Quebec expects Sunday night bouts

Fall TV line-up to be competitive

MONTREAL — Sunday night is shaping up as the battlefield for the French-Canadian TV networks this fall and it seems likely that someone will pay the price for this rather un-Quebecois rivalry.

Pubcaster Radio-Canada has dominated Sunday night for three years thanks to its ultra-hot talk show “Tout le monde en parle,” adapted from the Gallic format of the same name.

Now TVA, Quebec’s leading commercial broadcaster, has shifted its two top-rated shows to Sunday to try to dislodge “Tout le monde.”

TVA will air “Le Banquier,” its local French-language version of “Deal or No Deal,” at 7 p.m. “Le Banquier” was the top show of the previous Quebec TV season, with an average 2 million viewers. That’s followed at 8 p.m. by “Occupation Double,” a youth-skewed reality show, which will go head-to-head with “Tout le monde.”

Not to be outdone, perennially third-placed network TQS has moved its local version of reality show “Loft Story” (itself a Gallic version of “Big Brother”) to Sunday.

While rival American networks often stage such scheduling clashes, it’s causing controversy among industryites in Quebec, which is a much smaller TV market.

The concern is that ferocious competition will simply hurt local producers and broadcasters.

By comparison, Quebec film distributors have a gentlemen’s agreement that ensures rival companies don’t launch competing local pics the same weekend.

However, Radio-Canada spokesman Guylaine O’Farrell says the nets never discuss launch strategies with each other.

But the TV biz is becoming a lot more cut-throat and Radio-Canada and TVA have been locked in a bitter ratings struggle for years with execs routinely bad-mouthing execs from the other network.

“Tout le monde” host Guy A. Lepage, highly opinionated at the best of times, is downright livid about the rivalry.

“It forces people to choose,” Lepage says. “And it’s like relationships. When you force people to make a choice, you never know who they’ll pick. There might be a surprising result. As a TV viewer, I find it very unsatisfying. I think TVA’s decision shows contempt for the audience.”

Last season, “Tout le monde” nabbed 49.7% of the Quebec TV market, with an average audience of 1.7 million viewers. Most observers figure the show will lose some eyeballs with the increased competition but no one is quite sure how many.

The real loser might well be the advertisers.

With French-Canada’s hottest shows on at the same time, many believe that viewers will zap like mad between channels, missing ads in the process.

It also bodes badly for TQS. “Loft Story” is the weak link here and there is much speculation that the network — which happily calls itself “le mouton noir” (the Black Sheep) of Quebec TV — might simply raise the white flag and move its reality show to a different time.

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