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Ahead of Sunday’s Canadian Screen Awards, Barry Hertz, Radheyan Simonpillai and Amber Dowling present the changemakers whose creativity, ideas and sheer will are reshaping the country’s TV industry for the better

This Sunday, the Canadian entertainment industry will gather in that most Canadian of fashions (weirdly) to watch the 2023 Canadian Screen Awards. The experimental CBC broadcast will be a mix of prerecorded segments and edited clips of acceptance speeches from winners who were awarded their CSAs days earlier, during the annual bonanza known as Canadian Screen Week.

The show will mark an evening of mixed emotions and delayed gratification that neatly sums up the psychological state of this country’s small-screen sector. But despite everything that has been thrown at Canadian TV creators (and audiences), there is much to celebrate. Including the contributions of those listed below.

This roundup features the gatekeepers and the ground-level instigators, the power players and scrappy provocateurs. They are starting conversations, making waves, provoking change, and not always earning friends along the way. These are the 25 (or so*) Most Influential People in Canadian Television for 2023.

*In polite Canadian fashion recognizing #teamwork, there are technically a few more than 25 …

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Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

1. Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage

No matter your thoughts on Bill C-11 (a.k.a. the Online Streaming Act, a.k.a. the most debated piece of legislation in Senate history), it is impossible to deny the level of influence that Pablo Rodriguez currently has on the entirety of Canadian culture. Has the federal minister handled the C-11 debate well? As in: Has he steered the discussion away from political red-herrings and toward the bill’s intended purpose, which is levelling the playing field when it comes to foreign streamers eager to gobble up Canadian subscriber dollars without having to contribute to the domestic ecosystem? Not really, no. But now that C-11 is inches away from becoming a reality, Rodriguez still has the industry, and audiences, in the palm of his hands. Barry Hertz

2. Valerie Creighton, Canada Media Fund

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Valerie Creighton, President and CEO of Canada Media Fund in December 2016.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The head of the CMF, which is charged with investing upward of $350-million each year in homegrown television and digital content, Creighton is a constant, refreshingly straight-shooting presence on the Canadian culture circuit. And her dominion is about to get that much larger, with the new federal budget giving the CMF a $40-million boost over the next two fiscal years in an effort to “make funding more open to traditionally underrepresented voices, and to increase funding for French-language screen content.” While details about that increase aren’t yet clear, it feels safe to say that the funds will help Creighton continue to blow past barriers – and shake up the country’s typically too-polite sector – any way that she can. B.H.

3. Reynolds Mastin, Canadian Media Producers Association

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Reynolds Mastin, president and CEO of Canadian Media Producers Association.Handout

Just because Bill C-11 has passed the House of Commons doesn’t mean that the war over the legislation is over. And the industry’s top general in that battle is the president and CEO of the CMPA. Reynolds Mastin’s current target: C-11′s potential to create a “two-tiered system” thanks to a clause that could allow foreign streamers such as Netflix and Disney+ to get away with investing less in Canada’s creative industries than domestic production companies, undermining the entire point of the bill. Having already helped guide the industry through the wilds of the pandemic – including pressuring Ottawa to introduce the Short Term Compensation Fund, a.k.a. COVID-19 insurance for film and TV productions – Mastin is not one to shy away from advocating for this country’s creators with everything in his arsenal. B.H.

4. Jennifer Kawaja, Sphere Media

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Jennifer Kawaja, film producer and president of scripted content at Sphere Media Company.Handout

Look at every groundbreaking Canadian series from the past few years, and Jennifer Kawaja very likely had a hand in it. Trickster, The Porter and Sort Of all came from Kawaja and her partner Julia Sereny’s Sienna Films, which has since been folded into Sphere Media. Kawaja has a knack for working with fresh talent telling meaningful stories. She also, according to The Porter co-director and co-showrunner R.T. Thorne, makes “activist decisions” over producer decisions. Those include budgeting for paid internships so that BIPOC talent can fill crew roles, or engaging in conversations with organizations such as the Canadian Academy to make acting categories gender-neutral so that a show such as Sort Of can be well represented. Next up: a new Netflix series, Tall Pines, starring Canadian comedian Mae Martin. Radheyan Simonpillai

5. Magda Grace, Prime Video Canada

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Magda Grace, head of Prime Video Canada.Prime Video/Handout

Netflix, Disney+ and Paramount+ might have all set up offices in Canada, but so far only Prime Video has actually delivered the kind of big-scale Canadian productions that the major streamers have all pledged to produce. As head of Prime Video Canada, Magda Grace has overseen a new Kids in the Hall series, the Ontario cottage-country sitcom The Lake, the rural Quebec detective series Three Pines, the comedy-reality series LOL: Last One Laughing (with different editions for both English- and French-language audiences) and much more to come, including a Tragically Hip doc and a Jamie Lee Curtis series called The Sticky, based on an infamous Quebec maple syrup heist. Still, these are only Canadian-ish productions: Prime Video retains intellectual-property rights to everything, and because the streamer doesn’t rely on government subsidies it has no reason to follow Canadian content rules laid out by the CRTC. The actual success of the programming is also fuzzy: Three Pines isn’t being renewed for a second season, there’s still no word on the fate of The Kids in the Hall and Prime’s revival of Gary and His Demons isn’t exactly setting the zeitgeist on fire. But underestimate Grace and her team’s determination – and the pockets of Jeff Bezos – at your own peril. B.H.

6. Tara Woodbury and Danielle Woodrow (Netflix) & Tom Hastings (Paramount+) & Stephanie Azam (Disney+)

Stephanie Azam, director of content at Disney+. Peter Power/The Globe and Mail
Tom Hastings, head of original programming at Paramount+ Canada. Handout
Tara Woodbury, director of content for Netflix Canada. Handout

Last month, Netflix’s Canadian office finally kicked things into gear by announcing a new scripted series set in Nunavut, produced in partnership with the CBC and APTN. A week later, the streamer unveiled another new Canadian series, the thriller Tall Pines starring comedian Mae Martin, plus a three-year deal with Just for Laughs.

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Danielle Woodrow, director, content, Canada, at NetflixHandout

For Tara Woodbury and Danielle Woodrow, Netflix’s content executives in Canada, the moves represent a much-needed kick in the pants for the domestic offices of the other major streamers, which have set up shop here over the past few years (perhaps in anticipation of C-11, back when it was known as C-10) but have yet to deliver any real-deal productions, save Prime Video (see above). This should all change rather quickly, and not only for Netflix. Soon we’ll see just what is in store from Paramount+ Canada, where original programming head/Bell Media veteran Tom Hastings is situated, as well as what the Canadian arm of Disney+ has in store, with former longtime Telefilm executive Stephanie Azam in place there as director of content. B.H.

7. Sally Catto & Lea Marin & Jennifer Shin, the CBC

Sally Catto, CBC’s general manager of programming. Handout
Jennifer Shin, CBC's director of Development (Comedy). Handout
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Lea Marin, CBC's Director of Development (Drama).Handout

The post-Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience run at the CBC hasn’t exactly gone smoothly. Celebrated Indigenous series Trickster was abruptly cancelled. Meanwhile, U.S. backers refused to board a second season of The Porter. Despite those losses, the CBC’s general manager Sally Catto has maintained a program lineup – from Sort Of to Son of a Critch – that is impressive in its breadth and inclusivity. And her scripted development team is now being run by Jennifer Shin and Lea Marin, producers whose pre-CBC credits include Rebecca Addelman’s funny and sensitive relationship drama Paper Year and Charles Officer’s insightful and potent documentary Unarmed Verses, respectively. How they work together and where they take the CBC’s linear and streaming programming next will continue to be worth watching (we hope). R.S.

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Justin Stockman, Vice-President of Content Development & Programming at Bell Media.Handout

8. Justin Stockman, Bell Media

Justin Stockman has one of the largest purviews in Canadian television, responsible for English-language content on CTV, Crave and all of Bell’s (arguably somewhat forgotten) specialty channels. Can he help turn the tide on the notion that Canadian audiences are just not that into traditional network content ... and that this country’s traditional networks are either no longer fit nor interested in playing the game? After Stockman announced a “doubling down” of original Canadian production in 2021, we’re starting to get an answer. Look at the energized second season of CTV sitcom Children Ruin Everything, the well-received Crave/Canadaland docuseries Thunder Bay and the buzz surrounding Little Bird, the forthcoming miniseries from Jennifer Podemski and Hannah Moscovitch that is Crave’s first original drama commission. B.H.

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Lisa Godfrey, senior vice-president of original content and Corus Studios.2013 AKA PHOTOGRAPHY/Andrew Tomkins & Stephanie Kretzschmer/Handout

9. Lisa Godfrey, Corus Entertainment

The world of unscripted programming may not be highbrow or particularly sexy, but it can be immensely profitable, helping companies stay afloat to navigate the choppier waters of original dramas and comedies. And while it is anyone’s guess whether Lisa Godfrey, senior vice-president of original content and Corus Studios, appreciates that rough-seas reality-TV metaphor, there is little doubt that the TV veteran (who has been working in the thick “lifestyle” content since the Alliance Atlantis heydays) has helped build an empire with HGTV, Food Network Canada and HISTORY. And helping land a huge Hulu output deal last year hasn’t hurt, either. B.H.

10. Bilal Baig, performer

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Bilal Baig, the co-creator and star of CBC's show Sort Of.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

With Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience in the rearview, the CBC’s border-crossing comedy bona fides appear to rest entirely on Bilal Baig’s shoulders. And thank goodness for that, as Baig’s sitcom Sort Of – following the travails of a gender-fluid millennial navigating work and romance, family and friends – is just the kind of fresh, boundary-breaking production of which this country needs to make a million more. Is Baig, who is up for a CSA this week for best lead performer in a comedy, listed here because their show (co-created with veteran actor/writer Fab Filippo) has broken through to the U.S., courtesy of its pickup by HBO Max? That doesn’t hurt, but even if Americans had ignored Sort Of, the witty and imaginative series should be celebrated here, there, everywhere. B.H.

11. Monika Ille, APTN

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Monika Ille, CEO of APTN.Handout

Monika Ille is one of Canada’s biggest champions of Indigenous storytelling and creating meaningful broadcast partnerships in order to launch those stories far and wide. A member of the Abenaki First Nation of Odanak, Ille has served as APTN’s CEO since 2019, steering the network through fast industry change while launching streamer APTN lumi and APTN News to TikTok. In the 2022-23 TV season, Ille teamed with Bell Media for Little Bird and announced three Indigenous-led series in predevelopment with the CBC through the companies’ Early Stage Scripted Development Program. This past month, APTN also revealed a co-commission with Netflix Canada and the CBC on an untitled Inuit comedy from Stacey Aglok MacDonald and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, which films soon in Nunavut. Amber Dowling

12. Christina Jennings, Shaftesbury

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Christina Jennings, founder and CEO of Shaftesbury.Handout

The Shaftesbury founder is the face behind many of Canada’s most successful series, from Murdoch Mysteries to Hudson & Rex. The latter kicks off its fifth season on CityTV this month, while the world of Murdoch continues to grow outside of the CBC with exhibitions, tours and murder-mystery parties. Last month the franchise expanded again with the CBC Gem launch of spinoff series Macy Murdoch, revolving around Murdoch’s time-travelling, great-great-great-granddaughter. Shaftesbury continues to grow its slate of original content through co-productions and a strategic partnership with AMC Networks. In February, the company was honoured with 23 CSA nominations across seven shows, including Departures, Ruby and the Well, Topline and Slo Pitch. A.D.

13. Mark Montefiore, New Metric Media

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Mark Montefiore, President & Executive Producer of New Metric Media.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

If the world has a newfound appreciation for hicks, hockey players and skids, Mark Montefiore is partially responsible. The New Metric Media president has helped Jared Keeso and Jacob Tierney bolster Crave’s Letterkenny from a YouTube series into an award-winning Canadian comedy with 12 seasons and an international presence on Hulu. (Not to mention a North American live tour, apparel lines and a branded lager.) Last year, New Metric also took a shot on hockey-centric spinoff Shoresy, which Crave renewed for a second season in January. Meanwhile, the company is behind Kurt Smeaton’s Children Ruin Everything, which is up for six CSAs for its second-season run on CTV. A.D.

14. Clement Virgo, director

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Clement Virgo, Canadian film and television director.Eduardo Lima/The Globe and Mail

It is a small wonder that Brother director Clement Virgo is able to make movies. Not because of the challenges of Canada’s film industry – though that wildly complicated system doesn’t help – but because Virgo (whose new Scarborough-set feature is up for 14 Canadian Screen Awards this week) is so busy making television, on both sides of the border. In the past two years, the Toronto-based Virgo has worked with streaming giants Netflix (Grand Army, Dahmer Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story) and Apple TV+ (Dear Edward), while also developing another series with Crave, and getting ready for the release of another Netflix series, the political thriller The Madness. Oh, and he has a new movie in development, too, naturally. B.H.

15. Jennifer Podemski, actor and producer

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Jennifer Podemski, film and television actress and producer.Mark Blinch/Globe and Mail

Few have a career as storied as Jennifer Podemski. The Anishinaabe and Ashkenazi actor broke out in Bruce McDonald’s 1994 film Dance Me Outside and stayed grinding in an industry with limited opportunities for Indigenous women, before turning to producing and creating new possibilities not just for herself but for her community. The creator of shows from Moccasin Flats to Unsettled, Podemski’s hotly anticipated Sixties Scoop miniseries Little Bird – co-created with Hannah Moscovitch and directed by Zoe Hopkins and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers – feels like a crowning achievement. R.S.

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Alexis Durand-Brault with Sophie Lorain, producers of French-Canadian docudrama Disobey.Bertrand Exertier/Handout

16. Sophie Lorain and Alexis Durand-Brault, ALSO Productions

One of the hottest shows on Crave right now, next to Succession and Yellowjackets, is Disobey, an intense French-Canadian docudrama about Chantal Daigle’s landmark 1989 Supreme Court case. Daigle fought for her right to an abortion after leaving an abusive relationship, thus securing bodily autonomy rights for Canadian women. The series honouring her efforts is the latest hit for ALSO Productions, a new Montreal-based production company founded in 2019 by actor Sophie Lorain and director Alexis Durand-Brault that has already made a big name for itself. Their popular police-procedural series The Sketch Artist, starring Lorain, is heading into production on a third season. And they’ll soon be turning heads with their next project tackling another memorable moment in Canadian history: the SNC-Lavalin scandal. R.S.

17. Brad Danks, OUTtv

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Brad Danks, CEO of OUTtv.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Under CEO Brad Danks’s leadership, Vancouver-based OUTtv has grown into the world’s largest producer and aggregator of original LGBTQ+ film and TV content with more than a million Canadian subscribers. Its 2023 commissions include For the Love of DILFS (which has already been renewed for Season 2), Miami Dolls, Hot Haus Uncut and this month’s unscripted drag designer competition series, Sew Fierce. Earlier this year the company teamed with Fuse Media to launch the FAST channel OUTtv Proud, which debuted on Pluto TV Canada with more than 400 hours of original content. Meanwhile, the company continues to grow worldwide, launching on the Roku Channel and debuting a linear channel in South Africa. A.D.

18. Mark Bishop and Matthew Hornburg, Marblemedia

Mark Bishop, co-founder and executive producer at Marblemedia.
Matthew Hornburg, co-founder and executive producer at Marblemedia.

Marblemedia’s co-founders and executive producers are responsible for a slew of original and groundbreaking unscripted content making its way around the globe. That includes the CSA-winning Blown Away, the glass-blowing competition series on Netflix that is up for three more awards at this year’s show, as well as Drink Masters and A Cut Above (Bell Media) and Best in Miniature (CBC Gem). Marblemedia also boasts a wealth of scripted content, a successful YouTube channel, marbleKids and global distributor Distribution360. Together these business partners continue to diversify Marblemedia’s content, guiding it into one of Canada’s biggest independent production, distribution and digital media companies. A.D.

19. Michael MacMillan, Blue Ant Media

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Michael MacMillan of Blue Ant Media.Steve Craft/The Globe and Mail

There may not be anyone as well-versed in the essential history, footnotes and arcana of Canadian film and television – and how to use that institutional knowledge as tea leaves for reading the future – than Michael MacMillan. Co-founder of Atlantis Films and a constant presence in this country’s creative community for nearly half a century, MacMillan has turned Blue Ant Media from an upstart passion project that he could balance with his philanthropic pursuits into a global force whose presence can be felt in every facet of the industry, from production (Canada’s Drag Race on Crave) to distribution (Blue Ant was a big early adopter of free ad-supported television model, or FAST, which is now rapidly gaining favour). B.H.

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John Young, CEO of Boat Rocker Media.Handout

20. John Young, Boat Rocker

The Toronto-based media company may have endured a rocky 2022, but it would be unwise to underestimate Boat Rocker under chief executive John Young. Already, there are reasons for optimism, including the second season of the drama American Rust, which was picked up by Amazon’s Freevee service after the series was dropped by Showtime; a new deal with global streamer Da Vinci; and the new series Robyn Hood, which is being directed by Canadian music-video superstar Director X (a.k.a. Julien Christian Lutz). Oh, and then there’s the biggie: Orphan Black: Echoes, Boat Rocker’s spinoff to its massive sci-fi series hit, which stars Krysten Ritter and is set to hit the air later this year. B.H.

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Tammy Frick, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.GEORGE PIMENTEL/Handout

21. Tammy Frick, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television

The official ringleader of Canadian Screen Week, former Sudbury Film Festival head Tammy Frick is barely half a year into leading the Canadian Academy but has already made her mark, helping the institution roll out unprecedented changes (genderless acting categories) and shepherding it through its first big bash since the pandemic, including snagging Samantha Bee as host for this year’s broadcast. Whether this year’s experimental CSAs telecast will succeed or not, all eyes will be on Frick, and where she takes the essential yet constantly embattled organization from here. B.H.

22. Kadon Douglas, BIPOC TV & Film

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Kadon Douglas, Executive Director of BIPOC TV & Film.Handout

For last year’s “influentials” list focused on the world of Canadian film, we highlighted the work of Nathalie Younglai, founder of the grassroots organization BIPOC TV & Film, which is dedicated to expanding diversity and tackling systemic racism in Canada’s screen sector. It only feels right this time, then, to acknowledge the tireless efforts of Younglai’s colleague, Kadon Douglas, executive director of the organization. The communications veteran has pushed the industry in ways both big and small since joining BIPOC TV & Film in 2021, changing the way that television is made, marketed and consumed in this country. B.H.

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Amar Wala, Sfilm director and executive producer at Scarborough Pictures.Handout

23. Amar Wala, Scarborough Pictures

When Amar Wala won the BMO-DOC Vanguard Award five years ago, he donated the prize money to cléo journal, the feminist film magazine that was platforming diverse critics at a time when few thought such representation mattered. But such causes always mattered to Wala. His focus since breaking out with the 2014 documentary The Secret Trial 5 has been about amplifying and making room for marginalized voices. He spearheaded a paid shadowing program on the CBC series In The Making; formed the Racial Equity Media Collective to research hard numbers on representational gaps in the industry; and filled CBC Gem with shows such as Next Stop – a comedy from vibrant young Black voices in Toronto – and Witness – a new docuseries about the moments when holding up a camera becomes an act for change in our communities. R.S.

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JP Larocque, writer and producer.Barcsay Photography/Handout

24. JP Larocque, writer and producer

TV writers usually go unnoticed as they toil away in arguably the most unloved sector in the business. But it’s impossible to ignore JP Larocque. They broke into the industry by creating Gay Nerds, a caustically funny web series available on OUTtv, and have since amassed writing and producing credits on Coroner, Diggstown, Jann and Sort Of, scoring a CSA nomination for the latter. Larocque is just as prolific in their advocacy, regularly holding the industry to account while pushing for equitable intersectional representation for the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities they represent. R.S.

25. Annmarie Morais and Marsha Greene, The Porter

Marsha Greene, screenwriter on The Porter. Handout
Annmarie Morais, screenwriter on The Porter. Handout

Canada has a Black history, and these showrunners presented an integral slice of it with the CBC and BET+’s The Porter. Through eight episodes, the period piece showcased life for Black train porters in the 1920s, along with the rise of the first Black-led labour union. To tell that story, Morais and Greene relied on a predominantly Black writers’ room and Black directors, Charles Officer and R.T. Thorne. The Porter became the most-nominated project at the 2023 CSAs with 19 nods in February, before the CBC confirmed its cancellation the following day. Looking ahead, Greene (who is also the current VP of the Writers Guild of Canada) is working on a new half-hour series, while Morais is developing a potential TV adaptation of the Bluford young-adult novel series. A.D.

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