Sunday, June 29, 2008



I know writers who are obsessed with it. The showrunner on one series I did would only deliver scripts to the network on ultra bright 20 lb. bond paper with an embedded watermark.

He was seriously old school, forbidding the re-use of even one brass brad and even importing stainless steel Chicago screws to fasten the final versions that were neatly stacked in his office -- unread, untouched, but perfect.

I'll never forget the look on his face the morning we were to deliver a spin-off pilot...

He'd proofed the final copy a dozen times and made sure there was a fresh ink cartridge in the Laser printer. Each newly minted page was delicately handled and personally collated. Once fastened, the script was slipped into a thin vellum envelope to protect it inside the Fedex box.

Then his assistant walked in. LA couldn't wait til tomorrow. They needed to read it right off the fax...

The Latin word for his obsession is not "Papiroflexia", instead that describes the Japanese art of "Origami" or paper folding. Some Japanese Masters spend their entire lives perfecting the recreation of nature from a single piece of paper.

And then there are those, who do the reverse...

Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, June 27, 2008


The first sign I noticed was the guy with the shaky head.

CBC Newsworld was covering the flooding of Cedar Rapids, Iowa and either unable to send their own reporter because of budget cuts or in need of American instruction on how you cover a major TV story these days, they opted for a live feed from NBC News.

The NBC Reporter was parked on the banks of the once placid Cedar River with the flooded city in the background looking suitably dour as the CBC Anchor intro'd him. But as she asked her first question, he began shaking his head in that classic bad actor "I've just never seen anything so bad" mode. Never mind the massive flooding CBC had just been covering from China or the Monsoon death toll in Bangladesh, we had basements underwater here and city records getting soggy.

He even quoted Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller, "We're just kind of at God's mercy right now, so hopefully people that never prayed before this, it might be a good time to start."

Wow -- not two minutes in and we're already suggesting devastation of Biblical proportions requiring intervention from a Deity. This guy was a really good Cheerleader of Doom. No doubt he's destined for a big future at NBC, which is becoming known for its own disasters.

"Oh -- the Humanity..."

Now, I'm sure the folks of Cedar Rapids weren't enjoying their ordeal, but seeing their discomfort milked for every ounce of suffering was a little much. Especially since I'd just seen a Vancouver reporter for Global looking uncomfortable as the "flood ravaged" farmer he'd phoned refused to get any more emotional than farmer nonchalant.

No matter how many suggestions the reporter offered on how devastated the farmer must be, he just -- wasn't. "Nope, it's been flooded worst hereabouts a few times". And, "Well, we're makin' coffee and sittin' her out." Even the dire warning that he'd lost his crop and faced financial devastation was met with, "No, we got insurance."

Damn! Will nobody accept that the Apocalypse is upon us? Doesn't anyone but a seasoned network Anchor know a rabid mob of Zombies when they see one?

A couple of months ago, CBC hired an American consulting firm, Magid and Associates, to "pep up" their newscasts. Ratings were sliding against CTV and (God, forbid) Global.

And rather than explore whether that might be because their newscasts were on when nobody wanted to watch them, showed a little too much enthusiasm for the Federal Liberal Party or that the lead-in programming had failed to draw a crowd in the first place; the Mothercorp decided to toss generations of reliable and reasoned news coverage for the American "Chicken Little" approach.

As first reported by The Tea Makers about a year ago...

"Frank Magid is called 'The Maggot' in the United States because he is loathed and despised by pretty much anyone who wants to be, or is, a serious television journalist. He is loved by ratings-hungry station managers and blow-dried airhead anchors."

'60 Minutes' producer Don Hewitt dubbed Magid's formula "Ken and Barbie journalism" while Walter Cronkite denounced the reporting concept as " perversions created from outside."

CBC won't say how much they paid Magid and Associates for their consultations. But since he charges $28,000 US for each tiny market US station, I'm sure it's a whack.

Gee, first we get Toledo Affiliate programming with "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" and now we're watching their version of the News. "Cows loose on I-90! News at Eleven-- er, Ten, uh, 9:30 in Newfoundland." God, DMc, can those cops of yours on "The Border" defend us from nobody?

This Approaching Apocalypse version of journalism has been creeping onto CBC for a while now. No story on disgraced ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier is complete without the now months old clip of his former paramour's cleavage combined with a complete lack of real coverage of that story.

If Bernier left secret NATO documents under his gun moll girlfriend's bed that's certainly worth investigating.

But you had to giggle at CBC's blustering over the last couple of days when Bernier suggested she'd "stolen" them from him and he'd been "set up". Because it wasn't "we got a lying politician" bluster, it was clearly pique at having somebody think up an even better plot twist than the tired old sex and power melodrama they'd been serving.

"The Horror...the horror..."

Last night, the "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid" reporting style was all over a lengthy CBC report on the impending collapse of society as we know it because of higher oil prices.

Futurists who seemed to have a weak grasp on tomorrow's weather pontificated on our return to feeding ourselves on what we could grow at home, that air travel would be a thing of the past and implied that millions of jobless automakers and former Motel 6 employees would roam the country in packs, rampaging through the few remaining Tim Horton's Drive-thru's at will.

My favorite was an "expert" from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce literally rolling his eyes and perspiring in panic as he described how much we just don't get the complete devastation we're facing. It made me realize that CIBC isn't collapsing because it stupidly dumped Billions into the sub-prime mortgage market. It's because idiots like this guy have executive positions at their soon to be defunct bank.

Although, I have to say, he was positioning himself well to be the next doom and gloom forecaster on Fox. Peter Mansbridge might be heading there too, because he seemed tickled pink at all the bad news he's got coming down the pipe.

Or maybe he just enjoys the feel of a new puppetmaster pulling his strings.

Look, I know the planet is confused and difficult right now. And items reported on newscasts are usually there because they're more serious than normal events to begin with -- Presidential blowjobs and baby Belugas aside.

But I expect journalists to give me the whole story, or at least as much of it as they can dig up on a deadline, instead of just trying to scare me. Like most people, I already have enough problems in my own life and don't need to be endlessly spooked.

I mean, I'd like to make a difference in Darfur and Zimbabwe as much as the next guy, but I need at least a suggestion that it's not all hopeless and pointless over there.

I'm not asking for "feel-good" stories here, I'm asking for some balance, some suggestion that somebody is trying something to fight the darkness.

Sure the airlines are in trouble. But yesterday Pratt & Witney debuted an engine that uses 20% less jet fuel and carriers like Westjet who employed some forethought in their business planning are reaping huge quarterly profits.

How come that never gets mentioned?

The world never stops changing. Dinosaur industries will always die around us, just like some guy with a gun will eternally lose it at the post office and once trusted public officials will forever turn out to be liars and thieves. That's life. I know that part of the story. Tell me the rest of it. Because if you don't, I'll find it somewhere else.


And if you journalists want something to be really scared about, consider this: The first suggestion debt counselors make to people squeezed by rising costs and threatened earnings is to get rid of cable television. It not only saves them $60 a month. It reduces their stress and aggravation so they can better address their situation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I guess this current game of tag started with Good Dog, who tagged Beavis, who tagged Ken, who tagged me.

At the same time they all tagged other folks so that lately I'm seeing the lists of "The Seven Songs I'm Really into and Enjoying Right Now" on virtually every blog I read.

And knowing I'd have to respond or be a party poop, I watched/listened to all the amazingly eclectic, cutting edge and innovative play lists offered. In the process, I realized that either us TV people are the hippest, coolest music aficionados around -- or -- we really do have a gift for fiction.

Then I took a step back and looked at this entertaining smörgåsbord offered in such a creative way and wondered -- "How much longer is it going to be legal to do this?"

For virtually all of these intelligent and creative people, most of whom are Canadian and depend on copyright law to earn their living, are linking and sharing music and videos that even if they own, the Canadian government is soon going to fine them for linking and sharing.

And I started wondering -- How retroactive is Bill C-61 going to be? Will all of us be getting letters from Sony and Warner Music one day demanding that we remove the clips embedded in our archived pages and reminding us that there's a $20,000 fine for each infraction if we don't?

$20,000 times 7 songs that's (carry the 2)-- Wow! $140,000 per blogger -- for one set of posts in a one week period! That'll make up for a shitload of new Madonna albums that are tanking worldwide, won't it?

Then I started thinking that it's real interesting that when a record company puts up a video on Youtube that's -- "Promotion". But when you do the same thing by linking their promotion to your own circle of friends, you're -- a Pirate!

And that got me thinking about what I'm listening to and enjoying right now. Let me amend that -- listening to -- but NOT enjoying...

At the moment, I'm far away from both my CD collection and my satellite radio. Forgot to pack 'em in the rush to the airport. Nor did I remember to grab my MP3 player with all the cool songs I will eventually be a criminal for ripping from my own CDs.

So, if I want to hear any music, I have to do it the old fashioned way, by turning on the car radio. Unfortunately, I'm so fricken deep in the boonies, I can only get two stations driving in of a morning. One's the CBC, so I'm well up on my Aboriginal chants and budding Jazz stylists from the lower mainland.

My only alternative is a Canadian version of one of those Clear Channel style "Flow" stations where they segue from 60's oldies to 80's oldies to Rod Stewart singing torch songs and Celine Dion taking a shot at Heavy Metal.

The Seven Songs I heard this morning were:

1. To Love Somebody - The BeeGees
2. Daydream Believer - The Monkees
3. I Honestly Love You - Olivia Newton John
4. Tennesee Waltz - Anne Murray
5. The Last Time - Glenn Campbell
7. Quando, Quando, Quando - Englebert Humperdink
8. I Couldn't Live Without Your Love - Petula Clark

Anybody want me posting those videos?

Oh -- and Canadians -- note the cool little "work-around" on the content rules at items 4 & 5. No full out Canadian content anywhere, but an American standard sung by a Canadian and then a Canadian penned song sung by an American standard -- so the radio guys still keep their license.

A culture is diluted so easily isn't it? Pity that a government so concerned with the plight of "copyright holders" didn't feel the need to address any current loopholes.

Anyway, I'm old enough to remember every single one of those songs from when they were hits. And I hated them then too. But they won't go away -- mostly because they all belong to libraries owned or controlled by the same big media conglomerates who own the radio station that endlessly plays them.

But in hearing them again, I suddenly had a blindingly clear insight into the idiotic Copyright bill Industry Minister Jim Prentice is forcing upon us -- where it's come from and what it's really designed to do...

This is a bill intended not to protect artists but to stifle creativity and keep the music market in the hands of a powerful few, a concept that has driven the music business for generations and was on the verge of being erased by new technologies. But unless they regain control it will mean the end of the Media conglomerates who have destroyed countless lives and careers to feed their own rapacious greed.

A few weeks ago, I posted a reminiscence of Buddy Knox, the first rock star I ever saw live, which received an amazing comment.

The writer met Buddy years later and the aging Rocker told him how he and fellow artist Frankie Lymon were threatened with death if they ever tried to claim any of their royalties. I'd heard the same Frankie Lymon story from a NY Cop who'd arrested the teen idol after he'd become a destitute and broken heroin addict.

Back in those days, I was just a high school kid on the Prairies, hanging my Japanese transistor radio out the school bus window so I could get better reception through its single earplug. I didn't know that Buddha Records was run by the mob or that half the songs I was listening to were only being played because somebody had slipped the disk jockey or his station owner a few bucks in Payola.

I just knew that a "Top 50" rotation was making me listen to crap like "Norman", "Tighten Up" and "The Name Game" way too often. And it got worse when the formats became "Top 40". I'd moved on before the shelf space squeezing out any new or independent sounds had dropped to the current "Top 30" level.

That's because my life changed one afternoon while holding that transistor outside the bus in a thunderstorm, when the DJ either needed to take a leak or close a window and put on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" -- the long version. I suddenly knew there was magic being kept from me and I needed to find more of it.

I was far from alone in that quest and during the late 60's and early 70's, struggling FM stations suddenly found an audience by playing album rock. Music just as suddenly started speaking to its audience directly and that audience was quick to shake its society to the core in return.

But the record guys were smart. They still owned the means of distribution and were able to buy their way back into being in control again and keep doing what they did best -- screwing the artists and their audience.

You don't have to watch a lot of VH-1 "Behind the Music" episodes to realize that no matter how big and influential an artist or band became, right after the last commercial break they would be broke because the record company stole all their money.

And none of this is ancient history. Record companies are still being regularly sued by their artists for withholding funds and convicted of "Payola" style payoffs with estimates that as much as $3 Million a week is being spent to make sure only specific music gets played.

And yet these are the kind of people our government has chosen to align itself with in drafting copyright legislation, criminalizing their own population in the process as well as putting many of the youngest of them in the same direct line of fire as that 16 year old Frankie Lymon.

Some say this is an inevitable alliance between a Conservative government and media companies that are fundamentally conservative. Therefore you have the decidedly bizarre reality of a law and order Prime Minister championing a copyright law molded by repeat white collar criminals who are also peddling gangsta rap that glorifies drug dealing, pimping and violence.

Gee, Mr. Harper, is that the world you really want for your kids -- and this country?

Or maybe big media has learned that instead of paying some NY DJ's to play Celine Dion records, you can get more mileage by simply directing your Payola payments to politicians instead.

What PM Steve and our boneheaded Industry Minister don't seem to get is that by doing the bidding of American media conglomerates they're hastening the arrival of a system that will be closed to new artists or any music that isn't (like the list above) an inoffensive soundtrack controlled by the corporations marketing it.

Not only is such a course for a supposedly independent nation foolish, it's gutless. You won't find a better example of political cowardice than Industry Minister Prentice being interviewed on CBC's "Search Engine". The guy literally runs away. You can link to the podcast here.

Minister Prentice's testicles can apparently be found in a jar at the Recording Industry of America's world headquarters in Mordor.

So in conclusion, Alls I'm sayin' is -- we can either have a future where people can share the music they love and have the opportunity of being exposed to ideas and outlooks that might change the world (or just them) for the better. Or they can have a world owned by big media that'll tell us all what we can listen to.

Like Celine Dion doing heavy metal...

Oh God, I think I just made Bon Scott choke on his own vomit again!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I'm not much of a drinker, but I ask you, is there anything nicer than something cool and alcoholic on a hot day? With summer here and ice moving from our driveways to a bucket stuffed with Coronas or a tall, condensation filmed glass, I started reflecting on my favorite summer beverages.

Back on the prairies, when I was 16, the forbidden drink of choice was a vile concoction called Applejack, basically equal parts grain alcohol and apple juice. Somehow the ingredients were always available without having to go through official channels and what we'd do is mix up a bunch, pour it in a gallon jug and let it get real hot, sitting on the railway trestle over the creek where we used to go skinny dipping.

The process from there got almost as complicated as the contortions Patio barkeeps go through nowadays to invent new martinis they can name after their establishments. You'd get up on the trestle, knock back a mouthful of Applejack and dive in the water, swallowing as you hit the icy surface, so cold liquid was enveloping the outside of your body as a hot one rolled down your throat. The sensation was amazing.

Thinking back, it's a miracle any of us managed to surface.

By my 17th summer, I was working on a construction crew and when four o'clock rolled around, the other (of legal age) guys would camouflage me as we found a darkened beer parlor where nobody looked you over closely as long as the trays of draft kept getting delivered. Hot and dust caked, nothing tasted better than that first chilled "50" or "Red Cap" cutting the parchment out of your throat.

As summers have come and gone, I've drunk wine that's never seen a cork in European vineyards, Sangria made with fresh picked oranges in North Africa and Canada's gift to the world, "The Caesar" sipped from a goblet of carved ice.

I take credit for introducing "The Caesar" to New York. A guest at The Friars Club for lunch in the 70's, I ordered one and the waiter returned to say the bartender didn't know how to make it -- something unheard of in New York. So I gave him the recipe and watched in amazement as he shucked and hand squeezed clams to get the required juice.

I asked him to taste it and by the end of lunch, he was passing them around the room. Trust me, there are no more dedicated practitioners of their craft than New York bartenders.

However, with the rise of the inner tubes, there are tons of places to find recipes to fit your warm weather tastes. Here's one worth trying.

Kick back and enjoy your first summer Sunday.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I've been spending a lot of time in Victoria lately. It's the retirement capital of Canada. "Home of the newly wed and nearly dead" as the locals put it.

The honeymooners must all be shacked up somewhere because everywhere you go, you only see old people. They're in front of you in traffic, beside you taking forever to pass the "Half and Half" in Starbucks or behind you, hollering "Hold the door!" It's like "Dawn of the Dead" with less brain eating and more shuffling.

The other night, my dad, who's in his mid-80's, was flipping TV channels and landed on the opening credits for "The Sunshine Boys", Neil Simon's comedy about the reunion of two aged vaudeville stars. I'd done the show once as an actor and (eager to avoid the remote landing on yet another Audie Murphy Western) piped up, "Hey, let's watch this! It's really funny!"

Have you ever watched a movie that makes fun of old people with somebody really old? Boy is it not funny.

As Walter Mathau stumbled through the opening sequence, confused and replicating the average day my dad and his friends endure, I suddenly realized how out of touch most of television -- and maybe our whole culture is -- with the subject of aging.

And I started wondering how much television is going to change as that Boomer bubble that's relentlessly pushing the percentage of the population that's over 65 closer and closer to a majority. "NCIS" just might be our cutting edge future.

God knows, the average age of a TV audience is getting up there. The iconic 18-24 demographic who'll apparently buy anything that's got a commercial are either online or gaming or out getting drunk and laid. And anybody between that age and 55 is trying to figure out a way to do the same. Which leaves Gramps and Grammy jotting down the numbers for adjustable beds and fantasizing about those 4 second Viagra moments.

And the reality of their lives isn't what's being reflected to them.

Everywhere you go here, you see elderly people attempting to hang onto some small part of their independence. You can't navigate an aisle at Safeway without noticing an elderly woman struggling to get a box of frosted flakes off the shelves or some guy dependent on the grocery cart to keep him upright and moving forward.

At first it annoyed me that they couldn't just bite the bullet and go into a home. You know, accept that your life has been reduced and get some help making the remaining days a little easier.

And then I realized that's what our culture (and television in particular) sells us -- "Take the path of least resistance". Downsize. Live in a condo close to work. Don't fly. Don't drive. Don't visit countries that won't speak English. Basically, do all you can to eliminate anything that challenges or makes your day difficult.

But up and down my father's street are people his age or older, living in homes that have become elaborate exoskeletons constructed to shield them from the inexorable march of time.

They have handrails on stairs, bathroom walls and next to the bed. There are spots in the garage for their scooters and mobile walkers. Driveways are immaculately groomed in a world where an errant pine cone can catapult you into permanent disability.

It's gotta be nuts to live this way...

Or maybe it's nuts not to...

Watching this daily slow-motion effort to maintain pride, dignity or some semblance of a lifestyle long past, I've begun to see their journey as something noble and inspiring.

It's gotta be tough to lose the sharpness of your senses, the ability to get change out of your pocket or to latch onto a forgotten name. You simply have to respect the courage and determination that makes you keep going. There's something here that says "Life is precious, dammit! Don't let it go without a fight."

It's not at all like "The Golden Girls" and almost shameful that we expect our elderly to face this on their own.

Maybe we don't put them on ice floes anymore. But we certainly keep almost as much distance. The other day somebody told me about a tribe in Africa (or somewhere they'd been) where every child of 13 is assigned an elder in their village. They're expected to help with the older one's chores and use their own initiative to make their lives better. But mostly, they are expected to listen and learn.

Now, I've had too many recent conversations about the varying consistencies of ear wax and how a guy can get through life with three pairs of pants to want to subject anybody else to that.

But I do wonder how different the world might be if -- instead of fuming in the checkout line while somebody counts out exact change, we took a moment to slow down a little ourselves and maybe appreciate how much effort it took to get into that line in the first place.

And I wonder if, in our own efforts as writers to be cool and cutting edge, we're distancing ourselves from the only audience that may actually be paying close attention to what we have to say.

You gotta wonder if the CBC's "Othello" tanked because nobody cared or because they'd have been more engaged by "King Lear" or "The Tempest". Whatever it is, I know that the elderly stereotypes we're all familiar with are going to seem more and more like white haired versions of Stepin Fetchit -- and we can ill afford to alienate anybody else who's still watching TV.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Our Canadian news networks were all over the Air Canada announcement today that the airline is laying off 2000 employees and cutting routes and flights because of the rising price of oil.

Strangely, the company refused to elaborate on its original press release, letting the talking heads speculate endlessly about how it's going to get impossibly expensive to get anywhere, if you can get a flight at all -- and all because of the new bane of our existences, super expensive oil.

But none of these so-called journalists referenced a story that has been getting a lot of coverage in Europe, Asia and Australia, but oddly enough is barely on the radar here -- a story that might offer a far different explanation for what's happening in the airline industry.

Since 2006, there's been a major investigation into price fixing among many of the world's airlines, specifically in the realm of air cargo. So far, four carriers have pled guilty to manipulating such things as fuel surcharges, including Quantas, Air Korea, British Airways and Japan Airlines. Quantas paid a fine of $61 Million and its boss went to prison. JAL just handed over $110 Million for its involvement and British Airways may have to fork out 10% of its annual sales or $850 Million.

That's because in addition to BA's $300 Million fine, each of the convicted airlines are facing class action suits to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. That'll buy a lot of those little bags of peanuts -- or maybe pay the salaries of a few thousand Air Canada employees.

You see, back on Christmas Eve, Air Canada was put on notice by investigators in the EU that they were under investigation and in April announced they were setting aside $125 Million to deal with the problem. They haven't been convicted yet, but so far the guys going after the airlines are batting a thousand.

You can read their full scorecard here.

Interestingly, that money was set aside just a few days before Air Canada announced their most recent fuel surcharge and an additional fee for those traveling with a second suitcase. Perhaps coincidentally, there was also a further devaluing of Aeroplan points. Now those two lonely seats available on the Toronto-Windsor red-eye next November will take even longer to save up for.

So, the question that's been bugging me all day is -- are 2000 people losing their jobs because the price of oil is too high or because the guys who run the company might be crooks?

We've been through an incredible series of corporate financial disasters from Enron and Worldcom to the current sub-prime mortgage fiasco in the US. And you've got to wonder if this white collar crime spree has more to do with the overall downturn in the economy than how much a barrel of oil costs.

It just seems to me that you can't make billions of dollars of people's savings go away and not have a profound effect on everyday life.

I've heard theories that because nobody trusts corporate accounting anymore, most of the market players have shifted from trading stocks to speculating in commodities, thus driving up the price of oil, corn and gold beyond what they're really worth.

I don't know enough about economics to know if that's true, but I sure know how much the shenanigans that have gone on in the Canadian TV and film industries have done to devalue our situation, so it sorta makes sense. And if there's a conviction in the Livent trial, I fear the small pools of private money still available to the arts will dry up even further.

I used to like Air Canada and flew them as often as I could. But several years ago, they started to change. The staff felt surly and glum and little by little the nice things about traveling with them disappeared. I honestly can't remember the last time I was on one of their planes, let alone the last time I even considered checking what they had to offer when I'm booking a flight.

And it's hard to come to grips with the fact that an airline that's considered the national carrier and paints the name of your country on their side may have been involved in criminal activity and screwing you more than by showing "Big Mama's House -- 1 & 2" as their transcontinental double feature.

I know it's probably hard to run an airline and I'm sure paying for jet fuel is a bitch. But I also wonder how many of those 2000 soon to be unemployed people you could keep if you didn't have to set aside $125 Million to cover a fine.

Or maybe you could keep them all and simply get rid of the handful of guys at the top who fixed prices in the first place.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Well, here's an interesting twist! Turns out the loss of the iconic "Hockey Night in Canada" theme wasn't a result of CBC not having the money to pay for it. It was because they'd spent too much of their taxpayer stipend on American programming.

Don't believe me? Just ask the guy who bought it, CTV President Rick Brace, in today's Globe and Mail speaking to one of Canada's best sports columnists, William Houston.

"On the whole question of cost and who can afford what, they actually bought the rights to 'Jeopardy' and 'Wheel of Fortune'," Brace said. "So, they made a decision to do that, which I'm guessing was a heck of a lot more expensive than what the theme would have been."

Ouch! So for those of you still thinking CBC's decision to emulate the program schedule of the Fox affiliate in Toledo was a wise move, there's yet another example of how buying US shows undermines our culture.

Meanwhile, on the same topic and from the same Globe article, just a little more proof that "The Legion" knows what it's talking about (see post below) when it comes to network branding. This quote is from CBC Sports Head Honcho Scott Moore...

"I worked there [at CTV and TSN] for many years and have a lot of friends there. But I would never in a million years have expected they would pay so much for a song that is so associated with CBC....I don't know why they would want to make their product less unique and more like the competition."

Now all of this may be continued sniping or sour grapes between the two networks. But it's interesting both seem aware buying US shows has costs that don't show up on a balance sheet and hardly anybody can tell them apart anymore.

And yet nobody at either network seems capable of thinking outside their box. Let's hope they start before they're on the street living in one.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Being a producer really isn't that tough. You just need to think on your feet, make a decision and stick to it.

That kind of independent risk taking isn't highly regarded by most of the television corporate hierarchy nowadays. It used to be called "Chutzpah" and it drove the business. But now, cost/price ratios, performance projections and creative accounting have more influence.

In my opinion that has resulted in what I call an "Imagination Deficit" in our industry. Not many people are willing to take chances, few are even interested in breaking any of the old molds. It's much safer to just go with what's worked before or copycat a trend. Nobody can blame you for failure when you're only doing what everybody else is -- and gosh those soy lattes and suits from Harry Rosen are tough perks to wager with.

So we have Canadian networks copying reality formats from other markets and debuting series that audiences don't fully embrace because they've seen them before.

Worse than the numbing sameness of the nightly schedule is the loss of talent it creates. What does an "Idol" crown, acknowledgment as a "Triple Threat" or landing the lead in a decades old musical really mean, when there's nowhere for the successful talent to work once that contest is over?

The most recent example of this syndrome is the debacle over the theme for "Hockey Night in Canada", where we got to see the people in charge devaluing both of their networks.

In the last year, CBC sports has lost the Olympics, CFL football and a hockey anthem one of their execs called "window dressing". You had to wonder if it was the same guy who put the original anthem's license agreement in jeopardy by selling ring-tones that caused the composer to sue the network.

"Honest guys, Bell said we'd make a fortune off 'em!"

The message to sports fans from the CBC is, "We don't really care what you felt was an important element of your viewing experience." That has been compounded by hanging onto a once remarkable but now faltering play-by-play announcer who doesn't seem to remember his own name on occasion and (sacrilegious as it may sound) sent a significant number of Canadians off to watch the NBC Stanley Cup coverage instead.

It's all part of the bean-counter code. Stick to what worked. Don't try anything new. Even if what's old is getting really green and fuzzy.

Meanwhile, CTV bought a song that'll remind everybody of "Hockey Night In Canada" (and the CBC) every time they hear it. Proving, as always, that they have money, but not much else.

Once again, nothing new was attempted. And over at CTV Sports, that's part of the same process that saw Brian Williams and the rest of the former CBC broadcast team imported to do the 2010 Olympics for them.

Therefore the CTV message to Viewers is, "We don't have any ideas of our own. So we'll just give you what you already said you liked at CBC."

What I'm trying to say here is -- Networks need viewers to be aware of their brand and not to be confused as to which channel they're watching, or frankly, put in a position where they simply stop differentiating where they get their sports.

ESPN -- come on up!

Now -- there's a way to turn this tragic set of circumstances around. Somebody at CBC has to try something new. And I'm sorry but that's not taking another 40 year old song like Stompin' Tom Conners' "Hockey Song" and making that the new theme.

So, here's Jim, the Producer, doing what he would do. If I ran CBC Sports (and it couldn't be much worse off if I did) I'd have immediately gone looking for a song that would not only connect with Hockey fans, but let CTV and anybody else paying attention know that I'm fighting back and not giving up my audience.

Luckily, for CBC, I found their new "Hockey Night" anthem in about 15 minutes.

I had to look no further than the bands in rotation on CBC Radio 3, particularly one out of Vancouver called "The Hanson Brothers", named coincidentally after the beloved characters from "Slapshot" -- the, uh, Hanson Brothers.

The song is "Stick Boy" and the opening lyrics go something like...

"Don't got a name or number.
I just hand out the lumber...
But I'm gonna show 'em some day
Gonna show 'em that I came to play..."

Now, do those words not epitomize the dreams and aspirations of every red blooded Canadian male from Beer League warriors to those tiny guys in their Tyke "Timbits" jerseys who make up the bulk of "Hockey Night" fans? Aren't they also kinda inspirational to all those other male viewers who are only watching because they can't get a date?

Not only that, but the lyrics come with music that damn straight lets everybody know there's something worth watching on TV -- RIGHT NOW! And it's definitely not your grandpa's version of hockey complete with a Foster Hewitt montage and guys asking "What's it gonna take in the 2nd period, Moose?"

Am I the only one who wonders why no player in history has ever said, "It'll take scoring more points than they do, bonehead!"

Okay, so Link here and find The Hanson Brothers, close your eyes, cause there's no video and imagine it's 7:00 pm on a chilly Saturday night this fall. Scroll down the list of songs (to number four) as you imagine wondering what's on TV. Then click on "Stick Boy".

Nobody's telling me they're hearing this and not sticking for the game.

CBC Sports, save yourself. Call up "The Hanson Brothers". They have your new anthem. You can find them on MySpace if nobody at Radio 3 has the number.

And that's how easy it is to be a TV producer.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


One of the best life and showbiz insights I ever got came from a fellow performer who just happened to be a dancing bear.

During one of their North American tours, members of the Moscow Circus had been guests at a play I was doing and had offered the cast and crew ringside tickets in return. And they really meant "ringside".

Even though the Cold War was waning and tours to the West by Soviet Ballet companies, hockey teams and other forms of cultural outreach were the norm, we still had to breach a couple of rings of security to visit them. The first was outside the arena, as local police kept an eye on anti-Communist protesters of many stripes.

Inside, most of the audience only dealt with Ushers, but we got a once over from Russian security officers, ostensibly there to protect the performers but also to ensure that none of them defected.

Once these guys were satisfied we were harmless actors or IATSE stage crew and not planning anything subversive, we were seated next to the orchestra at one side of the giant (red, of course) curtain that opened onto the Circus' single ring. We were also inside a thin mesh curtain strung around the arena to prevent animals (or humans) getting out and projectiles getting in.

The Moscow Circus was then known for its legendary clown, Popov, Cossack riders, spectacular acrobats, and its most famous icon -- the Dancing Bears.

I'm not a big fan of animal acts. I grew up around rodeos and think they're kinda cool. But that's mostly because the animals involved are predominantly well cared for and aren't punished for being themselves. Contrary to urban legend, nobody twists a bull's privates to make him buck and frequently they get the best of the humans putting them through the spectacle. So it's kind of an equal deal.

But dogs walking on balls, seals blowing horns or lions hopping through hoops, flaming or not, have always felt forced and predictable, along with giving me the uncomfortable feeling those animals aren't too happy with their lot in life.

Watching the Soviet version of Roustabouts prep for the matinée performance and the disinterested orchestra tune up, you had a feeling some of them weren't very content with their lot either.

But once the crowd was seated, the overture started and the lights dimmed from arena bleak to circus garish, the magic took over.

The acts were spectacular. Clowns and acrobats at the height of their craft, people you knew spent hours training to create a few seconds of breathtaking excitement. The horses and riders were the best I'd ever seen, accomplishing feats I'd never imagined back around the old corral at home.

And then the bears rolled in...

There were three of them, all much smaller than the kind Canadians are used to. They were brown and skinny and their fur was matted. They looked like animals just rescued from the pound instead of fearsome creatures from the wilds of Russia.

Some of the protesters out front had handed us pamphlets decrying the treatment of Dancing Bears, claiming they were stolen from their mothers as cubs, branded and pierced with a painful nose chain. According to the animal rights people, yanking that chain was what made the bears dance. Theirs was not a desire to keep time to Balalaika music but to avoid pain.

All of the bears in the ring had slim chains tethered to a neck collar, but nothing pierced their bodies. Yet, despite their colorful vests and bright little caps, hats and bow ties, they had a whipped and defeated look. It was the same expression I've seen on horses and dogs that have been mistreated. Their spirits have been broken and while they're obedient and do what they're told, you can tell they're just going through life by the numbers.

These bears rode bicycles, walked yappy little dogs and, of course, "danced". They dutifully hopped or twirled or bounced to the music. To be honest, I'd seen better booty shaking in a Senior's home.

It felt a little like watching the passing of a cultural icon that just doesn't fit anymore, like boxing kangaroos, piano bars or going to Niagara Falls for your Honeymoon. Something pointless and almost pathetic that still had a finger-hold on the communal psyche.

And luckily it was soon over. Or almost over. Two of the bears rode off on their bicycle with the yappy dog, while the third was escorted to the ring surround, the Trainer parking his shabby butt right next to me. He gave the animal a firm signal I took to mean "Stay" snapped his tether to a fastening hook and turned to one of the clowns, the two of them preparing a prop for the next part of the act.

The bear looked over at me, even sadder up close, his spiritual deflation a clear contrast to the pert red bowler hat that was perched between his ears, the oversize bow tie and the multi-color vest with a flower in the lapel. There was simply nothing about him to fear. Any thoughts of lunging at the closest human had long ago been taken from him.

He studied me for a moment, perhaps wondering what I'd done to deserve being a part of this world. But his attention quickly turned back to the ring as a new piece of music began to play.

It became clear that the Bears were bookending a performance by one of the Circus' feature performers, a stunningly beautiful blond trapeze artist who entered the ring wearing a blindingly white bathing suit studded like her feathered tiara with rhinestones and sequins. She was one of those acrobats who does gymnastics at the top of a thick rope, climbing up 30 feet and performing feats that are nearly impossible on the ground while suspended high above the crowd.

The lights in the arena winked out as she climbed, until a single spotlight was all that remained, focussed on her and tossing sparkle and shimmer as she swung, posed and swung some more. It was a pretty astonishing act, illiciting gasps and shrieks from the audience.

And then I heard a small gasp next to me -- from the bear.

I looked over, barely able to make him out in the dim light at ground level. But he was clearly mesmerized by what was happening high above. I honestly don't believe I've ever seen a human face exhibit a more perfect expression of wonder.

His eyes followed every movement she made. I know bears don't have the best eyesight and for all I know he could only make out a shimmering ball of light above the arena. But it enchanted him and I swear that a wistful smile crossed his face as she performed.

And while this world he lived in degraded him and made him less than he had been born to be, there was a part of it that erased any pain, disappointment or drudgery he felt. Somewhere above him there was a shining apparition that seemed to make it all worthwhile.

The woman descended the rope to a standing ovation. The ring announcer draped her shoulders with a huge flowing cloak that sparkled even more than her suit and she made a victory circuit of the ring. And then she was next to us, even more beautiful and perfect up close than she had been atop the rope.

She stopped, bent to the little bear and kissed him on the nose.

Suddenly, those dead brown eyes were dancing and his body trembled with excitement. He reached out a paw. She squeezed it, silently acknowledging that without the audience he had drawn no one would have witnessed her own talent. Then she ruffled his ears and floated away. I'm almost certain he watched her go with a contented smile.

A moment later, the music changed and the bear was back in the ring, the butt of some joke as the clowns had their way with him.

I've always felt the great bulk of show business (and life) is populated by people as used as that bear. Writers who slave in solitary to create scripts, crews lighting sets in the pre-dawn, editors and mixers making imperceptible improvements late into the night, so actors or producers or directors can shine for their one moment.

None of those people are ever fully appreciated. And often, their contribution is lost in the swirl of commerce, of abiding by bibles and shot lists and the harsh realities of ratings.

But then, hardly anybody ever thanks a nurse or a cop or a cab driver for what they do, let alone most of the other "ordinary" people who help us make it through a day. And as a result, too many people go through their lives feeling less than they should, that their dreams will never be realized or that there's just no end to the losing and the demands and the drudgery.

Often, too many of those "shining stars" also forget who got them where they are -- and keeps them there.

Whenever I encounter one of the two, I remember that Dancing bear and go out of my way to say thanks, to offer some respect or simply give somebody a kiss on the nose.

It truly does make it all worthwhile.

Monday, June 09, 2008


My favorite drama teacher had a phrase he used when he saw a movie he particularly hated, "It was like watching old people fuck!".

That was at a time when porn movies were still illegal and only seen at a buddy's stag, when some sleazy guy with a 16mm projector would slink in and take ten bucks from everybody to show a collection of scratched and jumpy one reelers.

It was also a time when sex was still finding its way into mainstream films, with nudity rare and audiences aflutter over sex scenes in "Alfie", "Klute" or "Carnal Knowledge" that would barely cause a raised eyebrow today.

In 1976, I wrote and starred in a Canadian feature called "A Sweeter Song" that featured a lot of nudity, sex, graphic talk about sex and a gay character played as a real person and not for fey laughs, something quite unusual for the time.

That film received some funding from the then relatively new government arm of the film industry called the CFDC. The only comment we got on the content came from the guy who wrote the check, who told me, "That's one horny little script!"

"A Sweeter Song" wasn't really about sex, it was about love and relationships. But since those topics usually involve sex and titillation always sells tickets, we ended up with a spicy little movie that was "R" rated then but might pass as PG-13 today.

Incidentally, if you ever do see it. Those shots that appear to be the Hindenberg crossing frame are actually of my ass!

Recently, a film I haven't seen, but which sounds remarkably similar to "A Sweeter Song" has been making headlines because it's called "Young People Fucking" or "Young People F***ing" if you're reading about it in a newspaper.

Either the title or the concept that there might be movies out there which imply that young Canadians are having sex, probably outside the bonds of holy matrimony, not necessarily for reasons of procreation and possibly not limited to two people or the missionary position seems to have caught the attention of the government and other interested parties.

So we have the C-10 debate about pre-censoring Canadian films because the government shouldn't sponsor such outrageous behavior -- even though it already has (many times over) and so far the Nation's institutions are still intact and nobody's doing it in the street and scaring the horses -- except for Pride Weekends (which are, coincidentally, government funded).

We also have the, quite frankly, pathetic spectacle of the film's distributor scheduling screenings for MPs and other government pooh-bahs to "prove" the film isn't really all that "offensive".

Nice message to send to the movie ticket buying youth of the country -- "Hey kids, ignore us. Nothing to see here. We couldn't even give a Member of Parliament a Woody. Save your money for the next Judd Apatow movie."

William Castle must be turning in his showman's grave. Any intelligent distributor would have played up the outlaw implications of the title, even refused to screen it for the press. Doesn't anybody here realize there's no future, let alone profit, in being "those nice, provincial and harmless Canadians"?

The only way you counter censorship is to build a buzz that sells enough tickets to people who think the movie actually is about "Young people Fucking" so that you never have to go back to the government for approval or money again!!!

As I said in the post about Government Controlled Art below this one, there are quantifiable stages in the ascent of those who control others. We, the soon to be dominated, enable them, then we show them deference and finally, we do as we're told.

If you don't understand that process, check with anybody living on a reservation. But the history of Canadian film and television offers clear empirical proof of the thesis as well.

Where once we got a little money from Government agencies to make our films and TV shows with few questions asked, we have allowed them to become our regulators, our financiers and our cultural conscience.

We've swapped artistic exploration for the opportunity to advocate for government policy. No wonder Stockwell Day wants to guest star on "The Border". He knows it wouldn't have even gotten on the air without being an extension of his Ministry.

Last week, the CRTC issued an edict creating yet another level of bureaucracy in CTF television funding which will be dispensed based on the "popularity" of the programming. And while some of our Creative Guilds and Associations may carp about that decision, you know that nobody will fight too hard, because the money's easy and finding it elsewhere has become virtually impossible.

American ghetto kids might pelt social workers with government cheese, but up here, we can't swallow enough of it.

So, now, to add to the confusion of whether your script or concept is a "cultural" or "popular" property, we'll have to design a way of determining what's "popular" and how much more money you get for being more popular than the next guy.

In the real world, (ie: anywhere outside Canada) people make programming and if lots of folks watch it, they make money and if everybody thinks it kinda sucks, they lose money. But here, it appears, a level of success will be determined and you'll be funded accordingly.

First of all, I'm not sure how that's going to work, since popularity can only be quantified after the fact.

Will funding which may already be contingent on not offending the Minister of Heritage once he/she gets a look at it now be forced to leap through the interim financing hurdle of not knowing how much you get until the final BBM numbers are in?

How nuts is that for a producer or his once friendly banker to calculate?

Or will we simply see set Network envelopes that fluctuate with the ebb and flow of the seasons -- while CBC stays stable with its separate portion of the Fund?

Gee, how unfair are the private broadcasters going to find that? Wanna bet the CRTC is already scheduling intervention hearings?

Let's also not forget that the private networks are already loathe to spend any of their own money on development. How anxious will they be to embrace it if they can't know how much funding they'll have access to until the final tally of the current season's numbers is complete -- and what does that mean for the timing on renewals, let alone the pick ups on new shows that were being considered for the next season?

Once again, instead of creating any certainty for the industry, we've added another level of government administered confusion.

And exactly what's going to define popular anyway?

Like what's the number that says a drama is popular? Global's "The Guard" didn't bust a million. Neither did CTV's "Robson Arms". So it appears CBC's criteria for what hangs around won't apply to the other networks.

Is popular, say, 800,000 in this new world, half a million -- maybe 300,000...? And is there a different number for docs, magazine shows, cooking series? I mean the bar has to be set somewhere different for each genre, doesn't it?

And does that bar move?

If we set a standard of 200K for designer shows and then a Canadian Martha Stewart emerges and gets 500,000 does the bar go up or is that show just considered "extra-popular" so everybody else can keep working?

Likewise, if the audience goes off the design genre and the overall ratings for those channels drops, does the bar drop to keep them funded or do they just disappear?

Or do our networks simply program lowest common denominator in order to ensure they have respectable numbers no matter what the content?

"Young People Fucking" could end up being on every night in the hope the title will attract extra viewers and Cheryl Hickey might have to go into full skank mode to keep her series' CTF money rolling in.

Maybe you think that's an exaggeration, but sex sells and lots of "viewer discretion" warnings are already the norm on higher rated series.

Can you picture the CTF (a government agency) having to issue a press release saying that some worthy kid's show which won a ton of awards didn't qualify as popular enough to enhance its network's numbers but Global's version of one of those seamy Lie Detector shows earned it a bigger envelope?

Elsewhere on the web, smarter guys than me, Peter Bart, who green-lit iconic films like "The Godfather" and "Chinatown" and veteran sitcom writer Earl Pomerantz are writing extensively on how corporatization and the undue influence of the bean-counters are destroying film and television as we've known them.

Here in Canada, we just turn over even more of our decision making to the government.

It's like watching old people fuck!

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Even those of us who have a clear direction in life or a fully formed ultimate goal kind of bounce around in getting there. We procrastinate, party, take that year off to backpack Europe, buy a dog or fall in with friends who take us on other unknown tangents.

That's why I've never really understood control freaks, despots and tyrants. I can't imagine how hard it must be to stay that focussed on that kind of goal while keeping your hidden agenda a secret and also getting so many of the bouncing around types to do your bidding.

From "Dr. No" to "Doctor Evil", I simply have never been able to comprehend the concept of laser perfect megalomania. Never mind that all those guys have real life counterparts who have gotten entire nations in lock-step with their twisted visions.

Which brings up another thing I've never been able to get my head around -- those who go along with the control freaks, despots and tyrants.

It's a process of initial enabling, then cow-towing and eventual bondage these people can't be so dumb as to not see coming, but somehow seem powerless to resist.

Look, I know that having to live in Burma or North Korea must be a numbing experience, even if you know the madman in charge has a fear of ladies underwear or a burning desire to remake "Godzilla".

But there was a point in their rise to domination when the bad guys didn't have enough power to shoot anybody with a different take on things. So I don't get how the balance was allowed to tip in their favor, let alone completely slide that way.

But I may be about to find out first hand...

When I got into showbiz 30+ years ago, there were a bunch of Canadian shows on TV, there were guys who raised money to make independent Canadian movies and there were new theatre companies popping up all over the country.

Many, many people were able to make comfortable livings as novelists and playwrights and local bands were opening for "The Who" at Buddakhan and Wembley.

We were coming into our own. And then the government got involved.

Sure, we always had some government support, but it was in the form of subsidies that helped, not funding that was "absolutely essential". And we didn't have bureaucrats deciding and regulating what would get made.

But then this gradual choke-hold was applied, slowly squeezing the life from a once vibrant industry. Today, we make fewer TV dramas than ever before in our history. You can usually tabulate our annual feature film output without taking off both shoes and our theatres, live music venues and book publishers are closing.

Gee, beneficent overlords, thanks for all that help...

I'd venture that more people now work in the cultural bureaucracies than in creating the culture. Certainly, they're the ones driving the bus -- over a cliff if you ask me -- but that's a discussion for another day.

In the meantime, I thought you'd like a glimpse of where state controlled art always seems to lead. Examples have been around since the Roman Colosseum and Nuremberg. And they'll be featured at the Opening and Closing ceremonies of this summer's Olympics in China.

Somehow politicians and bureaucrats like this kind of stuff. It's a control freak's wet dream. And I'm thinking it's coming to Canada.

Enjoy your Sunday -- while you still can.

For an amazing series of videos on North Korea, including background on the Arirang spectacle featured above, check out those subversive Canadian filmmakers over at VBS.TV

Thursday, June 05, 2008


You have to admit it was spectacular from beginning to end! From DMc's explosion out of the gate to the nose to nose mid-series race by the leaders to Will Pascoe's inexorable inch to the lead. And there was some pretty good hockey going on as well.

At any rate, the physically grueling, emotionally draining "Second Annual Infamous Writer's Hockey Pool" has reached it's climax, with Will Pascoe taking the crown. (That's him in front of the Cup with his hat on backwards).

Scotty William finished 5 points back in second (Bottom Right corner in the toque) and John Callaghan (Just above Scotty without a hat) claims the bronze.

As soon as Will and the other winners pass on their mailing addresses to I'll pass them along to the other players and the process of shipping them the prizes you've chosen will begin.

For anyone who hasn't already checked the Online Pools site, the final standings are:

1 Will Pascoe 196
2 Scotty William 191
3 John Callaghan 184
4 Jeff Martel 181
5 Laurie Nyveen 176
6 Wil Zmak 170
7 Denis McGrath 165
7 Brian Stockton 165
9 Peter Allen Rowley 163
10 Will Dixon 162
11 Michael Foster 157
12 Mark Askwith 155
13 Juniper 153
14 Mark Farrell 141
15 Larry Raskin 136
16 Robert de Lint 121
17 Jim Henshaw 81

In the "Hockey Props" Division, the results were as follows:

1. Series went "six" games.

2.Total goals scored was "20-30".

3. Opening Night Octopus count - "one" - after Gary Bettman protected fellow bottom feeders and threatened sanctions against the Red Wings if he saw more than symbolic Cephelopod tossing.

4. Don Cherry's Game 4 prediction was "incorrect". That was a little iffy, because all he said was "if Pittsburgh scores first they'll win" (which they did but didn't) and then followed up later with "But if Detroit scores first, they'll win" (which they didn't but did) -- so I'm marking Don as pretty much incorrect.

5. Top Points Scorer in the final series "other" - Marion Hossa of Pittsburgh with 7 points. Both Zetterberg of Detroit and Crosby of Pittsburgh were one behind him with 6 points apiece.

6. Winning Goalie Chris Osgood was the "Seventh" player to hoist the Cup. Imagine my panic, counting the lifting when CBC decided it was bored with the process and cut away for an interview. Luckily, a more traditional minded floor director intervened.

And the winner of the "Props" -- Laurie Nyveen.

Anyway, Congratulations to all the winners. I hope the rest of you had fun and with some adjustments to add to the excitement, we'll be back to do it all again next year. If anybody has ideas for making it better, just send them along to the address above.

I have a feeling next year could be a watershed one for the NHL. Game 5 on Monday night was so highly rated on NBC, it won the primetime title for them for the first time this season. The next time you see Jeff Zucker, he'll be wearing skates with his teeth blacked out. I'm sure wearing a Helmet is already required around NBC.

Even though he'll probably play with a visor, Jeff's desire for something to fire up his network could see hockey back on a major US net, which can only help some of the struggling US teams -- and maybe bring a few more players into the pool.

See you next year.

Monday, June 02, 2008


There's an old Hollywood adage coined to describe the realization that your career options are heading South, "Is this the beginning of the death spiral, or is it the spiral itself?"

And as any pilot will tell you, it gets harder to pull out of spin or a dive the longer it lasts. Once you're LOCKED in, your chances of survival exponentially decrease with every second you fail to reverse the physics.

I honestly have to say that I wish my success at forecasting the death spiral of Canadian broadcasting was on a par with my egregious hockey pool picks this season. (I've been in last place throughout) But unfortunately it's not. And you don't have to look far for new evidence that a turnaround for our industry is not coming soon.

First, CBC launched a fall season with no new shows. In fact, they're programming one less hour per day of Canadian content while insisting the Corporation remains an "important cultural institution" that should be immediately funded well past the next decade.

For those who haven't been paying attention, CBC reduced their Canadian schedule by an hour a day last season with the acquisition of "Martha Stewart", eschewing any pretense of competing in the daytime design and lifestyle genres in any major way.

This season, with the additions of "Wheel of Fortune" to its pre-evening news slots and "Jeopardy" to the pre-prime slot, one more hour of shelf space for Canadian product on our National Broadcaster has been eliminated.

By scheduling fewer hours of Canadian shows that employ Canadians, I'm not sure how culturally unique CBC can claim to be. At the same time, one wonders how they hope to set themselves apart from the American competition while replicating a broadcast formula that's been a South of the Border staple for two decades.

Moldy old quiz show war horses like "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" have been the pre-prime stalwarts of every American 5000 Kw small town station trying to hang onto the advertising account of the local Dodge dealership.

The more successful affiliates, especially the big city ones and the Superstations trying to appeal to younger viewers and the audience feeling the siren pull of the internet, are all beginning to abandon those familiar comfort food shows. And yet, in the twisted logic of CBC's world, geezers like Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek are the key to the 18-24 demographic they insist they are chasing.

And if that wasn't short-sighted enough, it appears nobody at the corp bothered to think ahead to January, where their menu of new and returning series will now debut right alongside the long awaited return of "24", the next chapters of "Lost" and all the new American series that won't be ready for Fall -- even without a SAG strike.

Those American shows, you can be assured, will arrive packing massive desperation marketing campaigns by the US nets that'll flood newsstands, bus shelters and talk shows, making those huge CTV billboards outside CBC's Front Street HQ look like an annoying afterthought.

It would seem the CBC has found a comfortable little niche for itself. A place where little can be expected or delivered.

Of course, I could be wrong, and this scheduling choice has been carefully crafted so the precipitous drop in audience numbers can be trotted up to Ottawa as new grist for the "We need more tax dollars" mill.

Feel the G forces as we spiral down...

Meanwhile, Ted Rogers, a man who seems to change his mind more often than his channel line-up, was having second thoughts this week about asking the CRTC for more money for his local stations -- that 50 cents per month per subscriber per formerly-free-to-air local channels, which Rogers, CTV, Global and CBC all argued for at the CRTC last month.

As you will recall, CTV honcho Paul Sparkes, in firing the first volley in this new money grab via the CRTC, claimed that "Local newscasts do as much to forge the Canadian Identity as any other form of story telling, because after all, they chronicle our daily lives." And the broadcasters then launched a week long beg-a-thon in Gatineau because none of your cable or satellite fees are going to support those local stations or their news.

They just go into network revenue which FUNDS those stations but -- nevermind -- the important thing is that, as usual, it appears the Commissioners felt they should acquiesce to a Broadcaster request and levy that 50 cents per local station per month per...

But in suggesting they'll lean that way, somebody at the CRTC figured it might be a good idea to at least pretend the money really was going to those local stations as requested -- and tie payment of the fees to production of local programming. So that idea was run past the Broadcasters for approval.

That led Rogers exec Phil Lind to exclaim to the National Post that there were, "disturbing signals emanating from Ottawa that the regulators are toying with the idea of taking a far more hands-on approach to local news programming."

Mr. Lind went on to suggest that monitoring and enforcement could be set up to reward the sort of news coverage preferred by the Commission.

"Will broadcasters get the full 50 cents per month fee if their news team covers City Hall, but only 25 cents if they concentrate on fires, local beauty pageants and dog-at-large stories? The mind boggles at the scope inherent in such a scheme for unfairness and interference."


Two things you can see very clearly in all that. First, when the CRTC prevents Canadians from accessing services like HBO and Showtime to protect broadcasters like the ones Mr. Lind works for, that's not "unfair" or "interference". It's merely what's required to reap huge rewards from rebroadcasting the products of those "banned" networks -- while not being required to put those profits into creating any significant amount of similar Canadian programming.

Second, it's pretty clear that the folks at Rogers would really like to have that 50 cents per local station per...per...per with no strings attached -- and perhaps not have to spend any of it on the local programming they said was suffering from under funding in the first place.

I don't believe it's too great a leap in logic to conclude that if Mr. Lind and his boss, Mr. Rogers, had their druthers, nothing they receive in cable fees would be spent on programming of any kind -- unless it's to broadcast an NFL football game they own from a stadium they also already own.

What all this means is "Brace Yourself"! We're in for another season of reduced expectations, smaller audiences and less chance that a Canadian show can find either the time slot or financing to break through.