Richard Stursberg has left his position as head of CBC's English-language services, in the wake of a new five-year strategic plan under development for both the CBC and its French-language Radio-Canada counterpart.
His boss, Hubert Lacroix, the CBC's president and chief executive officer, with whom he'd often clashed, issued a statement saying that Mr. Stursberg "shook the foundation of the organization … attacked conventional wisdom and uprooted whole parts of the internal culture."
Although Friday's announcement came as a shock to CBC staff, there were long-standing tensions between Mr. Stursberg's aggressive focus on ratings and Mr. Lacroix's emphasis on consensus building and his statements on the CBC as a public service, insiders said.
Mr. Stursberg's departure is widely believed to have been acrimonious. The announcement noted that it was effective immediately, and the CBC's Toronto Broadcast Centre was abuzz with rumours among staff that Mr. Stursberg had been escorted from the building.
A senior executive at the public broadcaster who worked closely with both men described the relationship between Mr. Stursberg and Mr. Lacroix as being, at best, "like a marriage, they tried and it didn't work."
The five-year strategic review brought that tension to a head.
"This is the opportune time to bring new leadership to English Services and to ensure alignment of the senior team on the future of the public broadcaster," Mr. Lacroix said in the terse news release. Neither Mr. Lacroix nor Mr. Stursberg was immediately available for comment on Friday.
Mr. Stursberg arrived at the CBC in 2004 with a résumé full of top jobs in the media and telecommunications industry, such as his position heading Telefilm Canada. Stressing the need to appeal to a wider audience, Mr. Stursberg introduced such ratings winners as the sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, as well as the reality show Dragon's Den (a pitching contest for entrepreneurs) and the prime-time skating competition Battle of the Blades.
Yet his approach also included the decision to add the American game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy to the weekday evening lineup, at significant cost to the public broadcaster.
Viewers and listeners won't likely notice any immediate changes. Kirstine Stewart, who helped oversee the development of a number of Canadian productions with Mr. Stursberg and then slotted them into CBC-TV's evening lineup, noted that the CBC's emphasis on plugging its tight revenues back into Canadian productions will continue. Ms. Stewart will now take over the vacant job on an interim basis for the next six to nine months.
One source also said that Mr. Lacroix had emphasized he wants a continued, strong commitment to Canadian productions. However, what could change, and what some speculate is in the yet-unreleased five-year plan, is less of the headlong rush for ratings.
As Mr. Stursberg eventually brought the entire English-language service under his purview, including radio and the CBC's Internet service, he oversaw wholesale changes such as the transformation of Newsworld into the CBC News Network and its new American-style "breaking news" format. Radio 2's partial move away from classical music also happened under his watch. The underlying rationale for the changes, Mr. Stursberg said, was to attract larger audiences.
The changes on CBC-TV are widely viewed as Mr. Stursberg's main legacy.
"I see this as a sign that perhaps the [CBC board of directors]and Hubert Lacroix analyzed Stursberg's approach, and they gave him time to do it," said Lise Lareau, national president of the Canadian Media Guild, a union that represents CBC staff. "They've watched a few seasons of what his plan was leading to. And they decided - I'm hoping - that enough is enough and that perhaps it's harder to distinguish the CBC from its commercial counterparts with the way Stursberg's been programming the network."