Do I Want My ZeD TV? CBC Attempts "Open Source" Television

Do I Want My ZeD TV? CBC Attempts "Open Source" Television
The CBC wants you to know that ZeD is not just a television show. On March 18, host Bif Naked put on her best gangsta drawl to tell us "This ain't no Hockey Night in Canada." Billed as "open source television," ZeD's producers call the show an experiment in trans-media. ZeD's web site (zed.cbc.ca) offers not only the opportunity for dialogue between viewers and show producers, but creative Canadians can use the web site to add their own productions to the ZeD pot. "As with all good experiments, you start off with a sound theory and then you see all the different chemistry going into the mix," says ZeD production executive Rae Hull. "That's when you start to get the sparkle and the firecrackers. The part that's going to be interesting now is going to be people uploading content."

In addition to one-off performances and works of art, ZeD will be showing independently-produced mini-pilot programs. Twelve mini-pilots were selected from over 1000 proposals submitted late last year, and will air during ZeD's test drive phase, which runs until April 12. "We thought that a month-long pilot was a good way to get people's input and to evaluate for ourselves all of the different things that we're trying," says Hull. Based on favourable viewer reaction on ZeD's web site, a number of the mini-pilots will be serialised this fall on ZeD. Consisting mostly of comedies, the mini-pilots were developed by small independent production companies and individuals from coast to coast.

James Whittingham, Regina-based creator/cohort in ZeD mini-pilot "Screwheads," (www.screwheads.ca) didn't think his comedy proposal had a chance of being selected for airplay. "I was shooting for being number 500 out of 1000 — that way I could think that half of the submissions were worse than mine. I can't believe it paid off. I was freezing my ass off at a pay phone when I found out and I wept, deeply, like I haven't wept in years, like a guest on Oprah. Tears and Saskatchewan winters don't mix." Despite his glee at being a ZeD participant, Whittingham has his doubts about merging TV and internet ventures. "I don't think bridging the gap between the web and TV is anymore important than trying to bridge the gap between CB radio and microwave ovens." What began as a web project is now "Naughty Soxxx," (www.naughtysoxxx.com) a ZeD mini-pilot by Bastard Amber Productions of Montreal. Excited about being able to bring sock puppet porn to the masses, "Soxxx" co-creator and right-hand puppeteer Chantal Houtteman hopes ZeD will redefine Canadian content. "We never thought of actually trying to sell [‘Soxxx'] to a broadcaster. We had already planned a web site and were going to stream the short episodes, and have bios of the characters, etc." "Soxxx" producer Jessica Jane Andrews adds: "At the moment, the show is basically given a life of its own online — insights into the characters, the story behind the creation of the pilot, and interactive contests and polls. If ‘Naughty Soxxx' is selected to continue on, we will plan a much more interactive web offering."

"If we're chosen to continue on ZeD, we'll showcase artists in all genres," says Ruth Tolmie of Toronto-based Tolmie Productions, whose ZeD mini-pilot "Yes We Do Windows," documents art and the urban environment. "Windows" appropriately kicks off with the work of resident painter, video artist, writer and producer Ken Tolmie. Says Production Manager Ruth Tolmie, "we have great gallery space for hanging works for filming and for performance and installations, and great cameras and edit facilities." Ruth is excited about ZeD's web-enabled discussions. "There'll be talk back and forth, and a production team can measure what they're doing against what people are thinking. ZeD will last because there's a need for dialogue among people in the arts."

Tolmie is right — there is a need for dialogue among people in the arts, but it remains to be seen if ZeD is the vehicle for it. It's got some great things going for it — no commercials, innovative Canadian content, and a web site that facilitates both participation in and communication with individual content producers. Although a weak promotional campaign for ZeD resulted in poor online attendance at launch, subsequent days have shown an increase in web traffic.

If you're thinking of adding your own material to ZeD, be aware that there are strings attached. Their legal policy for submissions says that contributors waive all rights to their work, including contractual and moral. Not only do web contributors not get paid, but the CBC can use their submissions in any way they like without regard to the integrity of a work as intended by the artist. Since no limitations to the CBC's usage of your work (outside of "may be used on TV") are listed in their Site Policy, your band's submitted MP3 might end up as the theme song for any CBC television show. For all time. Sticking a URL to your web site in every video, or including your name on every piece of artwork submitted might be a way to make sure that you get your props while ZeD reaps the benefits of acquiring free content for their full fall season. ZeD's test drive ends April 12. If you've got an opinion about the show, you can speak up at zed.cbc.ca or at 1-866-4-ZeD-ZeD.