Archive for the ‘Canadian Television’ Category

Tune In

May 6, 2009

They shot a movie once, in my home town, everybody was in it, from miles around, down at the speedway, some kinda Elvis thing, well I ain’t no movie star, but I can get behind anything.

The Tragically Hip

Blow at High Dough

My local newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator, ran this letter today concerning the CBC.  I imagine it also appeared in other daily papers around the country.  You may be familiar with my previous writings about the CBC and I am pleased that their own vision is similar to the one I espoused.  The article is timely, not only because of the questions surrounding Canadian content on television, but also thanks to its reiteration that Canada is not America.  With the many connections being made between our political parties and the American ones, the similarities in the economic crises, and the general erosion of our national identity, it is important to recognize the role of cultural institutions in protecting Canadian heritage in its diverse forms.  Richard Stursberg doesn’t go far enough in emphasizing that the CBC is more like the BBC than PBS.  The critics he is answering to seem to want our national broadcaster to be like the American public television service (and CBC radio to be NPR).   Whereas PBS (much like Ontario’s TVO) focuses their energy on creating and showing educational programming, the CBC is tasked with showcasing Canadian content on what Stursberg calls “the greatest popular art form in the world.”  The CBC doesn’t necessarily exist to make us smarter, but rather to give creative Canadians an opportunity to use their talents.  I will admit that many of their home grown programs don’t appeal to me, and some I haven’t seen. But if the CBC was reduced to just showing documentaries, public lectures, and symphony concerts, would it really be serving the breadth of Canada’s cultural mosaic?  Certainly not, and it would also be failing to give the majority of television viewers what they want, entertaining and high quality programming.

Stursberg notes that many of the CBC’s critics complain that their programs are made with the same narrative conventions as American shows.  I would argue that many American shows use ideas and conventions borrowed from other places in the world.  TV, like any art form is fluid.  The Group of Seven, perhaps Canada’s greatest artistic icons, were influenced by French impressionists.  Many of our great dance and musical performers utilize and are influenced by the music of other nations.  There will always be opportunities for Canadians to innovate in the plural art forms available.  For example, SCTV has been cited by numerous contemporary comedians and television writers as an influence on their work. The Christopher Chapman Expo 67 film I mentioned a few days ago pioneered the technique of using multiple moving pains, and was copied by Norm Jewison in The Thomas Crowne Affair among others.  I don’t think either of those icons of Canadian culture would be considered high brow. The former was an absurd satirical show, and the latter essentially a commercial.  Yet both influenced others around the world.  The real question we should ask the CBC, and Stursberg would likely agree, is what can we do to further enhance your core Canadian programming?

Perhaps we should ask Canada’s private broadcasters why they are so reliant on American television shows.  The answer is probably production costs and viewership.  That is why the publicly-funded mission of the CBC is even more important.  It’s true that the networks have tried and usually failed to put together decent Canadian programs, but with advances in technology and the expanding cultural milieu of the internet, there is no reason why high caliber television shows can’t come from our country.  Corner Gas is just one example, and it’s ideal because series creator, Brent Butt, acknowledges that he wanted to make a Canadian show that would be relevant anywhere.    Although there are many “teehee we’re Canadian” moments, it’s main themes and content are relevant just about everywhere.  Little Mosque on the Prairie has found similar success.  I think it’s safe to argue that the days of our best shows being Street Legal and Danger Bay are over (no offence to those classics).

I Want My CBC

March 21, 2009

I want to take my thoughts from yesterday and carry them off on a wild tangent.  The CBC has been in the news lately because they are facing a budget deficit, like the other major Canadian broadcasters.  As I’ve reflected on whether or not the government should bail them out, my mind drifts to the very idea of subsidizing the Arts and how exactly a society should go about doing that.  When I say the Arts I am referring to music, visual art, film, theatre, dance, television, and any of the other creative endeavours.

There are three main ways that Canada/Canadians subsidize the Arts: through government programs, private patronage, and consumer purchases.  Each type of art utilizes each of these to various degrees.  I imagine that music or television are more dependent on the average consumer than visual art or dance, for example.  I am particularly interested in the government’s role in promoting Canadian Arts.  This brings us back to the CBC.  I was able to find this handy guide to the CBC’s finances in the Annual Report:

For the fiscal year 2006, the CBC received a total of $1.53 billion from all revenue sources. Expenditures for the year included $616 million for English TV, $402 million for French TV, $126 million for specialty channels, a total of $348 million for radio services in both languages, $88 million for management and technical costs, and $124 million for “amortization of property and equipment.” Some of this spending was derived from amortization of funding from previous years

As I understand the breakdown of revenue, they receive about $1 Billion from the government, with the rest coming from advertising on television and subscription fees for their cable channels.  Without doing the research I assume that the CBC is the most heavily funded Arts project in Canada.  It may be hard for some to justify a crown corporation receiving money for advertising, but for me the issue comes down to use of the money.  As I see it, the federal government should be supporting the production of homegrown programming.  That $1 Billion should be used to make outstanding Canadian television programs.  It can also be used for the promotion of the same.  Does this mean the CBC needs to run multiple television channels, and radio stations on the public dime?  That is a very complicated question.

For starters I have to ask if the CBC is actually producing quality Canadian programming.  There is certainly some, Newsworld, Hockey Night In Canada, and The Fifth Estate, are well made and a testament to the talents of Canadian television people.  Of course, CTV and Global have both made their own great shows without the same level of government support (I’m pretty sure individual programs receive funding from grants and tax breaks).  For this discussion let’s say that the CBC is producing quality and valuable programming.

I also wonder if the two roles of the CBC producing and presenting television shows (and to a certain extent live music performances) are both required of a Crown corporation.  Now before I go too far I should say that I am someone who believes that the Arts enrich our society and that the government should be promoting them as a policy.  I’m not completely clear on the organization’s connections to each program they show, but for those that I am sure are produced in house, I suppose they are a necessary part of doing business.  After all, without good programming the CBC would be useless.  Would the CBC be better as a media entity that presents programming produced by others?  I don’t think so, in fact I think that would be a good reason to take away their funding. As it is, while I believe they could make better programming, for example shows that were more popular abroad, the broadcaster has actually done pretty well in this regard.

Perhaps the biggest criticism I’ve ever heard about CBC is the apparent mismanagement.  It seems most observers assume that being a government agency has created a bureaucratic mess.  The CBC, like most media empires, in involved in many diverse ventures. Other than some major bungles in their sports division, and annoying a lot of people by switching the format of Radio 2, they have done pretty well at keeping up with the emerging trends in media.  I am not qualified to comment on the financial issues as much (though both Global and CTV are also facing severe budgetary problems) but I do know that projects like Radio 3, and the CBC News website show that the corporation has some bright minds on board. In fact, CBC Radio 3 is such a brilliant project that it should be emulated around the world.  Indie music has never had such a mainstream home in this country, or probably any other.

I want to continue this topic in future posts by going deeper into the issue of Arts funding.  As I said, I think it is an essential part of a well functioning society. Although my thoughs today are a bit fragmented and don’t lead to any real conclusions, I think the sum total of what I write on this topic will ultimately make sense.