Canada: WGA strike fallout uncertain

Mip Territory Reports

MONTREAL — Like their colleagues to the south, Canuck network TV execs had their schedules — and business plans — rattled by the recent Writers Guild of America strike.

The main private Canadian webs — CTV and Global — rely heavily on American fare to power their primetime skeds, so they had to contend with some empty slots late last year and early in this oneas a result of the American scribes’ dispute.

Now, the Canadian networks are looking to build their fall seasons amid much uncertainty regarding just how many new U.S. pilots will be wrapped in time for the May screenings. However, CTV president of content Susanne Boyce says her web is not unduly worried by the fallout from the strike.

“In our case, we have a strong schedule, so we just want to refresh,” she says. “And I don’t think it’s bad that there are fewer pilots. There will be fewer, but hopefully they’ll be better.”

In spite of the strike, CTV has had a good season thanks to boffo performances from “Private Practice,” “Criminal Minds,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and top Canuck show “Corner Gas.” The web was also cushioned from the strike by the presence of “American Idol,” which continues to be a ratings juggernaut.

The big change in the Canadian marketplace is the presence of a major new national broadcaster in cable operator Rogers Communications, which recently acquired the Citytvstations from CTVglobemedia. Many in the industry note that Rogers has deep pockets, which could lead to increased competition in terms of buying American fare.

However, Barbara Williams — executive vice president of content at CanWest Broadcasting, which runs Global — doesn’t think the introduction of Rogers into the equation will change things all that much.

“At the end of the day, there’s the same number of networks and the same number of slots to fill,” she says.

Global was helped during the strike by reality shows like “Survivor,” “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Big Brother.”

Astral Media, which owns the Movie Network and Family Channel, among others, does not need to buy that much independent programming because it has ongoing deals with HBO, Showtime and Disney, but Astral senior veep of programming Kevin Wright says they could use a few items.

For the Movie Network, “we’re looking for intelligent, provocative programming” to complement shows like “Entourage” and “The Wire.” For Family Channel, Wright is in the market for one or two original series targeting its core demo of 8-to-14-year-olds: “live-action light dramas or comedies, something that would fit in with ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘Life With Derek.’

“But we cherry-pick as opposed to going around with a shopping list,” Wright says.

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