Wednesday, June 21, 2006

THE ONE: ON CBC ( CBC?! )

I notice that The One: Making a Music Star, that new reality show from ABC that got its start in Europe, has been picked up in Canada by the CBC. Not CTV, not Global, not Citytv. The Mother Corporation, the CBC. What's more, in true Canadian Idol fashion it will get a Canadian spin-off version entitled The Canadian One.

This is exactly what the CBC has to do. This is absolutely, completely and exactly what the CBC has to do to get people to tune in again to that network in this country. They are going populist in a big way with this show, and with their whole lineup from what I hear, and that's exactly the direction they have to go in the future. They've gotten nowhere recently with their mini-series and with their bio-pics of former politicians like Tommy Douglas; instead, they're getting beat every night by Ben Mulroney. People have been hand-wringing about the relevance of the CBC and the future of the CBC, and all that, for as long as I can remember. I can tell you this: if you put on a bunch of irrelevant highbrow programs all the time that nobody will watch, that's a good way to make yourself irrelevant. Because NO ONE WILL TUNE IN. You need to go for the big audiences, it's a matter of survival!

Right now, it's CTV which has the lock on the most popular Canadian programming, be it Canadian Idol, or Corner Gas, or whatever. CTV's Canadian shows are killing CBC's Canadian ones, and keep in mind, the CBC's lineup is loaded with Canadian-made shows. When the very few Canadian-based shows on the private networks are beating every show on the CBC, that calls for dramatic changes.

Moreover, people have been grilling the CBC for a while now for not having its own Canadian Idol, and for passing up Corner Gas. The excuse before was that the CBC didn't do "reality shows" or this sort of fare. But there's been big management changes over there and Richard Stursberg and the gang seem intent on revitalizing the prime-time lineup. They're planning less movies and less two-part miniseries, and more reality shows and other populist fare. Maybe they weren't interested in showing this sort of programming before. They sure are now. Their ratings books have been terrible and they had to get rid of lots of shows in a big bloodbath. That changed some minds over there in a hurry.

You can bet this direction is controversial. Already the word is that the two-hour premiere of The One is going to bump The National, so you can bet The National's fans are going to be howling. Big deal, this is the summer and they'll just be bumping Diana Swain or some fill-in for anchor Peter Mansbridge, and The Magazine segment will be full of repeats. I'm sure the fans can wait an hour, like they did during the entire NHL playoffs.

And there will be people howling that the CBC should not be wasting taxpayer's money on programming that the other private networks would put on. This decision to produce a Canadian version of The One reeks of Citytv's decision to produce a Canadian version of America's Next Top Model. And of course, we know about CTV and Canadian Idol. And Global had that Rock Star: INXS show which had a lot of Canadian content on that production, including a Canadian winner. People are going to say that the CBC is ripping off what everyone else in Canada is doing, and that the CBC needs to be different and needs to go high-brow and provide programming for the rest of the masses who don't watch TV. Plus you have the people who want the CBC privatized completely, who will also say that taxpayers money is being wasted on a show that ought to be on Global or CTV--- for free. Maybe so. On the other hand, I don't think the CBC should waste our taxpayer's money on programs nobody will tune into, either. And don't count on the CBC ever being privatized. If we're going to have a CBC spending our taxpayer's money, they might as well spend it on stuff we will watch!! So they might as well try a new show like The One and see what comes of it.

I think it is a silly argument for people to say that the CBC should turn itself into some sort of PBS-type channel that runs documentaries and highbrow programming all the time. There is no need for the CBC to do that. Besides, look where that strategy got PBS, they're fighting for their lives right now against these cable channels. What the CBC needs to do is live up to their mandate as the "Canadian channel" that will showcase the best Canadian productions, whether it's drama or comedy or whatever. There is a need for a channel like that in this country that will showcase Canadian shows for a mass audience. But that hasn't been what the CBC has done lately. Instead, the CBC has been showcasing Canadian shows for a bunch of elites, academics, and political people. Not the way to build a mass audience.

The most successful Canadian shows on the CBC over the years have been the ones that connected with the masses. Whether it's been Hockey Night in Canada, or Kids in the Hall or SCTV or The Red Green Show, or Wayne and Shuster or the Beachcombers or King of Kensington or Don Messer's Jubilee, the shows that were populist were ALWAYS the biggest hits on the network. These were the shows that paid David Suzuki's salary over the years, so he could do his high-brow Nature of Things show! Let's face it, they need to get back to what they were doing in the 1970s by putting on populist, hit shows, albeit with its emphasis on more Canadian content. I want the CBC that I grew up watching back again.

Granted, they are a little late to the bandwagon by programming The One, and frankly, a lot of people are getting burned out by a lot of these reality TV shows. This does look like a bit of an American Idol copy if you ask me. But better late than never, I say, and at least this is a start. Even if this particular show isn't a big hit, the CBC is at least back in the game of trying to put on some bona-fide popular shows. They also are putting on Hockey: A People's History and if history is any indication that show will be a huge hit for the CBC, too. Populism is the way to go. If the CBC works at it, they'll eventually find a way to create that one major hit series that will pay everyone's salaries and end their financial problems. Then they can go hire more journalists and keep the serious-minded people happy by investing in documentaries and other sorts of ambitious productions. The BBC and RAI and these other public networks around the world put on populist shows all the time that people will watch; so should the CBC. And now, they will.

This is good news for the CBC, not yet another bad-news story that these usual CBC whiners would have you believe.

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