Whither or Wither the CBC? Look to Quebec for Inspiration

By Jason Menard

Black Monday has come and gone. The axe has swung and the jobs of 33 TV and radio public relations employees have been lopped off in its swath. Yet, this is clearly a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, because the CBC’s problems run much deeper than ineffective public relations.

The Canadian Broadcasting Commission – its English wing — has been at a crossroads for years, ineffectively balancing the desire to be both an educator and an entertainer. But now it’s long past time to pick a lane and stick to it, because trying to be something to everyone has resulted in the CBC being nothing to most.

Oh, how it pains me to say this, but maybe it’s time for the CBC to stop presenting Canadian shows simply because they’re Canadian, and let the strong survive. OK, here we go: Canadian Content regulations are bad. They need to be stopped, and the CBC needs to be at the vanguard of this change.

Whew, that feels better. And I don’t feel less patriotic at all. The fact of the matter is that CanCon regulations encourage mediocrity. Why aspire to create a better show, or why try to make something entertaining when you’ll get your exposure and funding as long as you can show you’re from the Great White North?

The CBC and the CRTC’s CanCon regulations are intended to improve and support our Canadian artistic community. What they end up doing is providing it a crutch upon which to lean and, as such, so why would one learn how to walk on their own when there’s no need? Well, that’s if the CBC would actually show a Canadian drama.

Dr. WhoCoronation Street? What, did we get recolonized? Is it part of the Commonwealth agreement that we have to show British shows each and every evening? Then, in Prime Time, we’re inundated with mini-series, movies, and the odd Canadian drama. What? Have we given up the fight already? Is the competition from the American networks, CTV, and Global so stiff that they give up already?

If that’s the case, why even keep up the pretense of being a viable commercial entity and simply go the route of PBS? And is there anything wrong with that? PBS has a dedicated, passionate viewership that actually invests itself into the station. If the CBC has given up the fight against its commercial brethren, would this not be a better alternative for our Public Broadcaster? Not everyone has to play on the same field. Let CTV and Global continue to brand themselves as nothing more than American extensions into the Great White North (even the most noted CanCon, the wildly – an inexplicably – popular Canadian Idol, is just a cheap knock-off of the American, and British, phenomenon) and the CBC can merrily go on its way and explore the best and brightest of Canadiana, without the pressures or expectations brought about by those middling ratings and advertising requirements.

In fact, we’re already there to a large extent. Some people wear the CBC like a badge of honour. They intersperse their conversations with references to the witticisms uttered on Radio One, or they giddily recount a skit presented on the Mercer Report – usually to an audience of blank stares. Maybe those CBC viewers can commiserate with their US counterparts who regale their colleagues with the latest discovery outlined on Nova to a less-than-enthusiastic response. It has become a niche broadcaster trying to appeal to a mass market.

But, better yet, why doesn’t CBC English try to compete against the commercial big boys? The CBC can turn its attention east and look to its French language sister station, Radio-Canada, for inspiration. They’ve actually developed buzz-worthy shows including: La Fureur, a karaoke-style competition that features noted Quebecois artists; Toute le Monde en Parle, an entertaining talk show that Ralph Benmergui and Alan Thicke could only dream of hosting; and Virginie, a soap opera that ISN’T imported from England!!!

The key thing that SRC has been able to do is encourage the development of a French-Canadian star system. Sure, at times it seems that every film, every TV show, and every radio drive-time show is filled with the same people, but these people are supported by the community. Their images are plastered all over the province’s entertainment magazines, and their shows and films are wildly successful.

And SRC doesn’t need no stinkin’ CRTC regulations. Even if the CanCon restrictions were lifted, that doesn’t mean that the airwaves would be flooded with imports from France. Quebec-produced shows would continue to survive and flourish because the viewers enjoy not only the stars involved in the show, but the quality and excitement of the shows.

It’s not a question of highbrow versus lowbrow, because SRC – and its sister news station RDI – also produce a tonne of exciting, dynamic, and informative news and magazine-style programs that appeal to an intellectually stimulated demographic. They truly do offer something for everyone and they’re not afraid to push the edges of the envelope. Whereas, the CBC seems to want to do anything it can to avoid offending the ex-pats or the conservative (small c, please) taxpayer.

The CBC needs to be effectively edgy, and by that I mean it needs to create shows and personalities that appeal to the targeted demographic. There are few things worse than seeing an advertisement aimed at today’s youth that just butchers the rap genre, simply because some stuffed suit decided that he or she could “get down with the kids,” and provide them with something “from the street.” Maybe if the street we’re talking about is Sussex Drive, but not when you’re trying to appeal to today’s media-savvy generation.

Commercial success for the CBC can be done – all they need to do is brush up on their French and tune in. Of course, even if they did make these changes for the better, who would be left to promote it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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