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John Doyle: Why is the Canadian public subsidizing reality TV drivel?

Me, I have this theory – the Canadian TV racket is polluted by greed. Take The Bachelorette Canada, which airs on the Corus-owned W network.

If you want to read the credits that arrive onscreen at the end of The Bachelorette Canada and The Bachelorette Canada After Show, you're setting yourself a hard task.

Maybe you're not the slightest bit interested, and I can't blame you. But you should be. So I did it on your behalf. Got a crick in my neck and a headache, but that comes with the territory. The closing credits for The Bachelorette Canada fly by onscreen in an instant in order to promote the After Show and, of course, the product placement that is part of the After Show.

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What the list of credits reveals is the production company, the staff involved and then, "Produced with the participation of Canada." There's even the Canadian flag in the logo for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, from which the show benefits. That means the makers spend money making the show and then get a whack of money back from a government program. Your money and mine. The credits also note that The Bachelorette Canada is "produced with the participation of the province of British Columbia Production Services Tax Credit." If you're in B.C., that means your money, too.

Listen, as a critic and consumer I have no problem with reality-TV shows such as The Bachelorette. They are drivel but a successful TV genre that's escapist fun and illuminating, too, if you want to study the weird dynamics of the genre.

What I do have a problem with – and so should you – is taxpayers subsidizing the drivel when it's broadcast by a financially successful channel. And I have a problem with the subsidy when the Canadian TV business is crying out for the kind of quality drama, comedy and documentaries that are sorely lacking here and genuinely need financial support.

The manner in which Canadian TV is created, produced and funded is highly complex. But here's something that isn't complicated at all: According to the CRTC's Specialty Services Financial Summaries 2011-2015, in 2015 the W Network registered a pretax profit of $38,673,489. A similar $38-million figure applied in the years 2012-14. In 2015, the channel had a pretax margin of profit of 48.4 per cent.

It's not as if W is the CBC, with a public-broadcasting mandate to create and broadcast all manner of programs and deliver news and documentaries. No, it isn't.

Possibly, an argument can be made that the big tax credit doesn't go directly to W, but goes to the producers. But it goes sideways to Corus and W. Why do taxpayers subsidize it at all when it airs on a highly successful, lucrative specialty channel? Frankly, such outlets should not be accommodated with taxpayers' money to help put inconsequential twaddle like The Bachelorette Canada on the air. It can pay for the twaddle itself, obviously.

Besides, there is the matter of serious money self-generated by The Bachelorette Canada. It's a well-established international franchise. Hardly a tough sell to advertisers or the public. The show has commercial breaks at regular intervals. These ads pay for the show's production, in the normal way of commercial television. However, in the case of The Bachelorette Canada, that's not enough of an underwrite. It is packed with lucrative product placement.

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In the first episode, Bachelorette Jasmine got jewellery from her mom. Viewers saw a close-up of the jewellery company. Jasmine got into a limo. Viewers saw the limo company's name very, very clearly. The second episode was one long commercial for a resort in Jamaica. When Jasmine and her posse of bachelors drink wine, we get close-ups of the wine label and this continues when Jasmine plays spin-the-bottle with the empty wine bottle. That kind of product placement is serious money in the bank to subsidize the show, people.

But wait – as they say on cheesy TV commercials – there's more. Getting information about the credits for The Bachelorette Canada and the After Show from Corus was worse than pulling teeth.

A Corus rep wanted to know, essentially, what I would do with the information. (The CRTC tells me there is no obligation on Corus to provide the credits.)

Eventually the v-p of communications for Corus Entertainment sent me a shirty note defending their hesitation to release the info, but didn't provide it and asserted, "The After Show is 100-per-cent financed by Corus." If that's the case, fine.

But The Bachelorette Canada could and should also be 100-per-cent financed by Corus, without taxpayer support.

What's even more mysterious is the fact the rules for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, as stated online, appear to exclude reality-TV programs from eligibility. The stated objective of the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC) is "to encourage Canadian programming and to develop an active domestic production sector." The stated rules for eligibility are pretty clear. Ineligible genres include "news/current events, talk shows, sports, game shows, galas, productions that solicit funds, reality television, pornography, advertising, corporate productions or stock-footage other than a documentary."

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By any standards, The Bachelorette Canada certainly is reality television. So I wrote to the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office, which oversees the CPTC, and asked, "How and why does The Bachelorette Canada qualify for support through the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit?" There was no reply. So I wrote again asking the same question. To date, no reply.

Perhaps there's a perfectly logical answer. Perhaps it still wouldn't make sense to you and me. Perhaps the Canadian TV racket is truly, terribly polluted by greed.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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