CANADIAN REMAKES: FRIEND OR FOE?

Lindsey Addawoo

Countless adaptations in Canadian television come from the U.S. or U.K. They include Canadian Idol, Canada’s Got Talent, Real Housewives of Vancouver, Top Chef Canada, and, rumor has it, a Canadian iteration of The Bachelor will be airing soon on the Slice network, a master in revamping trashy TV for audiences north of the border. Indeed, given how many adaptations we watch, Canadians seem unable to distinguish what is creative from what is overdone.

But is it legal? Canadian content is regulated by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The CRTC dictates what can be considered Canadian content using a points system set up by the Canadian Audio-Visual Certificate Office (CAVCO). Points are allotted on the basis of how many of a show’s crewmembers have Canadian citizenship or landed immigrant status.

A production must have at least six points in order for it to be deemed authentically and legally Canuck. A Canadian screen-writer or director earn a show two points. A Canadian producer earns none. One point is given to each Canadian lead actor, and another point for each production designer, director of photography, music composer, or picture editor. The actual content of a show doesn’t figure in to these calculations; according to the law, a show is deemed Canadian based on its crew, not based on its concept.

This method is in itself problematic: “Canadian content” (or CanCon) doesn’t necessarily have to be about or relate to Canada in any way, so long as its employees are from the right side of the border. Quite clearly, Canadian content is compromised; it is assumed that Canadian needs (such as self-representation, artistic creativity, ideas, and values) are met through the employment of a production company.

One would assume that this is one of the reasons Canadian producers opt for adapting an old show for a new audience. So, how exactly does a production team rework an original to fit another country? There’s a fine line between improving on an idea and ruining an original. And Canada often takes the third swing at a remake; whether its a British show that’s first been adapted for an American market or vice-versa, the Canadian version tends to come last.

The answer is that television remakes require tremendous preliminary research. One must take into account the societal, linguistic or cultural factors of an original show and why it is successful. One must then work on ways to readapt a show to fit the culture of its new audience. Take for example the attempted introduction of the reality show Lakeshore modeled after New Jersey’s “eventful” Jersey Shore, which was scrapped before it even got to air. Audiences had already witnessed the craze of its original cast, and although the show seemed like a huge success, its own original audience waned. It’s no wonder producer Maryam Rahimi’s dreams for an even more over-the-top rendition was over before it even began.

“The interest in the remake… facilitate[s] an equally compelling transatlantic dialogue about creative ownership, appropriation, and a network’s responsibility to its audiences,” says Kevin Sanson, PhD and Project Manager of the Carsey-Wolf Centre’s Media Industries Project at the University of California in Santa Barbara. And, sometimes, no amount of research is enough. For example, when British and North American fans of the UK hit show Skins learned that an American version was in the works, they were uproarious. The shows audience on both sides of the Atlantic had become much too connected to the original cast.

Canada does have homegrown shows such as Degrassi: The Next Generation, Corner Gas, and children’s shows like Caillou (all of which were eventually made available in the U.S. – take that!). But we’re undeniably seduced by the culture of remakes. Perhaps it’s just difficult to create a Canadian show that can generate a loyal audience because of our massive internal differences in cultural values. After all, although it survived for six seasons, not everyone appreciated Little Mosque on the Prairie.

For Canadian television to reflect its own originality, we have to evaluate our own culture as a whole. Are we an authenticated group of people, renowned for our peace-keeping, hockey-playing citizens? Or are we a lesser-than, watered-down version of our American neighbours?

Perhaps what makes us so different is our ability to define our nation as an amalgamation of cultures within a national border – something Canadian producers are still getting the hang of displaying on our networks.