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Canadian Networks Call Truce to Promote Homegrown Talent (Exclusive)

Martin Short
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

A unique alliance will see top showbiz reporters from eTalk, ET Canada, City and the CBC co-host the red carpet special before Martin Short emcees the "Canadian Screen Awards."

TORONTO – They've faced off many times before, with microphones in hand to grill Hollywood stars on the red carpet.

But when Canada's top showbiz reporters gather at next month's Canadian Screen Awards, they will unite to help homegrown talent share the spotlight.

A unique alliance between Canadian broadcasters will see arch-rival TV celebrity shows etalk, Entertainment Tonight Canada and Entertainment City's Breakfast Television join the CBC to co-host the red carpet special at the upcoming Canadian Screen Awards.

The truce means etalk's Ben Mulroney and ET Canada's Cheryl Hickey will not battle over the coveted first spot with Breakfast Television's Dina Pugliese and Heather Hiscox of the CBC, which airs the national film and TV kudosfest.

Instead, they will all report for duty to deliver a red carpet parade of Canadian actors and auteur directors heading into the Sony Center for the Performing Arts, before Martin Short uses his Broadway chops to raise the curtain on the March 9 gala broadcast with an old school production number.

Industry attitudes are changing to allow local talent to make a bigger impact with Canadian audiences otherwise drawn to popular Hollywood movies and U.S. network series that dominate screens here.

"For us to have the biggest success, we have to pull together," said Jennifer Dettman, the CBC's executive director of studio and unscripted content.

The CBC is the host broadcaster for the Screenies, which combines the former Genies and Geminis into a single Canadian film, TV and digital awards show.

But Dettman still reached out to rival networks that would be on hand anyway at the CSAs to grab red carpet clips for their newscasts and urged them to come together to co-produce the pre-show.

"I proposed the idea, what if for the red carpet, we do it together? We have your talent from your respective broadcasters on the red carpet, and it's a co-production," Dettman recalled.

The room was filled by Canada's top TV execs: Shaw Media's Barb Williams and Christine Shipton, Rogers Media's Nataline Rodrigues, and Bell Media's Scott Henderson.

Also in the room was Helga Stephenson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, who, with the deft hand of a Papal consigliere, has pulled the Canadian award show producer out of economic ruin to pursue elusive audience success and ultimate respectability for Canada's film and TV awards.

Canadian broadcasters don't usually expect favors from one another.

But Dettman recalls her pitch being followed by 'what can we do?' and 'how can we get around that?' heard round the room.

The cross-industry detente springs in part from necessity. The wolf, Netflix Canada, is at the door for Canadian broadcasters.

But also at play are a host of multiple nominees at the CSAs -- Orphan Black (14 noms) Rookie Blue (nine) Call Me Fitz (eight), Flashpoint (eight), Seed (eight) and The Borgias (seven) -- having found impressive audience followings in the U.S. and elsewhere internationally after Canadian TV was on its knees a decade ago as it struggled to compete with American fare.

"It's a very competitive field. Everyone has hits. Our industry is making better shows," said Christine Shipton, Shaw Media's vp original content.

Shining a much-needed spotlight on Canadian celebrities follows years in which the former Geminis and Genies bounced around between broadcasters and the Academy feeling in the way of an Avis complex -- until the awards show producer reorganized and the CBC agreed to air the inaugural CSAs last year.

If anything, an industry that had grown increasingly disenchanted by the former Geminis and Genies signaled a tactical retreat when two award shows were combined into one big night for Canadian film and TV.

But Scott Henderson, vp communications at Bell Media, insists his network needs to be in the tent as reforms at the Academy continue, and it now sends its top celebrity talent to bring the Screenies red carpet to life with local talent.

"You can't complain about the problem if you don't want to be part of the solution. We've taken an active role," Henderson explained.

The industry rivals are also coming together to showcase Canadian Screen Week, a companion to the CSAs that includes nine events over seven days to beat the drum for homegrown film and TV talent.

Final coverage plans by the respective networks are still being worked out, but Rogers Media plans a multiplatform blitz that knits together its TV, radio, publishing and online assets much as it did with its 2014 Grammy coverage from Los Angeles.

"It's a robust, cross-platform approach to covering the CSAs in a meaningful way," said Rodrigues, Rogers Media's director of original programming.

She echoes other Canadian broadcasters in arguing that they need to be in the business of celebrating Canadian talent and shows because, in a fast-changing broadcast landscape where U.S. network series are no longer surefire hits, that's their future.

"Everyone benefits in the end by all of us having talent there (at the CSAs) and shining a spotlight on one another," Rodrigues said.

The Canadian Screen Awards are set to be handed out on March 9 in Toronto.