Sunday, January 26, 2014

A(nother) rant against Global, and my frustration with the current landscape of Canadian television

     The stars arrive Sunday (January 19) night for "Global
     Presents The 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards
     Live Asterisk".

If you happened to have stumbled across these parts this time last year, you might remember me laying in to Global TV, truly a perfect shining example of Canadian television, for absolutely shitting the bed with regards to their telecast of the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. For viewers like myself watching on the east coast, the first 40 minutes of the broadcast (or roughly one third of the show) were spent watching a rerun of an ancient home renovation show called "From the Ground Up with Debbie Travis" while Global flashed a crawl on the screen telling us the SAG Awards would start soon*

(*Just as soon as the network frantically tries to figure out why they were not getting a signal of the show into the country).

Well this year, in a horrifying feat of spectacular trainwreckery, Global managed to outdo themselves.   Now credit where credit is due, they did manage to air the entire show this year (or so I am led to believe), which might make those two hours the most successful broadcast in the network's history. But this year they decided to air the show on a delay of 24 hours - the awards were presented, and aired on American cable channels TBS and TNT, last Saturday (January 18) night, while Global opted to air the telecast on Sunday (January 19) night.

Leaving aside the fact that, as someone pointed out to me on Twitter, E! carried a live red carpet pre-show on the Saturday night anyway (someone high up in an office at a Canadian broadcaster really did just decide at some point that we're all stupid and everyone else has run with that idea for years if not decades), the decision to delay the show by a day is really baffling to me. The idea was tossed around that Global didn't want to compete with CBC's broadcast of "Hockey Night in Canada," but to me that's a much preferable form of ratings competition than CTV's Sunday night broadcast of the NFC championship game. Global said in a statement that they were delaying the SAG Awards to air them on a night that was more convenient for their audience - which either means they felt it was more convenient to ensure their audience they would see the entire show this year (not a good reason in any way to delay the telecast), or decided that because we as idiots are used to seeing such an event on a Sunday night (or that there are more of us around to mindlessly gawk at them), we won't mind that the winners will have been known for 22 hours beforehand.

Global's continued butchering of the SAG Awards is just one symptom of a larger problem for Canadian TV nerds like myself, and it's this: yes, we get all (or at least most) of the programming we know and love - but we have no way of watching it in a non-bastardized form.

See, there's this thing you and I are both on right now called the internet. It contains pretty much all the information and knowledge in the entire universe. Information like press releases or Wikipedia articles listing the winners at the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, or live streams of questionable legality for TBS and TNT to watch the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards as they actually were happening.

It also contains official websites or other program listing services that tell us when certain television shows air new episodes in the United States. And of course, it also contains peer-to-peer downloading services that give people anywhere in the world access to these programs literally minutes after their first broadcast.

In short: it is 2014. There is no getting around that. There's no way to hide that from us. We live in the future - not our actual future, but the way "the future" was described to us at Epcot. All forms of entertainment are available to us at our fingertips. All information is accessible to us in countless media at all times.

And so it no longer becomes viable for Canadian broadcasters to think they can get away with the following two scheduling strategies concurrently:

a) Without having to subscribe to premium cable services like The Movie Network, HBO Canada, and Super Channel, you will be able to see the majority of your favourite American-made TV shows, surrounded by the comfort of knowing the advertising you see during those shows will contain familiar ideas such as "Patriotism can be defined almost exclusively by a love of Tim Hortons and NHL hockey," and that watching your favourite shows on Canadian channels supports local jobs and the industry as a whole

b) We reserve the right to air these shows whenever we want. Occasionally, they will air a day earlier than they will on the American network and that will be kind of fun for you. But they might also air later in the week because we own the rights to two different American shows that air at the same time but on different broadcasters. In that case, you will be asked to wait for them. Sorry, we know you love "NCIS" on Tuesday, but that's when "Glee" is on. "NCIS" is now on Wednesday. Sorry, you'll have to wait a day. No, no, don't go check to see what's on CBS, also available nationwide, on Tuesday nights. That's definitely not the "NCIS" you know and love airing at the same time as "Glee". Please don't record those shows at the same time. After all, it's 1991. Such technology does not exist. Hey, what's that red dot? Oh look, now it's over there! Woah, what's happening? Better go find out - we'll see you back on Wednesday for a never before seen episode of "NCIS"!

Canadian TV, you don't get to decide that you will subsist only on American-made entertainment, producing such a small amount of original programming that your upfront presentations (i.e. presenting which American shows you have bought the rights to for next season) is picketed by ACTRA, and then tell us how to watch them. And for a technologically dependent college student like myself who doesn't have a television at school and thus relies on watching TV online, you can't expect me not to have figured out how to watch literally any TV show or movie for free whenever I want. And I know that someone like me doesn't affect your profits, in the way that we learned that HBO knows you steal your friends' HBO Go passwords and they don't care because it doesn't cost them any revenue. But it does affect my perception of your services, which at this point is nothing more than "annoyingly incompetent and inconsistent middleman".

For example, Global's broadcast history of "Parenthood" this fall has basically turned into a guessing game. NBC moved the show out of a long-held Tuesday at 10pm timeslot into the same time on Thursday nights. That space, however, was staked out by CBS' "Elementary" last fall and has a higher priority to Global. So for the first few weeks of the season, Global was airing "Parenthood" on Friday nights. I watched the show Thursdays on NBC because...I wanted to, so why would I wait? After a while, Global moved the show, along with other NBC Thursday night shows "Sean Saves the World" and "The Michael J. Fox Show" to Wednesday nights. This meant they now aired the day before the first-run broadcasts in the U.S. So I started watching "Parenthood" on Wednesday, because again...why would I wait?

Now you might think that was a rare bit of praise for the network from me. But then something really weird happened. The first new "Parenthood" of 2014 aired January 2 on NBC, but that episode did not air on Global at all that week. Nor did the episode on January 9. Or January 16. Or January 23. With "Parenthood" now off the air until the Olympics conclude on February 27, it appears Global has intentionally delayed the airing of these episodes (and replaced with weird, cheap Canadian equivalents of shows you'd probably find on the already cheap Investigation Discovery) to have something to air in February while the networks of the CBC airs the Winter Olympics.

Excuse me, but I feel the need to raise my voice.


And what makes it even more inexplicable is that it isn't like Global has done this with all their programming as part of some nefarious plan to try to make you choose between bobsledding and "Bones" (which they would lose hard). They are only doing it with "Parenthood". And again, it isn't like they have no room on the schedule - otherwise they wouldn't be spackling with reruns of things like "Border Security" or "Howie Do It".

And even our cable channels, with far less original programming, have fallen into similar traps. For the past 10 weeks I've enjoyed the new Bill Lawrence sitcom "Ground Floor," airing in simulcast on TBS in the United States and The Comedy Network in Canada. At least until December 26, when that night's episode of "Ground Floor" did not air because Comedy had committed to airing nothing but reruns of "The Big Bang Theory" (which at this point I'm almost certain has the same powers as oxygen or water to the bodies of Canadians) all day Christmas and Boxing Day. And the next week's episode didn't air either for a similar marathon that consumed all of New Year's Day and January 2. At that point, the Canadian broadcasts were two weeks behind and I wasn't going to just pretend the internet didn't exist and I could't just torrent those episodes.

Similarly, the TBS competition series "King of the Nerds" just returned for its second season on Thursday nights. Problem is, we don't have access to TBS ever since their local Atlanta signal split off from the national feed and now all their programming needs to be picked up by local channels. So sorry, Slice, but I'm not waiting for you to air "King of the Nerds" on a delay of six days just because I live in a country that decided to do that. When TBS acquired "Cougar Town" from ABC, Citytv kept airing the new episodes last year. This year, it has disappeared from Canadian airwaves entirely, so I continue to torrent them because I have been conditioned to expect new episodes. If you're still not entirely comprehending how the world works, read up, networks.

And I don't feel like my argument is invalidated by any claims of "no one's telling you you have to torrent things" or "you are statistically insignificant in the eyes of these broadcasters". Yeah, both of those statements are true. I'm not even necessarily saying that these problems I'm having should be enough of a reason for them to change their ways. What frustrates me the most is that I want more than anything to be able to have a TV watching experience that is completely legal, creates jobs in a Canadian entertainment industry, and promotes a competitive economy and no one is able to offer me that. I'm getting watered down scraps that I'm expected to stitch together to create something resembling an entertainment experience, and I hate that I'm expected to be okay with that.

I don't feel like I'm helping anyone by watching Canadian television in its current form. On the contrary - I'm encouraging apathy and complacency. I'm encouraging an employment landscape, that in its most grand form south of the border is already incredibly tough to break into, to resist growth and the production of quality content because it's easier to just show what other people have done. And sure, American programming airs everywhere in the world - you will see just as much of it on British TV. But the output of any one of BBC One, ITV, or Channel 4 would easily kick the ass of the combined original scripted output of Global, CTV, and Citytv.

Probably what bothers me most is that they're doing it in such a half-assed way. If you're going to just blatantly mirror an American network's schedule, just own it. Decide that Global is NBC, CTV is CBS, Citytv is Fox, etc. etc. Don't make people hunt around for stuff because you all decided to be lazy and cheap in the most annoying way possible. Because sure, while I'm very aware that I can just watch the Buffalo feeds of the American networks, a surprising number of people aren't and just stick with your bullshit.

And so if I had it my way, the choices for these Canadian broadcasters would be as follows:

a) The aforementioned "just decide which American network you want to be, and then call yourself [network name] Canada"

b) Go the route of the CBC and ditch all American shows and actually program a week's worth of Canadian content. And they're doing that as a government entity - so don't tell me it's too hard or give me any other bullshit about how it's unfeasible.

But if I've learned anything from watching TV in this country, it's that I don't get things my way. I get what I get and am expected to ignore the idea of alternatives. Which is ironic, because I'm pretty sure Global could maintain their same quality of broadcasting if they were operating out of a Burger King.