Just got back from L.A. (I love saying that), where a play of mine opened. (Love saying that, too.) While there, I learned that NBC finally shot what they call a "showcase of a pilot' for an aboriginal sitcom a few months ago. For the last several years, NBC has been shaking the bushes looking for talented native comedians and writers in hopes of doing something like this. Well, the network finally put its money where its mouth is. Unfortunately, it picked the most predictable native plot line currently available in North American pop culture.
I was told that the half-hour sitcom, called Blood Brothers, is set on a small, impoverished reservation somewhere in the American heartland that is being courted by a huge company interested in turning the bingo hall into a huge casino. Get the picture?
Anybody familiar with the television industry knows there's precious little chance of this show becoming a series. The survival rate of pilots is equivalent to the odds of electing a First Nations person leader of the Canadian Alliance party. Or of a First Nations person wanting to be leader of the Alliance party. Slim to nothing.
The usual ratio is something like a hundred pilots shot for every five picked. So don't expect to see Blood Brothers on the fall schedule.
While I applaud NBC for its first foray into native humour, I am a little disgruntled that they settled on a casino theme and overlooked all the hundred thousand incredibly funny stories a day coming out of native communities.
Case in point: One of the native actors in my play told me a tale about visiting his in-laws. He's of Apache/Pueblo heritage and his wife is Cree from Wisconsin. While in that northern state, his in-laws invited him out to an ice shack on the lake to experience the unique sport known as ice fishing.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, little shacks the size of outhouses dot frozen lakes, and inside them men (and occasionally women) sit around holes cut in the ice, fishing. More often than not it's a bonding experience with a pickerel dinner payoff. For some it's a chance to enjoy the solitude. Turns out it was an exceptional experience for this actor for a number of reasons.
First of all, his original home in the American Southwest is notably lean when it comes to lakes, in particular frozen ones. But more unusual was his in-laws' observation that he should have been there a week earlier. That's when the ice-shack hookers came around.
Now, I don't know that much about the sex trade, but ice-shack hookers must be at the low end of the hooker spectrum. What can you do in a Ski-doo suit surrounded by worms - or am I incredibly naive to be asking such a question? And more important, can you pay in fish? What do you get for three bass and a perch?
While this story might not make for the most family-oriented or culturally sensitive aboriginal television, I think it would be a lot more interesting than yet another casino epic. But what do I know? The way the industry is today, there's little chance of our doing our own shows. Instead, we can watch CBC news and be filled in on the dysfunctional aboriginal story of the day or flip to APTN and learn how to gut a seal, caribou, deer, Arctic char or elk.
But I learned something else in L.A. The vegetarians there have no sense of humour. I was asked if we have PETA in Canada. Evidently, it stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. I commented that I, on the contrary, am a card-carrying member of the other PETA - People who Eat Tasty Animals.
I barely got out of California. They almost ate me alive.