Cana­dian view­ers big win­ners in me­dia gi­ant’s strong re­la­tion­ship with pi­o­neer­ing U.S. spe­cialty net­work

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - BRAD OSWALD

PASADENA, Calif. — On its sur­face, the ad­di­tion of an­other fringe-y spe­cialty cable chan­nel should, in no way, be a big-TVwatch­ing deal. But the an­nounce­ment this week by Rogers Me­dia that it is adding a Cana­dian ver­sion of FXX — a younger-skew­ing com­pan­ion net­work to FX Canada — to this coun­try’s spe­cialty-cable ros­ter (on April 1, with a free pre­view con­tin­u­ing un­til June 30) is rather sig­nif­i­cant. It so­lid­i­fies the Cana­dian me­dia gi­ant’s re­la­tion­ship with what has quickly be­come one of U.S. tele­vi­sion’s most im­por­tant, pro­duc­tive and suc­cess­ful cre­ators of scripted-TV pro­gram­ming. And by ex­tend­ing its part­ner­ship with the FX net­work brand, Rogers has guar­an­teed that its Cana­dian-ver­sion chan­nels will mir­ror their Amer­i­can cousins by be­com­ing des­ti­na­tions for TV view­ers seek­ing to fol­low — on what­ever de­liv­ery plat­form they choose — many of the most in­ter­est­ing and most talked-about scripted se­ries on the tube. Be­gin­ning with its launch of The Shield in 2002, the Fox-owned FX net­work (which had ac­tu­ally been around since the mid-’90s as a niche chan­nel car­ry­ing thir­drun movies and re­runs of old TV se­ries) made a bold move into the pro­gram­ming game, assem­bling a ros­ters of scripted-se­ries ti­tles that by 2007 in­cluded the likes of Nip/Tuck, Res­cue Me, The Riches, Dam­ages and It’s Al­ways Sunny in Philadel­phia. It was a game-chang­ing move for an ad-sup­ported U.S. cable chan­nel; prior to FX’s strate­gic shift to­ward orig­i­nal-pro­gram creation, the only place out­side the tra­di­tional broad­cast net­works (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, the CW) where note­wor­thy scripted dra­mas and come­dies were be­ing cre­ated was on pre­mium pay-TV out­lets such as HBO and Show­time. In its sec­ond half-decade as a cre­ator of orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming, FX — un­der the lead­er­ship of pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager John Land­graf, one of the most as­tute and ag­gres­sive ex­ec­u­tives in the TV busi­ness — has ramped up its script­ed­show pro­duc­tion, adding such ti­tles as Jus­ti­fied, Sons of An­ar­chy, Archer, The League, Louie, Ter­ri­ers, The Amer­i­cans, Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story and, in com­ing months, new en­tries such as the shot-in-Cal­gary drama Fargo and the Mid­dle East­ern po­lit­i­cal fam­ily thriller Tyrant. FX’s move re­de­fined the busi­ness model for what State­side con­sumers of tele­vi­sion re­fer to as “ba­sic cable” chan­nels, and soon enough, other ad-sup­ported cable out­lets be­gan to fol­low suit. And TV-watch­ers on both sides of the bor­der reaped the benefits. It can fairly be ar­gued that FX’s suc­cess with The Shield, and its sub­se­quent demon­stra­tion that ad-sup­ported cable chan­nels can prof­itably be pro­duc­ers of orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming, are di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the ex­is­tence other im­pres­sive Mad Men, Break­ing Bad, The Walk­ing Dead Hell on Wheels. When Rogers first launched FX Canada in 2011 (it was al­most a full year later that the chan­nel be­came avail­able to most Win­nipeg cable cus­tomers), what it of­fered was a slightly di­min­ished ver­sion of the brand, as the Cana­dian rights to sev­eral high-pro­file FX ti­tles — most no­tably Jus­ti­fied and Sons of An­ar­chy — were held by other spe­cialty chan­nels. But as those ma­ture se­ries move to­ward their con­clu­sions ( Jus­ti­fied will end in 2015, af­ter its sixth sea­son), FX Canada and its new sib­ling, FXX, will be­come the sole homes of FX-branded con­tent north of the bor­der. It will, in very short or­der, prove to have been a very shrewd move by Rogers. And speak­ing of Fargo, the new FX-net­work se­ries in­spired by the 1996 Coen broth­ers cult clas­sic, there’s ev­ery in­di­ca­tion that this off­beat drama that al­most called Win­nipeg home is go­ing to be a very spe­cial TV se­ries. Set to pre­miere in April, Fargo — which stars Billy Bob Thorn­ton, Martin Free­man, Colin Hanks, Kate Walsh and Al­li­son Tol­man, and boasts a sup­port­ing cast that in­cludes Bob Odenkirk, Adam Gold­berg and Oliver Platt — is a 10-part se­ries that has no con­nec­tion to the fea­ture film’s sto­ry­line or char­ac­ters but quite suc­cess­fully re-cre­ates the odd sense of place and dark, char­ac­ter-driven drama of the bigscreen orig­i­nal. The pilot was shown to TV crit­ics here dur­ing FX’s por­tion of the U.S. net­works’ semi-an­nual press tour in Los An­ge­les, and it’s very, very good. Win­nipeg was in the run­ning to be the shoot­ing lo­ca­tion for Fargo, but in the end, a few lo­gis­ti­cal fac­tors — most no­tably the avail­abil­ity of di­rect flights to and from Los An­ge­les (all L.A.-bound flights from Win­nipeg re­quire a con­nec­tion in an­other city) — led the se­ries’ pro­duc­ers to choose Al­berta rather than Man­i­toba. “We re­ally loved Win­nipeg, and Win­nipeg worked very hard to try to con­vince us to shoot there,” Fargo’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, War­ren Lit­tle­field, told the Free Press this week. “I would love to be able to do some­thing there in the fu­ture. “But un­til Win­nipeg can fig­ure out a way to deal with (the lack of di­rect flights), that will al­ways be an is­sue.” In­ter­est­ingly, while Win­nipeg did not ul­ti­mately get Fargo, Fargo main­tains a strong Win­nipeg con­nec­tion as it con­tin­ues film­ing in and around Cal­gary. De­spite opt­ing for the Al­berta lo­ca­tion, the se­ries’ U.S. pro­duc­ers chose to re­tain the ser­vices of Kim Todd (Orig­i­nal Pic­tures), whom they met while scout­ing Man­i­toba as a po­ten­tial lo­ca­tion, as their on-the-ground pro­ducer for the Cana­dian shoot. “We were very im­pressed, by both her right­brain and her left-brain think­ing,” Lit­tle­field said. “She was will­ing to come to Cal­gary to work with us, and we’re very glad to have her with us there.”

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