Select Page

With the CRTC hearings next week, there are several articles out there about the state of Canadian television, most of which I haven’t posted to the TV, Eh? site because they’re too industry focused rather than program focused. One, an interview in the Toronto Star with Richard Stursberg, CBC’s executive vice-president of English TV, didn’t make my eyes glaze over as much as the others. I don’t have the stomach or the brain to take on the entirety of what he says, but there were a couple of things amid the noise that resonated with me.

“I don’t know how else to measure [quality], other than ‘Are they watching? Do they like it?’”

I’m grateful to FOX for having kept Arrested Development around for longer than the ratings might have warranted. But they had American Idol. I’m grateful to NBC for hanging on to Studio 60 for a full season despite a lack of viewership. But they have Deal or No Deal.

When all your network has are low-rated prestige programs and low-rated imitations of popular shows – and hockey, which you’re poised to lose – you’re in trouble. Either CBC is the network where worthy shows draped in Canadiana go to die, in which case the ratings have to be largely irrelevant, or it’s competing for viewers against private broadcasters and American programming, in which case at least most of the shows, whether high-brow or low-brow, need to earn enough eyeballs to justify turning a blind eye to the occasional critically acclaimed commercial failure.

“[W]e had a lot of stuff that was, how can I put it? It was news and documentary dressed up as drama. I think that’s worthy, but it’s not clear to me that’s actually what English Canadians are crying out for when they watch television.”

That was exactly my perception of CBC programming, and a huge reason why I didn’t watch a lot of CBC programming. It’s the eat your vegetables, do your homework theory of broadcasting. CBC and many others who talk about Canadian culture have defined quality this way for far too long – it’s educational and it’s good for you. The corollary of that is therefore it’s good and you’re bad for not watching.

On Thursday I was interviewed by a pilot CBC radio program to answer the question of why I didn’t watch Canadian television. (I still don’t watch much more than I ever did, but at least I know about the shows now – this interview was a little complicated by being post-TV, Eh?). They were going to get a TV producer who would be attending the CRTC hearings to respond to my points, so I’m hoping I don’t get called an idiot on the air. I like that to be confined to the written word.

Actually, because it’s a pilot, I don’t know if or when it will air, but it will be played to CBC execs to decide if and when it will air. I never thought I’d say that doing a live interview is easier than doing a taped one, but this was a wacky experience because it wasn’t live. A freelancer came and stuck a microphone in my face while I talked on the phone with the host in Ottawa, and she recorded background noise from my apartment so they could have the same sound quality and background when they blended us together. Freaky.

Plus, they wanted to recreate my blog entry on the Invisible Networks, so it was less a conversation at times and more “how about you say something about this now.” There’s a reason I’m not an actor. Well, a million reasons. But one is that I freeze when given something specific to say. I told the host it was like recording my voice mail greeting at work – I stumble and giggle my way through it unless I write it down. How pathetic is it that I can’t say my name, job title, and “please leave a message” without writing it down? Don’t answer that. Fortunately, freelance sound person, host and producer were all a lot of fun, which made the interview a lot of fun despite its surrealness for me.

But then the recording at my apartment had technical difficulties, so I ended up having to basically recreate over the phone the blurb they’d chosen to air, completely ruining the technical wizardry they were going to perform. I’d almost suspect “technical difficulties” was really code for “wow, you sucked – we need to do that over” except they played the clip for me, and there really was a horrible crackle and hiss on the recording.

Unfortunately, that meant more voice mail greeting-type torture for me. Fortunately, they picked the one minute out of the half-hour babblefest that nicely summarized my opinion – it’s a stigma about poor quality Canadian shows, continued poor quality Canadian shows, and a lack of promotion that would allow me to find the good ones that caused me to not watch a lot of Canadian TV. Plus they left in the bit where I specifically mentioned Intelligence as an example of a show that’s won me over.

I was happy they didn’t just go with the soundbite “Canadian TV is crap.” Because yes, I uttered those words, but in the context of that being a perception of many people. We’ve still got a long way to go from crap to quality.