When YTV aired Wild Guess in 1988, the program was the first and only show on its schedule in which YTV was a co-production partner. Ten years later, YTV has at least 20 co-productions on the go in various stages of development and has aired approximately 1,000 hours of co-produced programs.
‘A lot of the early [co-production] shows were, dare I say, ‘cheap and cheerful’ comedy shows,’ explains Suzanne French, manager of co-productions at YTV. ‘There was a lot of sketch comedy, with just one or two drama shows.’
YTV’s stable of co-productions has expanded over the years to include many dramatic series. Co-productions now garner the channel’s top ratings as well. Eight out of YTV’s 10 highest-rated shows are co-productions.
The channel’s top two shows are ReBoot and Beasties (known as Beast Wars in the U.S.), both co-produced with Vancouver-based Mainframe Entertainment. Both series are cutting-edge in terms of their computer-generated images and Mainframe CEO Chris Brough has been impressed with YTV’s willingness to take risks with its programming.
‘YTV represents the same kind of pioneering spirit and programming acumen that Nickelodeon represented three or four years ago,’ he says. ‘They recognized the opportunities and, as a broadcaster, took the risk.’
Producers are eager to have their shows aired on YTV because of the way the channel supports its co-productions with promotions and marketing.
‘YTV is one of the strongest partners we have,’ says Louis Fournier, vice president of distribution and marketing at Cinar, which co-produced Lassie and Are You Afraid of the Dark? with YTV. ‘[They have] an expertise in programming and broadcasting along with marketing expertise to help you get the property known.’
The keys to successful co-productions, according to French, are communication and flexibility.
‘It comes down to communication and everybody knowing exactly what the audience is that we’re trying to hit,’ she says. ‘One of our great shows right now is Lassie. It’s a slam dunk in terms of a family show [because] we all know that that’s what it is.’
In addition, the broadcaster is flexible in terms of when it can air a new program during a season.
‘The great thing about YTV is that we’re not wed to a fall schedule and then a new season in the spring. We can create an event around anything,’ says French. ‘We could put a new show in the schedule and create an event around April Fool’s Day, for example, or Halloween.’
In fact, YTV is a master scheduler, according to some producers.
‘They’ve shown tremendous skill at scheduling, and helping to build an audience flow for their programs,’ says Michael Hirsch, co-CEO of Nelvana, which co-produced Rupert and Stickin’ Around with YTV.
‘They have an inherent good taste in picking winners,’ says Mainframe’s Brough. ‘They are among the most innovative and forward-thinking co-production partners any studio could hope for.’