Thursday, November 06, 2008

THE DEAR JOHN LETTER

Dear John,

I regularly read and enjoy the television column you write for The Globe and Mail newspaper. Even on the rare days when I don't agree with your comments, I know they come from a place of intelligence and insight that (the inexplicable affinity for Soccer aside) deserves consideration.

And I appreciate how tough it is being a critic. Quite simply, no matter what you write, you're always going to piss somebody off.

I also can't imagine what it's like to have to sit through a show I can give up on after ten minutes because it's obviously incompetently produced crap. And I pray that I'll never be in the position of having to turn out 400 words on one of those polished turds because it's the only thing on TV that night, or their network bought lots of ads, or it's culturally "expected" or however that process works at your place of employment.

All of which is saying, I kinda get what you do, share your desire to be watching better stuff and -- well, sympathize.

What I don't get is why that's not coming the other way.

I mean, just exactly how did us Canadian showbiz bloggers manage to park such a big pickle up your ass?


Back on Monday, you wrote a great piece on the CRTC decision denying subscription fees to our traditionally free-to-air networks and the unbundling of subscription packages for consumers. And then you segued to the Gemini Awards and this...

"Thing is, see, a lot of people who work in Canadian television - producing, writing, directing and acting in Canadian-made TV - spend a lot of time complaining about the lack of attention they get. They complain about Canadian broadcasters making money from simulcasting U.S. network shows. They complain about everything. Yet, in the case of their own awards program, they are happy to let the thing roll out in relative obscurity. It seems to me that they're perfectly happy talking to each other, reading each other's blogs, whining and telling each other how great they are.

Here's a piece of advice - get out of the house, stop blogging and reading blogs for a while. Leave the Facebook pages alone for a few days. Go talk to people who watch TV, not just the ones who make it. You'll probably find that very few of them have heard of your shows. You might also find that they're willing to watch if they hear that the show is really great. And they know it's great if it gets awards and attention. So get cracking on fixing your awards show."


Now, maybe I'm being hypersensitive here and taking a different implication from your words than I should. But I don't think so.

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed you taking a couple of back-handed swipes at fellow bloggers for comments they'd made online or to media that had sought out their opinions.

Initially, I wondered if you might not be exemplifying the general disdain many professional journalists have for online "citizen journalists".

We do know it's tough to be a journalist right now. Print media is in serious decline. "The Christian Science Monitor" ceased printing last week, "US News and World Report" stopped killing trees this week. And it can't be easy to construct your reaction to some news or event when those who write online can get their spin out there long before your next edition comes out.

I'd venture you had to endure about four days of our reaction to the CRTC announcement before your next opportunity came around. And that sucks. But complain to Konrad and his Press secretary, not us.

On top of all those annoyances, it can't be comforting to be one of the few writers still able to ply the trade of a TV critic and analyst. But don't blame those of us who act or write or direct or produce AND blog for those stresses either. We live with career insecurity every single day of our lives and the inner tubes are disrupting our industry as much as they are your own.

Our solution to that situation is -- work harder, get better, or maybe write a blog to find a new audience, remind people of your "brand" or help mold a community more conducive to creating good work.

In my opinion, there's nobody writing a widely read Canadian showbiz blog who's there to bitch and complain. Some of us are frustrated with the current situation. Some are downright angry about what's been allowed to happen here. But we're not bitter and we're not impotently whining, no matter how much it benefits somebody else to characterize us that way.

And, speaking only for myself, I don't see any solution to our issues that can come from revitalizing the Gemini Awards, because I did that once and it didn't work.

In 1979, I was part of a small group who created the Academy of Canadian Cinema, mostly because we were tired of industry awards being determined by juries with little or no experience in the crafts being celebrated and were often beholden to a particular network or production house.

We put in place a system that offered Academy members the opportunity to screen everything, nominate their peers and vote en masse for the final nominees. The success of that formula (helped of course by a vibrantly growing film industry) led to the Gemini Awards for television being created a couple of years later.

Noting the success of the initial Geminis both in terms of ratings and subsequent program recognition, those who'd always held sway in the industry (our networks) began demanding awards for newscasters, sports programs, and then every niche they were currently programming including the interminable subsets of craft category awards that logically ensued.

The Awards soon expanded to two nights, then three. Now we're up to four, awarding trophies to programs so poorly hyped by their own home networks that many in the industry have never heard of them and the audience has absolutely no connection to, let alone a rooting interest in seeing recognized.

It quickly became impossible to screen all the programs the networks sought to have feted for the Academy membership and a democratic system of acknowledging merit went back to the frozen chosen -- the juries.

I resigned from the Academy at that point, knowing we'd done little more than interrupt the self centered needs of the power base that determines what Canadians see on their TV screens.

I'm sure if you went back over your own reviews of past Gemini Awards, you'd find that most were little more than the opportunity to unload all the trashy one-liners deservedly owed to a celebration of a great deal of mediocrity. You, like the audience we both share, inherently knows that we need good shows first and a party to celebrate the best of them later on.

Frankly, I want the Gemini Awards to languish in obscurity until the shows those awards are going to get better. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge anybody their personal moment in the sun. The after-parties are fun and the hardware can make your mom feel she did the right thing forgoing a fur coat so you could go to film school. But we all know that a Gemini makes as much difference to your career as it does to the life or viewing habits of the poor, bored soul who's watching you receive it.

Creating an environment and community that will birth good shows is what most of us who blog are really after. We spend every day out of the house because we don't do this for a living. We talk to people both inside and outside our industry, trying to find out what they want to watch or how to make things better.

Maybe you need to attend one of the industry screenings that Jill Gollick wrangles together or the forums or writer blow-outs that Karen Walton hosts through Ink Canada. Get in touch and I'll make sure you get in.

You'll see a dedication to good TV that you don't see represented in the programming that comes from our networks. You'll see the supportive community that's being built among industry professionals. And you'll see how kids new to the industry are being mentored so their learning curve won't be as steep or debilitating as it was for many of us. With a little luck, all of this is going to result in better television coming out of this country than we've ever had before.

You'll also find a ton of people willing to buy you a Guinness or double Bushmills and tell you tales of the TV "Racket" you've never imagined could happen here and convince you that you more than chose the correct term for the way the Canadian industry operates. We might even awake the Woodward and Bernstein version of a journalist in you, if you're so inclined.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that those Canadian showbiz bloggers who apparently annoy you from time to time are really trying to make your life better by providing more enjoyable shows for you to review as well as an audience eager to find out your opinion of what we're doing next.

To be honest, we're packing the same pickle. Only we know who really put it there -- and how to get rid of it.

4 comments:

Trevor B. Cunningham said...

I'm printing this and pinning it to my wall. Love it. You have summed-up how I felt about the snark at industry bloggers from Doyle. It smelled of good, old fashioned jealousy and a sense of his own print-media irrelevance. Like you I read his stuff, but the back-handed jab came out of left-field. I hope you sent him this.

Jill Golick said...

Great post, Jim. Great to learn the history of the Geminis. It's something for us to keep in mind as the WGC Screenwriting Awards grow. There's always pressure to add more awards and clearly it's important to keep brutally editing them back.

And you're right about the purpose of blogging. Promoting the industry isn't anywhere on my list of priorities. Building the industry maybe... But mostly, I just thought we didn't have enough opportunities to talk about the craft of writing. And if that ends up making John's life better or worse, I don't really care.

Brandon Laraby said...

Fantastic post Jim, there's lots here to love - and I completely agree with the idea of putting our own house in order first and celebrating the cleanup later. There's a ton of amazing talent in this country, great programming just dying to find time slots.

And you know, I'll tell you what John (if I may call you John).

A bunch of us Inkies - and one Denis McGrath - will be meeting this Sunday November 9th at Fynn's of Temple Bar (489 King W, at Spadina) from 4-7pm.

If you'd like to pop on by, the first single-malt's on me.

Cheers!
Brandon

http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=47178855708&ref=mf

Ouimet said...

"Over the last few weeks, I've noticed you taking a couple of back-handed swipes at fellow bloggers for comments they'd made online or to media that had sought out their opinions."

This has been going on for a long, long time.