Hollywood TV shows on Canada election radar

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US imports like Desperate Housewives and Survivor have become an election issue in Canada as the local TV industry demands action to protect and fund homegrown series facing stiff competition from Hollywood.

Many entertainment-industry representatives weighed in Thursday to add their voices to demands raised this week by the country's actors union that local TV programs get better air space.

As Canada's four main political parties stake out positions in the lead-up to a January 23 national vote, numerous cultural groups urged federal politicians to ensure more prime-time shelf space for homegrown TV shows.

Operating astride the American market, Canadian broadcasters have long depended on US network hits to drive their prime-time schedules. Currently, the CSI franchise and ABC hits like Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Grey's Anatomy are doing big numbers for market-leading CTV, while rival CanWest Media Works, which operates two national networks here, is drawing its biggest audiences with reality series like Survivor and Fear Factor.

Gail Martiri, director of policy at the Writers Guild of Canada, called on the next federal government to inject another CAN$95 million ($82 million) into the Canadian Television Fund, the main source of subsidies for independent producers looking to get their shows onto prime-time schedules here, with a focus on homegrown dramas.

"Those are the shows reflecting Canada to Canadians and using the most talent," Martiri said.

At a press conference held Wednesday by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, actress Wendy Crewson said, "Unfortunately, Canadians are overwhelmed by Hollywood content from American broadcasters. They're dumping their product into Canada."

Jumping into the fray the next day was Guy Mason, CEO and president of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA), which represents major independent producers. He urged Ottawa to reinstate the minimum drama content and expenditure requirements for Canadian private broadcasters that were eliminated in 1999.

"We'd like to see the Canadian content strengthened and we'd like to see the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) playing a larger role in ensuring a more equitable relationship between broadcasters and producers," Mason said in an interview.

Despite an end to spending requirements, Canadian private broadcasters still must air homegrown shows in at least 50 percent of prime-time slots here.

Only CTV's Corner Gas and the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada routinely make it into the top 20 of most-watched TV shows in Canada. Critics insist private broadcasters too often push indigenous shows to the margins of their schedules, reserving the best prime-time slots for popular US series.

Glenn O'Farrell, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, representing private broadcasters, argued, "The suggestion that the CRTC turn the clock back and reintroduce spending levels doesn't make any sense, at this stage."

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