May 2003
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America and Canada: So Many Clicker Decisions
By Stephen T. , Grade 12, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

It's one of the best-kept secrets in satellite reception, and every day a few more Americans discover the charms of another unique brand of television.

Those outside of Canada usually have no idea just how different we are. Canadian politicians and other government officials have spent decades trying to stop what they feared was an onslaught of U.S. influence in the media. Many Canadians have resented their government's interference in these matters, but this meddling did have some positive results. From the outside looking in, today's media in Canada is quite unique and refreshing when compared to the American model.

Canadians have been ‘protected' from much of the U.S. media intrusion, and a homegrown film and television industry has developed over the years; to the level of world class. Granted, programs such as "Pop Stars" and "Canadian Idol" appear to be interested in cashing in on the success of such hugely popular American reality television shows as "American Idol" and "Survivor", but many of Canada's most frequently viewed programs actually have ties to past Canadian programs rather than American ones. For instance, the new "Degrassi High" episodes use the bold, gritty and realistic format of the old "Degrassi High" rather than the toned down, unconvincing conventions of America's "Saved By The Bell".

Also, whether it be due to lower budgets or more deeply-rooted attachments to tradition, Canadian shows seem to stay within the television genres that we have known for many years now, while American shows prefer to seek the latest, hippest style of delivering entertainment. While CBC broadcasts the basic scenario of friends and family struggling within a frenzied town in "Wind At My Back", NBC showcases random American thrill seekers gulping down assorted insects for a shot at $50,000. The programming of the United States is backed by millions upon millions of dollars, whether it be for creating or promoting it, and thus it becomes mainstream as it is what we typically see upon turning on our televisions. The average person, Canadian or American, wants to see what's new and exciting, what's larger than life, and this is usually provided by U.S. television.

Licenses were granted through the years, which resulted in the formation of both Canadian clones as well as truly independent entities. One of the first examples may be the Canada Film Board, back during the 1930s. The government provided the funds for make-work projects that resulted in countless documentary films of all kinds. Today, Canada Film Board is among the finest producers of nature films in the world. Their reputation is up there with the BBC, American PBS and other world renowned organizations. Both CFB and PBS aim to educate, which is an admirable goal to be shared.

Favorable tax structures and funding have created a large domestic film industry. Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto are the hot spots of activity, often being chosen over Hollywood to develop new television shows. The extremely favorable exchange rate on the dollar, coupled with lower overall costs, have made it a no-brainer for American companies to look north of the border when considering filming locations.

What does all of this have to do with American and Canadian television? Plenty, if you think seriously about the choice of programming and lower costs for receiving signals. The exchange rate makes it a much better deal than the costs charged by American DBS companies. You get the best of Canadian TV, quite a few American networks, plus the benefit of Canada's ties with the British Commonwealth. Lots of British shows, and even the occasional Australian series that has yet to screen in the U.S. If you enjoy British comedy and drama series, Canada is a much stronger provider than the States, as they seem to most often push acts of their own nationality.

While the United States produces that which is more largely viewed, Canada maintains the setups and values of past Canadian programs, while still marching ahead in terms of television production popularity.


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