Canada shies away from serial dramas

Buyers at Screenings want self-contained episodes

TORONTO -- The U.S. networks' move away from serialized dramas and toward series with self-contained episodes this coming season is fine by Canadian broadcasters headed to this year's Los Angeles Screenings, which gets under way Friday.

Last year, the Canadians scooped up a host of serialized dramas from the major U.S. networks on the heels of success with "Lost" and "24" -- only to see most fail.

"It's back to basics and lighter story lines, not the heavy dramas like 'Prison Break' and '24,' " Don Gaudet, general manager at Toronto TV station SunTV, said of this year's drama offerings midway through the U.S. network upfronts in New York.

Canadian broadcaster CanWest MediaWorks was the big winner last year, scoring NBC's "Heroes." But other dramas such as "Kidnapped," "The Nine," "Vanished," "Smith" and "Runaway" quickly came and went on Canadian television as viewers found themselves hard-pressed to make the time or emotional commitment to a new batch of serialized story lines.

"Scripted shows last season were so serialized. If you missed one episode, viewers may not have taken the time to go back and see what they missed," Peace Arch Television president Michael Taylor said.

A show's success or failure in the States is crucial to Canadian primetime TV fortunes, as domestic networks here give their best time slots, promotion and attention to U.S. shows that they generally simulcast with their U.S. network telecasts.

CBC's Kirstine Layfield welcomed the petering out of the "copycat mentality" that fueled the serial drama craze of last fall.

"Everyone jumped on the 'Lost' bandwagon with long and involved serialized story lines, thinking 'If we can get someone and hook them, we can have them forever,'" she said.

Instead, Canadian TV viewers suffered system overload. "People only have so much time. Their brains were saturated," Layfield said after attending the ABC upfront presentation this week.

As the Canadians get set to screen and buy new U.S. dramas in Los Angeles next week, new pilots generating buzz include CBS' "Viva Laughlin" from CBS Paramount, the U.S. version of the popular British series "Viva Blackpool," and ABC's "Women's Murder Club," a 20th Century Fox drama from "Rush Hour" helmer Brett Ratner.

Heading into their annual shopping expedition in Los Angeles, the Canadians have a growing number of primetime slots to fill as the U.S. networks continue wielding the ax.

NBC cancellations has forced CanWest MediaWorks to replace "Crossing Jordan," while rival CTV has holes left by the departures of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "The Black Donnellys."

CTV also has an early-Friday-evening hole left in the wake of ABC's cancellation of "The Knights of Prosperity," while Chum will need to replace CBS' "Jericho," which aired Wednesday nights.