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John Doyle: Television

Authors on TV? But why? Add to ...

Let’s start with the official summary of what happens tonight on Bachelor Pad (ABC, Citytv, 8 p.m.).

Here it is: “As the housemates strategize how to take down the power couple in the house, a new guy has easily emerged as the most unpopular guy in the pad, and one woman shows her true colours. Meanwhile, this week’s challenge is the ‘Kissing Challenge.’ Each guy will kiss the women – and vice versa – then vote for who has the ‘best lips’ in the pad. The winners will be treated to the first one-on-one dates of the season.”

Right. Kissing competitions for flibbertigibbets in search of reality-TV stardom.

You know, one of the more peculiar aspects of television as it has evolved over the past decade is that just as it has become increasingly sophisticated it has simultaneously become increasingly vulgar and banal.

Bachelor Pad is not the only thing airing tonight, of course. Though it is one of the few new programs. And it takes up two hours on two channels. Somebody must love it.

Also tonight there’s So You Think You Can Dance Canada (CTV, 8 p.m.), which is having a terrific season. It’s now down to the top eight performers and my money is still on Jordan Clark, a 19-year-old contemporary dancer from Tottenham, Ont. The show is doing very well this summer, usually drawing just under 1 million viewers, and the talent has been exceptional.

It had better be renewed. However, I would guess that with CTV under new, Bell Media management, that is far from certain.

Over on the Bravo! channel there’s the droll Suits (Bravo! 10 p.m.), a drama from the cable USA Network. A feisty, often hilarious dollop of weirdness, it’s mainly about a brash, brilliant legal mind (Patrick J. Adams) who just lacks a law degree. It’s a cult hit in the U.S. and has been renewed for another season.

But let’s stick with the fact that it airs on Bravo! Two staples of the channel, Bravo!News and Arts & Minds were cancelled recently with immediate effect. Both were magazine-style shows covering the arts. That is, profiles of Canadian authors, interviews with internationally renowned writers visiting Canada, the opening of exhibitions, new opera and ballet productions. The shows also covered many awards in the arts.

They were a key part of what Bravo! is mandated to do – cover the arts. As of late last week, Bell Media said: “There are no plans to replace [the shows] with similar content, but we remain committed to programming like At the Concert Hall and Bravo!FACT.”

Hello? There is something very troubling about the cancelling of shows that cover the arts in Canada, on a channel that’s supposed to be devoted to the arts. Not entertainment, mark you, but the arts.

At arts events, especially in Toronto, the cameras from Bravo! were a ubiquitous presence and a reassuring one, letting everyone know that somewhere on television attention was being paid. After all, there really is a surplus of coverage of Lady Gaga’s new album, Justin Bieber’s new hairdo and, spare us all, Charlie Sheen’s antics.

You have to wonder if the bosses at Bell Media consider the broader context when they cancel such shows. The end of programs that routinely featured books and their authors coincided exactly with the threat that the City of Toronto may close local libraries. And people in Toronto thought the Ford regime was crass?

Another program you can see tonight is When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (HBO Canada, 8 p.m.). Spike Lee’s monumental documentary about the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina is a repeat, but also a must-see TV documentary classic.

Put it all together – the vulgar inanity of Bachelor Pad, the zest of So You Think You Can Dance Canada, the drollery of Suits and the greatness of When the Levees Broke – and you’ve got a bewildering picture. Television at its best and absolute worst.

What’s most worrying, though, is the gutting of real arts coverage on Bravo! The ongoing matter of specialty channels declining to air material that fits into the “specialty” that got them a licence from the CRTC in the first place is becoming a brazen flaunting of broadcast regulation. Is there history on History Television? Is there arts coverage on Bravo!? Not really.

Meanwhile, in Bachelor Pad news, US Weekly reports: “Stars Vienna Girardi and Kasey Kahl aren’t engaged yet, but the duo are completely smitten and thinking about walking down the aisle.”

The power of the Kissing Challenge, no doubt.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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