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Many TV shows up for Screen Awards have ended their runs. Creators ask: What's next?

"Run The Burbs" star Andrew Phung is photographed in Toronto on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. Phung says there’s something “very Canadian” about the fact that the leading television nominees at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards won’t be returning for additional seasons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Many of the leading television nominees at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards have something in common: they won't be returning for more seasons.

Leading contender “Little Bird” — which entered the race with 19 nominations — was always positioned as a one-off limited series for Crave/APTN, and the CBC comedies “Sort Of” and “Workin’ Moms” will be honoured for final seasons that drew 18 and 12 nominations, respectively. Awards favourite “Transplant” was nominated for nine trophies, but CTV's hospital drama also just wrapped its four-season run.

Oft-touted as a vehicle to promote homegrown talent, this year's Screen Awards instead appears to suggest an industry at a turning point. With TV's old guard phasing out, observers from multiple shows wonder if traditional programming formulas must also shift.

“Letterkenny” co-creator Jacob Tierney, whose Crave comedy ended last year after 12 seasons and earned five nominations, is among several show creators who point to hurdles that include slumping ad sales, streaming rivals and fragmented audiences.

“(Networks) are looking for the cheapest thing and they're scared to pull the trigger on shows," says Tierney.

"We lived through a time when people were spending a lot of money on content, and it didn't work out across the board. It didn't add up to eyeballs.”

Capturing eyeballs is harder than ever amid “a complete" fragmentation of TV audiences, he says.

“It feels like every day there are more and more places to watch content. And I just think that makes it harder to break through. It's harder to get a buzzy show.”

“Run the Burbs” star and co-creator Andrew Phung says there’s something “very Canadian” about the fact many television nominees at this year’s Screen Awards have ended their runs.

“The most Canadian thing is to achieve success, to achieve critical acclaim and then to not be coming back for more seasons,” says Phung, whose CBC sitcom is up for four awards but was cancelled after three seasons.

"By the time audiences catch onto something you're making being very good, the money might have dried up or the network moves on from it."

At a recent CBC event to tout their upcoming fall and winter lineup, executive vice-president Barbara Williams said the public broadcaster cancelled "Run The Burbs" due to a lack of viewership and to make room for other programs.

"Nobody wants to be trying to put a show out there that an audience isn't finding, but it's also, 'What do I need on the schedule? What else is coming in the door?'" she said at last week's presentation, which touted "Snotty Nose Rez Kids" and "Saint-Pierre" as scripted additions for early 2025.

Fab Filippo, co-creator of “Sort Of,” says “it’s a very stressful time” for Canadians working in a "contracting" industry. Earlier this month, the CRTC granted Corus’ request to reduce its spending on so-called “programs of national interest.” Bell and Rogers have made similar requests to ease their obligations.

“I’m stressed out. I’m not going to lie. It’s bad for us, it’s bad for artists, it’s bad for the health of the industry,” Filippo says of the federal regulator's decision to relax rules around scripted drama and comedy shows for Corus.

He adds that "it's a shame" this comes as more shows featuring underrepresented voices emerge, also citing CTV’s cancelled comedy “Shelved,” which is up for four awards.

“It seems to be happening simultaneously,” says Filippo, whose show followed a gender-fluid Pakistani Canadian millennial balancing various identities.

Bell Media's vice-president of content development and programming says the broadcaster hasn't reduced its Canadian scripted orders.

The network was set to announce its upcoming fall/winter lineup next week.

"We're continuing to greenlight lots of great series. I can't speak for our competitors and others in the market, but we anticipate having lots of ongoing shows at the CSAs. It's one of the reasons we're greenlighting them. We think they're going to do well," said Justin Stockman.

“Little Bird” creator Jennifer Podemski, whose series is about an Indigenous woman’s search for her birth family, says the landscape continues to be difficult for BIPOC-led shows and she called for more diversity at the decision-making level.

“Systems are changing slowly but I don’t think anyone has really understood how these things can be sustainable,” Podemski said recently while promoting “Snotty Nose Rez Kids,” about the rise of the Indigenous hip-hop duo of the same name, which she produces.

“There are a lot of systemic realities that have to be addressed. I think we just (need to) hold onto the good moments when we have them and keep dreaming and pursuing the goal of seeing them be sustainable on screen, behind the camera, at the executive level, across the board.”

Phung says the audience for “Run the Burbs” took time to develop because “we were a bit of a different show.”

“The truth is, making anything in this country right now is going to be really, really tough. Every network is pulling back and being really thoughtful with their dollars,” he says.

“Everyone's trying to figure out what the direction of content is going to be, how we make it and where we get the dollars to make it.”

Media analyst Gregory Taylor suggests “the old system” of traditional broadcasting is not working.

"And this is not a uniquely Canadian issue. This is going on worldwide,” says Taylor, a professor of communications, media and film at the University of Calgary.

“We are absolutely in a period of upheaval and we have yet to find the winning formula.”

Taylor says we’re at “an important point” with ongoing consultations to modernize Canadian broadcasting through Bill C-11, which seeks to require digital platforms including Netflix, Disney Plus and YouTube to contribute and promote Canadian content.

“The new guard is going to come in under distinctly different circumstances,” with access to funding from streaming giants, he says.

“Transplant” creator Joseph Kay says he’s optimistic about avenues that have opened up to Canadian creators over the last decade.

“When I started out in this business, the only metric for success in Canada was, ‘Did you have an American sale?’ But I really don't think that's the case anymore. From our position as storytellers in Canada, the world market is a lot more accessible than it used to be,” he says.

While Canadian TV is in a period of turnover, creators remain hopeful this will open doors for exciting new projects to break through.

“When a lot of old guard shows end, it’s great for new shows, new people and new voices,” says Tierney.

“There are so many smart, funny writers, actors and directors in this country. We’ve never lacked the talent. If anything, we have a surplus of it.”

Marquee categories for the Canadian Screen Awards will be announced Friday in Toronto. Highlights of the gala will be broadcast that night on CBC and CBC Gem.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2024.

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press

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