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Kevin O'Leary stars in CBC's Redemption Inc. (Tanja-Tiziana Burd/Tanja-Tiziana Burd)
Kevin O'Leary stars in CBC's Redemption Inc. (Tanja-Tiziana Burd/Tanja-Tiziana Burd)

John Doyle: Television

CBC Television wobbles forward, clueless Add to ...

On Thursday, CBC Television announces its new fall season schedule. Don’t get me started. Just don’t.

Over at CBC HQ in the morning, an event described in advance as “the Presentation and Media Junket” will unfold. This is where the trouble starts. There might well be a presentation, but there is no “media junket” as it is understood by most people. The CBC is not actually flying in journalists, putting them up in swank hotels and plying them with liquor.

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CBC is not paying for all that. It’s saving its moolah to send a small army of executives to the Banff World Media Festival in June, where allegedly hard toil is done in bucolic surroundings. “Over 50 development executives already confirmed from over 20 countries,” boasts the Banff website, and the CBC will account for 14 of those 50, it seems. Don’t get me started.

In the evening CBC will ply its wares to advertisers, and CBC personalities will talk up their shows, big time. Me, I’m not going to any of it. Honestly, why go to something that the hosts have trouble describing.Don’t get me started.

Ah yes, CBC-TV, shaken by budget cuts, wobbles forward. And, one suspects, clueless about its direction and meaning. Is it after audience share with humdrum programming or excellence and audience share with distinctive programming? Is it competing with Global, CTV and Rogers for eyeballs and advertising dollars or is it simply offering Kevin O’Leary four shows and hoping for the best?

Since the cuts to the CBC’s budget were announced there has been much talk about its direction. Too much talk. The Reimagine CBC forum, which is well-meaning, is a waste of time. Most of its ideas come from people with zero understanding of broadcasting, and a good deal of its brooding about a new vision for the public broadcaster is hippie cant about turning CBC into a glorified co-operative to be used by professional complainers.

CBC-TV is not exactly on a starvation diet now. It has taken a roughly 10-per-cent hit to its budget. And CBC-TV’s future rests somewhere between a schedule that’s all-Kardashian and one that reads like the list of classes at a community college. Nobody turns on the TV to enter a classroom. Nobody should be envisioning a CBC-TV that’s mostly the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the symphony and some witless documentary of complaint about how life has been emptied of meaning by global brands.

Too much of the brooding about CBC’s future is rooted in nostalgia for its past. The CBC’s future is, literally, the future. And the future is television and online. Television as popular art has reached the stage where it defines the culture, and the idea that television induces a vegetative stupor – unless enlivened by the traditional high arts – is now ludicrous.

The CBC’s task is to make television that truly excites, that is energizing and not simply calculated to appeal by dint of being rather like something else that already had popular appeal. At the CBC, it is time to dethrone both those who see TV as cookie-cutter entertainment and those who adhere to old-fashioned ideas of seriousness. It should no longer be the proudest boast of a CBC radio personality that they never watch TV.

As to the immediate future, the one being announced on Thursday, it looks like the same-old, but slightly less of it. Republic of Doyle and Arctic Air will return. The former is fine fun and the latter is too ordinary. Battle of the Blades is gone, as is Being Erica. It’s highly unlikely that the overpraised Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays will return, and that’s okay – nice idea but lacking the distinctive snap that’s needed to make a TV comedy unmissable.

Coming to CBC is Murdoch Mysteries, which is nice. It will, perhaps, suit those people for whom CBC means Coronation Street. And, one gathers, there’s a new cop drama called Cracked. According to the production company, Cracked “stars David Sutcliffe ( Gilmore Girls, Private Practice) as Detective Aidan Black, with Stefanie von Pfetten ( NCIS, Battlestar Galactica) as psychologist Daniella Olsen. This character-driven procedural follows teams of cops and psychiatric professionals who make up the Psych Crimes and Crisis unit.” Cops amid mentally troubled people, then, is the gist. Haven’t seen it, so can’t judge it. But here’s the thing – is it original and thrilling the way the best TV drama can be, or is it a tired formula with a gimmicky twist? Is it cookie-cutter?

Whatever is announced on Thursday, and no matter who is present, it’s going to be a wobble forward. And CBC will only stride confidently forward when it aims for true distinction. Junkets, parties and Banff be damned – aim for originality. Don’t get me started.

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