Why do we Film so many USA-Based TV Shows in Canada? (Supernatural, Smallville, Psych, Covert Affairs)| July 8, 2010 at 9:45 AM EST
Having marathoned my way through Being Erica seasons 1 & 2 on good ol’ Hulu, I started thinking about why so many TV shows shot up in Canada are never based there. Being Erica was great, and it was filmed and based right in Canada. Without any certain answers, I went to my friend Melissa (who’s lucky enough to be both a TV blogger (TheTelevixen.com) and a proud Canadian citizen) to find out her thoughts about TV shows filmed in Canada (a list which includes Supernatural, Smallville, Covert Affairs, Flashpoint, Psych, Rookie Blue and the earlier shot pilots for shows like Gilmore Girls and House M.D.) I chatted with Melissa about Canadian TV, her trip to the Covert Affairs set in Toronto, and a possible TV tour led around the most picturesque parts Canada.
Happy to be in Canada! Erin Karpluk from Being Erica dances on a fountain in the prettiest pink shoes. / Ph: SoapNet
A lot of shows shoot up in Canada, but are set in the USA. Why do you think shows gravitate towards Canada for filming?
Part of the appeal used to be the value of the US dollar in Canada. You could get some much more “bang for your buck” when the Canadian dollar was worth far less. There are also government tax credits/incentives for the film and TV industry that make Canada a great location. Now that the Canadian dollar is nearly on par with the US dollar most of the time, I think the appeal is our geographic and cultural diversity, as well as the very talented people we have working in the film and TV industry. When it comes to foreign languages, we have a very wide selection of native speakers, so we have access to language coaches as needed.
In terms of Toronto, we have a lot of big city aspects, so we can easily play New York, or Los Angeles, or any other big US city, but at the same time, you don’t have to go very far to find small town charm. With Vancouver, there’s mountains, ocean, and a lot of other geographic perks to making it a desirable location.
Canada also has great studios and sound stages, staffed with only the best people in the industry. The schools here offer top notch, highly competitive programs that only the best of the best make it through.
Do you think it’s wrong that shows still base Canadian-shot series in the USA, out of what might sometimes be the urge to let a “bigger viewer audience” connect with the show? (Money could also be a factor, in terms of sponsors, or specific organizations or cities.) And do you think more US citizens could learn to love watching shows not set in the US?
Personally, I don’t think it’s wrong that Toronto, or Vancouver for that matter, are used to represent American cities. Regarding Toronto, there seems to be a surge in series actually set in Toronto that are well received by US audiences, for example, Being Erica and Flashpoint. I personally adore how Being Erica has embraced Toronto and really shown what a neat city we have.
What are the best TV shows set in Canada, aside from our mutual favorite, Being Erica?
Flashpoint has done really well, and the new hit series Rookie Blue, although neither comes right out and says they’re set in Toronto, they do make references to actual places in the city. On a completely different level, I think Trailer Park Boys did a fantastic job of capturing a slice of Nova Scotia. I’ve spent a lot of time in Nova Scotia, and every time I see a TPB episode, I’m consumed by the urge to return! Oh, and although I haven’t watched more than an episode or two so far, I understand that Less Than Kind has captured Winnipeg quite well.
Girl’s got skills! Missy Peregrym in Rookie Blue / Ph: ABC
Since I know very little about Canada, what are some of the coolest landmarks or attractions that would be interesting to see worked into TV series? (I know we talked about some Casa Loma on Twitter once!)
There are way too many places to mention, but I’ll point out a few of my favourites. The Distillery District, just east of the downtown core, used to be the Gooderham & Worts Distillery. They have some beautifully restored buildings, great restaurants, cobblestone walkways, and this inexplicable charm. You can see some of it in Being Erica, and it was also used in the film Chicago. Sunnyside Pavilion, located on the lakeshore, is a pretty old structure that is commonly used for wedding photos, but would make a neat location to film at. The Canadian National Exhibition grounds feature some great old buildings. Kensington Market has a distinct bohemian charm. And of course there’s High Park, which could be best described as Toronto’s Central Park.
I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life, and I’m still discovering new neighbourhoods and neat little pockets of the city that are truly unlike anywhere else.
You’ve expressed an interest in organizing a guided tour of TV sets in Canada. Have you given this any more thought? What sets would you include on the tour?
I have given it a lot of thought, and if there’s interest, I’d love to try out a couple of tours and see what people think. With all the TV shows that have filmed in Toronto over the years, there’s a wealth of locations to include. I’d absolutely have to include Unionville, just northeast of the city, which I just learned this year was the location of the Gilmore Girls pilot. What tour would be complete without a visit to Stars Hollow? There are a number of spots around the city that were used on Queer as Folk and Monk that would have to be included. Of course, there would be spots featured in Being Erica, Flashpoint, Rookie Blue and Degrassi. Ideally, I’d like both Canadian and US series to be featured on the tour. If an actual show that’s filming here would like to be a part of it and allow us to tour a working TV set, that would be icing on the cake.
Hulu doesn’t grant access to Canadians, and that’s a huge bummer. (I’m shaking my first right now!) What are some other TV hindrances you’ve encountered that are based on geography?
Hulu & Netflix are two of my biggest pet peeves. I am all for preserving and promoting Canadian culture, but I also believe in having the choice to check out series that are US only if I wish to, without having to pay more than the premium cable subscription I already have. Right now, I will buy a lot of the shows that don’t air in Canada, like White Collar, from the US iTunes store. I do the same for some of the BBC series that haven’t made their way to Canada yet, such Being Human.
I also find that as a TV blogger, it’s a challenge to make contacts with some of the US networks when there are shows I’d like to cover, pilots I’d like to screen, and people that I’d like to interview. In my experience, even if a show has a Canadian network attached, digital media isn’t necessarily embraced and there aren’t as many opportunities. When it comes right down to it, I’ve had more luck so far in establishing relationships with US networks.
This is only our new favorite show! Piper Perabo stars in Covert Affairs. / Ph: USA Network
You recently visited the set of Covert Affairs in Toronto (an event I had to sadly turn down!) – now, tell us everything! Okay, okay. How about you just tell us what sorts of activities they scheduled for you?
We got to tour the main set, which is the fictional department of the CIA that the main characters in the show work at, and another location where they were filming. We were very lucky to interview Chris Gorham, Anne Dudek and Piper Perabo. I’ve been a fan of Anne Dudek for a few years now, and it was a thrill to chat with her. Chris Gorham was so charming, I immediately went out and found Harper’s Island, because I’d never really seen him in action before. Piper Perabo was an absolute doll, and is so excited and enthusiastic about the show and her role. We screened the pilot as well, which was very exciting. This is definitely going to be a must-watch show, although it’ll take some work for me to catch it each week – there isn’t a Canadian network scheduled to air it as of yet.
What was the most surprising thing you learned on the set of Covert Affairs?
One thing that I found fascinating that was pointed out by Exec Producer Doug Liman was one of our Toronto beaches was transformed into a Sri Lankan beach! And from the scene I saw, they did a great job with it. I also had no clue that there’s an exact replica of the White House interior right here in the Greater Toronto Area, and it’s been used for a number of films and TV shows. I also learned that female CIA agents can really rock those Louboutins!
You got to talk to some of the cast of CA’s, of course. Having done celebrity interviews for a while now, do you still get nervous when you do them?
I still get a bit nervous, but I think I hide it well. Personally, being a bit nervous keeps me on my toes, and means that I still care. I’ll be worried when I’m no longer nervous. Honestly, after writing for so many years, I’d say interviews are my strength, and the part that I love most about what I do. If I could just interview actors, showrunners, directors, etc for the rest of my life, I’d be one happy gal! Oh, and my dream – to one day moderate a panel at Comic-Con!
Pick one: It seems TV blogging and/or reporting is becoming A) more competitive or B) less competitive since when I began.
TV blogging is definitely competitive, but there’s also a strong sense of community and camaraderie. In my experience, other bloggers have been very supportive, and some of the bloggers & podcasters that I’ve met have become good friends. Twitter and the relationships that I’ve established 140 characters at a time have been instrumental in this.
I used to dabble in music journalism, and I found a lot more pretentiousness. Don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of great people and some of those people are still good friends to this day. I just didn’t feel the same sense of community and support that I have with TV blogging. After a few diversions, I’ve found my calling!