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Never mind Canadian TV, let’s just watch the U.S. fall apart

Yes, there is undoubtedly a connection between Netflix hiking its monthly fees and the company's commitment to spend $100-million a year on Canadian-made TV. If you are annoyed with the rate hike, your best bet is to take it up with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly. Apparently she's tight with Netflix.

At the same time, something is awry with Canadian TV. Most of it is getting killed in the ratings. It's not a low-impact situation. It's a no-impact situation.

During CBC's recent "premiere week," when heavily promoted new and returning shows aired, the numbers were shockingly bad. (These are the quick overnight ratings. PVR and online viewing always adds more viewers, but overnight numbers tell us a lot about impact.) A new Murdoch Mysteries drew 978,000 viewers. Alias Grace had 442,000. Rick Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes both had 591,000. Kim's Convenience had 516,000, Mr. D had 227,000 and Dragons' Den had 590,000.

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In contrast, Survivor on Global had 1.84 million, Seal Team, also on Global, had 1.53 million. On CTV, Criminal Minds got 1.2 million and Designated Survivor had 1.03 million. The really big U.S. shows did even better, The Big Bang Theory on CTV had 2.95 million, and spinoff Young Sheldon had 2.55 million.

The reasons for the low attention to Canadian series are many and complicated. It is partly the matter of standard escapism and familiarity. But it is also about our increasing, intense fascination with the drama that is the United States right now. We are watching, transfixed, as a country tears itself apart.

The standout figures in the list of ratings numbers are those for Seal Team. It's a CBS show, part of a trio of network military dramas flying the flag of American patriotism this season, along with NBC's The Brave and the CW's Valor. All three are mediocre melodramas, but Seal Team, about a group of Navy Seals who carry out secret missions against terrorists, is the one that has actual angst. It actually has scenes of melancholy as the characters wonder if they're doing the right thing and resent the United States in a morally righteous way.

This TV season, more than ever, conventional TV's content is steeped in the here and now of Trump's America. Canadians watch, often gobsmacked, as divisiveness reaches into even the most harmless areas in entertainment. The new version of Will & Grace, for instance, puts Trump's family front and centre as the focus of jokes.

And three, count 'em, three, flag-waving dramas. By the way, NBC's The Brave had, until just before it was unveiled, the title For God and Country.

The drama that is American divisiveness reaches even into late-night with a ferocity that is entirely new. The other day I was telling you that Jimmy Kimmel is the most dangerous comedian in the United States, with his scathing attacks on the proposed new health-care bill. He probably helped scupper it, in the end. And his shift, from jokester to national spokesman for the angry, keeps on going. After the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, Kimmel abandoned all joking in his monologue and wept openly as he mourned the loss of life and raged at politicians lacking the courage to act on gun-control laws. He pointed his finger at an array of photos of politicians he deemed directly responsible.

Now, the late-night talk show hosts all act as sort-of grief counsellors. Or, as The Hollywood Reporter called them, "anger translators."

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It's Kimmel that's emblematic, though. Long steeped in the tomfoolery of ordinary comedy, he has an almost outsider's take in the Trump era, as though he'd just arrived in this arena and found himself furious, unable to hold back. He is Donald Trump's most blunt scold. One recent night, he went after the news that Russian-bought Facebook ads targeted key states in last year's election.

This is how he ended his monologue. "Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators are trying to determine if Russia received any help from Trump or his team about where to place those ads. Of course, for that to be true, Trump would have to be able to find Wisconsin on a map, which he most certainly cannot.

"But whether Trump was involved or not? It's a diabolical plot, it really is. I have to say, you know, these Russians, maybe we should just let the Russians take over because they're really good at what they do. At this point, how much worse could it be?"

It's come to the point where Kimmel is the national conscience of the United States. It's that crazy. It's why Canadian TV takes second place to what emanates daily from the United States on TV. Now more than ever.

If you want more escapism, try Netflix, but it'll cost you more these days.

Bobby Moynihan says Donald Trump’s actions sparked constant last-minute rewrites on Saturday Night Live. The former “SNL” cast member’s new show, “Me, Myself and I,” premieres Sep. 25th on CTV. The Canadian Press
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