The clocks didn’t stop. Nobody at a newspaper yelled, “Hold the front page!” The news, when it came (on a Friday afternoon, naturally), sailed out and floated there. People shrugged. The news was that Hubert Lacroix has been reappointed as the president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada for a second five-year term. According to that bulwark of breaking news, CBC online, Lacroix said his reappointment will allow the CBC to continue “building the public broadcaster of the future.”
Indeedy. By the time he’s done, Lacroix will have spent a decade bossing CBC/Radio-Canada. A decade is about 1,000 in broadcast years. Now, I know that the CBC has its own five-year strategy, called “2015: Everyone, Every way,” but, Jiminy, anything called “Everyone, Every way” has all the allure of a day-long Vinyl Cafe marathon. So, mon cher Hubert, here’s some unasked-for advice on the occasion of your reappointment. Five things for the next five years.
Avoid self-immolation. The CBC, a big, unwieldy organization with multiple platforms, an army of enemies and an internal army of malcontents, doesn’t need any more embarrassments. Like, for instance, threatening legal action against CTV for promoting “Big Bang Night in Canada.” This actually happened the other day. With no Hockey Night in Canada to transfix the nation, CTV has gamely packaged four old episodes of Big Bang Theory (the most-watched show in Canada, week to week, with around four million viewers) for Saturdays. Succumbing to a fit of nitwit outrage, someone at CBC issued a legal “cease” notice to CTV pointing out “confusion” between Big Bang Night in Canada and Hockey Night in Canada. CBC requested CTV cease all promotion and publicity for it. No, seriously, they did. Then they retracted it. Because as my good friend, the author and hockey expert Dave Bidini, pointed out to me, the only way Big Bang Night in Canada could be confused with Hockey Night in Canada is if someone got the impression the former was a non-stop reel of Wendel Clark highlights. CTV didn’t mention Wendel Clark. It was all Leonard, Penny, Sheldon, Howard and Raj. So, Mr. President and CEO, call a halt to your legal department’s nitwittery. Also, pay no attention to Ezra Levant and his maniacal anti-CBC rants on the comedy channel Sun News. Levant, hopped up on self-aggrandizement and delusion that beggars even the ego of CBC personalities, is not to be taken seriously. Don’t engage. Don’t do the nitwit thing.
Speaking of hockey: Don’t lose the NHL rights. You have little, you don’t need less. Hold on to Hockey Night in Canada when the bidding starts. Even if it means, as people are saying, that it’s time to ditch Don Cherry. Actually, do ditch Don Cherry. It’s hockey, and Cherry is ceaselessly and embarrassingly off-message and off-putting. When we last saw NHL hockey in the playoffs in the spring, it was “serial head shots, goonery, fighting aplenty” as this newspaper summarized it. And there was Cherry, CBC’s $800,000-a-year man, justifying all of it. Enough. Lose Cherry, don’t lose hockey.
Go local. Yes, yes, there’s a big commitment to more local news in TV and radio. That’s just great. But, we’re talking your main English-channel TV drama and comedy here. Learn a lesson from the success of Republic of Doyle. Even from CTV’s Corner Gas. The local is universal but also resonant for us, Canada. The local is the richest resource for tragedy, comedy and drama with bite. Not local done with tedious tendentiousness. But local as vibrant. So Arctic Air, yes, but it is, right now, hokum. Liven up the local.
Air the best of the world’s TV. Prime time is all-Canadian, all the time. Sure thing. And then there are times when the CBC main network airs some big Hollywood movies, most of them utter nonsense. Don’t ya think there’s room for quality TV from around the world? Such as the original Danish version of The Killing, or the red-hot Danish drama Borgen? Of course such programming would give Canadians an opportunity to see how other countries make compelling TV drama and might find Arctic Air lacking, but you’d win some friends.
Invest in more mockery. First, don’t let Rick Mercer go and don’t let 22 Minutes fade away. In fact, more of both would be better. There’s an enormous appetite for a lighthearted or satiric approach to politics and daily news. You must have noted the success of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and the attention they get. Canadians don’t watch Canadian TV drama or comedy with the same enthusiasm that they engage with Canadian news and sports. So use their interest in news and politics to strengthen the CBC. Maybe, just maybe, a satirical equivalent of the outrageously self-important At Issue panel on The National would click. Fun. We just want more fun.
Five years, five suggestions. Take it away, mon cher Hubert. You’re welcome.