Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CBC Chronicles Made-in-Canada SF TV

Jason Anderson posted an interesting story to the CBC site the other day examining Canada as a hotbed for SF TV series production.

The answer to Anderson's initial question of why so many science fiction TV shows are produced in the Great White North is pretty obvious: the Looney is usually lower in value than the Greenback, giving American producers more bang for their buck up here. Add to that talented local film crews and actors, tax incentives, and the fact that Vancouver (Hollywood North) and Toronto offer locations that can easily and believably double for US cities, and you've got a magic combination. This aspect of the article isn't news at all. As Canadians, we've been hearing media stories for years about the factors that attract TV and film productions, especially if there's a fluctuation in the dollar, a change in government tax or permit policies, or protectionist rumblings from factions in Hollywood.

What's more interesting though is how the article chronicles the many series that have been produced up here in the science fictional tidal wave that followed the launch of the X-Files in the early-mid 90's. Anderson examines the Stargate franchise at length, and mentions other big names in the genre like Battlestar Galactica and Caprica (though BSG is only referenced as a quick explanation for its sequel series, rather than given its due for being the critical and audience success that it was), Eureka, and Sanctuary, among others. Unfortunately, there are a couple of glaring omissions to the list: V and Smallville. Anderson may be forgiven for passing over smaller fare like Lexx or Reaper (personally, I disliked Lexx, but Reaper - which had some involvement from Kevin Smith - rocked), but the V remake and the newest incarnation of the Superman story? While I don't watch Smallville, it's had a long enough run and has a big enough following that it certainly warrants a nod. V, while newer, has received enough attention, especially from mainstream audiences, that it should have been mentioned as well.

Hats off to Anderson though for giving a bit of a pre-Mulder&Scully history lesson. Due to the incredibly high suckage factor, a lot of Canadian SF fans don't like to talk about The Starlost, but I'll give the reporter credit for including it in his piece, so that this part of our country's SF history, as bad as that part was, isn't forgotten. The historic record has to be complete, warts and all. What was most impressive to me as a Canadian SF fan though, was a piece of trivia from waaaaaaay back that Anderson dug up: apparently the first dramatic series aired on CBC Television was a locally-made show called Space Command (featuring a pre-Trek James Doohan), which ran from 1953-54. I'd never even heard of the series before (not even being a glint in Dad's eye that far back, and because the mothercorp hasn't bothered to rerun the show in my lifetime), but to hear that it was the first drama on the broadcaster's fledgling TV channel is pretty awesome.

At the same time, I'm disappointed (yet sadly not surprised) that CBC hasn't kept up the tradition of producing home-grown SF. They'll throw millions at period pieces, especially if they're set in the Maritimes, but forget about science fiction. Sure, they partnered with BBC and tossed some money at the revival of Doctor Who, but CBC can't take much credit when it's really a UK production, and CBC stopped funding it after a season or two anyway. Then there was the highly entertaining J-Pod (based on the Douglas Coupland book), which was geek-oriented if not SFnal. CBC, in its infinite wisdom, pulled the plug after one season though, turning its back on the geek audience yet again. I don't even think the show's available on DVD or Blu-Ray in the CBC store. Way to rock that post-production, post-air profit opportunity, guys. Let's hope at some point CBC will remember its legacy and rejoin the rest of the entertainment industry in producing SF shows in Canada.

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