Shutting Pandora’s Closet

By Jason Menard

With the entire hullabaloo surrounding the Pandora’s Closet funding crunch, one would expect that the show’s namesake has been opened and a world of misfortune will fall upon our fair city unless we can find a way to save this show!

What will London do without the increased exposure this show would provide, the lament? People will miss out on the walking tours of the hot spots that would have been shown on Pandora’s Closet!

Can we all just take a deep breath here and revisit the main premise here? This is the CBC. How many will actually be watching?

The CBC is uniquely Canadian in a number of aspects. It’s also inaccessible to the majority of people it needs to ensure it’s future survival and success as a national broadcaster – the lucrative younger target market.

The problem is its image. The CBC and — to a large part – its regular audience seem to be proud of its inaccessibility. The attitude seems to be that all CBC produces is quality and that one must attain a certain echelon of culture and intelligence to truly appreciate the depth of humour, dramatic nuances, and overall wittiness of the product.

The U.S. has a national channel like that as well – and they spend much of their time on pledge drives.

Understand, as a proud Canadian I really, really want to like the CBC – it’s almost a civic duty. As well, I feel the CBC can play a vital role in our society, providing quality Canadian broadcasts. The problem is that it’s hard to showcase the best of Canada when nobody’s watching.

The only show that younger viewers flock to in droves is Hockey Night in Canada. After that, aside from a handful of specials – be they Grey Cup, Olympics, or one-shot variety shows – the majority find the CBC just a speed bump on the road to more interesting programming.

What the CBC does well, it does extremely well. CBC excels at sports coverage — it’s annual Grey Cup coverage and hockey productions are second to none. As well, the CBC’s news department is rock-solid and bridges the credibility gap between younger and older audiences.

Other than that, the pickings are slim. The collection of talking heads that have been pushed over the years are almost enough to make one long for Alan Thicke – almost. And really, it’s a beautiful province but how many shows do you really need about PEI? Even when it swings for the fences, the CBC comes up empty. Its Great Canadian Music Dream was a poor stab at catching the trendy wave left by American Idol and Popstars’ wake.

So where’s the solution? The CBC has to decide what it wants to be in the future. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a Canadian PBS – as long as the broadcaster drops any pretension of competing directly with Global and CTV. In fact, by going that route the CBC would be able to continue its production and broadcast of niche programming while providing a justification for Canadian tax dollars.

However, if they want to compete with the big boys – and in our digital world that includes strong U.S. competition – the CBC needs to take risks to grab the attention of today’s viewing public. CBC dramas and comedies are too formulaic – essentially too safe.

It’s not a question of talent. The names of Canadians in the film industry read like a roll call of quality. Most importantly, not only are many Canadian-helmed productions of top quality but some are extremely profitable. One would think there’s an array of untapped talent of this ilk waiting for a chance!

As well, you only need to look as far as The Kids in the Hall and – to a lesser extent – This Hour has 22 Minutes to see that comedies in this country can be viable, entertaining, and successful.

The big U.S. networks can afford to recycle mindless drivel to the masses just by the sheer enormity of the market. CBC does not have that luxury. I applaud CBC’s focus, which runs counter to CTV and Global’s more relaxed approach to Canadian content, but to be competitive the broadcaster must find a hook to draw fresh viewers to the network.

It must, under no uncertain terms, be entertaining! While I hope Pandora’s Closet is a go, I have no illusions that this show will put London on the map. It’s still the CBC and one way or another life will go on.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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