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Bite TV, shown in this undated handout photo. (Handout/CP/Handout/CP)
Bite TV, shown in this undated handout photo. (Handout/CP/Handout/CP)

John Doyle: Television

Cable channel Bite TV popular for all the wrong reasons Add to ...

Hardly anybody watches Bite TV. In prime time, viewership would rank in the thousands, perhaps. It exists online and can be seen on the upper reaches of cable in most areas of Canada. This is the channel description on its own website: “For people who want to be entertained, BITE is the alternative source for a variety of smart, original and unfiltered comedy that’s current and relevant.”

But somebody was certainly watching on Dec. 31 last year, when Bite TV aired an episode of its comedy series The Conventioneers. The show, in which hosts Jason Agnew and Matt Chin “explore the trade show circuit and bizarre areas of niche culture” was airing at 4 p.m. ET and featured the hosts visiting the Holiday Entertaining and Décor Show. Usually the show has the hosts interviewing people and engaging in racy remarks and double-entendres. Potty humour and suggestions to women that they might want to get naked. That kind of frat-boy stuff.

This episode, however, featured interviews with children and, when edited for airing, the statements in the interviews were replaced with voice-over remarks of astonishing crudeness. The show would probably have remained obscure forever if a viewer had not complained to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. On Thursday, the Council decision, which was actually issued on July 12, appeared in a press release. The council concluded that the episode violated the prohibition against the sexualization of children.

Little wonder. Here is part of the text of the CBSC decision: “In the Christmas special episode of the Conventioneers, one host was dressed as Santa Claus and interviewed children and adults who were attending the Holiday Entertaining and Décor Show. In post-production, the dialogue that had actually taken place between the host and the interviewees was replaced with sexual comments for apparently comedic effect.”

There was nothing comedic about the dialogue, which was vulgar to such an extreme extent that large portions of it cannot be published in this newspaper.

In the annals of infamy in Canadian broadcasting, the episode marks an extraordinary low point. It makes Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s brush with This Hour Has 22 Minutes in his driveway look like a jolly lark.

When there’s a 500-plus channel universe, lots of television airs to a tiny niche audience and sometimes viewers might well wonder how certain cheaply made shows ever make it to air. In this instance, one has to wonder if anybody at all was in charge when this 2007 episode of The Conventioneers was produced and aired.

What is further astonishing is that Bite TV is owned by the company GlassBox, an up-and-coming media company. (It is now owned in part by broadcast veterans Michael McMillan and Seaton McLean, founders of the old Alliance-Atlantis TV empire, who took a controlling interest in GlassBox after this incident.) GlassBox also operates the AUX specialty music channel and just launched the Travel & Escape specialty channel. The adults are in charge now.

Jeffrey Elliott, the founder and president of GlassBox, said that after being made aware of the viewer’s complaint, the episode was pulled after it aired twice on Dec. 31.

“We recognize our mistake. We recognize it shouldn’t have gone to air,” Mr. Elliott said, adding that the network will be running an apology on air this weekend as part of the CBSC resolution.

Just as GlassBox is an up-and-coming media company, Jason Agnew and Matt Chin of The Conventioneers could be considered up-and-coming TV comics. They are ubiquitous on Bite, online on such sites as CollegeHumour, and Mr. Agnew contributes to The Fight Network and MuchMusic. Now they are really famous, for all the wrong reasons.

With reports from Guy Dixon and Gayle MacDonald

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