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Montréwood Television (#18)

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Television, or le petit écran, plays a big role in Québec’s Montréwood pop-culture.  Montréwood revolves strongly around the television industry (with all Francophone networks based in Montréal).  This is different from Hollywood which strongly revolves around the film industry with a smaller television industry (with US networks being based in other cities like New York, Atlanta, etc.).  However, like Hollywood, Montréwood also has a very vibrant film industry (with studios and production firms).   Conversely, Francophone Canada’s pop-culture, be it the Francophone communities in the Western Provinces, the Ontario’s 500,000 strong Ontarois, Acadian and Atlantic Francophones, as well as Québec’s pop-culture as a whole all have Montréwood in their sights as cultural ground zero.

As mentioned in earlier posts, the French television networks each have their own flagship stations.  There are four main networks.

The two giants networks are

  • the federally owned and publicly-funded Radio-Canada (with the Canadian HQ in Montréal, and regional studios and newsrooms throughout Canada),
  • the privately held TVA (owned by Québecor).

The two medium-sized networks are

  • the privately held “V”, and
  • the provincially owned and publicly-funded Télé-Québec.

There are other independent networks with their own stations (such as weather, nature, history, home living specialty channels, amongst many others), and additional speciality channels which belong to Radio-Canada and TVA (such as 24 hour news stations). 

Talk Shows

Apart from producing their own téléromans (television sitcoms or TV drama series), compared to Anglophone Canadian programming (and even US programming), Montréwood television networks produce a disproportionately large amount of television interview and talk shows (often hosted by multi-rolled celebrities in their own right, focused on interviewing, featuring, and interacting with other celebrities).   These programs run morning, day and night.  Morning shows take the same format as Anglophone break-fast shows.  Daytime talk / interview shows are either host & guests one-on-ones at a table / living room setting, with or without an audience.  Night shows take similar formats as many of the popular Hollywood night-time talk shows, filmed in front of a live audience (with the host and guests on a stage).  This heavy emphasis on celebrity-centred talk shows in Montréwood further concentrates, intensifies and perpetuates the celebrity-based star system that has become Montréwood – a revolving circle if you will.

Montréwood has its fair share former talk shows in society’s collective memory (I mentioned some of Jeannette Bertand’s earlier shows in a prior post).    But some of the more well-known regular daily and weekly talk shows on air at this time are:

  • Salut, Bonjour! (TVA) – Morning breakfast show
  • Denis Lévesque (TVA) – Evening talk
  • L’Été indien (TVA) – Daytime talk
  • Ça fini bien la semaine (TVA) – Evening talk
  • Deux filles le matin (TVA) – Daytime talk
  • Tout le monde en parle (Radio-Canada) – Evening talk
  • Pénéope McQuade (Radio-Canada) – Evening talk
  • Ça commence bien (V) – Morning breakfast show
  • En mode Salvail (V) – Evening talk
  • Belle et bum (Télé-Québec) – Evening, musical sing & talk.
  • Les Francs-tireurs (Télé-Québec) – Evening talk

Sitcoms and Drama Series

All four major stations offer a full line of sitcoms and drama series.  Some have become quite popular and draw in large viewerships.  Montréwood sitcoms and drama series, like Hollywood, give new-found fame for new actors (similar to Jennifer Aniston’s rise in Friends), and a continued limelight for already known actors (similar to Charlie Sheen in Two and Half Men).   It would take a book to write about all the series which are currently on Montréwood TV.  But some of the more popular ones at this moment are:

  • Les parents (Radio-Canada) – sitcom
  • 19-2 (Radio-Canada) –drama
  • Unité 9 (Radio-Canada) – drama
  • Yamaska (TVA) – drama
  • Lance et compte (TVA) – drama
  • Toute la vérité (TVA) – drama

Some past programs have become legendary, breaking Canadian historic records for viewership, and have become pillars of Québec and Montréwood cultural identity.    Of notable mention is La Petite Vie from the 1990s, which came to break the 4 million viewership threshold an episode.   

Reality TV

TVA has been the Montréwood torchbearer for reality Television, with Julie Snyder taking the lead on the creation of reality TV.   The two major record-breaking successes are both TVA singing competition productions;  La Voix (The Voice), and Star Académie (similar in format to the Idol shows).  TVA and other networks also have their own reality TV programs, ranging from courtroom reality, to marriage reality, to talent reality.  But they have not achieved the success of La Voix or Star Académie.

Apart from the above characteristics of Montréwood television, some other interesting quirks and elements are:

  • Unlike Anglophone television, soap operas are not very prominent in Montréwood – “V” features some dubbed American soaps.
  • Radio-Canada and TVA features time slots for sports programming, as well as news programming in the morning, afternoon and evening (“V” features a morning breakfast news program). The other networks generally do not feature sports or news (apart from 24-hour specialty channels for news  (RDI, LCN) and sports (RDS), and some local city stations across the province).  News (even national coverage of it) is generally is very Québec-centric compared to Anglophone national news coverage, to the chagrin of those who wish to see better coverage of events occurring elsewhere in Canada.  Even within this Québec-centric coverage, it tends to be Montréal-centric, often to the chagrin of people living outside of Montréal (but networks have a mandate to attract viewers and advertising dollars — so with limited time slots for news, and only a handful of news programs, logically it might not pay to cover news stories on an airport closure in Whitehorse, Yukon, or soil contamination in Sydney, Nova Scotia — the reality of the business end of television).
  • Music is traditionally a big part of Francophone and other Latin-based cultures in general (French is a Latin language). Many shows are geared around music, music competitions, highlighting musical achievements and musical endeavours.  Even if the topic of many shows is not about music per se, there’s often a musical element or musical invitees.
  • Locally produced Montréwood game-shows are numerous and common (Anglophone Canada on the other hand produces very few game shows, and instead features U.S. game shows).   It’s rare to flip through French language channels and not pass at least one or two game shows.   The vast majority are locally developed (with only a few foreign aired shows, and those which are foreign are generally from France), some are quite creative, a good deal feature a musical or song element, and some are based on American game shows (such as a French version of the “Price is Right”).   Because Montréwood is a smaller market, the prizes don’t tend to be as large in value as prices on U.S. game shows, however, Julie Snyder’s Le Banquier sees prizes go as high as $500,000 and $1,000,000.
  • Federal government financing, whether through direct financing in the case of Radio-Canada, or indirect in the case of all other networks and stations (through lofty tax credits and other mechanisms), has become a controversial, and a regularly debated topic. Sometimes the debate seems to be along political lines, but there are other cases in which the debate doesn’t seem linked to political affiliations — you’ll find people on both sides of the political equation debating for and against government funding.   Interestingly, provincial government funding of Télé-Québec doesn’t attract as much debate.

In summary, television is the easiest, fastest, and best way to become familiar with Québec pop-culture, Québec culture in general, the issues of the day (economically, socially, politically), personalities, music… most of everything that is Québec is reflected one-way or another on television.   It’s also a great way to improve your French, or to develop an ear for it if you’re just starting out.  If you are just starting out, it doesn’t take much… just a half hour a day of watching a show you find interesting is usually enough to begin to develop an ear for how the language sounds.  With a bit of studying, you’ll find yourself picking up more and more of the language.  We’re quite lucky in English Canada in that we have access to several Francophone television channels in every part of the country, so it’s relatively easier for Anglophones in Canada to learn French than any other language.  I’d suggest taking a look online at the programming line-ups for the 4 main stations, see what programs might interest you, and tune in for a few smiles and some great entertainment.

Amusez-vous bien!

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