The Genre Report: Canada’s top creatives talk TV today

In part one of Playback's series, creatives and broadcasters behind some of the country's most successful scripted dramas discuss challenges and navigating change.

Whether it’s the unyielding demand for showrunners with unique points of view, audiences’ appetite for bingeable limited series or marketing teams’ need for shows with built-in social elements, the business and creative of television programming are constantly evolving.

Playback spoke with the creatives, producers and broadcast execs making Canadian TV’s hottest shows, to discuss how these changes are being reflected across three of Canada’s most popular genres.

Part one of this series dives into drama. Check back tomorrow for discussions with sci-fi and comedy creatives. 


Playback: Broadcasters and SVODs are increasingly ordering limited series to fill their lineups. While audiences are clearly flocking to the format, is this a sustainable model in your area of the biz?

Marsha Greene, writer, producer (Mary Kills People):

I don’t feel like it’s an option to only work on one [limited series], as I might with a longer order. Compensation is fairly standard, depending on your title, but a short order means fewer episodes, which means fewer scripts to write and possibly fewer weeks in the room. But it seems to me that broadcasters have been more willing to [greenlight shorter-orders over procedurals], which is a great benefit because it means more shows are being made. It’s amazing that it’s even an option for me to work on two dramas a year.

Lisa Godfrey, VP, original content, Corus Entertainment:

With limited series you have to have the possibility of bringing them back in mind. In a way, it’s like talking out of both sides of your mouth. On one hand, we want it to be a short series, because there’s an appetite from the viewer to have these critically acclaimed bingeable series. But you put so much work into them, if it resonates well that first six episodes, you want to leave open that possibility of bringing them back. It’s really hard to mount these series for only six episodes and be a one-and-done. [As for larger orders], it’s really hard to [greenlight them] in season one, but in season two, you can make a larger order and invest in something that’s a hit. That’s a good business model.

Domestically, it’s great for advertisers and it’s great for your viewer because once they’re committed you can keep them for more weeks on the schedule. And then, in the international marketplace, most buyers aren’t interested in investing in a one-and-done. You see that with shows like NCIS.

Kyle Irving, partner, Eagle Vision (Burden of Truth):

Series drama needs to be renewable to be sustainable. It takes production companies and their creative teams and partners years to develop shows. If years of development work returns a single, short season of something, how is that a sustainable model? The other consideration has to be the amortized cost efficiencies of larger orders. Buying in bulk costs less, and I’m not sure why Canadian broadcasters have gone away from it. I think as producers and lovers of great content, we relish making well-budgeted, big-production-value, eight- to 13-episode seasons of great drama, but they have to be renewable formats and there must still be room for 26-episode procedurals.

Playback: What other challenges are facing scripted drama producers in Canada right now?

Tassie Cameron, co-founder, producer, Cameron Pictures (Mary Kills People):

Even if I fall in love with a project, if I have a sense that it’s going to be far too expensive to produce in this country, I’m much less inclined to take it on. Unless you can figure out a kind of Netflix/CBC co-venture deal, it’s very, very challenging to take on projects that would be expensive to make, like period pieces for example. So, you tend to censor yourself a little bit knowing the realism of the licence fees that you would receive here. Talent is another top concern for me right now. As a producer, I’m trying to find wonderful writers and showrunners to work on projects and more and more they seem to be going south, which I completely understand. There are just so many markets in the States, unlike here, where there are about three places to take an idea. As a creative person, of course you want to be working in an arena where you can take your project to a number of different potential buyers and do the best for it creatively.

Playback: Has the demand for content from global streamers changed the way you pitch, create or sell your content?

John Vatcher, co-CEO, executive producer, Take the Shot Productions (Frontier):

It does and it doesn’t. For something like Frontier, we originally pitched the project to Discovery Canada based on the merits of the storytelling – and that same pitch appealed to Netflix. Aside from the odd length variance on a couple of episodes, the product remains virtually the same. One thing I have noticed on the international market, which is very true in our country, is that as the trend moves to streaming, serialized content with lengths anywhere from 55 to 59 minutes for dramas, there has become a real void. There’s a need for well-told dramas that fit inside the tried-and-true television one-hour box of 44-ish minutes. And with the major streamers scooping up much of the talent and the stories that go with them, it’s leaving international linear broadcasters, much like our own, searching to fill that void.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Playback.