Broadcaster Magazine


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  • Award-winning Canadian independent producer and distributor, Ralph C. Ellis, has passed away at 91, after a lifetime of pioneering leadership in Canadian film and television production and distribution.

    From his start with the National Film Board of Canada in Halifax, in 1946 (after studying wireless in the RCAF during WWII), to founding what became the Ellis Entertainment group in 1964, to his retirement as Chairman Emeritus of the family business 47 years later in 2024, he pioneered many firsts in Canadian film and TV.

    His major milestones and accomplishments include:
    o Founding Canada’s longest operating independent production house in 1964 (47 years)
    o Producing one of Canada’s all-time highest rated dramas, Adventures in Rainbow Country, 26 half hours which drew 4 million viewers in 1969 on the CBC Network
    o Syndicating a Canadian production directly into the US market (Audubon Wildlife Theatre, 78 half hours, in 1973, subsequently picked up by Twentieth Century Fox)
    o Introducing many of the classics of British TV in Canada, including Coronation Street, Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in the Crown from Granada TV
    o Successful international co-productions, such as Matt & Jenny (26 half hours, 1979, with Polygram and Global TV), before the advent of co-pro treaties
    o Longest running prime time nature series Profiles of Nature, premiering in over 100 countries over 20 years, from 1984 onwards
    o Producing and exporting hundreds of Canadian programs for 20 years before the introduction of government subsidies for TV production in 1984
    o Producing without Telefilm Canada equity investment in any of his productions after the introduction of direct government subsidy in 1984
    o Early adopter of new production technology (stereo sound in 1984, HD in 2024)
    o First Canadian indie to ink an output deal with then US start-up Discovery Channel, in 1986
    o All productions broadcast in Canada in both English and French, and internationally dubbed into many languages
    o Co-founded Outdoor Life Network (OLN) in 1996 with Rogers and CTV
    o 20-page RealScreen supplement on the 35th anniversary of the business in 1999
    o Congratulatory letters from the Prime Minister, Canadian Heritage Minister and Ontario Minister of Culture on the 40th anniversary of Ellis Entertainment, 2024
    o Over 100 domestic and international program awards
    o Joint production and distribution venture with VisionTV (2004 to 2024)

    His son, and longtime business partner, Stephen, said of his productivity in a challenging sector of the business, “I attribute his longevity to an early focus and orientation on international distribution, which became the engine pulling the production train; that and an extraordinary sense of humour that allowed him to see the lighter side of everything.”

    Notable recognition for his contribution to the film and television industry includes:
    o CFTA Jack Chisholm Award, 1984 (now CMPA)
    o Lifetime Achievement Award, Children’s Broadcast Institute, 1990 (now ACT)
    o 50 years of service, Canadian Picture Pioneers, 1996
    o Member of the Order of Canada, 1997
    o Member of the Order of Ontario, 1997
    o BES Achievement Award, Broadcast Executives Society, 2024
    o Bill Hilson Award from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers, 2024
    o Fellow Emeritus of The Explorers Club in April, 2024.

    In 2024, he was appointed Chairman Emeritus of a new company, Stellis Media, founded with his son, Stephen, to re-release their extensive library of original content of close to 600 family entertainment titles in the genres of natural history, kids, science and history.

    “Ralph always loved what he was doing”, said Stephen Ellis, “and when he stopped coming to the office daily, in 2024, it was 23 years after standard retirement age. We called it Freedom 78”.