January 1999
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Canadian Content Part VII-
Le Tele

by John Hansen

Last April I spent Easter weekend in Houston, TX. In a city like that, you're bound to have a few highlights: the Johnson Space Center, Richmond Avenue, The Galleria, the excellent shrimp at Joe's Crab Shack, the inability to not make an obscene phrase of the name of a hamburger joint called Fuddruckers. For me, however, the highlight was something we lack in Canada: Spanish television. During my stay, I became addicted to shows like "Amore Mio," a Mexican soap opera and "Premier Impacto," the local live-at-five news show. Soap operas are particularly fun. The leads are sexier and the language is cooler sounding than English.

In Canada, of course, we have French television. Mostly, French television involves translating American programs. "King of the Hill," for example, translates the Texan English of Hank Hill into a bizarre dialect from rural Quebec. This also throws the show a bit off. Texans, I find, speak slowly. Quebeckers jabber at a million miles an hour.

But it's in their original programming that Quebec culture begins to shine. A popular form on Quebec t.v. is the "teleroman," or tele-novel. Essentially, this is a series that runs one television season and is a mix between a real series and a mini-series. Invariably, the shows are set in the past, involve a lot of romance and star such notables as Marina Orsini, Myram Cyr, Remy Girard, and Roy Dupuis (who, by the way, stars on "La Femme Nikita" these days). While the budgets are smaller than their American counterparts, Quebec drama does have the home court advantage of casual nudity.

Cultural affairs programs are somewhat more bizarre. During the "Juste Pour Rire" comedy festival, an improv comedy program pitted national teams dressed in hockey jerseys and performing on a stage that was dressed as a hockey rink. The rules were similar to hockey with face-offs, line changes, and even penalties. Another show, "L'enfer, C'est Nous Autres" (a line lifted from Sartre, which means "Hell is Us"), featured a perky young woman named Julie Schneider who would dress as the subject of her interviews. If the interview was about Italian food, she would dress as a table from an Italian restaurant.

But the big television event of the year is the annual "Bye Bye" program which runs New Year's Eve and is traditionally how Quebeckers ring in the new year. The show involves sketches on the events of the past year. One thing most people agree on is that it gets worse every year (except this year when it was pretty good as it didn't offend any minorities).

Most English-speaking Canadians don't watch much French television with one notable exception. Every Saturday night Television Quartre Saisons runs "Blue Nuit," a soft-core pornographic film showcase. While the English and French remain the two solitudes in this country, there is no chasm a little explicit sex and nudity can bridge.

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