Canuck indies sell well Stateside

Edgy fare migrates best

TORONTO — Canadians constantly complain that U.S. TV shows dominate the airwaves.

Yet with the demise of the foreign syndie market and the withdrawal of major Canadian broadcasters from indigenous production, growing numbers of local independent producers are doing brisk business selling Canadian TV fare to U.S. broadcasters.

When first CTV, then Alliance Atlantis, Nelvana and CanWest Global’s Fireworks said sayonara to Canuck production, many worried that the industry was in a tailspin. Fast-forward a few years, however, and many independent producers in Canada are doing very nicely.

When the big boys bowed out “we had to say it can’t hurt us,” says Stephen Stone, executive veepee of Toronto-based Epitome Pictures and executive producer of “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” which has sold to 100 countries, including the N, the night-time version of Nickelodeon’s Noggin.

“We have been the beneficiaries of the larger public companies that got out because they weren’t seeing the kind of returns from production that the stock market demands,” he adds. “For a small-to medium-sized company that doesn’t need to please shareholders and can stay the course and make a decent living, it’s been a boon.”

The programming that sells Stateside is cheaper, edgier and more distinctly Canadian than the days when big Canuck producers grabbed the lion’s share of government subsidies to churn out programming that originated from U.S. broadcasters and was intended for the syndie market.

Some of the less-memorable syndie staple of the 1990s includes “Peter Benchley’s Amazon” and “PSI Factor” from Alliance Atlantis Communications. CanWest Global’s Fireworks tuned out “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda,” and more recently “Zoe Busiek: Wild Card,” cancelled just this year.

The rise of niche channels hungry for innovative programming appears to be a key factor in kick-starting sales.

“We’re working with smaller players in the States, so they’re not coming up with huge chunks of the budget, but they’re very important parts of the budget,” Stone adds. “We always say that the last 10% or 15% is the hardest to raise.”

More recent sales include edgier fare such as “Trailer Park Boys” to BBC America, “Paradise Falls” to Here!, “Kenny Vs. Spenny” to the Game Show Network, “Comedy Inc.” to Spike TV and “My Fabulous Gay Wedding,” which preems in July on Logo as “First Comes Love.”

“Logo has a top quality show that cost them half what it would cost to make themselves,” says executive producer David Paperny of Paperny Films of Vancouver.

Paperny agrees that the demise of the bigger producers in Canada may have made smaller producers such as himself more visible in the field.

However, he adds: “I think also that we’re growing as an industry of independent producers beyond the Canadian-only funding envelope and Canadian-only distribution.”

Half of Paperny’s productions rely on Canadian subsidy and distribution, while the other half is not tied to Canadian agency funding at all. “It’s nice to do both,” he says.