MAXIME SAMUELS is alive in Toronto. No kidding. In spite of what you may have read about the fate of her grandly ambitious series, Seaway, the first lady—and sharpest producer— of commercial TV in Canada will be heard from again. Seaway wasn’t nearly the flop it might have been. In some ways, in fact, it was rather a success. And, although I was as unenthusiastic as any critic at its outset (“The trouble with Seaway ... is that it isn't very good,” I remember writing), I for one am glad it’s been arouni. It still is around, of course, and will be until the end of this season, and it’s also, in case you haven’t been vatching, quite a lot better than it was in the beginning.
The first episode of Seaway was an almost unqualified dog. Even the people around Miss Samuels’ Seaway Films admit that—now. It got the show off on the worst possible footing, and some of the Seaway people even think the early, adverse reaction of the critics was a factor in the program’s subsequent failure to catch on in the U. S. I find that theory a hard one to swallow; I just don’t think critics are that important—although, heaven knows, they ought to be. Any program an American buyer can
read reviews of he can see for himself, and surely his own opinion, plus what he can find out about ratings, will count more than what a few Canadian critics say. “I don’t think the critics’ rejection of the first show was more than one percent of the reason Seaway didn’t make it in the States,” one experienced TV man told me this winter.
Still, there was one series of events that had a bearing on even that one percent that I think is worth noting. Originally, Seaway was scheduled to open in October. By then, Miss Samuels would probably have had
four or five shows in the can, and any one of the alternatives, it turned out, would have been an improvement over what she did show first. But for a variety of reasons, involving sponsors’ needs and the timing of its entire list, the CBC moved the opening into September. Miss Samuels was caught in a squeeze not of her own making, and forced to go with an inferior product.
From then on, though, things started to go better for Seaway. Even critics w-ho’d been as disappointed as I was came back for a second look, and were more favorably impressed. Audience ratings, which had started fairly weakly, began to show exceptional strength for a dramatic show'. “Maxine didn’t let us down one bit,” a CBC official told me. “You’d be surprised at the number of shows from New York or Hollywood that start off with a fantastic brochure and a pilot but never come up to those standards again.”
Would the CBC take Seaway back if it were available next year?
The remaining ninety-nine percent of the reasons for Seaway's demise, if that’s the right figure, are not all financial. The first thirty episodes will cost $3 million to produce. The sale to the CBC will return $850,000 of that, and the sale to British TV (some of Seaway's capital was British) will return another $1.5 million. That leaves it only $650,000—well, "only” in television terms — short of the break-even point, and one sale in the U. S., even as a summer replacement, would look after that. But to return any significant profit, Seaway would have to be sold to a major U. S. network or syndicate. And in spite of its improving critical and popular reception here* there’s no chance of that happening even for next season. Especially for next season. To get on U. S. TV next season, any program will have to be in 35-mm. color. Canada simply hasn’t adequate resources to process 35-mm. color commercially. So, for the time being anyway, Seaway is going under.
But it’s left its mark. More than 200 Canadian actors got work on its first twenty episodes alone, eleven of them billed as “guest stars” or better. Canadian directors got a chance to work in a big-league atmosphere. A Canadian company proved that it could produce an hour-long dramatic series that was, if no better, certainly not much worse than a lot of what does pass for serious television in the U. S. (Next year, the CBC will attempt three hour-long series of its own.)
And Maxine Samuels, as I said, is far from dead. With the nucleus of professionals she built up at Seaway she may very well become our first grandly ambitious producer of feature films. Or she may tackle another TV series. Or she may . . . with Maxine Samuels, who knows? In the meantime, production of Seaway is getting far enough ahead of schedule that there will be time to have the
film for the last two episodes processed in England. So, just in case someone does show some interest in Seaway for a future season in the States, Miss Samuels is making those last two in color.
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