CRTC says “Take off, eh” to the extra 2 minutes

Its more than a little ironic that the CRTC picked this week to announce changes to the advertising rules in Canadian television broadcasting. As of September 2007, Canadian broadcasters will no longer be restricted to 12 minutes of commercial programming per hour, with as much as 14 minutes at their disposal. By September 2008, 15 minutes of commercial time (25% if you’re counting) per hour will be allowed and in 2009, the limits on commercial minutes will be lifted completely by the CRTC.

On the one hand, relaxing these rules will allow Canadian networks to compete more directly with American Networks. For quite awhile now, American networks have produced programming based on 14 minutes or more of commercials, and Canadian broadcasters were forced to fill that time in various, non commercial ways, including news updates and community service announcements. The irony in the rule changes is that the need to fill extra time has led to some of the more memorable examples of short television, IMO. Anyone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s remembers the haunting call of the loon flute from Hinterland’s Who’s Who, 60 second nature vignettes that filled time, and educated and entire generation of Canadians about the natural world of Canada.

But there is a true piece of Canadiana that owes its direct existence to the weird rules in Canadian broadcasting. A few weeks ago on The Hour, George interviewed Dave Thomas about the upcoming reunion special for Bob and Doug McKenzie and in it, he reminds us that “The Great White North” owes its entire existence to the need for “Canadian content” to fill the extra, non-commercial time.

At the time we were doing the show, it was being shown on NBC owned and operated stations in the States, and on CBC in Canada and because American shows had more commercial content, by two minutes exactly, the Canadian show needed two extra minutes. The CNC executive at the time … asked the we make that two minutes distinctly Canadian. Now, this was a Canadian show, shot in Canada, so we didn’t think that was fair and so we, as a joke … said “What do you want us to do, put up a map of Canada and wear touques and parkas and drink beer?” and the producer said “Ya, and if you could have a Mountie in it too, that would help too.” We did it as a mean spirited joke on the CBC, and it ended up being our biggest hit.
Dave Thomas, on CBC’s The Hour

“Mean spirited joke” aside, its hard to over state the impact of Bob and Doug. Sunday May 20, 2007, they’ll be celebrating their 24 (thats pronounced “two-four” not twenty-four, for those unfamiliar with the dialect) anniversary with a special on CBC, as well as a re-airing of the cult classic “Strange Brew” Bob and Doug movie. Take off, Hoser, Two-four, and even the ubiquitous “eh” can all be laid at the feet of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis and their “mean spirited joke on the CBC.”

The irony, of course, is that the changes announced this past week, almost on the eve of the Bob and Doug reunion special, will mean that future Thomas and Moranis’s won’t have to play any mean spirited jokes on producers. Forget the fact that these changes likely mean the loss of educational shorts from the old Hinterland’s Who’s Who, through the more recent Historical Minutes … without the weird restrictions on commercial programming time in Canadian broadcasting, Canada wouldn’t have Bob and Doug. The changes probably make financial and economic sense, but its always worth remembering what we give up. Its a bit of delicious irony to see the very rules that created Bob and Doug phased out as the Hosers celebrate their 24 anniversary Sunday evening.

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