'Flashpoint' opens TV drama floodgates

U.S.-Canadian co-production tests waters

TORONTO -- Before CBS' "Flashpoint," the Friday night cop drama produced and set in Toronto, Canadian one-hour series wouldn't be recognized in a police lineup alongside "House" or "Lost."

But the U.S. primetime success of "Flashpoint," a co-venture between CBS and Canada's CTV network, has led Canadian producers to Los Angeles to press still more homegrown dramas on suddenly receptive U.S. broadcasters.

"It's been a long time. 'Due South' was the last real true Canadian venture with a U.S. network," John Morayniss, president of Canadian producer E1 Television, said of the 1990s CBS cop drama, also produced in Toronto.

Morayniss is shopping three homegrown cop dramas from E1 Television to American broadcasters: "The Bridge," a series ordered by CTV, "Copper," which landed a 13-episode order from rival Global Television, and "Shattered," a pilot also ordered by Global Television.

Morayniss said landing a U.S. sale for a Canadian drama elevates the show internationally.

"Obviously if a U.S. network comes on board, it enhances the show, and more money goes on screen," he argued.

Another upcoming NBC crime drama, "The Listener," is yet another co-venture with CTV, produced and set in contemporary Toronto.

Elsewhere, Halifax Films is near to inking a deal with BET Networks for "Soul," a one-hour drama about young black Canadians set in Toronto. The series stars Canadian R&B songstress Keshia Chante in her acting debut as a teen conflicted about having to choose between the church choir and pop stardom.

The deal represents BET Networks' first foreign acquisition, and should raise the profile of Chante and a second season of the Canadian drama stateside, according to "Soul" executive producer Floyd Kane.

But Tim Troke, an executive producer with Toronto-based Frogwater Media, warns pitching a new series on either side of the U.S. border has its cultural drawbacks.

Troke is shopping a reality TV series, "Who the FRAK is the REAL Richard Hatch," which follows Hatch ("Battlestar Galactica") as he attempts to land acting gigs, pitch studio executives and host the Galacticruise, a cruise for his fans.

Troke said he never mentions the words "reality TV" when pitching Canadian broadcasters.

Instead, he describes the Hatch vehicle as a docu-soap, to steer a project likely to tap taxpayer subsidies away from any notion of a U.S.-style game show/elimination TV format.

U.S. programmers, by contrast, are more welcoming of popular fare. "In the U.S., they hear Galacticruise, and say 'that's a great idea! He takes people on a ship and they're all sci-fi fans, that's amazing.' "