Wednesday, June 24, 2009


In an example of how much Canadian broadcasting executives just don’t get it, CanWest issued a press release recently to announce changes to its specialty channels.

These included:

1. Turning out the lights at “Fine Living Canada”.

I guess people here aren’t living as fine as the Prime Minister seems to think.

2. Going after a larger male demographic on the, currently heavy with Wedding shows and Makeover shows and shows on Figuring-out-how-to-make-boys-like-us, Slice Channel.

Hint to Slice, most guys are uncomfortable with weddings and change but there are a couple of sure-fire ways to get them to like you -- if you really want to push the envelope.

3. Shifting The History Channel more to entertainment than historical documentaries.

4. TVtropolis won’t change because it can only run shows more than 10 years old and has to wait for whatever changed in the fall of 1999.

“Look, TVTropolis has got “Moesha”! Oooh, I hope it’s in High-Def!”

With regard to The History Channel, Michael Kot, VP of factual content at Canwest, said, "We've stopped being the Hitler channel.”

Actually, Mike – you just became exactly that!

When The History Channel was licensed in 1996, it came on the scene with a mandate to present historical documentaries and films with a special emphasis on documentary and dramatic programs related to Canada’s past. That was reiterated by the CRTC in 2004 when the channel’s license was renewed...

1. (a) The licensee shall provide a national English-language specialty service consisting of historical documentaries, movies, mini-series and history programs which embrace both current events and past history, with a special emphasis on documentary and dramatic programs related to Canada's past.

2. In each broadcast year, the licensee shall devote to the exhibition of Canadian programs not less than 50% of the broadcast day, and not less than 40% of the evening broadcast period.

Now, The History Channel has taken a long and storied end run around those terms of licence right from its beginning with movies that had little if any basis in fact beyond being set during some discernable point of human residence on this planet.

They became "The Hitler Channel" early on because, either unable or unwilling to invest in showcasing any portion of Canadian history which occurred prior to the invention of public domain film clips, they ended up running an endless number of documentaries on WWII.

A couple of years into their existence, any producer pitching a WWII project to History had to list the sources of their archival footage -- mostly because the same free or close to it material was turning up with tiresome regularity.

"Marge, didn't we see that same tank go through that same hedge earlier tonight -- and apparently in a completely different country?"

But rather than look for creative ways to live up to their mandate, the channel simply got creative in their justification of how you defined 'history'.

"CSI:NY" represented New York after the trauma of 9/11 although few episodes even mentioned that event.

"JAG" was a look at the work of the American Judge Advocate General's office, although most of the stories were concocted in LA writers rooms rather than military courts.

Or their current staple "NCIS" wherein the actual series has stopped pretending it has any basis in reality, let alone historical fact.

Despite getting slapped on the wrist for some of this by the CRTC, The History Channel just kept soldiering further from what it was licensed to do, simultaneously spitting in the faces of the CRTC Commissioners they knew were toothless and holding up the genre protection that regulator had granted them to prevent anybody else from delivering actual historical content.

And that's why The History Channel will always be, even without his constant presence, "The Hitler Channel".

You see, Adolf Hitler was an evil, conniving and lying little fuck who rose to and retained power via a propoganda tool he dubbed "The Big Lie".

The concept was to tell a lie so huge people would believe it because they wouldn't be able to comprehend somebody so egregiously misrepresenting the truth.

And then Hitler just kept repeating that lie until those saying something different became the ones who were not believed.

Adolf Hitler blamed Germany's pre-war problems on the Jews. The History Channel insists that running "NCIS" twice nightly during Primetime lives up to its broadcast mandate of educating and informing Canadians about history.

In fact, if you look at The History Channel's overall schedule, you're hard pressed to believe they're anywhere close to exhibiting Canadian programs "not less than 40% of the evening broadcast period".

And when barely any of those "Canadian" non-NCIS offerings deal with actual Canadian history, opting to explore urban legends, the T-Rex and Dracula, you begin to see that The History Channel has less interest in history than becoming yet another re-run platform for its corporate conglomerate's library.

As one of my visitors recently commented:

"Specialty channels are making rates of return of more than 20%.... Not hard to do when you regurgitate every property you've ever owned onto every channel it kinda almost maybe fits. Hey, we own 'Blue Murder'. It has women on it, so its a great fit for Showcase Diva AND it has people moving in it, so its a match for Showcase Action too! And its a cop show, so its PERFECT for Mystery as well."

Arguing that any of our Specialty Channels actually specialize within their genre is the current "Big Lie" in Canadian broadcasting, with The History Channel being perhaps the most hypocritical offender.

They may have gotten rid of Hitler, but they saved his brain.

Don't be surprised if the original "B" movie with that premise turns up on History in the near future -- probably on a double bill with "The Producers".


mef said...

My favourite part of the History Channel is when they run a Hollywood movie like, say, the Davinci Code, and then have Anne (sp?) Medina on afterwards to explain what is historically accurate.

I can't wait to see when the Star Wars movies (because they happened in the past) are shown on the History Channel and then Anne Medina will come on after to explain that Tatooine may or may not exist and that there is no archaeological evidence that supports the existence of Luke Skywalker.

Chris Mehrlein said...

RE: Mef

Hey, they once ran "Conan the Barbarian" on just that premise. I forget the exact excuse Anne Medina recited off the teleprompter but it was bad enough that she was quite visibly squirming.

Disgraced Media Baron said...

I believe History aired one or many of the Star Trek movies using the same rationalizations hinted at by mef.

deborah Nathan said...

It all reminds me of the hilarious premise of "Galaxy Quest" - aliens who think everything they've seen on television is historical fact. While they're at it - why not Day the Earth Stood Still - a documentary about post WWII America. And don't get me started on westerns.

The disgraceful aspect of all this - nobody calls the on it. Nobody pulls their license. Nobody will.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I've been quoted on a major blog! Should I beg for royalties? Nah...

I'll give the current package of "specialty" TV until the fall, then I'll probably pull the plug and continue watching DVDs of the shows I want to watch, i.e., my summer "catching up" on shows like Battlestar Galactica, etc.

I mean, why am I paying for a channel which is supposed to show things I can't see on other channels anyway? To paraphrase the immortal words of Inigo Montoya : you keep using that word 'specialty'. I don't think it means what you think it means...

No commercials (I know they pay the freight, but most movies on TV seem to be edited by Freddy Krueger these days. If Krueger was having an epileptic fit. And was blind AND deaf.) And was being paid to place commercials in the worst possible place and time.

And with the extra bonus of actually having the shows RUN IN THE ORDER THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO. All this bouncing around between Global/CTV main station, minor league station, "specialty" station, re-run station...

And the sound. Good goddess, the sound. Do the nets realize they care competing with 5.1 (or 7.1) Dolby surround sound?

mef said...

Yeah I just wish Medina would somehow convey some sense of shame or something; a flick of the eyebrow or a well-timed pause a la Cronkite when he was reading Viet Nam press releases from Lyndon Johnson's administration.

Too much to hope for? Yup.