Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

01.15.13

Worthwhile Canadian Initative

Local content rules produced what may be the worst sitcom ever made

Incidentally, while looking for information on Canadian content rules for my last post, I came across The Truth About Tracy, heralded by many as the worst television show ever made.  A Youtube clip sort of confirms the verdict:  

Video screenshot

The history is fascinating.  CTV was apparently close to bankruptcy, but nonetheless, mandated to air at least 60% Canadian content.  They needed to fill hours and hours every day with local content.  In the early years, there wasn't even a big backlog of well-loved reruns, which meant they could either continuously recycle a few shows that everyone had already seen, or film thousands of episodes a year of new content to fill the time. Unfortunately, Canada, with 1/10th the population of the United States, was not a big enough market to support lots of expensive programming, with, y'know, writers, and sets.    

So instead, in the early 1970s, Canadians got "The Trouble with Tracy", a light updating of old radio scripts filmed in a room, with production values that would hardly do for a home video these days.  They filmed 130 episodes, running them five days a week.  The radio heritage really shows in this clip--you wouldn't miss much if you opened another tab on top of it, and just listened rather than watching.  

The American in me wants to ask what on earth the point of this was.  Sure, it undoubtedly created a handful of jobs.  But was anyone really better off because the 3:30 pm slot contained homegrown Canadian garbage?  Even the actors seem vaguely ashamed of themselves.  

Of course, that was a long time ago.  The country has gotten richer, and the content has gotten better; lots of people my age grew up on Degrassi Junior High and The Kids in the Hall.  

And yet, when you consider the sheer volume of content that is created for the Canadian market, what's noticeable is how little identifiably Canadian material ends up on this side of the border.  There's a lot of "Canadian content" here--lots of television series filmed in Vancouver, for example.  But they're not exporting much Canadian content.  Is that because Americans wouldn't like a show about Toronto?  Or because the Canadian market still isn't big enough to subsidize many competitive exports?