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Canadian TV tries to remain Canadian

Financier in tug-o-war

MONTREAL — The fight over funding for Canuck TV production is getting uglier and uglier. There has been a dispute brewing for months over how to run the Canadian Television Fund, one of the main motors of financing TV shows in the Great White North, and the war of words has heated up in the past few days.

Late in June, Canadian broadcast watchdog the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission proposed a radical revamp of the Fund, ruling that it should back more commercial shows and loosen up its complex rules.

In the past, projects had to be virtually 100% Canadian on both sides of the camera to receive funding.

But many in the heavily protectionist local TV biz fear loosening the rules means that Canuck producers using higher-profile American thesps and/or American scripts to make their shows more salable internationally could tap the fund for coin.

“We feel this isn’t the time to start loosening the rules,” says Guy Mayson, CEO of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. “The objective of the Canadian Television Fund is to create high-quality Canadian fare.”

Mayson suggests producers making shows with American talent look elsewhere for financing.

But some of his members don’t share Mayson’s opinion.

“What this would allow us to do is to add another international sellable element,” says producer Shawn Williamson, of Vancouver-based Brightlight Pictures. “If we can get an American actor, we are able to showcase Canadian actors and writers who wouldn’t be in the spotlight otherwise. It just allows us one more competitive advantage. We can’t continue to make shows that don’t sell outside of Canada.”

The bitter dust-up started several months back when leading cable operators Shaw Communications and Quebecor blasted the Fund as inefficient and mismanaged, and threatened to withdraw their financial support.

Under CRTC regulations, cable and satellite operators are forced to pay into the Fund, providing C$165 million ($154 million) of is annual $248 million budget. The other main financial supporter of the Fund is the federal government.

Shaw and Quebecor execs have complained the Fund does not support enough commercial projects, which is not a valid complaint, according to Mayson.

“It’s bogus because Canadian Television Fund shows have done well,” says Mayson. “It’s a complicated thing to make English-Canadian TV shows work, and it’s starting to happen. I think there’s a bit of a power play going on here. We’ve always thought that there was an agenda (from the cable operators) to break up the Fund so they won’t have to pay into it.”

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