Newspaper article The Canadian Press

TV Hitmakers Discuss Racial and Gender Diversity in Cast, Writers and Directors

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

TV Hitmakers Discuss Racial and Gender Diversity in Cast, Writers and Directors

Article excerpt

TV hitmakers talk diversity, stress passion

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What does it take to make a hit TV show in Canada?

The question was put to five "hitmakers" Wednesday in Toronto at the 14th annual Innoversity Creative Summit. The two-day symposium offered TV and film industry professionals and those looking to get into the business a chance to network, gain wisdom from keynote speakers and drill deeper into issues such as diversity, funding and accessibility.

None of the panellists had any secret formula for creating a hit TV show -- as John Lennon once famously quipped, "If we knew that we'd quit the group and become managers" -- but they shared insights into their own paths to network glory.

Stephanie Morgenstern with her writing partner/husband Mark Ellis created "Flashpoint." Their new show, a true-life Canadian spy drama tentatively called "Camp X," premieres in February on CBC.

Morgenstern says "Flashpoint" was basically an accident. The drama, about an elite Toronto police unit, was originally pitched as a two-hour TV movie. Inspired by a real police shooting, it stemmed out of a desire to explore the aftermath of the incident for the officer who pulled the trigger.

"Flashpoint" was among the first of the "co-pros," network dramas airing on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. Morgenstern recalls the notes from executives at CBS were distinctly different from CTV's suggestions. American network programmers couldn't understand at first why all the fuss over a police shooting.

Ron E. Scott wears several hats as the co-creator, executive producer, director and writer of "Blackstone." The edgy drama, set at a fictional native reserve in Alberta, returns for a fourth season Nov. 11 on APTN.

Scott inherited the Alberta-based project, which also started as a two-hour TV-movie idea. Season 4 will deal with many ripped-from-the-headlines stories, including the plight of missing and presumed murdered aboriginal women.

Scott drew on his Metis heritage to shape and craft "Blackstone." The cast is almost exclusively aboriginal, with actors hailing from across Canada. The writers' room is also filled with aboriginal voices.

The issue of diversity is central to the Innoversity mandate. It is often a hot-button issue in the United States, where in recent years there was much criticism about the lack of visible minorities on network offerings. ABC, in particular, stepped up this fall and introduced several people of colour as main players on shows such as "How to Get Away with Murder" and "Black-ish." Programmers Stateside this fall have also pitched shows featuring Latino actresses, especially on "Camilla" and "Jane the Virgin."

In Canada, where fewer shows are produced each year, diversity seems less of a hot-button issue. Still, some at the Innoversity sessions asked, "Where is our Shonda Rhimes? …

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