Seymour says promotion, scheduling killed Jeff Ltd.

The topic of how much broadcasters promote Canadian shows is a delicate one, but Jeff Seymour makes no bones about it - he believes that his comedy Jeff Ltd. died after two seasons due to insufficient support from broadcaster CTV.

The topic of how much broadcasters promote Canadian shows is a delicate one, but Jeff Seymour makes no bones about it – he believes that his comedy Jeff Ltd. died after two seasons due to insufficient support from broadcaster CTV.

The half-hour show, starring Seymour as a conceited advertising exec, premiered in March last year in the plum Wednesday timeslot after American Idol to nearly 900,000 viewers, with subsequent episodes averaging solid audiences of 700,000. But those numbers plummeted quickly to the 100,000s after Jeff was moved to the Saturday 9 p.m. timeslot toward the end of its first season, which is where it remained for its second run, though bumped to 9:30 p.m.

‘[CTV] didn’t really announce [the scheduling change]. I can’t tell you the countless people that assumed my show was over…they couldn’t find it,’ Seymour told Playback, just days before he joked about Jeff’s fate as a host of the third night of the Gemini Awards in Toronto.

The actor, previously known for his Gemini Award-winning performance in the CTV drama The Eleventh Hour, co-created and co-exec produced Jeff with David Smith of Toronto’s S&S Productions.

Seymour feels that other than the ‘brilliant’ Jeffisms that CTV ran as part of its first-season on-air advertising campaign – featuring short clips of quirky antics and sayings by the character – the network did not put a ‘fair amount of promotion’ behind Jeff after it decided to move the show to Saturday nights, opposite CBC powerhouse Hockey Night in Canada.

‘When we got put [on Saturday nights], we put up our own money for advertising. I will thank CTV in the sense that they ponied up their graphic artist to put our ads together…but we put in all the money to run this stuff,’ explains Seymour, who says roughly $100,000 was spent on posters and banners for Jeff’s second season, including a billboard at Toronto’s Union Station and subway prints.

Scott Henderson, CTV’s VP of communications, defends the caster’s decision to move Jeff to Saturday nights, adding the net’s track record ‘speaks for itself with the way we promote Canadian shows.’ He further notes that CTV creates Canuck shows that ‘stand shoulder-to-shoulder’ with the most popular programs on TV.

Henderson refers to Corner Gas beating Heroes in simulcast at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 15, and says Canadian Idol ‘routinely attracts more viewers than extremely popular American shows.’ Gas narrowly outscored Heroes – its 1.3 million 2+ viewers besting numbers for the Global show by about 5,000.

‘We feel that a quality program should be able to compete with other programming on television, including hockey,’ he says.

Jeff was paired on Saturdays with the Vancouver-set comedy Robson Arms, which averaged 311,000 viewers at 9 p.m., compared to Jeff’s 176,000 second-season average. Robson Arms has been renewed for a third season.

Henderson says Jeff simply did not perform, noting that of the 10 original productions on CTV during the 2006/07 season, Jeff ranked number 10.

‘The data that was coming in was showing us that viewers were not coming to the show…We let it take its natural course,’ he says. Numbers provided by CTV indicate Jeff’s audience dropped 65% from the first to the second season.

The question of promotion has long been a hot potato between Canuck producers and broadcasters, including the CBC, which has been criticized on numerous occasions for its apparent lack of promotion for shows including Chris Haddock’s Intelligence and the defunct medical drama Jozi-H, from prodco Inner City Films.

CFTPA spokesperson Jeff Brinton says it’s increasingly difficult for individual TV producers to enter negotiations with large, ‘powerful’ networks over issues such as new media rights, licensing terms and promotion, which he says are vital to a show’s longevity.

‘Corner Gas is a success, and part of that, people would argue, is because it’s promoted properly. CTV got behind it and they promoted it,’ Brinton says. ‘The thing that people are looking at is how many ‘hits’ do we have out there that are not being promoted and so people don’t see them.’

The CFTPA is now pushing the CRTC to facilitate collective producer agreements with broadcasters, according to Brinton, who says ‘these terms of trade’ would create a framework of basic practices.

‘Things like [lack of promotion] wouldn’t happen, because the broadcasters would have pre-negotiated levels of commitment for any productions before they enter into specific agreements with that individual show,’ he says.

Corner Gas executive producer Virginia Thompson of Regina-based prodco Vérité Films says her company takes promotion very seriously, and adds its relationship with CTV is ‘magic,’ because Vérité ‘actively works with the broadcaster to publicize and market Gas,’ currently airing in its fifth season.

‘It’s a two-way street. When we define ourselves as producers, we have to go beyond…I live and breathe my show, and so ideas will come into my mind that I will share with CTV,’ she says. ‘It’s a huge chunk of my job, but it’s been worth it.’

Thompson also suggests a show warrants more advertising dollars if it captures its audience right off the bat. (Gas premiered with 1.1 million viewers in 2004 opposite Friends on Global, and has never had an audience below one million.)

For his part, Seymour says he felt early in Jeff’s second season that CTV had already decided the fate of its ‘red-haired stepchild.’

‘When I heard their phrase ‘we’re going to wait to see what the numbers are,’ I knew they had made up their minds. To put us opposite hockey, you might as well put us on at 4 o’clock in the morning,’ he says. The actor is currently in talks with CBC for a comedy called Ordinary Bob.

But Seymour insists he holds no ill-will toward CTV, noting ‘there is absolutely nothing but huge thanks to CTV and [CEO] Ivan Fecan, in particular, who gave me my start in The Eleventh Hour, and who obviously had to greenlight [Jeff].’