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CTV to lose 'its heart and soul' Add to ...

Most Canadians still don't know his name, but if they've watched television in the past 30 years, they've certainly seen his work.

Ivan Fecan, widely regarded as the most powerful and influential television executive in the Canadian industry's modern era, has signalled he will step down as head of CTVglobemedia Inc. once BCE's $1.3-billion acquisition of the Canadian private broadcasting giant is completed.

Mr. Fecan has made a career out of selling drama to the viewing public. But on Friday, as the glitterati descended on Toronto for its annual film festival, he manufactured some of his own. Just hours after CTV announced it would be taken over by BCE, the 57-year old programming guru revealed he would be leaving the company much earlier than anticipated - a move that stunned not only his staff, but his new boss as well.

Earlier this week, Mr. Fecan had dinner with BCE chief executive officer George Cope. There was an expectation that Mr. Fecan, who acquired the broadcast rights to the Vancouver Olympic Games and spearheaded the broadcaster's coverage, would remain in his role until the 2012 Olympic Games in London. At that meeting, Mr. Fecan offered no indication to Mr. Cope that he planned to leave early, according to people familiar with the matter.

The sudden change of plan leaves CTV with no obvious successor.

Keith Pelley, the executive Mr. Fecan had been grooming to take his place, departed unexpectedly to rival Rogers Media last month, throwing a wrench into CTVglobemedia's succession plan just as negotiations to sell the company were in full swing.

"With the sale of CTV to Bell happening now, I believe it is in the best interests of our company for me to retire sooner - so that the new leader can have a fresh start with a new ownership structure," Mr. Fecan said in a memo to staff on Friday.

"I've had a great run. When I joined this company 17 years ago, we owned a few TV stations in Ontario and Saskatchewan and 14 per cent of CTV, which at the time was a part-time network," he added.

Iain Grant, an analyst with the Seabord Group, called Mr. Fecan the glue that keeps CTV together.

"I had hoped that the new owner, Bell, would keep Ivan Fecan … because the last thing CTV needs is to be part of a larger organization and lose its heart and soul," Mr. Grant said.

Mr. Fecan, the Toronto-born son of eastern European immigrants, began his broadcasting career in news at Toronto's pioneering and influential local station CityTV in 1976. He then moved to the CBC and became the head of English programming development in 1982, quickly finding success with innovative choices, launching The Kids in the Hall and transforming Degrassi from an afternoon kids' show to a successful, prime-time Canadian classic. While at the public broadcaster, he also spearheaded the controversial move of the national news from 10 to 9 p.m. In 1985, he left the CBC to work for NBC (which had picked up The Kids in the Hall).

However, he soon returned to Canada to take the helm of CTV, then a listing ship.

When Mr. Fecan joined CTV almost two decades ago, it was a loose affiliation of independent TV stations. First on his agenda was to buy them all and create a network under a single banner.

He then turned his sights to amassing specialty channels, such as The Comedy Network, CTV News Channel and TSN, while launching others such as SportsNet, which is now owned by Rogers. In the span of a decade, he transformed CTV into the country's highest-rated network, a position it has held for the past nine years.

His programming acquisitions have been shrewd (although he has been criticized for overpaying at times - most recently with the Olympics). He has also acquired popular shows such as the CSI and Law & Order franchises, Grey's Anatomy, American Idol (which spawned Canadian Idol), Lost, and So You Think You Can Dance. Often, CTV would buy promising new American shows just to keep them away from the competition, specifically its arch rival Global.

Still, Mr. Fecan was also a champion of commercial Canadian content. Nothing, it seemed, gave him greater pleasure than the critical and popular success of shows such as Corner Gas and Flashpoint - which drew a million-plus viewers each week. Their achievements raised the bar for Canadian-made programming and were seen as a setback for CBC. He was also a hands-on executive who was often directly involved in minute production details.

When Mr. Fecan broke the news to staff on Friday, some people were in tears. As one executive put it: "He was the leader. Say what you want about him, but he was the leader. He's so strongly identified with CTV that it definitely will be very strange around here without him."

With reports from John Doyle and Tim Kiladze

 

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