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The legacy of Denis McGrath

The legacy of Denis McGrath

Reposted from TV, eh?:

So much has and will be posted about the Denis McGrath-sized hole left in the world after his death last night. A small part of his legacy is that without him TV, eh? would likely not exist. In an alternate, Denis-less universe, one we’re struggling to imagine now, I most likely would never have thought about the issues that led me to create it, and even if I had, it would have ended with a whimper not long after its experimental launch.

The origin story of the website is that while covering television and movies online I became fascinated with the way TV is made, with so much control in the hands of the writer rather than the director. I started following TV writer blogs, including Denis’s influential Dead Things on Sticks, to learn more about the process. That lively comments section is where I met the online Canadian TV community and began to realize … there’s an online Canadian TV community?

Obviously I knew Canadian shows existed but from Denis’s posts I realized there were a whole lot I’d never heard of, despite writing about TV. I wrote an article lamenting that fact, wishing for an online resource like a TVTattle or Futon Critic, and an anonymous commenter asked me why I didn’t start such a site myself — a question I immediately dismissed. I had no skin in this game. Just Denis’s voice in my head about the struggles of the Canadian TV industry.

I went to the Banff TV Festival to cover a David Shore (House) master class, among others, and while there I sat in a town hall discussion about how Canadian TV should appeal more to international audiences. I wondered why networks weren’t more concerned with letting me know about these shows first. Through it all Denis was a sounding board and a huge influence in my understanding of the issues at play, and he encouraged my attempts to write about them from the audience perspective.

That was when I quietly put up a bare-bones site and started posting stories and media releases about Canadian shows. I let a few people know, including Denis. I’m grateful to many but his support meant everything. He championed the idea from the first, and through his influence helped make it and me feel part of that Canadian TV online community almost immediately. What started as a whim suddenly felt valuable, because he saw value in it.

Through the years the TV, eh? charity auctions benefited enormously from his contributions, his bids, and his promotion. He harassed industry folks to donate and his followers to bid, helping raise thousands of dollars for Kids Help Phone. He was a tireless promoter of the fundraising campaign that helped relaunch the site after I’d closed it down a couple years ago. I don’t think anyone escaped his haranguing to contribute what they could.

We ranted at the crazy industry together and drove each other crazy at times. But he was always supportive and generous with the site and with me. We dated for a time, years ago, but long after that he continued to offer support and advice. Some of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me came from him. He valued some core things about me that others have occasionally tried to make me feel badly about, and I keep his voice in my head at those times. He had a big voice and a bigger heart, and he leaves an enormous legacy.

I wish everyone and every cause could have a champion like Denis McGrath. I wish for his wife, family, friends and colleagues some comfort that a Canadian TV community he helped create is grieving with them.

Everything comes down to Anne of Green Gables

Adapted from our recent He Said/She Said on TV, eh?

The Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea mini-series were the first Canadian productions to truly excite me as Canadian productions. Books I had loved, had literally read to death (the books’ death, not mine), were onscreen. My Canada was on screen. Not that I’d been to Prince Edward Island — that would come in the 1990s, when I included a pilgrimage to Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s grave — but the world of my childhood was onscreen, and my county was named and pictured.

That was before I cared about the state of the Canadian industry or gave a thought to why it was important to have our own stories in the mix along with Hollywood productions. But I knew it was special to see something so personal to me finally appear on my TV. I can thank Anne for many things, first for offering me a kindred spirit in my childhood and finally for opening my eyes to the power of having my own culture reflected back at me.

My own personal zombie story: TV, eh? comes back to life

I’ve had a couple of conversations lately about the value of blogging, which is kind of hilarious given how little of it I’ve done lately. I just told a recent graduate in an information interview that blogging was a great way to hone her writing, explore what she’s interested in, and enter into a community around the topic.

I’ve written about that before. I’ve written (sincerely yet tongue in cheek) about how blogging has changed my life. And now I’m realizing that even so, I’ve undervalued the connections I’ve made online. Literally.

I retired TV, eh? at the end of last year because after 7+ years I was tired. It was a hobby, I had other interests and opportunities, and it was starting to feel like a burden. Then TV Guide Canada went dark. The Canadian TV world lost two voices within half a year, and I acquired a partner who could not just help relieve much of the burden but help take the site up another level in terms of original, professional content as well as monetization — a word and work I hate.

While Greg looked into advertising, grants and sponsorship, I thought a crowdfunding campaign might be an easy way to help show potential funders that there was a supportive audience for the site, and a way to test the notion that people would pay for professional TV writing, even if not via a traditional model.

I had always felt appreciated in my time running the site (well, not always by everyone). I knew it was valued. I just didn’t know that value would have significant dollar figures attached.

I originally put $1,000 as our goal – enough to get us up and running, pay for expenses and our time, tide us over until we got some steady income. Then I thought I should dream big and put $2,500, allowing us a real head start with the ability to pay some professional contributors. Then I got spooked at the humiliation of failure —  and the increased Indiegogo fees if you don’t hit your goal — so I compromised at the posted goal of $1,500.

After 5 days and 3 stretch goals later we have over $14,000 in contributions, with 25 days left to go. We’re stretching to $20,000 now.

I posted to my social networks, Greg posted to his, and from there our stalwart supporters took over, drumming up donations from writers, producers, agents, directors, actors, guilds … anyone who makes a living in Canadian TV was encouraged (sometimes heckled) to donate. Dedicated Canadian TV fans have donated. This isn’t from our friends and family (though a few of them have donated too). This is from people who read the site, who miss the site, who want the site back.

I’m sincerely grateful and sincerely overwhelmed. Our little test balloon has turned into a rocketship, and I’m scrambling to keep up with it emotionally and logistically.

I don’t know how to begin to thank people. I mean, most of the donors get a perk but how do I convey what their support means, whether it’s financial or spreading the word or just cheering us on? It’s validation of my work for the last 8 years — we really raised $14,000 in 5 days and 8 years — plus Greg’s work over the last 15 years, plus the promise of what we can do together.

Which is a whole lot more, now. Our dreams are expanding with our Indiegogo totals, always with an eye to how to sustain what we start, how to keep the momentum without exhausting the crowdfunding model, how to seize the opportunities coming at us, how to make this business model work to support professional-quality Canadian TV coverage and have people paid fairly for their work.

All while stunned at the generous support from this community of people I’ve been lucky to be a part of for the last 8 years. All while working on it during gorgeous summer weekends and evenings, via cross-country email and Skype conversations. 

We have a plan. We have the passion. And we have a plethora of people whose support means more than a blog post could say.  Thanks everyone.

Hiatus

Hiatus

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Today’s the last day to bid on items in the TV, eh? charity auction in support of Kids Help Phone, a free, anonymous and confidential phone and on-line professional counselling service for youth. The auction of television memorabilia and experiences ends today at 6 pm PT/9 pm ET. Check it out and bid here.

This is the second auction I’ve organized for the site — a third was put on by the producers of Flashpoint — and for various personal reasons it took me a long time to get it up and running. It’s been plagued by fraudulent bids and complaints that there’s not enough stuff to bid on, making it not quite the ending I was hoping for. But some of the reasons I took so long to mount the auction and why I wanted to keep it small are the same reasons I’ve decided to put TV, eh? on hiatus. (There’s nothing wrong, just shifting priorities.)

I’ll wrap things up by the end of the month, do a couple more podcasts with my fabulous co-host Anthony Marco, and then move on to other web adventures. It’s been a wonderful ride, these past 7 years. I’m grateful to everyone for the support and will always feel like I was part of a great community of people — and hope to remain so to a lesser degree. But it’s time to retire at least for the foreseeable future from running the site.

If someone decides to pick up where TV, eh? left off I’ll be happy to assist in any way I can. I’m posting here first for my “inner web circle” — I can’t quite remember who I’ve already told — but when the auction wraps up I’ll announce it on the site and let my contacts know as well.

Thanks again to everyone for the support.

Coffee, TV or Me

Coffee, TV or Me

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Two unrelated features in the news have been swirling around in my brain like, say, a cup of hot coffee. That somehow entered my brain. Never mind.

1. The New York Times is running a fascinating series looking back at stories in the news and how they were reported — and misreported — at the time. Scalded By Coffee, Then The News tells the familiar tale of the woman who got rich by suing because hot coffee was hot (there’s a documentary called Hot Coffee too but the NYT video is like the Coles Notes version). Only she didn’t get rich and that wasn’t the point of her suit. The media at the time got facts wrong and didn’t present some facts that changed my mind later: the horrific pictures of the 79 year old woman’s injuries and the history of McDonald’s callousness. She wanted her medical bills paid — mere coffee money to the company, who knew about and ignored other such injuries, and only took action, as companies will, when it became a legal and financial obligation. Some of you will watch the retro report or documentary and still believe the suit was frivolous. But think about how simple facts were distorted and others not reported at all.

2. A couple weeks ago I was asked to be part of a panel discussion on CBC’s The Current about a controversial column by The Globe and Mail‘s TV critic John Doyle, in which he claimed the “golden age” of television (think Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men) had bypassed the Canadian TV industry.  I was on the side of “maybe, but …” in the half-hour discussion, hosted by the respected Anna Maria Tremonti and including Doyle, former Toronto Star TV critic Rob Salem and the CBC’s Sally Catto.  I think the four of us on the panel — and any knowledgeable listener — would agree that we barely scratched the surface of the issues with Canadian TV and with Doyle’s column. (OK, Doyle wouldn’t agree with the second part of that.) And we had four reasonable, non-shouting-each-other-down people talking for half an hour with a skilled moderator. Think about the average amount of time the news generally spends on an issue in one stretch and how many times panel discussions are presented simply as two polar opposite opinions shouting at each other.

3. Now think about whatever story has you hot and bothered in the news right now and wonder if we know all the details and nuances. Spoiler alert: we don’t.

I have no remedy for this limitation of the news, of course, except to believe that awareness is the first step toward us digging beyond the headlines before we get our pitchforks out.

Small moments, big changes

Small moments, big changes

I meant to write about how Vancouver TV writers and wannabes should come to the Writers Talking TV event I’m moderating with creator/showrunner Simon Barry of Continuum on Tuesday, but it sold out quickly (well, free-ed out, since there’s no charge). That’s a testament to the popularity of the show specifically and sci-fi generally, and the fact that it’s a small venue — the better for writers to get an intimate discussion about the series origins, the rules of the world he’s created and how those rules play out in the Continuum writers room and on the page.

Because people are people and Vancouverites are Vancouverites, there will be inevitable no-shows so there also will be a rush line. If you want to join, the event is on Tuesday, February 12 at 7 pm in Room 1800 of SFU’s Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver.

The event it about Continuum, not me – my job is to get Simon to do all the talking. But looking forward to moderating a filled-to-capacity event without losing sleep for ages beforehand is one of those moments of personal reflection of how far I’ve come from younger, shyer, anxious-er Diane, from the young girl who took the bus several stops too far to avoid asking her seatmate to move, and the high school student whose English teacher jokingly recommended taking a muscle relaxant before presentations and encouraged me not to jump out of a window during oral examinations.

I’m not saying I won’t be nervous on the day — I’m not dead inside — but I’m more able to see that the event isn’t about me, that I care far more about my own stumbles than anyone else, and that years of putting myself in positions where I had to speak up have led to being slightly more comfortable speaking up, and more able to hide my anxiety.

This isn’t a new epiphany – I wrote about it more extensively several years ago – but I’m constantly amazed at the proof that slowly, surely, I can become more like the person I want to be, more like the person I feel is underneath the me that developed out of circumstance.

There have been people in my life who have used analysis and criticism of my character to try to encourage me to be more like the person they want me to be, and it’s only fairly recently that I’ve had the epiphany that I define friendship as those who accept me and encourage me on the path of being even more me. And yet again, I find myself grateful to have so many people in my life who do, and so many opportunities to explore along the path.

And holy cow did this get sappy from the beginning of talking about the event, but it’s the small adventures in my life right now that make me grateful that this is my life.