The Fight to Save Canadian Programming

sherry smith
By Sherry Smith

Growing up in the isolated northern town of Happy Valley – Goose Bay, Labrador, we had one channel – CBC – and my Dad worked for them! He was head of technical services and he was responsible for installing television and radio all along the coast. Of course, when the TV went off the air, we would get the numerous phone calls looking for “Joe” because the hockey game was on and there was no picture!
My first recollection of morning programs was Chez Helen, Mr. Dress-Up and The Friendly Giant, and I loved them in all their black and whiteness, until the big guy from south of the border introduced me to the crack of kids programming – Sesame Street. Wow! Suddenly my simple, friendly, gentle shows were looking dull and slow and kinda sad next to the world of Cookie Monsters and grouches in garbage cans and a tall yellow bird. Then when colour was added – Double Wow! I was hooked.
My television had shared stories with me of other people who were just like me. Programs like Skipper and Company on Saturday morning brought young entertainers into Skipper’s house to show their talent. How I longed to go to St.John’s and be on that show! I felt I could because those kids looked and sounded just like me. Then came Search for Stars and a friend of mine actually competed in a dance off! It was exhilarating to see someone I knew on TV! The Forest Rangers looked like it could have been shot in my backyard with all the wilderness, and there were kids that dressed for the outdoors. They were me and my friends. It was inclusive. Then I laughed with Wayne and Shuster and King of Kensington and, later on, with Codco and Up At Ours. Once again – they spoke like I did – well, maybe not that thick an accent! These were my celebrities, these were my idols, these were my role models – they were Canadians, like me, working on television, and I knew that I could grow up to do that too!
Forty years later, I am standing on the steps of the CRTC building holding up a placard saying “Save Canadian Programming”, and it makes me sad. Has my country really come to this? Where private broadcasters choose to spend $740 million on US programs and a mere $54 million on our own Canadian people. And while it is true that 71% of Canadians want more of Canada on their TV’s, CTV spent 11 times more on US and foreign programs than on Canadian dramas and comedies, Global spent 19 times more and City TV spent 29 times more. What is with that? WE own the airwaves – me, you, us!!! Not broadcasters, not cable companies! Why we support or allow a company in our country that has increased their rates by 85% (Rogers) IN ONE YEAR!!!! Their revenues increased by 10% last year to see a record high in profits of $2.1 BILLION DOLLARS!! And faster than the speed of sound, our Canada is sold out to the US and foreign market. With these profits, cable companies can certainly afford to put money into Canadian programming without making the consumer pay for it with this silly “TV TAX”. What is with that??
We have learned to believe what our American neighbour has been telling us for years – we will never be as big, or as great, or as influential, or as powerful, or as popular, or as famous as they are. We have learned that their programming is slicker, funnier, better produced, better written, better acted, and that we – well – we’re just not good enough.
Oddly enough, my first role on television was Mary Walsh’s niece on Up At Ours – I met and worked with one of my first role models. I later met Fiona Reid from King of Kensington. I cried when Mr. Dress-up died. I recently watched all the fans gather around Sydney Crosby – their hero – a Canadian model of success. I wished I played hockey; then I could celebrate my hero too. I would watch my hero every Friday night on Hockey Night in Canada. And if it was ever suggested that we don’t need Canadian hockey coverage, then my country would join me in an uproar.
This is a no brainer. I am Canadian. I own the airwaves. I want more of us – my friends, my family, my cities and towns, our stories, our history, our role models. I want that little girl or boy who is sitting on a snowbank in a small rural town to be able to dream that one day they too can grow up and be a big Canadian television star.

Sherry Smith
Vice-President ACTRA Maritimes Branch Council
ACTRA member since 1980

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