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Arlene Dickinson in a scene from "The Big Decision" (CBC)
Arlene Dickinson in a scene from "The Big Decision" (CBC)

John Doyle: Television

The Big Decision: More CBC pro-business blarney Add to ...

“I dedicated my whole life to this place and, it’s ah....” At that point the speaker, a young man, tears up and walks away from the camera.

It’s not easy to make the issue of equity investment one that involves tears and poignancy. But CBC is up for it.

The Big Decision (CBC, 9 p.m.) is the corporation’s latest foray into reality-TV-style, pro-business blarney and another attempt to squeeze every possible ounce of programming from Dragons’ Den. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Republic of Doyle and Mr. D, the CBC’s main network would look like the Rich Guys & Entrepreneurs Channel. Arctic Air, you say? Well isn’t that essentially about saving a regional airline?

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The show, a new four-part series, “sees entrepreneurs Jim Treliving and Arlene Dickinson travel the country to help struggling business owners get back on track,” CBC’s representatives say in publicizing the thing. What happens is that if the beleaguered companies do what they’re told, “they could be given a life-changing investment from one of the two most revered business leaders in the country.”

This new glorification of super-rich people whose wealth will save the world, if they receive enough obsequious requests, comes on the heels of the baroque exercise in bootstrap business that was Redemption Inc., Kevin O’Leary’s bombastic reality series in which ex-cons had the opportunity to set up a business with investment from loadsa-dough O'Leary.

Tonight we watch on tenterhooks as “franchise giant” Jim Treliving descends from his aerie atop some glass-and-steel skyscraper (people and things look very, very small from up there) to decide on helping two struggling companies. One is the family-run SWP Industries Inc. of News Brunswick, which manufactures cedar fencing and other wood products. The U.S. recession diminished the business and it’s asking for a $2-million equity investment from Treliving to get rid of debt.

The family behind the firm seem to be really nice people, hard-working, decent and in a bind. (The young man who tears up is one of the family.) Along comes Treliving in a limo, after he’s descended from his aerie and travelled on his private jet. As the voice-over informs us, “If they want his money they’d better be prepared to sweat.”

We see the plant, can almost smell the cedar, and watch as the family frets. They don’t have a full-time, professional chief financial officer. And, we’re informed, “The acting CFO didn’t see the U.S. recession coming.” Treliving tells viewers about the nightmares and worry that come with owning a business. Indeed. We noticed.

Also on Treliving’s to-do list is the Ice House Winery, in the Niagara region. The couple owning it make fine icewine, but are struggling to stay afloat as the recession reduced tourism and there’s less money being spent on specialist icewine.

Once again, along comes Treliving in a limo. Drama ensues when he pronounces that “There’s some junk out the back. As an investor I’m not impressed.” All the company wants is $150,000 but Treliving says it needs more and has ideas for improvement. One result, and this is very, very CBC, is that the icewine is featured on CBC’s Steven and Chris show. It’s hard to tell where the story is going, but if you go to the Ice House Winery’s website, as I did, you’ll find this: “Vote here to convince Jim Treliving to say “YES” to bring The Ice House Winery to the next level of success!” Which is odd, since the billionaire is supposed to know his stuff, without your vote or mine.

The Big Decision is not awful television. It’s just impossibly corny and gormless. The voice-over keeps using such phrases as, “It’s a race against the clock!” and “Everything’s on the line!” In case we didn’t notice. And of course, Treliving inevitably says: “This is not a gift, this is not a charity. This is a business and I gotta get my money back!” Viewers are, one supposes, meant to chant “Right on!”

Listen to me here. I got nothing against CBC’s new and manic devotion to business. If it’s good TV, bring it on.

But one reason The Big Decision is not great TV is its slavish devotion to the billionaire-hero myth. The iconography is groan-inducing – the billionaire in the sky looking down on us, and the possible recipients of his largesse are like hand-wringing serfs hoping to please the god or the king, or whatever it is that the billionaire is supposed to represent.

This is the Ayn Randian sensibility, the exaltation of the entrepreneur, reduced to comic-book drama. The whole world depends on the grace of the deity that is the super-rich entrepreneur. It’s an insult to the hard-working business people seen on the show, and to viewers who don’t think the Ayn Randian sensibility is gospel.



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