Broadcasters pique buyers’ interest with comedy boost

The Canadian broadcast production community is turning its attention to what many believe is Canada's greatest unrealized resource: comedy.
A new crop of sitcom-style programs will premier in the fall, along with an assortment of innovative comedy series and specials up and down the dial.

The Canadian broadcast production community is turning its attention to what many believe is Canada’s greatest unrealized resource: comedy.

A new crop of sitcom-style programs will premier in the fall, along with an assortment of innovative comedy series and specials up and down the dial.

Media buyers believe this comedy spurt could present some useful opportunities for advertisers and networks alike, both in terms of securing long-term advertising deals and offering a more favourable option for the younger-skewing brands.

‘The fact that comedies are cheaper to produce makes them a safer bet for advertisers on a long-term scale,’ says Dennis Dinga, VP, director of broadcast buying at M2 Universal in Toronto.

Helen Shelton, VP of broadcast operations at Toronto-based MBS agrees that advertising on comedy is often ‘safer’ than advertising on drama, and adds that it may also provide a useful medium for potential sponsorship deals for some brands, depending on the target demo. ‘A lot of advertisers are trying to attract younger consumers so comedy could be a good way of reaching that demo, but whether or not more advertisers are attracted remains to be seen,’ she says.

Dinga agrees, saying: ‘There are still lots of choices out there and the ad community is pretty tight these days, so I can’t see the existing ad levels increasing. The Canadian networks are just following what’s happening in the U.S.’

Leading the pack on the comedy trail is the CBC. Building on the success of Made in Canada and The Red Green Show, the public broadcaster is rolling out a new strand of 24 half-hour comedies; six each of An American in Canada, Rideau Hall, Sean Cullen and Jonathan Cross’ Canada.

According to Slawko Klymkiw, executive director of network programming at the CBC, the push will help position the network at the leading edge of comedy in Canada.

‘We’re going to look at new forms. You are going to see us over the next couple of years do things that are a lot different,’ he says. ‘We’re going to spend a fair amount of time and money developing comedic talent.’

To that end, the network has also slotted six new comedy pilots for the summer originating from different regions across Canada. These are: The Royal Liechtenstein Theatre Company (Manitoba), Queboom (Quebec), Western Alienation Comedy Hour (B.C.), Sin City (Ontario), Best of the Halifax Comedy Festival (Nova Scotia) and Buddy Wasisname And The Other Feller (Newfoundland). The network has also slotted three shows from the Winnipeg Comedy Festival for the fall. All this will be in addition to a range of ‘innovative’ comedies as part of its late-night slot titled Zed.

CTV is also ramping up its comedy quotient through its Comedy Network. Ed Robinson, senior VP comedy and variety programming, describes Comedy as the farm system for the main network, with several programs having made the leap as special presentations on CTV. To that end, Comedy and CTV will premier and co-broadcast 22 episodes of sketch series The Jessica Holmes Show.

The Comedy Network will also premier five other series over the course of the next year, which are The Seen, Patti, The Bobroom, Rockpoint P.D. and Puppets Who Kill.

Global is one major broadcaster that is not relying so heavily on comedy this season. Although popular shows such as Bob & Margaret will continue to air, no new comedy series are planned at this stage. Instead Global is relying on reality TV. ‘It’s not really a conscious decision to avoid new comedies. It’s just a reflection of the material that has come our way,’ explains Doug Hoover, SVP of programming and promotions.

The push does not stop at the major broadcasters. John Galway, director of the TV business unit for Ontario and Nunavut at Telefilm Canada, says the funding agency is seeing more comedies in general.

‘[Comedy] is cheaper to make and often 100% financed domestically. It kind of functions within itself,’ he says.

Indeed, the advantage of a half-hour comedy is that, at a cost of $300,000 to $500,000 per episode, these types of programs need not rely on the vagaries of foreign sales, as is the case for $1 million-plus one-hour dramas.

This was a point driven home last month when producers of The Associates cited lack of foreign sales as a primary factor for the program’s cancellation.

‘Comedy is an effective expenditure in dollars,’ says CBC’s Klymkiw. ‘I don’t have to worry, for the most part, about a distribution advance to get the funding done.’

With files from Lucy Saddleton.