Canada prepares for possibility of strike's end


TORONTO -- As the Hollywood studios and writers get set to possibly shake hands on a new deal, Canadian TV and film executives Friday were searching for clarity on what the post-strike environment will look like.

"Depending on when this is settled, the next couple of weeks will be interesting in terms of the next steps -- whether there will be upfronts and whether there will be pilots," said Susanne Boyce, president of creative, content and channels at CTV.

Canadian broadcasters and advertisers also are eager to know the production restart and delivery dates for existing scripted TV series that have been disrupted by the WGA dispute.

"A more immediate question for us and advertisers is -- when will the season be back to normal? Is it going to take two weeks, a month -- will it take until May?" asked Florence Ng, vp of broadcast investments at Toronto-based media buyer Zenith Optimedia.

After that, Canadian broadcasters, which depend heavily on U.S. network series to drive their primetime schedules, are looking to see whether the major U.S. networks will stage their upfront presentations in New York this May, followed by the studios' Los Angeles Screenings one week later.

The consensus is that the U.S. networks will produce fewer pilots for the coming TV season compared with previous years, and may not need to stage the upfront presentations.

At the same time, Don Gaudet, general manager of programming at Toronto-based Sun TV, said he expects the major studio suppliers to hold the LA. Screenings.

"(Studios) see the value of us programmers seeing the full episode and meeting with the head writer and producer, and getting a real sense of where a show is going," Gaudet said.

During the current stand-off between studios and writers, Canadian broadcasters managed to offset lost advertising revenue with savings on programming costs.

But they did take hits. For example, CTV was unable to air the recent Golden Globes awards show, which is traditionally a big draw for Canadian TV viewers and advertisers.

CTV's Boyce has her fingers crossed that a possible end to the WGA strike will allow her network to air the Academy Awards in all its star-driven glory as that event is annually Canada's most-watched TV show.

On the production side, the elephant in the room for Canadian studio operators, unions and guilds is the upcoming negotiations between the majors and the Screen Actors Guild.

The fear is that a possible SAG strike could quickly sever the pipeline of U.S. film and TV scripts headed to Canada after a resolution to the WGA dispute.

"The uncertainty with respect to SAG will continue, and that might put a chill on the reinstatement of (U.S.) production here," said Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, which represents about 21,000 Canadian performers.

The WGA strike's disruption of U.S. network pilot production hit Vancouver especially hard as it depends heavily on American TV series for business.

Vancouver studio operators also were impacted by existing by the halt in U.S. TV series production after available scripts were burned through.

Ken Ferguson, president of the Toronto Film Studios, expressed widespread hope that SAG will come to a quick deal with the major studios, and not plunge the industry into renewed turmoil this summer.

"It would be difficult for SAG to announce they are also going on strike and take us through this all over again," Ferguson said warily.

But Paul Bronfman, chairman of the ComWeb Group, a major production equipment supplier here, knows that much of what will happen in the coming months following the WGA strike and ahead of the SAG negotiations will be beyond the control of the Canadians.

"You have to let a lot of this stuff roll off and hope that there will be an end to all this eventually and we will get back to work," he said.