Should this week's federal leaders' debates be modelled after the television show So You Think You Can Dance?
Broadcaster Trina McQueen made that not-entirely-tongue-in-cheek suggestion during a roundtable discussion at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University in the fall of 2009.
"In talking about debates, we are talking about a TV show," argued Ms. McQueen, a former head of CBC's newsgathering operations and of CTV Inc. "The goals and the results might be advancing democracy and citizenship, but it is still a TV show.
"It is not news, nor a documentary, hardly ever drama, and not really a debate - it is a highly choreographed competition where competitors vie to become the winner. More like 'So you think you can lead Canada.'"
Forty-three years after the first Canadian federal leaders' debate, TV producers, academics and politicians are still struggling to come up with the ideal format. "I think each debate is a kind of reaction to the debate before," said Mark Bulgutch, the executive producer of this week's faceoffs.
The 2004 debates were declared a televisual disaster because of the free-for-all that saw four party leaders spend two hours talking over each other. For the next election debates, only one leader's microphone was open at a time, which created a stiff series of brief speeches. "It was dead boring," Mr. Bulgutch said. "There wasn't any back-and-forth. It wasn't truly a debate."
The 2008 round featured five federal leaders seated at a table, creating a less combative - and to some, less engaging - tone.
This week's debates return to a more classic model, with the leaders standing behind lecterns. The evenings will unfold in six 19-minute hybrid segments, beginning with a six-minute one-on-one between two leaders followed by a free-for-all closely monitored by producers to ensure equal time for each of the four men.
"I don't know if it's ever going to be perfect," allows Mr. Bulgutch. "Perfect's a hard standard."