Thursday, May 08, 2008

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

Last year, acting on a complaint filed by Writers Guild of Canada Executive Director Maureen Parker, the CRTC ordered Canada's History Television to cease all broadcasts of "CSI:NY" as the regulator had found them "...not appropriate programming for the specialty channel".

Alliance-Atlantis (History Television's owner) politely declined to do that, perhaps secure in the knowledge that there are no guidelines for dealing with a Canadian broadcaster who violates their terms of license.

There was some more bureaucratic back and forth and, perhaps not wishing to piss off a regulator who was about to rule on their (necessary for survival) sale to CanWest, History finally agreed to drop "CSI:NY" from its schedule as of January 1, 2008.

This week, more through bad luck than design, I've found myself in the company of another History Television staple that seems just as "not appropriate."


"JAG", an American prime time series that debuted on CBS in 1995 and later transferred to NBC to complete its 10 year run, currently airs 3 times a day for a total of 15 times a week on History Television.

For those unfamiliar with the format, "JAG" follows the adventures of military lawyers within the American Judge Advocate General's office. The fact that there really is an American Judge Advocate General's office is about as historically accurate as the show gets.

"Jag" is basically an exercise in actor eye-candy juxtaposed with military hardware, mom, Old Glory and apple pie, as well as stuff blowing up real good. It features a talented Canadian star and several Canadians in the roles of producers, writers, directors and guest stars. It's standard issue prime time that doesn't strive to be anything more than that.

Somewhere around season 3 or 4 of "Jag", I had the opportunity to sit in with its writers as they broke stories for the coming season. Even in what was its series infancy, there was a feeling that they'd already covered most of the possible stories for their chosen arena -- not to mention the stock footage and outtakes that could be cadged from various Paramount feature films with a military setting.

So the day was spent trying to cobble together a tale from a list of "wants" showrunner Don Bellisario had called in from Hawaii. I may be wrong, but I don't think the episode created that day ever garnered an Emmy or Humanitas nomination.

This week, on the three episodes I've encountered so far, JAG's lead character, Cmdr. Harmon "Harm" Rabb, foiled a military coup in the Philippines, almost captured a middle-eastern terrorist involved with drug traffickers in Paraguay and became a crop duster in order to help a teen aged girl come to terms with the death of her mother.

None of those plots were historically accurate.

In fact, none could even remotely be considered dramatizations of any real events. Although some were obvious retreads of TV plots going back to the early 1950's.

Since its debut, History Television has spent most of its time passing off cheaply purchased programming as being of historical importance.

Early in their mandate, I recall a dour History Television hostess appearing after the final fade of the 1968 Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton WWII opus "Where Eagles Dare" to opine that while there had never actually been a commando raid like the one depicted, nor a "Castle of Eagles" that was the film's main locale, Adolf Hitler did have a Bavarian mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.

It was the equivalent of running "Lassie Come Home" and then meeting the terms of your broadcast license by telling viewers that Hitler once owned a dog.

Unfortunately, "CSI:NY" and "Jag" aren't anomalies in the History Television schedule. They're the norm.

Among this week's movie offerings on History Television are "Last Man Standing", a Bruce Willis remake of Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars", which was a remake of Kurosawa's "Yojimbo", the Samurai version of the Dashiell Hammett novel "Red Harvest" -- all works of fiction.

Also showing is "Rounders", a very non-historical drama about poker and "Blown Away" which concerns a fictional IRA bomber turned loose on America.

Of added interest is that all of these films were originally distributed by History's corporate parent Alliance Atlantis, examples of the repeated bicycling of the same titles among all of their specialty channel holdings, no matter what the genre.

On the series roster, we have David Milch's take on the American frontier, "Deadwood", which features a lot of bare breasts and cowboys saying "Fuck" and HBO's "Rome" which features a lot of bare breasts and gladiators saying "Fuck". Language issues aside, I'm pretty certain these aren't historically accurate either -- unless I'm mistaken and both the Dakota territory and Ancient Rome had access to silicone implants.

As if this lack of actual History, on a channel that wrapped itself in that mantle when it received its broadcast license, wasn't already damaging enough to the credibility of the CRTC and the broadcaster's own reputation; we had the recent spectacle of CanWest management arguing for genre protection at the CRTC.

God help the Nation if some newcomer who wanted to air real history were allowed to impinge on History Television's monopoly of broadcasting the fake kind!

Was I the only one who found it odd that not one of the Commissioners reminded them of a licensing violation that had infringed on the genre protection of other specialty channels -- many of them also owned by CanWest and still following the same Alliance Atlantis bicycling of their own library content over several channels?

Quite clearly, History Television has abrogated any right to claim "History" as its genre and Ms. Parker should be running her "CSI:NY" complaint through a computer doing a search/replace with "JAG".

Or she can send it to me and I'll file the paperwork. Why should she get to be the only one who goes down in History for revealing the Canadian broadcasting establishment to be as fake as it is!?!

2 comments:

Kay said...

Thanks for the reminder about this - it's been on my mental list of things to complain about for a while.
Of course, if I still actually watched anything on History I might be more fired up about this issue. After the non-response I got from AA when I complained about CSI-NY (thank you for contacting blah, blah, blah...without of course addressing my complaint) I gave up on them.
As a "history geek" the waste of this license irks me. A few years back History was one of the channels I watched on a weekly basis, it wasn't great, but a least there was something there to hold my interest - now I don't remember what the last show I watched was - but it sure as hell wasn't JAG.

James Goneaux said...

It doesn't get any better: just got an e-mail that NCIS will also now be on the channel. Urk.

At least Val Kilmer and Keeanu Reeves are one kabillionth native, so they are a bit of a fit on APTN...