Programming Reality: Perspectives on English-Canadian Television
Hutchison, David, British Journal of Canadian Studies
Literature, Arts and Criticism Zoë Druick and Aspa Kotsopoulos (eds), Programming Reality: Perspectives on English-Canadian Television (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008), ix + 341pp. Paper. $34.95. ISBN 9781554580101.
The title of this book might lead the reader to expect essays on news, current affairs and documentary - television about reality, whether creatively interpreted or not. But one glance at the cover illustration would dispel that notion, for it is a still from the CBC drama series Da Vinci's Inquest, which is no more 'reality' than any other piece of television fiction, although it can claim to be much more 'realistic' in its depiction of its urban milieu than many other comparable series.
The editors tell us in their introduction that their contributors explore Englishlanguage 'programs that straddle the border between reality and fiction' (p. i), and that perennial issues of Canadian nationhood and citizenship will be recurring themes. There follows a wide-ranging series of chapters discussing drama, documentary, satire and populist participation shows. It could be argued that the definition of 'reality programming' is being stretched when it can include both Train 48 and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, but it does mean that in one volume there can be found essays on much of the material which a course on Canadian television (English-language, that is) would seek to cover.
The tone is often critical. Aspa Kotsopoulos, for example, in her discussion of the 1979 mini-series Riel, upbraids it for 'ignoring the historical significance of the Métis as a community' (p. 162), while Zoë Druick draws on British and American satirical programmes such as Spitting Image and The Daily Show to argue that 'Canadian humour in the realm of news parody has actually been a fairly soft touch' (p. …