Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ivan Fecan Isn't Finished --Yet

Believe me I know Ivan Fecan. Or at least I did.
The charismatic CTV president and CEO of CTVglobemedia has confided to staffers he's leaving his beloved empire sometime next year.
That's because CTVglobemedia is no more.
In a complicated deal BEC is buying the CTV portion which includes dozens of specialty channels as well as CTV. And David Thomson is buying back control of The Globe And Mail, the last of literally hundreds of papers his father Lord Thomson once owned.
Make no mistake about it Ivan Fecan isn't going to ride happily into the sunset, not at a mere 57 years of age.
Besides CBC-TV is now in turmoil. Why not let the once and future wunderkind go back "home" to repair all the damage recently done to the publicly owned Corporation.
I must have met met the guy (I think) when he was a unit producer for CBC Radio's Sunday Morning under the equally charismatic producer Mark Starowicz.
I definitely remember him when he jumped to CITY-TV as a most charming and trendy news producer --he got so excited one night at a breaking event in Oakville that he tried to jump a fence and wound up instead breaking his leg. Moses Znaimer was his CITY boss.
Any guy who can beat Starowicz and Znaimer at their peak certainly deserves respect.
Then it was on to CBC where he wound up as station manager of CBLT.
This was at a time when CBLT actually still made programs and one of the best Fecan made was a musical series with Oscar Peterson.
He then jumped ship again to NBC in Los Angeles --renting out Znaimer's garage down there to live in (so I'm guessing there were no hard feelings).
Every where he went he had a mentor. At NBC he had two: Grant Tinker and the late, great Brandon Tartikoff and Fecan's resume included a stint helping to cobble together the comedy series Kids In The Hall.
He was enticed back to CBC with the promise of running the entire English network and jump started such hits as Road To Avonlea, Degrassi and Air Farce. Flops included Material World and Not My Department.
Certainly he was cocky --he had a right to be and he was very pugnacious concerning rival CTV. He even bought away from CTV rerun rights to the network's current running hit ENG and ran the repeats afternoons on CBC.
His CBC mentor was Denis Harvey but when Harvey retired Fecan's CBC job was in peril.
Fecan's CBC downfall came after clashes with CBC President Gerard Veilleux weho at one point moved The National to 9 p.m. Undaunted, Fecan came up with the bold idea of two prime times, one before and one after the news.
But when Veilleux exited so did Fecan to CTV.
CTV was then a non-network. Affiliates contributed series --Ottawa made Kreskin and The Galloping Gourmet while Toronto produced Stars On Ice and Littlest Hobo and Montreal had Pardon My French.
As a cooperatively owned entity it had never worked because Baton Broadcasting in Toronto --owned by the Bassett and Eaton families-- virtually ran the show.
All that changed with Fecan's appearance. I was never sure if Baton absorbed CTV or was it the other way around but Fecan wound up running a fully fledged network. He made CTV news completely competitive (helped a bit by CBC news moving back to 10 p.m.)
When he hit CTV Fecan was very pro-Canadian: he programmed three new and very good hourlong Canadian dramas Saturday nights on CTV, hoping to fight back against CBC's Hockey Night In Canada.
The three were Power Play, Cold Squad and The City and they collectively flopped. But Cold Quad lasted for years in various slots. Today CTV airs American reruns Saturday nights.
Fecan also revived the Canadian TV movie format-- Wendy Crewson starred in a series of Joanne Kilbourne murder mysteries and other stars included Paul Gross and Kelly Rowan and Fecan usually ran these TV movies before the new season officially started to big ratings.
But as the years went on he became more of a conservative planner. The bulk of CTV's programming schedule budget was spent on buying U.S. imports and then simulcasting these against the U.S. border stations. In effect this meant shows like CSI and The Mentalist had double ratings and Canadian shows couldn't possibly compete.
But in recent years CTV has been edging back into quality Canadian stuff: Corner Gas was a huge success, Firepower is one series that thrived (and even been sold to CBS).
Mistakes included hiring journalist Kirk LaPointe to head up CTV News --LaPointe was quickly replaced by veteran Robert Hurst.
And as a hands-on executive one can bet Fecan played a major hand in appointing Lisa LaFlamme as the new CTV News amchor over the obvious choice veteran Tom Clark.
In recent years the model Fecan so assiduously built up started to crumble.
Old line networks attract older audiences and Fecan made a brilliant move in acquiring the hipper Citytv franchises like MuchMusic and MTV to bolster sagging audience numbers.
When Fecan also tried for the City stations he was humbled by the CRTC which also balked at Fecan's idea for CTV to get a carriage fee from cable operators.
Fecan's downfall came with the deepening recession which hit just as CTV's Winter Olympics opened to huge audiences but not the expected ad revenues. The Olympics were the best produced of any seen on Canadian TV and the numbers higher than ever.
In a memo to staff he says "I've had a great run."
And knowing Fecan's history as I do and his sheer competitiveness I can say without qualification it's not Fecan's nature to retire. Here is the guy who has successfully run both public and private Canadan networks, surely he knows the business like no one else because he built the models.
And who else am I going to write about. Canadian TV without Ivan Fecan. It's impossible.


Anonymous said...

One of Ivan's crown jewels is the CRTC decision allowing TV stations the right to negotiate distribution consent fees. Whether it is ever implemented or not, this was key to increasing the value of CTV's over the air assets.

Ivan Fecan said...

Thank you Jim for a very kind piece. One small factual thing I’d like to point out.

When Denis Harvey retired, Gerard Veilleux promoted me into Denis’ job as VP of English Television. I left shortly after Gerard left and we are very much still friendly. I was not fired, but I felt it was time to go. Gerard’s replacement, Tony Manera, tried to convince me to stay.