It’s not quite as radical as cutting hockey. But CBC Television’s decision to put Battle of the Blades – which regularly draws about one million viewers – on hiatus might just be the spur to get audiences to fight back against the government’s recent cuts to the public broadcaster.
News that the show was being put on hold – part of the broadcaster’s response to the federal government’s recent budget cut of 10 per cent, or approximately $225-million – drew immediate public reaction.
“No doubt just the first in erosion of our cultural heritage,” bemoaned one tweeter. “Sad to see such an amazing show cancelled,” wrote another.
Another fan was more to the point: “I challenge Stephen Harper to a figure-skating competition to save Battle of the Blades!”
CBC-TV has also announced it will cancel the comedy series InSecurity and Michael, Tuesdays & Thursdays and the reality programs Cover Me Canada, The Debaters and Redemption Inc. (As previously announced, dramas Being Erica and Camelot will also not return this fall.)
“The fact is we just don’t have the finances to put these shows back on the air next season,” said CBC executive director of studio programming Julie Bristow.
Some shows will not be missed by the masses ( Michael, Tuesdays & Thursdays rarely drew ratings higher than 300,000 viewers). But Battle of the Blades was an established hit. Since launching in late 2009, the homegrown series – which paired ex-NHL players and professional figure skaters – has been a ratings phenomenon. The first two seasons drew audiences in the two-million viewer range.
The problem, says veteran TV producer John Brunton, whose Toronto-based company Insight Productions produces Blades, was the series’s price tag. Although neither he nor CBC will disclose the per-episode budget, Blades is known to be one of the higher-priced programs on the prime-time schedule.
“Of course it’s an expensive show to produce,” says Brunton. “You need a big rink and you need it in the middle of hockey season, and there’s the recruiting of the players. It’s still the highest-rated Canadian format of all time.”
And hope seems to spring eternal for Blades fans, and Brunton himself.
“CBC made it perfectly clear to me that they’d like to see the show on the air some time down the line, maybe 18 months from now,” he says.
In TV terms, that’s practically a lifetime away, however. So unless our public broadcaster can turn things around in the near future, the CBC’s loss could turn out to be another Canadian network’s gain.
“We knew CBC had to make some sacrifices, but Blades is an idea grown out of Canadian culture itself. It’s practically the ultimate Canadiana,” says Brunton. “We’ve built a great fan base coast to coast and we have a lot of hockey players interested in doing the show. If ever there was a program that belonged on CBC, it’s this one – but if they can’t go forward, we’d like to keep it alive with someone else.
“We’ve had interest from some other people about the show, and always have.”