Banff: Americans more willing to work with Canadians on TV copros

"For the first time, you will see the shows treated the exact same way as shows we develop," NBC Entertainment president of planning Jeff Bader (pictured) told a festival panel, of working with foreign partners.

In a time of shrinking public subsidies, American and other foreign broadcasters and producers are increasingly stifling their competitive instincts to partner with Canadians and Europeans on more ambitious, big-budget international TV co-productions.

“Canada is our favourite partner,” Jeff Bader, president of program planning, strategy and research at NBC Entertainment, told a Banff World Media Festival panel on coproductions and co-ventures.

Bader said NBC, which is shooting Hannibal in Toronto and acquired the international coproduction Crossing Lines (airing on CBC this fall), is no longer considering foreign imports just cheap filler for a summer schedule.

“For the first time, you will see the shows treated the exact same way as shows we develop,” he said.

The Banff panel, which looked at the tricks and traps of coproductions, underlined how Canadian broadcasters are looking to foreign partnerships to remain competitive.

“It’s critical in our industry in Canada, with such a small market, that we’re able to enjoy these relationships and treaties and unofficial treaties to get projects made and financed,” Corrie Coe, senior vice president of independent production at Bell Media, argued.

“The additional financial resources that can come from other countries is invaluable to get to budgets to where people will watch the show,” she added.

For producers, the challenge is developing a TV show with a lot of cooks in the kitchen.

“It’s really about starting with two partners, maybe three, and an idea and a writer. It’s the same as building a show for just one partner. It’s challenging, but interesting,” said Noreen Halpern, president of Halfire Entertainment, and whose credits include The Firm, Rookie Blue and Hung.

Halpern said the different partners in a coproduction, while wanting to reduce programming costs and risks, need to collaborate and feel their notes and other creative contributions are being heeded.

The advantage for American broadcasters, who pay low license fees for international coproductions, is they can tolerate lower ratings for a foreign transplant than for their own series brought through an expensive pilot process.

At the same time, coproductions mostly go direct to series, which leaves U.S. networks used to the pilot process nervous.

“Now we’re willing to do more shows direct to series. That brings the price down,” said NBC’s Bader.