March 4, 2009

Your Obligatory What’s-The-Purpose-Of-CBC-Television Post

Filed under: The Glory Day of URBMN — Tags: , , , , — Cameron Archer @ 12:55 am
Lately there’s been news of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asking for a bridge loan to cover an up to $65 million advertising shortfall for 2008-09.  Over-the-air broadcast television is failing as “old media” like television and newspapers have gone/threaten to go bankrupt.  The Conservative government didn’t approve the loan, leading to talk of whether CBC needs to exist, adapt to the new economic climate and what have you.

In many ways the back-and-forth is typical – the more liberal want CBC Television to go ad-free and above the “usual rubbish” on television, however poorly defined said rubbish is.  Also, there’s a lot of “mean old Harper” fist-shaking.  The more conservative want all CBC-related projects dead or privatized, $1 billion worth of taxpayers’ money wasted, the usual fuck-’em-they’re-socialists talking points.

Most of the talk seems to be related to CBC Television and Télévision de Radio-Canada, the divisions of the CBC most bolstered by ad revenue.  CBC.ca also accepts advertising, but it’s not likely that Internet advertising revenue amounts to much.  Since CBC Television and its need in a 500-channel universe is a popular enough topic, I thought I’d at least add my two cents on the Mothercorpse.

I don’t think CBC Television has made many good programming decisions in recent years.  CBC Television has lavished undue amounts of attention on “can’t-miss” series – The One, MVP, Being Erica, Making the Cut, Little Mosque on the Prairie, The Tudors et al.

The danger with this sort of programming strategy is that if the show fails or does worse than expected, all that promotion means diddly poop.  Overhyped shows that fail can easily kill a network’s reputation.  If the show is also derivative of existing content, American or otherwise – MVP was essentially Footballers’ Wives transposed to hockey – it doesn’t reflect too well on Canadian television.

There’s also a problem with relying on more American content to generate “more revenue.”  The real problem with importing shows like Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and The Martha Stewart Show is not that the shows are American, it’s that there’s no necessity to have the shows on CBC Television.  I’m not anti-American, but it makes more sense to me to launch a modestly-budgeted game show than to make sure OMNI.1 and A Channel don’t make bank from Pat Sajak.  It’s not like A Channel’s making bank right now, as is the case with most traditional media.

Instead of Jeopardy!, CBC could have bought the Canadian rights to Mastermind.  The format is fairly simple – hard questions, a chair, a university backdrop, a host, a yearly tournament – but it’s done well for BBC.  As long as Rex Murphy or Big Daddy Tazz don’t host, Mastermind would be at least decent filler.  Just a thought.

Also, what happened to CBC Retro?  That initiative seems to have died in recent years.  Its output has been limited to Jimmy MacDonald’s Canada, Pop-Up Royals and Extreme Weather, as far as I know.  CBC Retro can still work provided someone actually bothers to do something entertaining with it.  The bar can and must be raised higher than Scott Thompson wearing a dress.

Even if CBC Television becomes ad-free, which I can’t see happening in my lifetime, its programming decisions continue to puzzle me.  Take comedy, for instance.  Back in the 1990s, CBC had some decent comedy shows – The Newsroom, Comics!, Kids in the Hall, CODCO and This Hour Has 22 Minutes when it was good.  Even some of the fair-to-middling performers (hi, Gullage’s and Ken Finkleman’s non-Newsroom series) were a step up from Mosquito Lake.

Recent CBC comedy programming tends more toward filler programs like the Just For Laughs galas, Just For Laughs Gags and The CBC Winnipeg Comedy Festival.  Shows like The Rick Mercer Report and Little Mosque on the Prairie are safe and quirky, lamely topical or both at the same time.

The CBC has tried for edgier fare – The Tournament, The Altar Boy Gang, jPod, What It’s Like Being Alone – but hardly anything sticks.  It also cancelled Kenny vs. Spenny in its first season, leaving Showcase to turn the show into a hit.  CBC Television can foster truly edgy comedy when it wants to, since that brings in a deeper talent pool to draw from.  It might also equal better advertising revenue.  I don’t know.  No one knows with television.

The big thing about CBC Television is that it’s the English lynchpin of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  CBC Radio has its good and bad traits, but CBC Television’s current direction and the numerous mistakes it’s made give the portrait of CBC itself as an out-of-touch, directionless entity.

Granted, it’s always had that reputation to some extent.  Dropping Don Messer’s Jubilee despite continued popularity and giving Ralph Benmergui a late-night talk show has that effect on a network.  It is still hard to ignore things like CBC losing the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme song, the piddling performances of Being Erica and Sophie, a reliance on ratings when ratings are at their most meaningless and hiring new executives of questionable worth.

I can see why people are opposed to CBC not receiving bridge funding.  $700 million a year should go towards more varied fare than The Week the Women Went and Arrested Development reruns.  CBC Television needs to realize it’s not the arbiter of Canadian culture it was in the 1950s and go from there.  I can’t see the network being scrapped, but CBC Television needs more than new “Canada lives here” ads with unfolding gem action and dinky jingle.

Oh, and could someone explain to me why bold needs to exist?  Sure, it airs the new Doctor Who episodes and Peter Benchley’s Amazon, but is that all it does?  The channel, formerly CBC Country Canada, has had no purpose since it stopped talking about rural culture and became a programming bran tub.  Give me a reason to care about bold.  David Tennant fighting a Sontaran isn’t going to be enough here.

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