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Canadian Networks Bet on Local Versions of Popular U.S. Reality Shows for Ratings

Canada's Got Talent First Nation Winners - H 2012

International format makers are doing hot business with local broadcasters rolling out "The Amazing Race Canada" and "Big Brother Canada" in 2013.

TORONTO – Launching local versions of well-established U.S. reality series was long a hard sell in the Canadian market.

The perennial success in Canada of slick U.S. versions of American Idol, Big Brother, America’s Got Talent and The Bachelor meant Canadian networks didn’t want to get stuck with a local version that became a pale shadow of its U.S. counterpart in the eyes of primetime TV viewers.

But all that changed when Canadian Idol and more recently The Bachelor Canada, Top Chef Canada and Real Housewives of Vancouver clicked with viewers.

STORY: 'The Bachelor' Canada Features Saints and Sinners in First Season

Now international format makers are doing big business with Canadian networks as local adaptations of The Amazing Race and Big Brother get set to launch here in 2013.

Rogers Media, which has seen Bachelor/Bachelorette couples tie the knot on its Citytv channel since the ABC franchises launched, last fall pacted with The Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss and Next Entertainment to air The Bachelor Canada, produced by Vancouver-based Force Four Entertainment.

“Everyone judges us against that show,” Claire Freeland, director of original programming at  Rogers Media, said of audiences that had seen 16 seasons of ABC’s The Bachelor before tuning into the local adaptation.

“If you don’t give them quality, they’ll feel they’re getting a second-rate reality show,” she warned as a local programming challenge.

It turns out Canadians judged The Bachelor Canada well as Citytv had a hit on its hands when former CFL footballer Brad Smith chose Bianka Kamber, Kris Humphries’ former girlfriend, over 24 other women to be his bride.

“Pound for pound, it’s as good as our American counterpart,” Tyler Harcott, who hosted The Bachelor Canada, said of the nine-episode run.

Over on Shaw Media, which has aired 14 seasons of Big Brother on Global Television, producing Big Brother Canada for its Slice network can now be taken off the bucket list of senior vp of content Barb Williams.

Williams said Canadians fans had already demonstrated their loyalty to the CBS’ Big Brother series.

So the Shaw Media brain trust turned to Endemol North America and local producer Insight Productions to decide where to tinker to successfully tailor the Big Brother format for the local market.

“You need to make the show as good as the American show. It’s not exactly the same show, but has to be as good,” Williams explained.

Sticking to the U.S. format, Big Brother Canada has hand picked 14 Canadians to live in a Big Brother house built in a north Toronto studio, and outfitted the set with wall to wall cameras and microphones to capture the action round the clock.

“It will be full of Canadians. That’s a different vibe,” Williams added.

Here local networks face a dilemma: do they allow the inherent niceness of Canadians to emerge on-screen, or go for the competitiveness nastiness that has been the hallmark of popular U.S. reality shows here?

After all, earlier local reality show adaptations like Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and Canada’s Got Talent were skill-based, and encouraged judges to prize nurturing over nastiness when talking to contestants.

But the latest local versions of international formats, including the upcoming The Amazing Race Canada on CTV in summer 2013, introduce a dog-eat-dog dynamic as a winning strategy for contestants on the U.S. series.

Here the Canadian networks stress the contestants on their local adaptations know the rules of a rough-and-tumble competition they sign up for.

It just remains to see whether Canadian TV viewers agree the local versions stack up well against their U.S. counterparts airing on the same channel.

“It (Bachelor Canada) was just as romantic and competitive. That didn’t appear to be a speed-bump for anyone,” Rogers Media’s Claire Freeland recalled.