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Programming Reality

Perspectives on English-Canadian Television

Edited by Zoë Druick & Aspa Kotsopoulos
Subjects Cultural Studies, Film & Media
Series Film and Media Studies Hide Details
Paperback : 9781554580101, 354 pages, August 2008


Excerpt from Programming Reality: Perspectives on English-Canadian Television edited by Zoë Druickand Aspa Kotsopoulos

From the Introduction by Zoë Druick and Aspa Kotsopoulos

Programming Reality: Perspectives on English-Canadian Television is a collection of original interdisciplinary articles that explores the television that has thrived in the Canadian regulatory and cultural context: namely, programs that straddle the border between reality and fiction. Predating the current interest in reality television, these hybrid realisms have been a part of the medium since its inception. Seen through a wider lens, the current proliferation of shows grouped under the category of reality-based programming provides an opportunity to reconsider the complex mediation of reality that television performs within the Canadian context. Each of the contributions to this collection is also a reminder of the significant relationship of television to nation building in Canada--to the imaginative work involved in thinking through the relations that constitute nations, citizens, and communities.

Historically, a strong communications perspective has informed the study of English-language Canadian television, with few exceptions. (1) When communications scholars have turned their attention to Canadian television, they have most often done so from the perspective of state regulation and international dependency, the result of a strong tradition of political economy. (2) By contrast, television studies in the United States and the United Kingdom have long combined perspectives drawn from political economy and cultural history with audience studies and analyses of television content. (3) But a fresh chapter in Canadian television studies is now being written. New publications examining the content that emerges from the political-economic context shaping television production in Canada are appearing in greater numbers than ever. (4) Programming Reality is a part of this emerging trend.

The collection focuses on English-language Canadian television because the imperatives guiding this programming's texts are markedly different from those of their French-language counterparts. A look at the weekly ratings tells the story: where the top twenty shows in English-language Canada are usually made in the US with the occasional exception, the top twenty programs in Quebec are French-language ones made in Canada. From the perspectives gathered in this volume, a detailed picture therefore emerges regarding the cultural and political-economic specificities that inform the imaginative work of television production for English-speaking Canada. (5)

From the Massey Commission (1951) to the establishment of the Canadian Television Fund (1998), the Canadian state, much like other small-market nations, has associated television with policies of nation building. In Documentary Television in Canada, David Hogarth notes that the high point of Canadian television regulatory ambition occurred between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s, when the CBC held sway over a clearly defined public broadcasting sector. (6) As contributions to this volume by Hogarth, Aspa Kotsopoulos, Mary Jane Miller, and Jen VanderBurgh indicate, CBC dramas and docudramas achieve a certain maturity during this period, striving to interpret citizenship issues to a broad national audience.

The early 1980s mark a neo-liberal ideological shift, signified in part by an increased policy emphasis on globalizing Canada's media industries and cultural output, which profoundly altered the role of the CBC. These policy objectives, outlined in the mandate of the 1982 Federal Cultural Policy Review commissioned by the Liberal government, were introduced the following year in a document titled Towards A New National Broadcasting Policy. ()7 Marc Raboy notes that the purpose of the report was to enhance the private sectors ability to create high-quality television that Canadians would watch and that could be exported globally, and says the report “endorsed a new economistic thrust and made recommendations to shift the emphasis in public funding from the CBC to the private sector. “(8)

Following up on the report's recommendations, in 1984 the Conservative government inaugurated a series of budget cuts to the public sector, including the CBC, as well as a new set of directions in Canadian television policy. As a result, the CBC began eliminating its in-house production in 1984 and changed from a producer to a patron of Canadian programming. Thanks to these policy initiatives, including the 1983 creation of the Canadian Broadcast Program Development Fund--part of the transformation of the Canadian Film Development Corporation into Telefilm Canada in 1984--which gave direct subsidies to independent television producers, Canadian productions experienced growth.

In the mid-1980s, the CBC also instituted a five-year plan to “Canadianize” its schedule as a means to set itself apart from the private broadcasters and their Americanized schedules. (9) A 1994 decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) reaffirmed this mandate in a review of the CBC's licence. (10) By providing services and programming that the private Canadian broadcasters did not, the argument went, the CBC would make itself relevant to Canadians as a public broadcaster connecting the regions, reflecting the nation, and serving its citizens. A number of the contributions to this volume speak to the CBC's renewed commitment to Canadianization through programs such as “Canada: A People's History” (Dick),”The Greatest Canadian” (Rak), and the “hockeymentary phenomenon” (Foster).

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Programming Reality: Perspectives on English-Canadian Television edited by Zoë Druick and Aspa Kotsopoulos

Introduction | Zoë Druick and Aspa Kotsopoulos

Part One: Narrating Nation

Reenacting Canada: The Nation State as an Object of Desire in the Early Years of Canadian Broadcasting | David Hogarth

Representing National History on Television: The Case of Canada: A People’s History | Lyle Dick

Canadian Idols? CBC’s The Greatest Canadian as Celebrity History | Julie Rak

Canadian Idol and the Myth of National Identity | Michele Byers

Hockey Dreams: Making the Cut | Derek Foster

Laughing at Authority or Authorized Laughter? Canadian News Parodies | Zoë Druick

Whose Child Am I? The Quebec Referendum and Languages of Affect and the Body | Marusya Bociurkiw

Part Two: Making Citizens

Public Broadcasting/National Television: CBC and the Challenges of Historical Miniseries | Aspa Kotsopoulos

History as Edutainment: Heritage Minutes and the Uses of Educational Television | Katarzyna Rukszto

Education and Entertainment: The Many Reals of Degrassi | Michele Byers

Haunting Public Discourse: The Representation of Residential Schools in CBC Television Drama | Mary Jane Miller

Part Three: Mapping Geographies

Representations of Urban Conflict in Moccasin Flats | John McCullough

Da Vinci’s Inquest: Postmortem | Glen Lowry

Imagining National Citizens in Televised Toronto | Jen VanderBurgh

Realism and Community in the Canadian Soap Opera: The Case of Train 48 | Sarah A. Matheson

Human Cargo: Bridging the Geopolitical Divide at Home in Canada | Kirsten Emiko McAllister




Marusya Bociurkiw is assistant professor of media theory in the School of Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson University in Toronto. She is the author of four literary books, including Comfort Food for Breakups: The Memoir of a Hungry Girl (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007). She has been producing films and videos in Canada for the past fifteen years, including, most recently, Flesh and Blood: A Journey between East and West. Her monograph on Canadian television, Feeling Canadian: Nationalism and Affect on Canadian Television, is forthcoming from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Michele Byers is assistant professor in Sociology and Criminology at Saint Mary’s University. She has written extensively on television, youth, and identity. In 2001, she was awarded a SSHRC grant to study the Degrassi series and the production of youth and Canadian identity. In 2004, she was awarded a second SSHRC grant to engage in a broader study of television, film, and the production of Canadian youth cultures. She is editor of Growing Up Degrassi: Television, Identity and Youth Cultures (Sumach Press, 2005).

Lyle Dick is the West Coast historian with Parks Canada in Vancouver. He is the author of 70 publications on topics in Canadian and American history, historiography, and Arctic history, including the book Muskox Land: Ellesmere Island in the Age of Contact (University of Calgary Press, 2001). He was awarded the Harold Adams Innis Prize for Canada’s best English-language book in the social sciences in 2003. His published work includes several detailed investigations into the relationships of narrative form and Canadian history, including earlier articles on the books and visual content of the CBC series Canada: A People’s History.

Zoë Druick is associate professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, where she teaches courses in media, film, and cultural studies. She is the author of Projecting Canada: Documentary Film and Government Policy at the National Film Board (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007) and has published articles on documentary film, educational media, and cultural policy in Television and New Media, Studies in Documentary Film, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, and Canadian Journal of Communication. Her current work involves an investigation of the links between documentary and democracy.

Derek Foster is assistant professor in the Department of Communications, Popular Culture and Film at Brock University. His PhD dissertation (Carleton University, School of Journalism and Communication, 2004) studied the evolution of squeegeeing as a controversial social issue through the lens of rhetorical theory. His recent publications focus on a wide variety of communication media studied as visual rhetoric and contesting discourses surrounding reality television.

David Hogarth is associate professor in Communication Studies at York University. His research is concerned with the history and current state of documentary in Canada and worldwide. He is the author of Documentary Television in Canada: From National Public Service to Global Marketplace (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002) and Realer Than Reel: Global Dimensions in Documentary (University of Texas Press, 2006). He is now researching the political economy of independent documentary production.

Aspa Kotsopoulos is senior policy analyst in Television Policy and Applications at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In 2004 she received her PhD in Communications from Simon Fraser University, where her dissertation was nominated for a Governor General’s award. She has published articles about Canadian television in various journals and anthologies, and has taught courses in film and media studies.

Glen Lowry teaches in critical and cultural studies at Emily Carr Institute for Art + Design + Media in Vancouver. A specialist in contemporary Canadian literature and culture, he edits West Coast Line. His recent published work looks at the limits of cultural nationalism in relation to racialized writing, 20th-century poetics, photography, and contemporary art. He is currently working on a collaborative Research Creations project on the uncanny mirroring of Vancouver’s urban waterfront in the desert West of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Sarah A. Matheson is assistant professor in the Department of Communications, Popular Culture and Film at Brock University. Her research and teaching interests are in film and television studies, with a recent focus on reality television in Canada and the U. S. and issues surrounding taste and popular culture. She has published several articles on the representation of Toronto on English-Canadian television.

Kirsten Emiko McAllister is assistant professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. She has published in the areas of cultural memory, visual culture, and political violence, focusing on Japanese Canadian internment camps. Her more recent research focuses on refugees and discourses of inclusion and exclusion. Some of her publications include articles in Visual Studies and Cultural Values and a book co-edited with Annette Kuhn, Locating Memory: Photographic Acts (Berghahn, 2006).

John McCullough teaches in the Department of Film at York University. He has a PhD in social and political thought and was the first coordinator of the graduate programs in interdisciplinary studies in fine arts at the University of Regina. His current research includes analysis of popular Hollywood films, Canadian regional television production, and First Nations in film and television.

Mary Jane Miller is Professor of Dramatic Arts Emerita at Brock University. She is the author of Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama since 1952 (University of British Columbia Press and CBC, 1987) and Rewind and Search: Conversations with Makers and Decision Makers of CBC Television Drama (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996). She is completing the forthcoming book Outside Looking In for McGill-Queen’s University Press, about the representation of First Nations people in series television.

Julie Rak is associate professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She is the author of Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse (2005) and the editor of Auto/biography in Canada: Critical Directions (2005). She is co-editor (with Jeremy Popkin) of On Diary, a new translation of recent essays by Philippe LeJeune (University of Hawaii Press, 2008) and co-editor (with Andrew Gow) of Mountain Masculinity: The Life and Writings of Nello (Tex) Vernon Wood on the Canadian Rockies, 1911–1938 (Athabasca University Press, 2008). She is the editor of a special issue of The Canadian Journal of American Studies on popular auto/biography (forthcoming 2008). Julie has published on popular culture, Canadian culture and autobiography theory most recently in English Studies in Canada, biography, and Life Writing. Her current book project is about mass-produced memoir and biography in print and on television in North America.

Katarzyna Rukszto is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her current research examines representational politics of museums and heritage sites, particularly those that focus on military history, war, and national identity. She is also revising a book manuscript on the Heritage Minutes.

Jen VanderBurgh is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Film and Media at Queen’s University, where she working on a manuscript that compares national approaches to archiving and teaching television. Her other research concerns representations of urbanity as a problematic of nation, culture, and technology in Canadian film and television. She has published in the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Topia, Quebec Studies, and the Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film.


Programming Reality: Perspectives on English-Canadian Television, the first anthology dedicated to analyses of Canadian television content, is a collection of original, interdisciplinary articles, combining textual analysis and political economy of communications. It explores the television that has thrived in the Canadian regulatory and cultural context: namely, programs that straddle the border between reality and fiction or even blur it. The conceptual basis of this collection is the hybrid nature of television fare: the widely theorized notion that all mediations of reality involve fiction in the form of narrative or symbolic shaping. Each of the contributions here is a reminder, too, of the significant relationship of television to nation building in Canada—to the imaginative work involved in thinking through the relations that constitute nations, citizens, and communities. The collection focuses on English-language Canadian television because the imperatives guiding its texts are markedly different from those pertaining to their French-lanugage counterparts. The collection, therefore, develops a nuance of perspective on the cultural and political economic specificities that inform the imaginative work of television production for English Canada.