Thursday, November 22, 2012

See Tomorrow’s CBC Shows Today

You can’t legitimately describe the first couple of days of CRTC hearings on renewing the license of the CBC as fascinating –- unless narcolepsy holds a particular attraction for you.

But they have been fascinatingly revealing.

A month ago, there was a terrifying amount of electricity in the windowless room where these hearings are held as powerful corporate executives from Bell sparred with Commissioners over clearly different visions of what the future of Canadian television should be.

The airless bunker was crammed with predatory power and palpable suspicion. There were flashes of anger, cries of frustration and the thrust and parry of competing forces searching for a chink in either corporate or regulatory armor.

This time, not so much.

The looks between Commissioner podium and network executive table are familial and understanding. “I’m a government bureaucrat. You’re a government bureaucrat. We all know the boxes that need to be ticked.”

When a CBC Exec doesn’t have any support material or suggests the need for a break from CRTC rules, perhaps even a revision to the terms of license already applied for, there’s no consternation.

Instead, we’re treated to a lackadaisical, eloquent dance of civility. Everybody is all forgiveness and smiles. Being a National Broadcaster is a thankless job. Much like being a CRTC Commissioner.

Catch-phrases and cultural touchstones that don’t mean much more than we all remembered to touch all the bases are traded with knowing winks and nods of gracious understanding.

Regionalism. Gender and Ethnic sensitivity. Child psychologist vetted Kid shows. Recipes for Mom. Hockey for Dad. Requisite hours of Blues and Classical music. Radio in dying languages for shrinking audiences. News read by respectable looking White guys who genuinely like the Queen.

The same old same old as familiar as the lumberjack shirt and sweat pants you pull on to watch “Dragon’s Den”.

You begin to realize that the only real difference between “The Beachcombers”, “Arctic Air” and “Republic of Doyle” is which ocean serves as a backdrop.

Phrases like “we’ve ruminated on that”, “we’ve had many discussions about this” and “it’s something we debate amongst ourselves” repeat so often, you soon realize the people who work at CBC spend most of their time talking.

And not a lot doing…

No desire to show that bad old Prime Minister how much more can be done with so much less. No passion to demand the audience pay attention or the world take notice.

No fire in the belly. No spark of imagination.

Only bureaucratic excuses another bureaucrat would understand.

When the subject of feature films on CBC was broached, we learned that Canadian feature films don’t work for the CBC anymore because they arrive without any audience recognition or box office fanfare.

Far be it from the CBC to stir up some interest. Why should they do the job similarly lackadaisical and government funded producers and distributors have not.

What’s more, it seems Canadian films are not “family friendly”. And worse, they don’t all run 90 minutes.

The concepts of editing for content or to fit a time slot are apparently too large for the bureaucratic mind.

But in an effort to accommodate (everything about these hearings drips with accommodation) the network will program Canadian feature films on Saturday nights (the graveyard of Canadian TV) during the Summer (traditional boneyard of all things television).

Which evenings, even a bending-over-backward-to-be-accommodating Commissioner had to mention, are when families are “outside” and “around a campfire”.

At least those who are among the same class and cottage country coteries which network and government bureaucrats inhabit.

I told you these hearings were revealing.

But my favorite moment so far was provided by Mark Starowitz, Executive Director of CBC Documentary Programming, after assuring the Commissioners that CBC remains the dominant force in Canadian documentary filmmaking.

Certainly a revelation to any indie filmmaker who has tried to sell CBC an innovative documentary in the last while.

Asked what kind of Documentary inspiration CBC had coming down the pipe, Starowitz thought for a moment and offered that “in a couple of weeks” a crack CBC crew would be installing a camera inside a beaver dam, allowing the nation’s children the thrilling prospect of getting to know the iconic rodent so much better.

File:American Beaver.jpg

Starowitz would seem unaware, a little research apparently far below the pay grade of somebody busy thinking up documentaries, that there are currently DOZENS of web sites offering web cams planted inside or in the water surrounding any number of beaver lodges.

Meaning –- anybody with Internet access can see what CBC thinks will be cutting edge programming next season –- right now.

Having checked out a long-standing Canadian site which features a Beaver-cam, two items which also escaped the tax-payer funded programmers became clear:

1) Beavers spend most of their lodge time sleeping.

2) Beavers are nocturnal.

So unless some child psychologist recommends getting your kid up to watch TV at three in the morning –- they won’t see much.

And it’s not going to be exciting enough to drag them away from playing “World of Warcraft”.

Although –- if that Beaver were to do what Beavers often do and chews off his own nuts, he’s probably got a good chance of sitting at one of those hearing room tables.


rick mcginnis said...

What. A. Sad. Joke.


I commend you for sitting through this, sir, because nothing could rouse me to the task, even if I still had cable - which I don't.

It's the pitiful state of CBC's documentary production that gets me maddest, especially since one of the reasons I finally cut the cable was newfound access to British television documentary production, past and present. There's no comparison. Not even close. We could do it, but we won't, not because we can't, but because the people who would make it happen are dismal.

I used to make excuses for the CBC. I can't anymore. It's got to go.

Joel Scott said...

CBC = Continuous Beaver Cams. broadcasting 24/7