which is what we’re doing with ‘Train 48’,” says Loren Mawhinney, Global’s VP of production.

“Train 48,” which debuted June 2, is what execs call an instant drama. The improv show about train commuters is shot and aired on the same day, and includes references to the day’s news events.

It costs around $26,000 per episode, compared to between $580,000 and $730,000 for a one-hour drama. The credits for “Train 48” include a note saying the show was made without the assistance of the Canadian TV Fund.

Global has a number of U.S. reality series playing over the summer, notably “Restaurant,” “Paradise Hotel,” “Meet My Folks,” “Last Comic Standing” and the return in July of “Big Brother.”

CTV’s big-ticket homegrown reality offering is “Canadian Idol,” its spinoff from the U.S. phenom “American Idol.” CTV’s talent search series bowed June 9 to boffo ratings, with just over 2 million viewers.

This was particularly good given that it was the same night as the seventh game of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Final, a huge deal in hockey-mad Canada.

The success of “Canadian Idol” underlines the fact that audiences are still watching the smallscreen as the weather heats up outside.

TV execs are counting on that continuing in July and August as Canucks quit the cities to kick back in the country.