On the same day it holds a public consultation in Montreal asking its audience how it can best represent English-speaking Quebec in its programming, CBC announced it has green-lit an English-language drama set in Montreal.
The new series is an English adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, the Radio-Canada drama written by Richard Blaimert and starring Macha Grenon as a journalist whose extended family is turned upside down after she learns that she has an incurable cancer. The series, which began last fall, is already in its second season, and though it faces tough competition from TVA’s Lance et compte in the Monday 9pm timeslot, it’s seen its audience steadily grow over the past few weeks.
New Address, for which Blaimert will be a consultant but not the writer, will begin production this summer and could be on air as early as this fall, CBC says. We don’t have too much detail (no cast announcement yet), but we know that the series will be set in Montreal, and that the family name is being changed from Lapointe in the French version to Lawson in the English.
Both the French series and its English adaptation are produced by Sphère Média Plus, which is responsible for several attempts to turn its French-language hits into English versions, with mixed success:
- Sophie, the English adaptation of the comedy Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin, about a talent agent whose life goes nuts, which lasted two seasons and 32 episodes on CBC before being cancelled because of poor ratings. (That series was also written by Blaimert, though he defends it a bit to La Presse.)
- Rumours, the adaptation of the half-hour comedy Rumeurs about a group of magazine employees, which lasted 20 episodes on CBC.
- And, of course, 19-2, the adaptation of the Radio-Canada cop drama of the same name, which is now in its second season on Bravo, where it is both a critical and popular success. It landed there after CBC passed on the chance to pick up the series.
The company was also commissioned by NBC to create a pilot that adapted the dramatic comedy Le monde de Charlotte. It never got picked up.
UPDATE (Feb. 26): Now comes news that it’s going to adapt Mémoires vives in English for Rogers, which could put it on City or FX Canada.
Can this be the one that works?
The success of 19-2 compared to the lack of same from Sophie and Rumours probably leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the programming decision-makers at CBC Television. But it doesn’t change the fact that these Sphère Média Plus adaptations are more likely to fail than succeed.
Nouvelle adresse is a good series, well-written, well-acted, and will probably pick up several awards come awards season. But then again Sophie and Rumours were based on series that picked up more than a dozen Gémeaux awards, so that’s not a guarantee of anything.
I’m a fan of Nouvelle adresse, even though it, like 19-2, is pretty heavy. But while 19-2 has police officers with guns patrolling gritty streets, Nouvelle adresse is about middle-class families dealing with disease, divorce and drama. I’m not sure how well that will translate.
A big difference will probably be the cast chosen for the English version. Though I doubt it would happen, Grenon is bilingual and could theoretically reprise her role in the language of Shakespeare. Among anglo Quebecers, she’s still remembered best as the lady from the Pharmaprix commercials of the 90s:
On jase, as they say in French. Sphère Média Plus’s success with 19-2 has earned it another chance at turning a Radio-Canada hit into a CBC one. Let’s be cautiously hopeful that it succeeds, if only because it’s nice to see another series set in Montreal on English-language television in Canada.
UPDATE: Brendan Kelly has more on the adaptation of Nouvelle adresse, including quotes from the creators.
No Unité 9 en anglais
Richard Therrien at Le Soleil tells us that CBC couldn’t come to an agreement to adapt the Quebec mega-hit Unité 9 into an English series. Apparently the CBC’s desire to cut down on the number of episodes was a problem for author/producer Fabienne Larouche.
Why doesn’t CBC do a House of Cards type of show?
I guess the answer would depend on what “a House of Cards type of show” means exactly.
House of Cards was a politically themed mini-series produced in the U.K. which starred Ian Richardson. It was one of the best dramas ever to come out of the U.K.
The reason Rumours and Sophie did not end up doing well is plain simple to me. They sucked. Terribly. They canadianized these shows with a cheapass set, totally unsubtle acting, bad writing, etc. You looked at these adaptations and it was as if you were looking at Corner Gas. Cheap, cheesy and really bad. Why 19-2 works great? It doesn’t look Canadian, except from Montreal-based plots. It looks American, hollywoodian, it looks like a series worth watching. Even more to Anglos, who seem a whole lot more interested into US series rather than locally-produced shows.
In some ways, it’s quite interesting to see what happens on the French side of Canadian TV, in part because they don’t a ready source of material to put on air and as a result, must do it themselves. I don’t have any hard and fast numbers, but I would guess that the French channels in Quebec produce more on air hours of local programming than the rest of the OTA stations in Canada do (excluding local news).
Some stuff translates culturally, and some stuff does not. 19-2 seems to work out in part because “dark police drama” translates. I am not sure that a middle class Montreal cancer centric piece will have the same impact in English, it’s perhaps a little too soap opera for Anglo tastes.
In the end, it has to make you wonder. If the Quebec stations can pay for and put on air scripted dramas, public interest, entertainment, and live events that people actually watch and make money doing it, why is nobody else in Canada able to do it without being a heavily subsidized cable channel?
(oh, before you ask, I feel that the rates charged for cable channels, especially those jammed into packages, is an unfair subsidy that gives cable channels an unfair advantage in the marketplace).
Because Quebecers have more of an appetite for home-grown programming than English Canadians do. Or, perhaps more accurately, Quebecers don’t watch as much American TV as English Canadians.
English Canada does have some successes — news, sports, and the occasional hit series like The Amazing Race Canada — but otherwise it’s simple economics: Canadian series fighting for attention against American series with 10 times the budget because they have 10 times the audience.
I live in North Carolina and my friends, family and co-workers LOVE LOVE LOVE, your TVseries called THIS LIFE! what a great drama, true life experience this show is, too a large family that has just lost a close family member ( my husband) to this awful enemy called CANCER. It sux we can’t tune in on a CBC channel on our cable network however, you can believe all 30+ members gather each Tuesday evening, with popcorn buckets in hand, nesseled down in front of THE IPAD for the best 2015 series yet. SO THANK YOU CBC for touching the hearts of many with such an inspiring TV Series. YA’LL ROCK!