Programming

*Handful of Mercury...

*Handful of Mercury

Somehow, this doesn’t feel good. Two weeks behind the launch, the new channel bang has faded to a whimper. It almost but not quite makes one wish for a grassroots consumer-driven cable revolt instead of these industry-centric front-page news stories which don’t make a wit of sense to anyone who just wants to watch television. The new channels were at least top of mind among subscribers back then.

Nevertheless, the night of Oct. 17 was up there with Christmas on the surprise and delight scale. tv smorgasbord with nothing to do but lie down, channel surf and recover from some truly fine launch parties. The MeTV crawl across Brando’s face in the middle of ‘the horror, the horror’ on History Television’s Apocalypse Now telecast was a sacrilege, but overall the honeymoon weekend was delicious.

Preliminary numbers for the inaugural Friday night give chum’s Space: The Imagination Station the highest average adult audience ratings among the Canadian contingent. Friday night’s Mars Attacks premiere contributed large to an average minute audience 18+ of 63,000 for Space, according to Nielsen Media Research. History followed at 24,000, The Comedy Network at 19,000, teletoon at 14,000, HGTV-Canada at 11,000, N1 at 10,000, Prime at 7,000 and Outdoor Life Network at 4,000.

Overall, average minute numbers from 6 a.m. through 2 a.m. for the first three days show Space’s dipping to 54,000 but remaining ahead of the pack. Comedy more than doubled its Friday by the end of the weekend with 38,000, as did teletoon with 29,000, Prime was at 14,000 and oln at 8,000. History came up slightly to 27,000, as did hgtv with 14,000. N1 slipped to 9,000.

Two weeks to surf and this question is top of mind: What is with the godforsaken dedication to getting American services into this country? bet. You can dance to it. (You could’ve danced to MuchMoreMusic, but we digress.) You can’t see Risky Business too many times, so no quibble with wtbs and the long overdue Superstation concept. But Speedvision and the Golf Channel are glorified sleep aids at best and all those smiling people and raw meat close-ups on Food Network are enough to drive one to the 16 dozen X-Files repeats available. Where’s the v-chip when you need it?

Ideally, large numbers of subscribers will feel differently once they get oriented with the new cable dial, a process somewhat encumbered thus far in Toronto and the gta.

Seems it’s taking time to incorporate the volume of new channels into The Toronto Star’s Starweek tv guide, which didn’t include any of the new channels in its listings for the first two weeks of telecast. Nice cover spread for History’s The Fifties series last week, but you’d have to be hard-core devoted to find it when the network isn’t even listed in the grid.

Things can only get better.

*Sked sparing

With much chatter on Canadian programming issues, industrial versus cultural, the American factor, yadda yadda, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters blue-chip convention panel yielded few surprises, although the scheduling-related exchange between Alliance chairman Robert Lantos and panel moderator Arthur Weinthal had its moments.

Weinthal, semi-retired after decades in programming at ctv, asked Lantos his thoughts on what the broadcasters need to do to support the Canadian producers. Lantos, having dealt drama product with Weinthal for years, chuckled.

‘That’s a funny question coming from you. After years of `We don’t really control the networkÉwe don’t really have a networkÉ.’ But the answer is, it would take a great deal of cajones. It would take the courage and the balls to put a Canadian product in the best possible slot on the schedule and then stick with it.’

After detailing one Alliance-produced series that got bandied about and pre-empted by skating, etc. on ctv, Lantos makes the point that without consistent scheduling and without dedicated promotional support, Canadian drama is ‘a fragile, little infant which is going to have a hell of a lot of trouble finding its way into the marketplace. The answer is in the broadcasters’ hands.’

Which brings us around to the national network hearings slated to begin Nov. 5. Scheduling is on the table. All in attendance are draping themselves in the Canadian programming flag, debating ‘the best approach to scheduling’ and insisting that primetime isn’t the only block in which to gather an audience. Bitter and jaded production types say it’s simply a back door into relaxed Canadian drama commitments in primetime for the private broadcasters.

Other entertaining bits from hearings submissions: Global Television Network and WIC Western International Communications are jockeying to have infomercials produced in Canada count as Canadian content. Global is also asking that the definition of Canadian programming expenditures expand to include promotion financing.

*Grassroots docs

After two years of labor, writer/ director/producer Sun-kyung Yi’s documentary Hide & Seek: An Underground Trilogy will be broadcast on cbc’s Witness Dec. 4.

Yi, the quintessential patient documentarian, spent six months at the Mississauga Immigration Centre before finding three complex cases willing to let her track their individual processes.

The story is told from the pov of the family and includes a set of grandparents hiding away in their family’s house and a Polish family in Canada illegally for 10 years. In the latter case, the son has about 40 criminal charges against him.

A Gemini nominee in the doc category for Scenes From a Corner Store, Yi, exec at Toronto-based Aysha Productions, scrambled with financing from cbc (including development money) and the ctcpf to put the $200,000 43-minute film together.

Her next project is Divorce: What I See for tvontario’s The View From Here strand. After a year of searching, she found a family willing to let her get inside the break-up, but was hampered in execution this year when Telefilm Canada ran out of money.

Other funding sources are being considered, but Yi is wary of relinquishing a measure of control.

In a similar vein, producer Daniel Sekulich’s first doc, Deadly Inheritance, a look at the human impact of genetic testing, is headed for a cbc Rough Cuts slot.

The film follows one woman as she undergoes genetic testing for Huntington’s Disease, a hereditary condition. Both her mother and her sister have the illness and there is no cure.

Sekulich and production company Northern Lights Television shadow the woman, her 17-year-old daughter, and her husband, a radical Anglican priest who does not consider suicide a sin, per se.

The crew was allowed unrestricted access from the point of the blood test to the doctor’s office to hear the results.

cbc is still doing the mambo with scheduling, but by end of year is a good bet.

Meanwhile, Sekulich is working on a doc based on Donovan Webster’s Aftermath: The Remnants of War. He and producer Ed Barreveld are talking with potential production partners including the Emmy Award-winning Associated Producers about the film, although no deals have been signed.

*Comedies grab Horseshoe

Although This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the Royal Canadian Air Farce have been regularly pulling one million-plus viewers nationally, October marks the first month both comedies have passed the Toronto/Hamilton People Metres litmus test.

The Metres, which incorporate Global Television’s primetime slate into the data (since it is ostensibly not a network, Global doesn’t subscribe to the Top 20 Network Programs chart, leaving Seinfeld et al out of the loop and skewing the chart), are regularly without any Canadian programs in the top 20. The exceptions are Hockey Night in Canada and Atlantis Films’ Outer Limits.

But for the first time, for the week ending Oct. 5, the Friday 8 p.m. Air Farce ranked 10th in the Toronto/Hamilton demo with a 7. For the same week, This Hour rated a 6.2, good enough for a three-way tie with The Simpsons and Jeopardy’s five-day average.

New program mainstays on the Metres to date are wic’s Veronica’s Closet and – before it moved to midnight – Global’s South Park, which was neck-and-neck with Closet in the Thursday 9:30 p.m. competition.