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'Bria Mack' creator 'disappointed' Bell cancelled Screen Award-winning show

TORONTO — The creator of “Bria Mack Gets a Life” says she’s “disappointed” Bell Media cancelled her acclaimed series after just one season, and she questioned the broadcaster's promotion efforts and commitment to cultivating new stars.
The cast and crew of "Bria Mack Gets a Life" pose with their award for Best Comedy Series at the 2024 Canadian Screen Awards Gala in Toronto, on Friday May 31, 2024. The creator of "Bria Mack Gets a Life" says she's "disappointed" Bell Media cancelled her acclaimed series after just one season, and she questioned the broadcaster's promotion efforts and commitment to cultivating new stars. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

TORONTO — The creator of “Bria Mack Gets a Life” says she’s “disappointed” Bell Media cancelled her acclaimed series after just one season, and she questioned the broadcaster's promotion efforts and commitment to cultivating new stars.

Toronto’s Sasha Leigh Henry says she learned of the cancellation a few weeks before her show claimed the best TV comedy trophy at the Canadian Screen Awards on May 31.

Henry says the win “confirmed for me what I knew in my heart” about the quality of the show, which was well-received by critics and sought-after by U.S. networks, according to executive producer Mark Montefiore.

Bell said that it cancelled "Bria Mack Gets a Life" because "the show ultimately could not find an audience on Crave," calling the decision "incredibly difficult."

Henry said Bell did not share the show's ratings with her and "underestimated" what it took to promote a series with a relative newcomer in the lead.

Toronto's Malaika Hennie-Hamadi starred as a young Black woman navigating adulthood in a predominantly white world with the help of an invisible hype girl.

"I don't think (Bell) was proactive about the reality that they greenlit a show with a star that people aren't going to know," says Henry, adding the series needed "more paid marketing outside of their own media network."

"I don't think anything has happened to 'Bria' that hasn't happened to a number of Canadian shows in the past. I do think, however, that our networks spend too much time prioritizing and promoting U.S. acquisitions to Canadian audiences that have more money, more budget and bigger stars than we do."

Henry says "Bria Mack" was Canada's first Black female-led comedy TV series since Global's "Da Kink in My Hair," which premiered in 2007, although CBC had the legal drama "Diggstown" in 2019 and the short-form web series "Revenge of the Black Best Friend" in 2022.

"We should be embarrassed," she says of that milestone.

"I don't know why we still don't have more shows that have BIPOC leads until now, when this is part of what we do when we're telling stories, is create things that people can identify themselves with and in."

Before cancelling "Bria Mack," Henry says Bell greenlit a new show from her — a six-episode drug-trafficking drama called "Bad Trips" that she co-created with Tania Thompson for Crave.

Henry says it feels "bittersweet."

Bell says it launched "Bria Mack" with an "extensive promotional campaign" that included a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, "a national multi-level marketing campaign, and widespread press efforts."

After the show's premiere in October 2023, it also "tried to find new ways to promote the show, including multiple alternative merchandising strategies."

Montefiore says Bell never shared what their expectations for viewership were, nor did they make clear the reasons for cancellation. He says it would be unfair to compare the show with those that have established stars or are tied to franchises.

"They say it was based on performance, but that's just one spoke in the wheel. Performance is usually reactive to a marketing and promotional strategy, so I'm curious as to how 'Bria''s marketing and promotional campaign compared to the other shows that they were comparing it against for performance."

Montefiore says he received "a lot of offers" from U.S. networks to buy the rights for "Bria Mack" but the deals were contingent on a second season.

'"(That) would have substantially dropped the investment costs for Bell. Was that part of their decision-making process for not renewing the show?"

Henry says "Bria Mack"s end reflects an "industry-wide" unwillingness by networks to invest in original shows with unknown leads. She said broadcasters like Bell want names that “already have an audience.”

She points to Crave's returning comedy "Late Bloomer," starring social media star Jus Reign, and the recently greenlit "Office Movers," created by YouTube comedians Jae and Trey Richards, which feature performers with huge online followings.

"I just don't necessarily know what that means for me when I have something that feels groundbreaking and real and rich, and that an academy of my peers at least think is really well done," Henry says.

She says if the show cast "somebody who just had a big following or was an American star" it would have done a disservice to the authenticity of the story.

She says she's "concerned" about Canada's inability to build a homegrown star system.

"We don't have a star system, period, let alone one for Black, brown and Indigenous people."

Henry says she plans to cast a female lead who is Black, Indigenous or a person of colour for "Bad Trips," which is not yet in production. Set in Toronto circa 2015, the drama follows a 19-year-old woman who is convinced by a music editor at an influential media company to smuggle 81 bricks of cocaine into Australia, only to wind up behind bars.

She says the series captures Toronto at a time "when the city was full tilt."

"It explores the still life of being in prison in Australia juxtaposed against the raging party life and energy that was happening in Toronto at the same time."

Henry says the ups and downs she's experienced only reaffirm her commitment to being a creator.

"The system is the system, and I can't allow my creativity to be at the behest of capitalism, which is what decisions like cancelling the show really come down to," she says.

"I'm grateful and feel very proud of what the show's been able to do, but I also just want to make sure I'm being very intentional with the other things I'm going to take on."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2024.

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press

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