A Proper five years

Five years after transplanted Brit Guy O'Sullivan set up factual prodco Proper Television in Toronto he doesn't regret making the move. Upon the company's anniversary O'Sullivan spoke with realscreen about his plans for this year and his hopes to put Canada on the format map.
January 6, 2010

Guy O’Sullivan [pictured] is very conscious about whether or not he uses clichés when he’s speaking. It’s clear that this self-awareness translates over to his programs, which he takes pains to ensure don’t look like anything else.

Before coming to Canada, O’Sullivan spent five years directing programs for the BBC and then was a producer/director for Mentorn working on successful international formats such as Britain’s Worst Driver and Take My Mother in Law.

Since setting up Proper Television in Toronto in January 2005, the prodco has been responsible for over 110 hours of factual and documentary television, including hit series for Discovery Channel Canada, Canada’s Worst Driver and Canada’s Worst Handyman. Driver‘s season five finale drew over one million viewers making it the first Canadian non-sports specialty program to do so and Discovery just announced the commission of a sixth season, while Handyman will see a fifth season this spring. Lifestyle program Newlywed, Nearly Dead is currently in its fourth season on SLICE and has been sold across 14 other territories, while the company’s first HD feature documentary, The Real Superhumans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic, won Best Canadian Program at the Banff World Television Awards in 2008.

‘To be honest I think I’ve enjoyed more opportunities here than I would have in England,’ says O’Sullivan. ‘I wouldn’t want to suggest it’s easy in Canada, because it’s not. But if you know what you’re doing, and given the background that I had, I think I was quite fortunate in terms of timing. I started to do things that weren’t being done by too many other people at the time and I’m trying to build on that.’

Over the company’s five years in business O’Sullivan says they’ve been fortunate not to see much downtime. In the coming years he says he is striving for a balanced portfolio, including the right distribution deals and good relationships with broadcasters, so that if the company’s streak of busyness ever dies down they’ll be able to weather the storm.

This includes trying to drive the format business in Canada. O’Sullivan feels the industry doesn’t currently look to Canada when it comes to formats and he’s hoping his company can have a hand in changing that mindset.

‘When I set up the company, as far as I can remember the only [formatted] show on the air [in Canada] was Idol, then we did Driver. Even explaining what formats were was a process,’ he remembers. ‘[The reaction was] ‘You wanna do what?’ We were in this weird little bubble.’ One of O’Sullivan’s great ambitions is to sell formats into the UK and Europe, to send some of the business back into the areas that formats have typically been coming from. ‘I think historically it’s been a bit like the First World War… lions led by donkeys has been the story of the Canadian television industry,’ says O’Sullivan. ‘But increasingly I think we have producers and creative people who can actually lead the charge and not get slaughtered, just to milk the WWI analogy to its logical conclusion.’

In 2010 Proper already has a lot on its plate, having just delivered pilots to Canada’s Food Network and SLICE and with an eye set on beefing up the senior management team in the months to come. The company’s main strategy, according to O’Sullivan, is to solidify relationships with all the specialty channels in Canada so that his company will be top of mind. ‘TV that’s not shit,’ says O’Sullivan, trying to explain his approach to programming without using any clichés. ‘I was thinking about having that on the masthead.’

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.