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The Sun News Network is set to air Ford Nation, staring Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford. (J.P. MOCZULSKI FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
The Sun News Network is set to air Ford Nation, staring Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford. (J.P. MOCZULSKI FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

John Doyle

Why the Ford Nation TV show is a stroke of genius Add to ...

A new newscast starts tonight. That’s Kevin Newman Live (CTV News Channel, 9 p.m.).

The program, starring the veteran broadcaster, promises “more context,” and a lot of online content with contributions from viewers. It’s been in rehearsals for a while and you can find those rehearsals online. Also online, you can find Newman musing about what kind of news program it will be. He says this: “I’ve had a few weeks of random conversations which are settling into a pattern. Starting with ongoing conversations about what this newscast is going to be about. It’s hard to define in words – almost impossible, I’m discovering. Because its about an insight, a notion.”

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As much as Kevin Newman is an experienced, respected newsman and broadcaster, only one response is appropriate – good luck with that.

See, also starting tonight, and also on the news side of things, is Ford Nation (Sun News Network, 8 p.m.). That means Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford will be on-air doing whatever it is that Sun News allows them to do. If it’s like their recently cancelled Toronto radio show, it’s about ranting, making excuses for dubious behaviour and attacking people. It is on the radio show that the Toronto media were called “maggots” and Doug encouraged Rob to confine his drinking to, “Stay in your basement, have a few pops. That’s it.”

We live in bewildering times. Analysis is beggared by the news as it unfolds. The Senate scandal. The Rob Ford fandango of revelations, accusations, apologies and freakouts. Irony is beggared by it all. There is nowhere to go but directly to the source. Some news stations, while covering the Ford situation, have relied upon the usual menu of punditry. Often some expert in the marketing and selling of politicians is brought in to pontificate. This is comically useless in the Ford situation. There is no playbook. There are no rules.

That’s why Ford Nation makes perfect sense as a TV show. It’s a stroke of genius. When a situation beggars conventional analysis and even irony itself, just air the situation and let the viewers judge. That’s one of television’s gifts to us, like it or not.

Last Thursday, when the debut of Ford Nation was announced, I reached Kory Teneycke, former director of communication for the PMO and currently vice-president of Sun News. He said, “It is the age of reality television and there is nothing more real than the Fords.” That’s pretty much all he would say. And he does have a point. What’s horrifyingly compelling about the Ford fandango is that it is real. You couldn’t make it up. And it unfolds constantly on TV. Bizarre press conferences, gnomic remarks or sudden confessions to journalists during scrums on live TV. Some foul language the other day. Stern warnings on another day.

Of all the addiction accusations that have swirled around Mayor Rob Ford, only one thing is a dead certainty – addiction to the TV camera. He’s already a reality-TV star, a super, unequalable reality-TV figure, his actions happening on live television without a TV show’s producers in the background shaping the narrative. It just unfolds.

We can speculate on what Ford Nation will be – Duck Dynasty meets The Surreal Life meets The Wire. Or an exercise in gruff narcissism so bottomless in its banality that it brings on disgust. Such is the strangeness that it could turn into The Wire-like drama. After all, the Toronto Police do want to speak to Rob Ford and hey, you know he’ll be in a studio at Sun News at a certain day and time. They could drop by the show.

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that Rob and Doug Ford were a new kind of Canadian hoser, a warped, malignant variation on those boorish but lovable chumps, Bob and Doug McKenzie. Now the Ford brothers have their own TV show. But it would not do this development justice to say a new, mad McKenzie brothers-type show has arrived. We live not only in a different time, but often it feels like a different universe – the universe of bewilderment. We just watch, as we must.

Meanwhile, let’s hope that the Kevin Newman show, with its “online content,” doesn’t amount to some young person standing in front of a big computer screen reading out tweets. That’s awful TV. It promises to take viewers beyond “What’s Happening” to “What’s Next.”

Indeed. Noble aspirations. But these are ignoble times. Ford Nation times.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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