Saturday, March 31, 2012
CBC: Death By A Thousand Cuts
CBC suffered another government cut back with the announcement in the federal budget that $115 million will be slashed over the next few years.
But so far there's been no public backlash as in other days when CBC was riding high. and faced revenue shortfalls.
And that's because CBC programmers have been performing a form of suicide over the past decade.
What's there to cut anyhow?
CBC ditched the high arts business years ago closing its doors to ballet, opera, dance, even most TV movies that reflected Canadian values.
The slashing went so far that many of the Toronto elite I know started supporting PBS's Buffalo station WNED as the last option for quality TV in this area.
When Richard Stursberg, then CBC's guru of programming, told me such stuff wasn't in CBC's mandate I begged to differ.
I pointed out CBC had faced a similar downturn in 1978-79 and solved it creatively by jump starting a "new" series called Rear View Mirror that ran Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. for 10 times.
Veronica Tennant hosted and CBC merely pulled archival ballets and opera from its vast library adding nuggets from Front Page Challenge and Periscope.
Ratings were higher than anticipated. Culture vultures were in seventh heaven.
But this time there's been no public reaction. Do you expect throngs to march downtown in fear that the Dragon's Den would be pulled?
When CBC actually pulled Don Messer's Jubilee questions were asked in parliament and the affable Messer wound up on CHCH as did Nathan Cohen and his intellectual quiz sow fIghting Words.
Decades ago when CBC was forced to cut This Land in an earlier round of budget cuts I argued this was going to be CBC's fate --little cut backs that would eventually over turn the Corporation's place in the Canadian broadcasting spectrum.
Since then there have been dozens of new TV services added. But they are privately run and depend on profit to succeed.
Is Bravo! doing its job when it resorts to CSI reruns (however popular)? It was supposed to be a high end channel.
Citytv originally got its license by promising to be a local, local station with its centerpiece the three hour prime time City show.
Global promised to get its license a huge number of Canadian content shows and hired away the likes of Pierre Berton, Bernie Braden and Don Harron to make them. Six months later the Ontario weblet was facing bankruptcy and all those fine shows were cancelled.
CBC under CHCH made fundamental errors that destroyed much of its uniqueness.
First there was the recruitment of American consultants to jazz up the venerable The National. Respected veteran reporters were retired and host Peter Mansbridge uncomfortably plopped into a set resembling a singles bar.
And ratings predictably plunged.
When CBC is left to be CBC it does just fine. Whenever I'm in the cavernous and largely empty production centre on Front Street west I'm reminded of the horde of bureaucrats still shuffling around.
If CBC is to make cuts those not directly responsible for making programs should be the first to go.
And then that gigantic production center could be sold off. The huge studios on the top floor have always been under used --my old friend Emmy-winner Norman Campbell told me he never actually made a show in the studios named after him because it had become too expensive.
Look, having a Tea Party prime minister who just hates public broadcasting can't help matters.
But CBC will survive this latest round of cuts. It may even emerge stronger and more relevant, we'll just have to wait and see.