The other week I went up to York University in Toronto to talk on a panel about Canadian Television. As part of a series of talks and screenings called The Triumph Of Canadian Cinema, this particular discussion carried the title Television: The Canadian Films We Get to See. What was implied is that Canadian TV is a substitute for the robust and culturally complex cinema of other countries. Ken Finkleman, the CBC's auteur, and Alyson Feltes, the creative force behind Traders, were also on the panel. Nobody could really proclaim, with a straight face, that Canadian television is so rich and varied that it supplants a film culture. In fact it was generally agreed that Canadian television is in a pretty poor state.
The 15th Annual Gemini Awards ( CBC, tonight, 8 p.m.) make this glaringly obvious. In the categories of Best Dramatic Series and Best Comedy Program or Series, the list of nominations is pathetic. For Best Comedy, we're asked to believe that the amateurish Double Exposure is worth considering, with its cheesy voice-overs added to news clips and the appallingly inept vocal parodies of politicans by the show's only performers, Bob Robertson and Linda Cullen. The sometimes subtly droll animated show Bob and Margaret is also nominated but many might wonder if this U.K./Canada co-production is truly Canadian at all. All the other shows nominated in this category are from the Air Farce/22 Minutes axis. Air Farce itself is there, along with 22 Minutes, and Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson of Air Farce are the producers of Dave Broadfoot: Old Dog, New Tricks. Rick Mercer, still appearing on 22 Minutes, is the star and co-writer of the final nominee, Made In Canada. It all adds up to a tiny pool of talent. Made In Canada deserves to win, as it did last year, and nobody can be unaware of the irony that Made In Canada mocks the making of the type of Canadian television shows to be honoured tonight.
Best Dramatic Series is really a contest between two shows, Drop the Beat and Da Vinci's Inquest, which both air on CBC. The other two shows are the rinky-dink drama The Outer Limits, which is made for syndication, and the way-too-wholesome Twice in a Lifetime, also made for syndication. Drop the Beat, a hip-hop drama that focuses almost entirely on urban youth, is a brilliant idea that is clumsily executed. Da Vinci's Inquest is, by any standard, a first-rate crime drama that often transcends the limitations of the genre to be both social commentary and cathartic tragedy. However, the fact that three of the male lead actors from Da Vinci are nominated for Best Performance By an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role suggests that the show is far better written for male actors than for its strong female cast, none of whom are nominated for the equivalent category.
The heart of the awards drama tonight is the Best News Anchor category. As usual the central battle is between CBC's Peter Mansbridge and CTV's Lloyd Robertson. That fight epitomizes, for both viewers and the television industry, the struggle between CTV and CBC for the hearts and souls of Canadian viewers. The best result for everybody would be a Gemini going to Lisa LaFlamme of CTV Newsnet, who is also nominated. LaFlamme, usually appearing in prime time on Newsnet, very quickly gave the channel some substance and style
In fairness, this year's Gemini Awards are an anomaly. With the end of Traders, the failure of The City and Power Play, and with new Canadian drama still to come from CBC, CTV and Global, the Canadian television situation is at the low end of a production and creative cycle. That makes it even harder to make a fuss about tonight's show. Steve Smith is the host and, as he's been telling us in countless commercials, he isn't doing his Red Green act. Smith's both a professional joker and a businessman, so expect him to let loose some zingers about the state of Canadian TV. Sometimes he's even been known to let fly at the press coverage of Canadian television. Go ahead, mister. With glamour in short supply at the Gemini Awards, a bit of harsh comment and controversy would do us all a favour.
Aagh! It's The Mr. Hell Show. ( The Comedy Network, 9 p.m.) This animated sketch comedy, a co-production with the BBC, is a dose of fresh laughs after a lot of puerile and prosaic comedy series on the Comedy Network. The linking character between the sketches is Mr. Hell himself (the voice of Bob Monkhouse, which might mean something if you're British) and he's a loudmouth hoser of the kind you'll find on your own street. The best chracter is Serge, The Seal of Death, a French-Canadian wacko who has an unhealthy obsession with fashion models. Thick as a brick, he thinks the models are citizens of a country called Bulimia. The show is bad-tempered and far from politically correct. Deadline. ( NBC, Global, 9 p.m.) The new series from Dick Wolf (the Law & Order man) is already a worry to NBC. Ratings have dropped steadily in the first few weeks and the drama's lead-in shows, the lame sitcoms Tucker and Daddio, have already been yanked from the schedule. Deadline, featuring Oliver Platt as a crusading newspaper columnist, is as much about crime and punishment as Law & Order and even uses the same technique of stating the time and place of a scene on the TV screen. However, while Platt is charismatic, a crusading reporter isn't half as appealing as a cop or a crusading lawyer and the technique looks absurd when there isn't the threat of imminent arrest or conviction. Dick Wolf should dump the gimmicks lifted from Law & Order and stick with all the news that's fit to print. On tonight's episode there's a late-breaking story about the Russian mob. Talk Shows The Bottom Line with Michael Vaughan. Jack Rabinovitch on the Giller Prize. ( ROBTv at 6 p.m.) CounterSpin with Avi Lewis.Federal election: the immigration issue. (CBC Newsworld at 8 p.m. ET.) Studio 2. Former porn star Candida Royalle. ( TVO at 8 p.m.) Open Mike with Mike Bullard. Gavin Crawford, Scott Russell, Terri Clark. ( Comedy Network at 10 p.m., CTV at 12:05 a.m.) David Letterman. Will Smith. ( CBS at 11:35 p.m.) Jay Leno. George W. Bush, Joan Allen, Charlotte Church, Billy Gilman. ( NBC at 11:35 p.m.) Conan O'Brien. Marlon Wayans, Melissa Joan Hart, Swan Dive (repeat). ( NBC at 12:35 a.m.) Dates and times may vary across the country. Please check local listings. Readers can send e-mail to: email@example.com ... The Geminis' opening gala. R4