Canuck drama makes a comeback

Pols stump up more coin for local shows, but will auds watch them?

TORONTO — With 10 Canuck-produced dramas in the offing for next year, some in the Great White North are suggesting that the long-touted indigenous drama crisis may be over.

But the question is, even if they do make them, will auds tune in — and turn off the U.S. shows they’ve become addicted to?

The Canadian Television Fund announced May 16 that it is doling out C$99.2 million ($78.7 million) in funding for English-language drama for the 2005-06 season. Included in that are 10 one-hour series, an uptick from seven the previous year.

Returning series include pubcaster CBC’s “This Is Wonderland” and “DaVinci’s Inquest” spinoff “DaVinci’s City Hall,” the third season of “The Collector” and second season of restaurant drama “Godiva’s” for Chum, as well as specialty channel co-productions “G-Spot,” “Regenesis” and “Slings & Arrows.”

The amount of homegrown drama on TV declined precipitously after 1999 when regulators relaxed the content rules, which had forced broadcasters to air Canuck drama.

The number of one-hour local dramas produced dropped in the following years from 12 to a low of four as broadcasters stocked up on mostly U.S. shows.

There has been furious lobbying from producers and labor orgs including actors’ union ACTRA since then to get the policy reversed.

In the past couple of seasons it appears that funding orgs and broadcasters could be listening.

The rules remain the same, notes Friends of Canadian Broadcasting spokesman Jim Thompson, but there is more money being spent on Canuck drama overall, a lot of it from the public purse.

But without auds, that coin is wasted.

“As far as I’m concerned, the crisis isn’t in drama, it’s in audience,” notes one industryite.

Not one of the hourlong shows on the Canadian Television Fund list has made a ratings appearance in the top 20 programs, most of which are U.S. series such “CSI” or “Desperate Housewives.”

Ratings for the critically acclaimed “DaVinci’s Inquest,” which received $6.6 million from the Canadian Television Fund, for example, have been steadily dropping since it preemed seven years ago.

On average, fewer than 600,000 Canadians tuned in last season.

The only homegrown dramatic series in the past couple of years that has even cracked the top 20 has been CTV’s half-hour comedy “Corner Gas,” which is receiving $3.6 million for a third season.

So why bother?

Pubcaster CBC, which is pulling down 43% of the Canadian Television Fund coin, has a mandate to serve Canuck culture that is less directly tied to delivering audiences than the others.

Commercial broadcasters are eager to capitalize on a recently introduced incentive that allows more commercials during primetime Canuck drama programs, but pundits say it’s too early to know if that will help.

Could this newfound commitment to drama have anything to do with the fact that the licenses of the major broadcasters are up for renewal in the next two years?

Say it ain’t so.