SEASON TWO OF CANADA FILES INTERVIEW SERIES WILL DEBUT ON MARCH 7th
Toronto, March 2nd, 2021 – CANADA FILES will begin broadcasting its second season of television interviews on dozens of PBS and The World network channels, starting the week of March 7th.
The Toronto-produced series features 30-minute, one-on-one discussions with prominent and successful Canadians, from all walks of life. Guests confirmed for Season Two include former Masters golf champion Mike Weir, entrepreneur and former Dragons’ Den panelist Arlene Dickinson, and anthropologist/explorer Wade Davis. Legendary actor Christopher Plummer was also tentatively scheduled for an interview before his sudden passing in February.
The new season will kick off with a discussion between U.S. political commentator and columnist David Frum, and CANADA FILES host, Jim Deeks.
“Our compact little production crew and I are delighted, surprised, and grateful for the initial success of CANADA FILES,” said Jim Deeks, who also serves as Executive Producer. “Thanks to support from our private donors, and from WNED PBS of Buffalo and Toronto, our first season achieved unimagined results, reaching an estimated 23 million viewers, on over 400 TV channels, in 49 U.S. states.
“We were thrilled when WNED and the Central Canadian Public Television Association invited us to come back with a second season. I guess Americans actually do find Canadians interesting!”
Guests in Season One of CANADA FILES included author Margaret Atwood, astronaut Chris Hadfield, rock music legend Robbie Robertson, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susanne Craig. All first-season episodes can be viewed on pbs.org, or the series website canadafiles.ca.
“The purpose of CANADA FILES is to make American viewers aware of the contributions that many Canadians are making to society in general, and to reinforce the fact that Canadians are Americans’ best friends and good neighbours,” said Deeks. “That relationship may have taken a bit of a beating over the last four years. It’s really essential for both countries to better understand and appreciate the goodwill, and social and economic value, of our friendship.”
CANADA FILES will appear on WNED PBS on Sunday evenings at 6:00pm., from March 7th through to the end of May. Other PBS and The World channels will choose their own broadcast times, so viewers will need to check their local listings.
Production of the series has been underwritten by private Canadian donors and the Central Canadian Public Television Association (CCPTA), a registered Canadian charitable organization. CCPTA’s mission is to advance education through the production, distribution, and promotion of non-commercial television programs, films and other communications that are educational in nature.
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Canada Files: Muskoka cottager interviews Canadian superstars for American viewers
Community | July 12, 2020 by Patti Vipond | MuskokaLife
Are Americans actually interested in our Canadian superstars? Muskoka cottager Jim Deeks thought they might be. When the first season of his interview series Canada Files drew an audience of millions on American broadcaster PBS, he knew that indeed they are.
Last summer, former journalist, CFTO-TV news anchorman and longtime Muskoka cottager Jim Deeks was doing some serious musing on the dock of his family cottage at East Bay on Lake Muskoka. His train of thought was something like this: are American television viewers at all interested in famous Canadians? If so, would they watch a series where a Canadian superstar was interviewed for the better part of half an hour?
For most Canadians, the answers seem obvious. As comedian Rick Mercer has pointed out, how could people who arrive in Canada on July 1st with downhill skis strapped to their cars’ roof racks be truly interested in finding out about us? Nonetheless, Deeks’ interview series Canada Files proves that the charm of Canadian celebrities holds a certain allure for many Americans.
As with Canadians during this year’s virtual-yet-heartfelt Canada Day celebrations, Deeks’ Canada Files hails this country and our accomplished Canadians with unapologetic pride.
“Part of the reason I decided to do Canada Files was the fact that Americans pay no attention to Canada,” says Deeks, who discovered that about 10 million PBS viewers actually are very interested in hearing what famous Canadians have to say. “There is a real attitude that Canada just doesn’t exist. The other reason was to remind them that Canada is America’s best friend and trade partner. We have a lot of people who are intelligent and good, and Americans need to know more about them and us. In a small way, that’s what Canada Files tries to do.”
Another impetus for the show was Deeks’ experience as a co-host with Helen Burstyn on Toronto Files, an hour-long interview show that ran on Rogers Communications’ local cable channel from 2013 to 2017. Rogers closed down their community channel in 2017, summarily ending Toronto Files. Deeks loved interviewing interesting, successful people and wondered how he could keep doing so.
As last summer ambled by, Deeks’ idea germinated into action. How about interviewing people from across Canada? With celebrity experiences from a 50-year journalism career to draw on, he composed a wish list of renowned Canadians and pitched them the prospective show. Or rather, pitched it to their agents.
“Trying to get Hollywood names was tough, tough, tough,” recalls Deeks. “I probably approached 60 different Canadians including Rachel McAdams, Catherine O’Hara and Ryan Reynolds. Unfortunately, with very famous people you have to go through their agents. Inevitably, despite a polite email I wouldn’t get a response. I’d try again a week later. Then, maybe one of their flunkies would write back and say ‘I’m sorry the actor is not available at this time.’ It was so frustrating, I can’t even say.”
Fortunately, Deeks could directly contact those luminaries he already knew or had interviewed during his career. Margaret Atwood and Peter Mansbridge were two of the first celebrities to say “yes.” Deeks had met and stayed in touch with Stephen Lewis while reporting on Queen’s Park in Toronto during the ‘70s. Lewis was asked and came onboard.
With commitments in hand, Deeks built a strong case for the show and found guests for 13 episodes. However, episode 13 became a compilation of highlights from the shows due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The roster included Dr. David Suzuki, Robbie Robertson, Susanne Craig, Rick Mercer, Jimmy Pattison, Cassie Campbell, Beverley McLachlin, Calin Rovinescu and Chris Hadfield.
Deeks figured a Canadian-produced show about Canadians that was shot in Canada would easily attract the interest of a Canadian network. It didn’t. His pitch for the show was turned down by CTV, Global, CITY and TVO. With Mansbridge’s show One on One show running on CBC, Deeks passed on approaching the network.
The problem was not content, but cost.
“They all said there was nothing wrong with the idea but it would be too expensive,” says Deeks. “With the television industry being so competitive, they could air reruns instead of a new show and get a larger audience at a very low cost.”
The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Deeks who became more depressed with each rejection. Almost as a last resort he called WNED, the PBS station in Buffalo, and spoke to Vice President of Broadcast Services Kathryn Larsen.
“I kind of said, ‘Hi, I don’t suppose you would be interested in this concept,” recalls Deeks. “She said, ‘We’d love it.’ I almost fell off my chair. She told me they don’t do enough for their Canadian audience because there isn’t much out there. But there was a catch. Being a non-commercial station, they couldn’t pay for Canada Files but would be glad to run the show if I produced it.
“If I could walk it into the station on a DVD, they would play it. I said, ‘Okay.’”
After clearing this hurdle, Deeks needed financial backing. As the show would be broadcast on an American station, he didn’t qualify for grants for Canadian show producers. With no tax incentives available from PBS for Canadian investors, that route seemed closed as well. Deeks finally called Larsen and said he wouldn’t be able to raise the needed funds, but thanks and farewell.
About three months later, Larsen was in a meeting with president of WNED Don Boswell when he asked about the show proposed by the fellow in Toronto. She told him the problem and he suggested Deeks contact the Central Canadian Public Television Association (CCPTA). The organization was created in 2001 to help Canadian producers raise funds and offer tax incentives for private individuals or corporations. Set up as a charity, CCPTA accepts donations, issues tax receipts and funds the producer.
After the meeting, Larsen immediately called Deeks. With this new information, he secured 12 private donors, one to fund each episode. The show would go on.
With Deeks as host/interviewer, Eduarda Martins as producer/director and Mike Thiessen as technical producer, production began at WNED’s Toronto offices in August 2019. Peter Mansbridge was in the guest’s chair. That interview became an eight-minute demo that Larsen showed to her PBS colleagues. Subsequently, 60 PBS stations picked up Canada Files, some surprisingly far from the Canadian border in places like Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Idaho, Oregon and Missouri.
Deeks designed the interviews to be relaxed and flow naturally to showcase the guests and allow for candid insights. Each show was literally a fireside chat with host and guest seated companionably in front of a fireplace. Guests had the luxury of a 26-minute interview instead of the few minutes routinely allowed on TV talk shows. Though Deeks’ intention was not to create controversy, his questions were hardly the usual fawning celebrity fare.
“I asked Chris Hadfield if avoiding boredom was his hardest challenge in space,” says Deeks. “Chris said heck no, it was keeping up with all the work we had to do. Stephen Lewis talked about how the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is still happening, faded out of the news when the public got tired of hearing about it. With Margaret Atwood, I didn’t ask her about her books but about herself and how she approaches writing. I interviewed her on Toronto Files in 2015. Both times she has been absolutely charming, amusing, fun and humble.”
The interviews were not without some surprises for Deeks. He asked Lewis if he was satisfied that he had done all he could in his long and impactful career. Deeks fully expected the former politician to say yes, but the answer was no. Lewis felt unsure that he had done nearly enough for AIDS and HIV. Deeks respected how personal an answer this was and felt Lewis had never been asked it publicly.
Deeks was also taken aback when environmentalist Suzuki choked up while talking about his grandchildren’s future. Suzuki told Deeks we are all off the edge of a cliff now in terms of environmental damage to this planet, and that he’ll do everything possible to make it a 50-foot drop instead of a 500-foot drop.
“He told me his grandchildren are what keeps him going,” says Deeks. “Once he was sitting on the couch and holding his twin grandchildren when they were babies. He said, ‘I don’t know what happened but I just started to cry. I was wailing. I looked at these kids and thought they don’t have a chance. The world they are going to be growing up in is going to be so much more challenging than the one we live in now because of what we are doing to the environment.’”
A third surprise for Deeks happened during the interview with Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist Susanne Craig. Craig was on a team of reporters that won the prize for an 18-month investigation of President Donald Trump’s finances.
“I asked if she was ever worried there were people walking behind her, ready to take her out,” recalls Deeks. “She said everyone in the newsroom at the New York Times has to take active shooter training. That shocked me.
“I loved talking with Rick Mercer, he was so funny and frank. With Robbie Robertson, I was in awe that he said yes to the interview. I flew to Los Angeles and we taped in a recording studio in Santa Monica. Robbie was great, very candid. Every person I interviewed felt comfortable enough not to give me ‘corporate’ responses but honest, personal ones.”
With a successful first season of Canada Files completed and WNED eager for a second, Deeks is spending this summer dreaming up a new guest list and waiting out the pandemic’s travel and work restrictions. Christopher Plummer is on that list as is Jeopardy host Alex Trebek for whom Deeks has huge regard. However, there’s no shortage of prominent Canadians who he believes viewers would find irresistible.
“I am so grateful to all the PBS stations that recognized this was a program worthy of their audience,” he says. “The intended mandate of the show to inform Americans of how valuable Canadians are as their friends has made some Americans more aware of Canada’s value. Aside from being very proud of the series, I just found it fascinating and fun to do these interviews.”
All episodes from the first season of Canada Files can be seen at www.pbs.org/show/canada-files/episodes.
From the pages of Muskoka Life magazine