Monday, July 03, 2006

The State of Canadian Televsion: An Ugly Picture

It's been an interesting few weeks in Canadian television, and I've been thinking about what this all means. To summarize, in no particular order of happening:
  • CityTV in Toronto fired Harold Hosein, who'd been the anchor of the weather crew for 17 years, and told the world that it had been a mutual decision. In fact he found out by phone after just returning from a 4-week vacation that he'd been fired and was told to never return. No public good-bye, no discussion.
  • CityTV -- the station Moses Znaimer named and co-founded, the station he wanted to reflect municipal Canada -- has exactly one photograph of Moses Znaimer, according to the recently aired Life and Times bio on him, in the entire building. Amazing, ther'es only one photo of the man who made CityTV the well-known television station and who spawned many stations from it, at least one from a program he exeuctive produced (FT).
  • CBC -- the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation -- is no slouch in the firing department. They started by first confining Brian Williams to Toronto during the Olympics, which disrespect to Brian and to the viewers still leaves me amazed, then fired him abruptly.
  • CBC then turfed Peter Mansbridge and the venerable The National from its regular timeslot in order to air an American reality show. I suppose since they regularly do this for Hockey Night in Canada, why not for an American show, or another show, or another. And they wonder why the ratings are not so hot.
  • CBC, as a prelude to turfing The National for an American show, cancelled This is Wonderland -- a quirky as only Canadians can do it, funny, tragic drama -- and I believe all the other (extremely few) successful Canadian dramas as well.
  • Global TV, owned by CanWest (the "Can" I believe standing for Canada), whose online identity is canada.com, fulfills its obviously onerous (to it) Canadian programming demands with one-off one-hour non-fiction shows, not dramatic series or comedic series, and only one Canadian reality show (that must've been a programming mistake, but they're repeating it! Will wonders never cease?) Also they don't broadcast any shows in HD, unless it's being simulcast with an American station, in other words, absolutely no Canadian shows in HD.
  • CTV -- popularly known as Canadian Television and calling itself Canada's #1 Network -- started this whole mess with truncating and changing the schedule of the Juno Awards in order to accomodate an American show.
  • CTV bought up so many American shows in order to thwart its rival GlobalTV, that it had no room on the dial for them. That also meant they had no room for Canadian dramas. They already had a habit of cancelling them just as they were getting into their groove and had developed an audience (anyone remember Due South?) And the one they did leave on the air, they bought the last season of it, but didn't air it during the season, instead airing its American clone. Let's pause and review that decision: American clone vs. original Canadian drama, let's air the clone! This year though they cancelled the last critically acclaimed drama that was holding on by its fingernails and didn't replace it.
  • TVO has just cancelled Studio 2, or did it? What they seem to have done is basically revamp Studio2 (like most programmers do a long-running series in order to freshen it up but without renaming it) rename it and turf the co-host, once again with no notice, no public good-bye -- unless you count the last 30 seconds of the show last Friday.
So what does all this add up to? Not a pretty picture.

Canadian television networks, or rather the executives who run them and the people in charge of programming decisions are
  • Either so threatened by their predecessors or by successful televsion personalities that they can't wait to get rid of them and all signs that they had been there -- such behaviour reflects pettiness and low self-esteem.
  • Or they're so afraid of conflict and of taking responsiblity for making hard decisions that they think if they sweep it under the rug (i.e., summarily fire) that no-one will notice. Instead they come across as disrespectful, vindictive, and petty. Is this supposed to be the Canadian character?
  • Either way they show no generosity of spirit to the television personality and certainly no sense of responsiblity to the viewers, especially to the fact that the viewers will have built up a relationship with these personalities and would like a chance to say good-bye.
  • Either they're ashamed of their own culture, a reflection of their own poor self-worth because if you believe in yourself, you'll also believe in the culture that helped shape you.
  • Or they've bought into the bogus idea that there's no such thing as Canadian culture so why do we need to broadcast Canadian dramas, when American ones reflect us and entertain us even better (well, they don't reflect us, but it seems many believe they do; and they do entertain but not necessariy better, it's just we've bought into the idea they do, so are preprogrammed to see that and nothing else).
  • Or they think that nothing Canada produces is good, and even when ratings and critics tell them otherwise, don't believe it. Challenging a prepogrammed mindset is a hard thing to do for most people.
  • Or they believe that the dollar is more important than the reason for which Canadian television networks exist: to entertain Canadians. Part of entertaining a people is to show them themselves. You know, like how American networks produce American dramas and comedies, and British networks produce British dramas and comedies, and...you get the idea. We Canadians get our way of life, we get our attitudes, we get our sense of humour, we get our style, we get the way we express ourselves, none of these are reflected in shows from the US or UK.
When I watch Canadian television, this is what I see:

Canadian televison powers-that-be don't care a fig about viewers, especially the relationships that develop between viewers and television personalities; have no loyalty to long-standing successful employees; may hold the anti-American bias that so infects Canadian society but slaver over American programming, being unwilling to challenge their preconception that Canadian drama only serves to satisfy the CRTC and has no merit in its own right; are unwilling to grow a Canadian show into a long-running success, except in the odd rare case, unlike south of the border (although to be fair, the American networks are having a hard time with nurturance and loyalty too vis a vis a good show. Stll, they seem to treat their employees fairly and show a generous spirit to them.); and basically are making me question more and more, now that I have cable, why I would watch Canadian television.

If all they're willing to air are American shows and can be counted on to cancel a show just as you're getting into it, why should I watch them? I can catch the American shows in full HD on American networks, and watching a Canadian show has become a mug's game of disappointment when it suddenly disappears, so why set oneself up?

And lastly, why would I want to reward a network that shows such mean-spiritedess to its employees?

4 comments:

Classic said...

_In accounting, there's a fuzzy term known as 'Goodwill'. Other companies and stockholders, for example, would pay more for an acquisition target's overall assets because of its favorable public image.
_Sometimes it is not so much WHAT you do, but HOW you do it that's important.

talk talk talk said...

Interesting concept and very true. It seems like these companies have forgotten this concept.

And yes, it's not that they fired Hosein or Williams or Todd, but that they did it in such a mean spirit. If they'd allowed them a grace period, like work for another month or at the least a week, with a big send-off on their last day, giving viewers a chance to say good-bye, I'd be sad and impressed with such graciousness, instead of how I feel now.

karen said...

Watched CBC's new show 11 Cameras last night and I gotta say it was pretty good especially for the CBC of all places. It takes a while for you to get used to the webcam thing but it's strangely compelling -- kind of like when you're listening to some lame-ass yakking on their mobile on the bus. You want to ignore him, but you can't help eavesdropping. Most of the people on the show are fairly regular looking so it makes it feel fairly real. I know, I know, who needs more reality?!?! Still, it's pretty addictive except for the one Indian guy (Rog?) who keeps dropping his accent.

talk talk talk said...

I hadn't heard of this show before, or if I did, completely forgot. It has an interesting premise and will be something different to check out. Thanks for telling me!

It's nice to know that CBC IS doing some Canadian shows again. I just hope this is a taste of things to come and not just a bone thrown our way.