More than 40 Quebec TV series have celebrity-guest-of-the-week as part of their concept

When musician Pierre Lapointe appeared on Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle on Sunday, complaining that Quebec television is too timid and is focused on seeing the same faces over and over again, most Quebecers didn’t see it, ironically because they were busy watching the Gala Artis on TVA, the popularity-contest award show in which the same A-list faces as last year got rewarded for still being popular.

After a clip of Lapointe’s montée-de-lait was posted to YouTube and everyone rewatched the interview online or on their PVRs, the inevitable analyses started appearing. Le Soleil’s Richard Therrien dug around and found out that despite Lapointe’s complaints that his music talk-show series Stereo Pop was badly managed by Radio-Canada, it was actually Lapointe himself that was poorly managing the situation and acting like a diva.

Meanwhile, Radio-Canada VP Louis Lalande responded to Lapointe’s complaints that the public broadcaster is asleep at the wheel when it comes to broadcasting culture.

The issue has gotten so much attention that even my newspaper has a column on it.

I never watched Lapointe’s show, and I’ll leave it to others to debate what happened to it. And there are plenty of reasons to suggest Lapointe might be a hypocrite (he was a judge on La Voix, after all) or to defend or complain about Radio-Canada.

But Lapointe hinted at an issue that goes far beyond the public broadcaster: Quebec television is obsessed with celebrity.

The double-edged sword of Quebec’s star system

On one hand, this is great news. Quebec has its own star system, where home-grown talent — actors, musicians, interviewers, game-show hosts, radio personalities — are discovered, developed and showcased. It’s a system that English Canada would love to replicate, so they could rely less on the United States. Bell Media’s former boss mused openly about doing this in English Canada, but it’s not easy, especially when much of English Canadian television, particularly in prime time, is imported.

But as great as it is for showcasing stars, I think we need to ask ourselves if it’s going too far. Turn on Quebec TV and you’ll find shows in which the “artiste invitée de la semaine” cooks or eats or drinks or plays games or dances or tests something or interviews other people or just sits around and has things told to them or songs sung to them.

It’s become télé-vedette in Quebec. (Though “become” might not be right. This issue was satirized four years ago.)

To give you an idea of how bad it is, I compiled a list of Quebec non-fiction TV series broadcast in 2015 or 2016 in which having a different celebrity guest every week was part of the concept. Going by the TV broadcasters’ websites, I came up with more than 40 shows that meet this criteria, of which about a third are broadcast on Radio-Canada. I broke them up below by what the celebrity guest’s function is.

Game shows in which celebrities are contestants

Game shows in which celebrities are teamed with non-celebrity contestants

Talk shows involving an invited celebrity who acts as guest co-interviewer rather than interviewee

Talk shows or documentary series whose subjects are exclusively or almost exclusively celebrities

Shows in which celebrity guests are the subject and have to act or pretend in some way, but not seriously

Shows in which celebrities have things done to them or experience something relatively passively

Shows in which celebrities participate in an activity and/or are interviewed about something irrelevant to their profession

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I may be missing some series. Feel free to suggest others or argue miscategorization in the comments below.

I also didn’t include many series that have celebrity guests, such as:

  • Scripted drama and comedy series that have well-known actors in guest roles
  • Talk shows that regularly feature celebrity interviewees, such as Tout le monde en parle and Deux hommes en or
  • Shows in which artists are invited to talk about their work, such as Esprit critique or Dans ma tête
  • Shows in which comedians act as panelists and tell jokes, like Piment fort and Atomes crochus
  • Sketch comedy shows with guest actors in which they’re not the focus, like Les Appendices
  • “Spéciale artistes” episodes of game shows that don’t normally feature celebrities


So why is celebrity such a focus of Quebec TV these days? And why the desperate need to get only the A-listers? Because it’s how you get people to watch. You’ll be more likely to watch a show you watch only occasionally if a star you like is going to be on it. Or maybe you follow a star and will tune in to a show you’ve never seen before because they’re the guest that week. Or maybe you just like celebrities more than you like regular people.

Plus, shows with lazy concepts have a higher chance of success then the people invited on them have experience being on TV and being entertaining.

It’s gotten to the point that some people are more famous for being on these types of shows regularly than whatever else it is they do in their lives that was supposed to have made them popular in the first place.

Is it a problem?

These aren’t the only types of non-fiction shows on Quebec TV these days. There are dozens more than don’t have celebrity guests, either because they invite non-celebrity participants or because they do enough of a job entertaining or informing without having people jump through their proverbial hoops every week.

But I think the sheer size of this is causing problems. Lapointe’s criticisms of Stereo Pop may just be the tip of the iceberg. Focusing on showcasing known stars, rather than new and upcoming talent, suppresses diversity. It makes it harder for young talent to thrive. It overexposes actors and comedians rather than other artists whose lives might be far more interesting to hear about.

I like Quebec’s star system, and I don’t mind Quebec celebrities being interviewed on Quebec television, or seeing stars be put in unusual situations and playing games. I’m certainly not calling for the elimination of this concept.

But 40 shows having celebrity guests each week is a bit much. Even more so when you think of what the demand for celebrity guests does to the supply.

Maybe it’s time we design non-fiction TV series that are entertaining enough that they don’t need a revolving door of celebrity guest appearances to prop them up.

UPDATE (April 30): La Presse speaks to people in the industry, from the researchers who book celebrity guests to the producers who demand them, to get some inside perspective on the issue.

20 thoughts on “More than 40 Quebec TV series have celebrity-guest-of-the-week as part of their concept

  1. Bill

    I lived in Sydney, Aus. for a few years and oddly enough, it was the same way there…same local celebs dominating the airwaves.

  2. Ileana Gehrenbeck

    Quebec “star-system”…they are stars in their living-rooms, outside the province nobody knows who they are, very few of those people are known outside the Quebec micro-cosmos, on the other hand there are more artists from Anglo Canada known abroad than from Quebec, I have a few examples, Bryan Adams, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Leonard Cohen, Sandra Oh, Will Arnett, Bieber, Sarah McLachlan, The Weekend, Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Michael Bublé, Diana Krall…the list goes on. I don’t watch local TV in French so often, I prefer TV in English, or I watch TV5 or RDI, I and I agree with Lapointe in his criticism of the endogamy going on in French-speaking media, the lack of cultural diversity is almost embarrassing, that was also part of his criticism, and probably the most important and controversial one, as reflected in the article written by Baseem Boshra in The Gazette

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Quebec “star-system”…they are stars in their living-rooms, outside the province nobody knows who they are, very few of those people are known outside the Quebec micro-cosmos

      You present that as if it’s a problem.

    2. Michèle

      They are not only stars in their living rooms. Typical Anglo comment. They are French speaking, so they are more known in French-speaking countries like France, Blegium. However, to name just a few that are internationally known, Celine Dion, Guy Laliberté and Le Cirque du Soleil, Robert Lepage, Luc Plamondon, Diane Dufresne, Yannick-Nézet Séguin , Félix Leclerc, Karine Vanasse, Xavier Dolan, Denis Arcand, Denis Villeneuve, Kim Nguyen, Wajdi Mouawad, Edouard Lock, Dany Laferrière, and the list goes on. By the way, Leonard Cohen is from Montreal, not ROC, and I will leave you Justin Bieber without any regrets.

      1. Tim FitzGerald

        And both ways there is a talent pool only known locally. On the French side Éric Salvail, Pierre Curzi, Normand Brathwaite, Lise Dion, Mike Ward, Patrick Huard, Louis-José Houde… relatively unknown elsewhere in the Francophonie. On the English side Brent Butt, Dave Broadfoot, Sean Cullen, Ron James, Shaun Majumder, Mike MacDonald and Mary Walsh, to name a few, are household names in Canada but almost unheard of elsewhere.

    3. Michèle

      Stars in their living rooms… Typical Anglo comment of someone who does not know and does not seem to want to know Quebec. Maybe you are not aware of Celine Dion, Robert Lepage, Xavier Dolan, Guy Laliberté and the Cirque du Soleil, Yannick Nézet Séguin, Luc Plamondon, Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée, Dany Laferrière and many many others. By the way, Leonard Cohen is from Montreal not ROC.

      1. Ileana Gehrenbeck

        Typical Franco mentality, most of the people you mention had to leave the province and the Quebec bubble to become known, Celine’s career did not take off until she started singing in English and move to the States, Cirque du Soleil (which is now own by foreigners) did not became known until they started perming in Vegas…the films directors did not become known until they started making movies outside Quebec, with more universal themes, Wajdi Mouawad lives in Ottawa…Bieber, whether you like it or not he’s more know than Eric Lapointe and Marie-Mai together..and Leonard Cohen is more abroad than even in Quebec, many Francos will say “Leonard qui?”…not because they don’t know who he is but because he sings in English and was never part of the so-called star system.

        What’s your point?

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Typical Franco mentality, most of the people you mention had to leave the province and the Quebec bubble to become known

          Most famous anglo Canadian actors and musicians also had to leave the country to become known. We’re not so different after all.

        2. JFP

          It is not a so called star system, it is a real star system for is population. Like ones you can find in a lots of countrys. For exemple you have stars well known in France, that nobody’s knows outside of the Hexagone in the english world, there are stil stars. With your comments about “stars in their living room” you put a judgment on the talents of those artists, more than a comment from a anglo mentality it is more a comment from someone with a close mind. You say that the french canadian artist ad to got out of Quebec to became stars, from that point of view, it is the same thing with youre liste of Canadian artists, the y had to get out of Canada to become real stars. Who knows Rick Mercer outside of Canada? Who cares, he is still good in what he does… Is it a good thing to have a star system? I agree with what Pierre Lapointe said, the problem is not to have stars, the problem is to see them to often and everywhere. There are other artists who are interesting even if they are not stars, we want to see them to.

  3. Simon D

    Très éclairant (et inquiétant) cette compilation, merci ! Quoi qu’on dise à propos de Pierre Lapointe il a mis le doigt sur quelque chose…

  4. Dilbert

    The truth lies in the very simple problem: Quebec’s franco market is insanely small, and most of these “celebrities” can’t make enough money being the artist, singer, or whatever they are alone.

    Let’s say you are a singer (or band). You do a “Quebec Tour”, which generally means you play Montreal, Gatineau, Val Dor, Rouyn, Chibogamau, Sept Isles, Jonquiere, QUebec City, Sherbrooke, Drummonville , Cartier 10-30, and back to Montreal. After you have done those dates (takes way less than a few weeks) you have about 48 weeks of the year left to twiddle your thumbs. If you are one of the rare lucky ones, you might also get to tour Eastern Ontario in the Franco areas, and MAYBE into New Brunswick for 1 or two shows. Otherwise, you are done. Oh, yeah, not to forget that between June 20th and July 2nd you might get to play at a few festivals.

    What TV (and magazines, and other media) does it give the artist an outlet and a way to remain visible for those other 48 weeks. The star system pretty much creates a way for those people to get paid for appearances or to use those appearances to try to promote or market other things which can make them money. and keep the in the game. It works for a while, but most celebs in Quebec sort of fade away after a while/

    The easiest way to see how this works is to look at how many “celebrities” move from being an artist to being a radio show host, a TV host, or otherwise trying to do something that is a more regular job. Being a celebrity in Quebec just doesn’t pay enough long enough for most of them to stick with it.

    Quebec is an insanely small market with a limited amount of money and attention.The system works like it does for many similar tiny, isolated communities – poorly!

  5. Kevin

    My highlight this week is the five articles about Marie-Mai selling her house for $499,000… followed by articles today based on her tweet saying she should have a private life.

    Should I alert the media the next time my kids go to a playdate at Sam Roberts’ NDG house?

    Nombrilisme, your name is Quebec.

  6. Jean-Sébastien Girard

    I know it’s easy to hit into that theme, but I have a suspicion that the Internet may factor into this. That is, these shows are “safe bets”, especially for filling Canadian content requirements, because they are a category that cannot be imported in dubbed form (there’s a reason English Canadian generalist tv networks make pretty much no game shows: The Americans have the market mostly cornered) and does not directly compete with the types of shows that have enough pull that they will be watched in the original if they are not available dubbed.

  7. Benjamin

    “because they were busy watching the Gala Artis on TVA, the popularity-contest award show in which the same A-list faces as last year got rewarded for still being popular.”

    I love this sentence!

  8. Tim FitzGerald

    I see one other cause and one other effect of this:

    * The earnings a Quebec musical or stage artist makes is much lower than, say, a comparable Hollywood artist’s. So many need multiple appearances on different shows to supplement their income. You therefore have a strong supply of artists willing to do this.
    * Because artists on these shows are so ubiquitous _en vase clos_, it makes new it more difficult for newcomers to integrate to the Quebec cultural landscape. Myself I’ve begun watching more French television over the past ten years (and still that’s not much), and I still depend on my Québécoise wife to tell me who so-and-so is or why such a line is funny, because for their audience “they need no introduction” and they know their characters’ catchphrases already. For an immigrant or a well-meaning Anglo-Quebecker, it’s likely easier to watch American content that’s everywhere in the world with artists and stories you may already know.

    1. Ileana Gehrenbeck

      Many immigrants do not consume French-speaking media contents because it´s very hard to relate to them, especially when the Francophone media does not reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of this province. Take a look at the anchors in Radio Canada, TVA, and LCN, it´s hard to find someone who is not Caucasian or with a non-French name, despite the fact that for decades this province has received thousands of immigrants from the four corners of the world for decades. Seemingly for the Franco media in Quebec there are no ethnic/cultural minorities in the province. Ethnic minorities do not see themselves reflected in the Franco media landscape, the contents do not speak to them, so why bother.


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