Yet another “Ways to fix the Canadian Screen Awards” post

I watched Sunday’s Canadian Screen Awards. Not because I was really excited by it, but because I felt some sort of civic (and professional) duty to do so.

I’ve seen several of these, so I know what to expect. Hosts trying their best with not very good comedic material. Nominees and winners that most of the audience is unfamiliar with. Quebec movie stars feeling like fish out of water in this very English Canada environment. And overall a gala and broadcast that tries to be like the Oscars or the Emmys or even the Screen Actors Guild Awards but with much fewer resources.

The budget issue won’t change unless the CSAs become as big a spectacle as the American awards shows, and we’re pretty far from that.

Sunday’s broadcast wasn’t even the biggest-rated one of the night, coming behind the premiere of the new American Idol and the Brier final on TSN. There were 10 times as many Canadians watching the (supposedly disastrously-rated) Oscars a week earlier as there were watching the CSAs.

Part of that is understandable. The United States puts a lot more into television and movies than Canada does. Its award-winners have much higher budgets, much bigger audiences, much more marketing. They’re the ones that get talked about on the big U.S. daytime and late-night talk shows.

But much of the problem with the CSAs isn’t directly related to that problem. It has organizational issues that can be fixed without breaking the bank. Here are a few of my suggestions:

1. Reduce the number of categories

The movie part of the Canadian Screen Awards, formerly the Genie Awards, have 24 categories, same as the Oscars, and they’re almost identical. The more technical awards aren’t presented during the big gala, unlike the Oscars where all 24 are presented in the same ceremony.

But on the television side, there are 100 categories of awards. That’s way too much. There are 10 categories for documentary series, 11 categories for directing, seven categories for sports, six each for photography and picture editing. Here, too, the CSAs take after their American neighbour. There are 122 categories for the primetime Emmys alone. Add in the regional Emmys and the list become unfathomably long. I realize that creating a reality competition show isn’t the same as a scripted drama, but some of these categories can be merged.

But even then, that isn’t the big problem.

2. Either make it English, or make it bilingual

The merger of the Gemini Awards (TV) and Genie Awards (movies) created this strange double standard. The movies part rewards all Canadian movies — English, French and other languages. But the television part rewards only English Canadian television. French-Canadian series are rewarded by the academy’s Gémeaux awards instead. (There’s also a ceremony for Quebec movies, which like the CSAs struggles to stay relevant because of the lack of passion for homegrown movies here.)

The result is that you have Quebec actors, directors and others sitting in a room with English Canadian TV and movie stars, attending a ceremony conducted almost entirely in English.

There are two ways to go about fixing this — either make everything bilingual, including the ceremony itself, which would probably turn it into a strange Canada Day-like festival of pretending the country doesn’t have two solitudes, or eliminate French-language cinema from consideration for the movie awards.

Unfortunately neither sounds like it would be very popular.

3. Write better jokes (or don’t have jokes)

Hosts Emma Hunter and Jonny Harris did their best with some poor material — with much more enthusiasm that a Canadian brought back from Hollywood would have had. There were a lot of jokes that had adequate setups but lacked a punchline. It’s clear that despite Canada’s reputation for great comedy, it doesn’t have the kind of budget for a writing staff that the Oscars or Emmys would have.

So it needs to be rethought. An awards ceremony without jokes would be dreadfully dull, but perhaps they can focus on having a few minutes of good material to open the show instead of a lot of half-baked jokes sprinkled throughout the ceremony.

4. Have only one (or two) special awards

During the Sunday broadcast, four special awards were given out: to The Rick Mercer report (Academy Icon Award), Margaret Atwood (Academy Board of Directors’ Tribute), Clark Johnson (Earle Grey Award) and Peter Mansbridge (Lifetime Achievement Award). Those were just four of nine special CSAs in total this year. This is way too many.

The four awards given during the broadcast took up, respectively, 6 minutes, 7 minutes, 7:30 and 9:20, including introduction, tribute montage and acceptance speech, for a total of just under 30 minutes total of the two-hour ceremony.

It shouldn’t need to be said that handing out a bunch of special awards makes them less special. The academy should be much more restrictive of its “tribute” awards, and other special awards should be left out of the main gala if they’re still being awarded. Leave the gala to one award, the lifetime achievement award. Other special awards can be handed out at the many other CSA galas throughout the week.

I know this would deprive the ceremony of some of its more familiar faces (Atwood, Mercer and Johnson in this case), but it would elevate the remaining special award to the height it deserves.

Are there other ways the ceremony can be improved? You can watch the whole thing below and offer your two cents in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Yet another “Ways to fix the Canadian Screen Awards” post

  1. Ian Howarth

    You’d think they could go to the CSA ATM machine and buy a few jokes from some of the talented Canadian comedy writers in LA. They could probably get a good deal from the ones still starving. Or dip into the talent pool here, the guys who write topical stuff for some of the JFL Fest gala hosts. After an award show like this, you need the post-ceremony chatter to be comments about some of the comedic highlights when everything else about the show is so goddamn serious.

  2. Brett Morris

    I forgot it even happened. There needs to be more promotion and talk about it. In the US movie and television awards are talked about everywhere including Canada. If they want it to be like the US get people across the country to talk about it. Have a big canadian comedian write the jokes and host. Yes they may work on American movies or television but they are Canadian. Must get a name who will get people to tune in to hear their jokes.

  3. Zeke


    To continue piling on about how important your articles are. I neither watch TV nor Movies. But I read what you write about them with interest.

    Thanks again.

  4. dilbert

    The problem is, in typical Canadian fashion, that the CSAs attempt to be both “as good as the American awards” and “inclusive as hell”. The idea is to make it so that every production in Canada (or as close to that as possible) gets some kind of CSA nomination. So 5 in each category, 24 movie categories, plus 100 TV categories means that you can nominate over 600 people / films / groups. With that sort of scope, it becomes more inclusive than kindergarten.

    Also, and with respect for the winners and the nominated people, there is also the question of time. Give the awards show 90 minutes to 2 hours max to run. Pick the 12 categories that really, really matter and will be first paragraph material, and limit it there. List out the other winners – heck, line them up on stage and show their faces one at a time in a 2 or 3 minute “roll call” style segment.

    Make the time you have matter. Awards shows as a whole are suffering from being self indulgent and for running way too long, a pithy awards show would quite possibly actually catch people’s attention.


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