Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Saving The CBC: Open Those Archives Now!

It happened this way according to my long time friend Harry Rasky.
The Emmy winning CBC producer was walking through Sam The Record Man's when he spied a familiar title: Tennessee Williams's South.
And it was in a boxed DVD set of BBC specials devoted to Williams.
Then he looked at the next rack and saw his greatish documentary on George Bernard Shaw all boxed up with BBC Shaw specials.
Now I should add that at that time five years ago Rasky had been trying his darndest to get CBC to come out with a boxed DVD set of some of his sparkling profiles on such titans as Chris Plummer, Raymond Massey, Marc Chagall, Arthur Miller, Leonard Cohen, Teresa Stratas --award winning specials that often defined our Canadianness.
CBC would not respond even when Rasky went all the way to the then president Robert Rabinovitch.
Rasky passed in 2007 --all the more reason for celebrating the man's talent.
Why this lethargy is all I'm asking. Why?
The "because" part makes me sad. Because there's nobody at the CBC these days who cares.
Put out in sets and this kind of stuff would make a small fortune for CBC.
But nobody there cares. They're interested in promoting themselves and not the CBC.
I was recently in Sunrise Video on Toronto's Yonge Street listening in as a woman asked for the third season of the positively brilliant CBC drama series This Is Wonderland.
She was told CBC had put out the first two seasons which sold briskly but never the third.
Why? Nobody at CBC knew. Or cared.
I'm remembering about eight years back when some CBC researcher discovered in mint condition a 1961 CBC drama special in beautiful black and white --Macbeth starring a very young and virile Sean Connery with a staggering performance by Zoe Caldwell as Lady Macbeth.
Back in 1961 CBC-TV had been so rich there actually was a Schools Department which commissioned the production directed by Paul Almond --it was made in five half hour segments and only telecast once in a weekday slot in late afternoon so Grade 13 students could watch as they studied Macbeth for their finals.
It was never shown whole until some enterprising soul thought it a perfect match for Opening Night where it was introduced by Paul Gross. Opening Night was cancelled by CBC the very next year because it was a big hit with egg heads, less so with the masses hooked on American TV fare.
Talking to the brilliant TV professor at Brock University, Mary Jane Miller, who has written the only good books on CBC-TV drama and I was told dozens of other gems exist deep in the vaults.
Like all of William Shatner's early TV work long before he crossed the border to stardom as Captain Kirk.
What about the only time the great British actress Edith Evans appeared on TV as doughty Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest.
She did so not at the CBC but at CBC's Studio 7 in Toronto in a live production --the kinescope still exists, I've been told.
Dozens of great actors passed through CBC-TV in the Fifties in productions seen one and then moth balled: Basil Rathbone, Constance Cummings, Dame Wendy Huller plus such young up and coming Canadian stars as Kate Reid, Bill Hutt and Chris Plummer.
But CBC apparently can find no dollar value in releasing any of these productions to DVD let alone rerunning them on TV.
It's strange but in the early Eighties CBC had such a TV series called Rearview Mirror --the best of ballets directed by Norman Campbell, music specials starring Anne Murray, you name it.
The show hosted by Veronica Tennant ran Sunday afternoons but was if anything too popular.'Viewers kept asking why CBC was so great back then and less so these days so CBC quietly let it lapse.
Other networks have made small fortunes in the TV nostalgia boom. But nobody at CBC gives a hoot about culture in any form.
CBC filmed series similarly get short shrift --I'd like to buy a set of Gordon Pinsent's terrific 1978 series A Gift To Last to hive to a ex-Mountie friend of mine. It's never been released on VHS or DVD.
I'm convinced that DVD compilations on Don Messer and Juliette would sell as much as the ones CBC has put put starring Wayne and Shuster.
If CBC doesn't want anything to do with its glorious past why not auction off all this stuff to others with greater entrepreneurial skills?
And use that money to help CBC mount some new shows which aren't reality things geared to the lowest common denominator.


Anonymous said...

Never mind that. Where the hell is the box set of Made in Canada? That was a hit here and in the United States and it could have made a lot of money if it had been released a few years ago.

Bruce said...

As I understand it, as recently as a few years ago, CBC was still transferring old 1" video tapes to digital technology. The one last antiquated video machine was still able to do crank out the thousands of hours saved. It is to CBC's long term thinking that around 60% of everything recorded on kinescopes,and video tape has been saved. This includes some out takes, auditions.
The problem as I understand it has to do with very complicated and inconsistent contracts written up at the time. Tracking down family members of deceased performers, obtaining their permission to re-use the material is a complicated and very costly procedure. Someone told me that at one point an old radio variety series ready for CD release was halted because a band musician's widow decided not to sign off.

Gary W said...

As an American, I too remember watching CBC and Rear View Mirror. I saw James Doohan, not as Scotty from Star Trek, but as a passenger on a cross continental air trip who had to use his skills from WWII to fly and land the aircraft. Yet, it was eerie as it strangely reminded me of the plot to the classic comedy Airplane. Please, CBC executives, as a long time viewer and student of television, release the old kinescopes and videotapes of broadcasts to the public for the next generation to admire and cherish.