The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) are teaming up to produce a new television series, with a twist.
"Taxing Characters" is a dramatic series set to air in the Fall of 2007. Each one-hour episode will be a mini feature developed from a scenario described in the CRA's perennially popular "General Income Tax and Benefit Guide," or one of its more technical supplementary guides.
"People don't stop to think how much of a story lies behind the simplest tax dilemma, said CRA spokesperson Jacques Whyndebagh yesterday at a press conference. "Take Episode 1 for example." (Episode 1 is titled "Cathy attended a two day convention that cost her $600 - but the organizer did not indicate what part of the fee was for food and entertainment"). "What was the convention all about? Why didn't the organizer break down the fee? How long has Cathy stewed about the problem? Did she have anyone to turn to for help? And why didn't she just ask the organizer? We're hooked on her crisis from the get go."
Among the other situations that CRA sees as sure fire winners:
- Episode 4: "Sally and Roger received a T5 slip from their joint bank account."
- Episode 5: "Rick and his wife Paula have reviewed their medical bills."
- Episode 6: "You have three qualified employees - Jack, Jill and Sue."
- Final episode: "Rachel bought a pickup truck from her father, Marcus, in her 2005 fiscal period."
"I get really excited about this last one," said Whyndebagh. "Did she really need to buy it, or did she feel she had to? And what if it was a lemon? Could she get her money back in a different fiscal period?"
And try this: the stars will be ordinary Canadian taxpayers. Next year's T1 tax form will have a contest entry slip. All taxpayers who file their returns on time can submit a slip indicating the role they want to play - and those who pay their taxes at least a month early will have their chances doubled. The winning names will be drawn on live TV.
Sensitive to criticism that it has compromised its public affairs programming on the altar of entertainment ratings, a CBC representative stressed that The National would not be pre-empted for the announcement of the winners. "We'll have Rex Murphy draw the names towards the end of the show instead" she said.
So why is CRA doing this. According to Whyndebagh, it's a no brainer. "We want Canadians to know that CRA is not just a faceless tax collection organization: it's people who care. And more people will file returns and maybe learn a little about tax as well." His excitement was palpable as he gave reporters a tour of CRA's new state of the art production facilities. "This is the place where creative people will want to be" he said.
And what about CBC? The representative, who declined to be identified, noted that the show would be bound to gain audience share "because it won't feature Ben Mulroney or George Stroumboulopoulos. And the relatives of the winners will all tune in." As well, she continued, "It's Canadian content, and royalty free. And with all those novice actors getting scale, it will be a heck of a lot cheaper than paying Brian Williams to talk about sports." In reply to a question about artistic integrity, she replied with some derision that CBC could hardly be expected to have Gordon Pinsent play every Roger, Rick, Jack or Marcus. In any event, she added, if they needed artistic integrity, they had enough footage of David Suzuki in the can to cut and paste him into hosting any show on any subject.
Wyndebagh also let it slip that CRA and CBC are in talks to develop a reality show, tentatively titled "Snitch." Cameras will record, Jerry Springer style, confrontations between tax cheats and the people who report them. "I'd also like to see some of our collections officers profiled in a show based on Dog, the Bounty Hunter" he intoned. "They can do it just as well without the hair and the muscle shirts."
"With this kind of creative partnership," said Whyndebagh in concluding the press conference, "you can be sure what sort of future the CBC has."
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