Little Mosque on the Prairie and the Challenges of Distribution [Part 4]
In my last entry, I described the give-and-take that characterized the production of Little Mosque on the Prairie: as the conditions of production changed, and as the political situation evolved, the people involved in Little Mosque’s production had to adjust their approach. Many of them, including the show’s executive producers, maintained a consistent outlook in what they hoped to achieve, but the need to adapt resulted in a program that, in the end, was complicated and contradictory.
One consequence of this complexity has been that critics have found in the show largely what they were looking for. As a show that “portray[ed] Muslims with humour in everyday situations,” argues Amir Hussain, Little Mosque “mark[ed] another important development” in Muslims’ self-representation on North American television. Mahmoud Eid and Sarah Khan agree: “Stereotypes about Muslims are refuted and criticized in this satirical comedy, which maintains balance between extremist logic and everyday Canadian values.” Others have seen it as erasing markers of diversity: “all of Mercy’s Muslims seem to practise the same way,” writes Faiza Hirji.
Another consequence has been that program buyers in more than ninety countries have thought that their national audiences would find something in the program worth watching. As executive producer Mary Darling explains,
[B]ecause we’re so interested in religious tolerance and these kinds of things, the conversation always turns … to something more social, right? So, first of all, if you’re a buyer, at the front of it, it has to be a comedy that [you] think will rate. It has to be a show that [you] think can go the long run, but what the conversation would – without a doubt – turn toward would be the issues that people are having with Islam in their countries. So when I think back to … Canal+ in France, there had just been more bombings and fires of cars or riots … and they thought this might be a good thing to just try to create some normalization … [W]e were invited into Paris for a big … cultural festival, and we went and talked at the Islamic center. Which to me really demonstrated why they’re having so many issues – because the taxi driver didn’t know where it was. Taxis don’t go into that part of the city.
One of the places where the producers struggled to syndicate Little Mosque, however, was the United States. (Another was Great Britain.) More than one person recounted to me how they had talked to people at US networks who expressed a personal interest in the show, even a sense of something akin to awe that the show had been produced at all, but who thought that US viewers would refuse to watch it. Given the response by some conservative bloggers to Katie Couric’s suggestion in 2010 that the United States would benefit from a “Muslim Cosby Show,” or the decision by Lowe’s and kayak.com to pull their ads from TLC’s All-American Muslim, such concerns seem well founded.
However, the event that prompted this series of entries is the upcoming premiere (June 28) of Little Mosque on Hulu. What made the difference this time, in contrast to the past? For one thing, Darling attributes the distribution deal to the personal connection that executives at Hulu made with the show: much like Anton Leo, who was instrumental in green-lighting Little Mosque at the CBC, the Hulu executives just “got it”: “They knew of the show, they screened some screeners in preparation for [our] meeting, and they just wanted it.” For another – and I think this is as important, if not more – Hulu’s on-demand distribution made Little Mosque seem like less of a risk. Darling observes that “from a buyer’s standpoint … people get axed so easily in the States for making a bad or risky decision.” The risk appeared smaller to Hulu because of its prior experience distributing programs that could not air on more conventional networks, including, for instance, subtitled Korean comedies that had done surprisingly well.
In this respect, Little Mosque appeared quite attractive: it was a solid hit in Canada, it had been syndicated in more than ninety countries, and its complete run was ready to air. It will be interesting to see whether viewers “tune in” to watch. Needless to say, I think they should, and in my next (and final) entry, I will explain exactly why Little Mosque matters, both to viewers and to scholars of television.