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Superficially similar to California Doubling and other location tropes, CDNE is distinguished by the way the shoot location actually affects the story. With California Doubling, the audience needs to accept the desert-scrub of a Burbank backlot as the Amazon rainforest, but the location of the shoot has no effect on the story itself. With Canada Does Not Exist, the location affects the script considerably, forcing the writers into crazy contortions to avoid mentioning or even giving hints about the show's fictional setting.
In the 1980's, a very low Canadian dollar, the construction of a bunch of new production facilities in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, and a host of tax incentives triggered a wave of drama TV production by local (though often transplanted American) producers. These quasi-Canadian producers started churning out a bunch of reasonably slick cop and action-adventure shows for a fraction of what they cost to produce in Hollywood, and eventually allowed them to crack the notoriously foreign-phobic U.S. network market.
The first show of this type was Night Heat, a cop series produced in Toronto by Sonny Grosso Productions. It premiered in Canada on CTV in 1985, and later joined the CBS Late Night lineup in 1987. It was the first Canadian-produced drama ever to air on a U.S. network.
That's when things started to get weird. CBS wanted a gritty U.S. cop show set in a gritty U.S. inner city, but CTV (which was still paying most of the bills) needed more domestic drama. When the characters started flashing American eagle police badges and calling up the "district attorney," CTV went ballistic. Already under fire for producing so few domestic TV shows, the last thing the network wanted was for Night Heat to be perceived as yet another American import in its prime time line-up. Moreover, the Canadian federal tax incentives and production grants the producers were getting likely bound them to certain minimal "Canadian content" rules.
Forced to square the circle, the producers decided to set the show nowhere, albeit a very American-flavoured nowhere. The American eagle police badge became a mutant eagle/beaver hybrid that was never seen in close-up, and all sorts of innocuous words and objects suddenly became more taboo than George Carlin's infamous "seven words you can't say on TV." You couldn't show flagpoles, currency or license plates or make overt references to any level of government. Instead of a "district attorney" or a "crown prosecutor" the cops would phone the generic "prosecutor." Courtroom scenes were laughably tortuous to produce, for obvious reasons.
As CBS and other U.S. networks started picking up more Canadian productions, an unspoken "scale of hidden Canadianness" started to emerge. Night Heat was a pure, level-10 Hidden Canada, bent almost comically out of shape in its attempts to be 100% Yankee Doodle American without ever actually saying so out loud.
Note: CDNE does not affect plain-vanilla Hollywood North productions like X-Files, Stargate, Andromeda and Battlestar Galactica. These shows are usually big-budget, all-American productions simply outsourced to Canada. They're either set unequivocally in the USA or in a futuristic setting where the whole question is moot.
Contrast with Eagleland Osmosis.
Anime & Manga
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, Canada frequently falls victim to the "invisibility effect", or is mistaken for America. Even his polar bear can never remember who his owner is.
- A funny Canada Does Not Exist moment was related about David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of The Fly, shot in Toronto. During production, they hit a crisis moment when the script called for Jeff Goldblum's character to prominently pay someone $50 in cash. Cronenberg, himself a Canadian, couldn't decide whether to use Canadian or American currency. In the end, he opted for U.S. greenbacks, pretty ironic considering that the 1950's Vincent Price original, shot in Hollywood, was actually set in Montreal, and given that several of his other movies were unequivocally set in Canada, even if they had mostly American actors (like Videodrome).
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch was supposed to be set somewhere in the American midwest, with Junction City, Kansas mentioned. The film was entirely shot in Toronto. On the Making Of documentary, you can clearly see the stores in the Eaton Centre, blurred out in the background of the finished film.
- Canadian author Charles de Lint made it intentionally vague where the city of Newford that he sets many of his stories in actually is. According to De Lint, American fans tend to think it's in Canada, whilst Canadian fans tend to think it's in the US.
- The Strugatsky Brothers famous sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic is (unlike its later adaptations) set in a town located somewhere in midwestern North America. But it's never made explicit whether the country it lies in is Canada or the US. Some of the governmental lingo involved would point to the US, but other details of the setting (including motor vehicles, like the more British Land Rover Defender) would point to Canada.
- Night Heat: See above.
- The cult series Forever Knight (about a sensitive, guilt-ridden, immortal vampire who became a cop to atone for his past sins) was more subtle than Night Heat, probably a level-7 hidden Canada. An unmistakable Toronto skyline was prominently shown at every scene transition, and if you paid close attention, you'd notice the Ontario licence plates and people paying for things with Canadian currency. But those touches were pretty subtle and most of the other Night Heat taboos remained in place. Canadian viewers could amuse themselves by trying to pick out tiny clues that the series was actually set in Toronto, while Americans could remain blithely undisturbed by the notion that an action-adventure drama could take place outside their borders.
- Psi-Factor: Sometimes. The producers could never seem to decide whether Canada existed or not.
- Highlander: It took place in a fictional Pacific Northwest city called Seacouver.
- Earth: Final Conflict- supposedly set in America, but generally way too clean to be the USA
- Codename Eternity
- Sanctuary is set in "Old City" somewhere on the west coast but which country it's in is never made clear. It's an invented city (like Metropolis), though why there's a city old enough to be called that on the west coast isn't made clear.
- A West Coast city could be old to West Coasterners, but young to people from other parts of the continent or world. It's all relative.
- Actually, "Old City" refers to the Victorian-era New York City catacombs/sewer system, whereas the flagship Sanctuary is in the Vancouver, BC/Seattle, WA area.
- Flashpoint tried to be set in an ambiguous North American metropolis, but officers in the very first episode had Canadian flags on their uniforms. The setting slowly let more aspects leak through that reflected the already obvious setting of Toronto until they finally admitted they're in Toronto.
- Degrassi Junior High reshot scenes involving money for the US version. Later, Degrassi became a notable subversion although generic rather than Ontario-specific terms are still used when discussing things like driver licensing and standardized tests.
- The Tribe - made in New Zealand, and starring an all-New Zealand cast with distinctive New Zealand accents...but set in "The City", with absolutely no obvious landmarks anywhere. Not only that, but on the rare occasions early on in the show when old money from before the apocalypse was shown, it seemed to be British coinage.
- Zoot's Police Car was a New Zealand/Australian model, but with blue insignia more typical of American police cars. They really went out of their way to avoid setting that show in a specific country. Also, in one episode, Jack finds a tape with footage of the President (presumably of the United States, given his American accent and other clues in the footage); later, he simply refers to the character on that tape as "The President" (not "The American President" as we would expect a non-US Native to call him). This actually implies that The City is in American territory, despite the kids' mostly New Zealand accents and speech idioms.
- Lost Girl: if you pay attention you can figure out it takes place in Toronto, but this is never made explicit
- The Disney Channel Canadian-made Kid Com How to Be Indie never explicitly states whereabouts the action is set. It could be anywhere in North America, although natives of the USA or Canada might spot something.
- SCTV, except for the Great White North and CBC related material, could definitely count, as Melonville is never explicitly stated to be in Canada and most of the television/film they parodied was familiar to both American and Canadian audiences.
- Kung Fu: The Legend Continues was shot in Canada but is supposed to be American.