The scandale du jour in Quebec media: The government has cut funding to BazzoTV, forcing the Télé-Québec current affairs show to shut down for good after this season.
Bazzo’s production company issued a statement, the show posted a page on its website, Marie-France Bazzo herself tweeted about it and there are plenty of news stories about the change, with Bazzo not being afraid to express her opinion on what this decision means for the future of television.
Reaction has been negative toward the government and supportive of Bazzo. One Journal de Montréal blowhard called it murder.
So what happened, exactly?
The Canadian government offers tax credits for television production. The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit is the reason you see the Canadian flag at the end of a lot of TV series (often paired with a similar provincial version). The tax credits help reduce the cost of labour for film and television production, which helps to invest in culture while also investing in jobs.
But the tax credit isn’t available to any production. The tax credit guidelines give a list of the types of shows that are ineligible:
- News, current events or public affairs programming, or a program that includes weather or market reports;
- Talk show;
- Production in respect of a game, questionnaire or contest (other than a production directed primarily at minors);
- Sports event or activity;
- Gala presentation or an awards show;
- Production that solicits funds;
- Reality television (see surveillance TV);
- Production produced primarily for industrial, corporate or institutional purposes;
- Production, other than a documentary, all or substantially all of which consists of stock footage.
The guidelines then go on to define each of these for clarity.
BazzoTV, a weekly 90-minute discussion show about current affairs that’s much more academic than most talk shows, was deemed eligible for this tax credit when it began 10 years ago. But after a recent tightening of the guidelines, the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (part of the Department of Canadian Heritage) determined that BazzoTV is, in fact, an “interview-variety” show (“talk show” in the English version of the guidelines) and not eligible for the tax credit.
Bazzo says that’s ridiculous, and the format of the show hasn’t changed in a decade.
She’s right that the format hasn’t changed. But is the government making a mistake in excluding it now, or should it not have been included in the first place?
The guidelines define a “talk show” as follows:
Programming which primarily consists of one or more hosts and guests who provide personal, ad lib, unscripted viewpoints, opinions or experiences. Such programming may incorporate elements of other genres, including but not limited to live or recorded variety shows and musical acts and is typically, but not necessarily, shot in one location and may include experts and audience members.
BazzoTV is a 90-minute program in which Bazzo and several guests discuss important issues of the week. They provide unscripted viewpoints, opinions or experiences about personal or professional issues. And the show is typically shot in one location and includes experts and an audience.
We can argue over the semantics (are the viewpoints “ad lib”? Does a show mainly of experts like professors and columnists count as “personal” opinions?), but you just need to watch an episode of BazzoTV to see it’s clearly a talk show. I just watched that episode, and of the 69 minutes of show, all but a few were pure in-studio discussion. There was a one-minute excerpt of a comedy news bit that was posted online, and a five-minute segment of a scripted humour column delivered live in studio. The rest was all talk (except the quiz at the end, but game shows are also ineligible for the tax credit).
This isn’t the tax credit you’re looking for
There’s little question that BazzoTV is a television series that provides a public service. It’s not like some entertainment talk show that’s mainly about getting celebrities to plug their latest production. They talk about real important issues on this show.
But the CPTC tax credit is about television production, not its content. It excludes various categories for a reason, and I can’t see how I can argue that BazzoTV doesn’t fit into one of those categories.
Maybe this needs to change. Maybe the CPTC needs to accept all productions, whether they’re newscasts, game shows, advertising or porn videos. Maybe a new, equivalent tax credit needs to be established for shows that are relatively simple on a production level but discuss important current affairs issues. Or maybe we need to fund that directly through some other means. (There are plenty of other TV funding mechanisms available that have different criteria, and BazzoTV makes use of several of them.)
I certainly hope the show can be saved, but denying that it’s a talk show isn’t what’s going to do that.
BazzoTV is a talk show. The fact that it’s about current affairs does not make it not a talk show. The fact that it’s an important service does not make it not a talk show. The fact that its guests use big words and have academic degrees does not make it not a talk show.
A review is necessary
My dept will lead consultations on definition of ineligible productions for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC) #cdnpoli
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) January 19, 2016
The narrowing of the application of the CPTC was initiated in June 2015. I will follow this file very closely. #cdnpoli
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) January 19, 2016
Monday evening, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly announced that her department will review the “definition” of ineligible productions for the CPTC. That’s good news. Maybe the tax credit itself needs to be reviewed to ensure it’s doing its job.
The fact that BazzoTV managed to declare itself a “magazine” for a decade and not a talk show suggests it’s easy for producers to game the system to their advantage. And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen.
In 2009, during the dying days of TQS, it broadcast a really low-budget entertainment “magazine” called Monsieur Showbizz. The series wanted to become more interesting by inviting artists to speak on the show in an interview format. But it had to cancel those plans because by doing so, the show would be recategorized from a magazine to a talk show, and would lose its $50,000 credit. So host Érick Rémy was stuck, sitting in his talk-show-style studio interviewing the show’s contributors instead of invited guests. The show didn’t last long after that (and neither did the network).
Canadian television production funding should not encourage producers to make their programs worse. Their guidelines should be clear enough that they won’t have their interpretations change over time. And their administrators should be empowered to be strict about that interpretation and step in when a producer wants to take advantage.
But I’m sorry Marie-France, your TV series is just not eligible for this tax credit. And it never should have been. The options are simple: Change the nature of the tax credit, change the nature of the show, or live (or die) without the tax credit.
UPDATE (Jan. 19): La Presse points out that other shows like Deux Hommes en Or and Esprit critique also stand to lose this tax credit. Deux Hommes co-host Patrick Lagacé confirms this, and says they won’t fundamentally change the show to become eligible for the tax credit.