What fresh hell is this?
The news, when it came, arrived with noticeably bland headlines. "Rogers: 6 per cent Of CITY-TV Staff Affected By Restructuring" said The Wall Street Journal. Nice to know it was noticed there. But hereabouts, the impact could not possibly be conveyed by the word "restructure."
Approximately 60 people, including reporters, producers, editors and camera operators, have been let go at CITY-TV stations in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. The brutal evisceration of CITY-TV's news operations is a historic and, to many people, horrifying, development.
The sudden disappearance of Anne Mroczkowski, Laura Di Battista and others actually matters. Loved and loathed (and CITY's self-regard became irritatingly immense) the style and personality of CITY-TV's news was part of the unique fabric of Toronto. Maybe you have to be of a certain age to grasp this, but CITY's news operations reflected Toronto's broad multiplicity of cultures at a time when most local TV news was delivered by people who best resembled white mannequins.
CITY-TV has sass. It was sometimes air-headed and juvenile, but it was never boring and often gave an authentic sense of how the city's population was feeling, reacting and emotionally involved in the issues of the day. It had a style that was ours before it was exported to other cities and then copied at countless TV stations around the world. The unique cadence of JoJo Chinto's reports was a reminder that this was Toronna, not some ordinary North American city served by TV news concocted by some consulting firm. John Gallagher's motor-mouth sports reports often gave the impression that the man was deranged. Me, I have a memory - accurate, I think - of Jim McKenny doing a sports report in which he pointed at an open grave and announced that the Toronto Maple Leafs would not win a Stanley Cup until Harold Ballard was in there.
There were some nitwits there, of course. Sometimes it seemed that attractive-looking kids were hired when they could barely speak one word after another without sounding startlingly dim. And under the surface cheeriness, CITY-TV came to take itself very seriously. As a broadcaster, it deeply resented the slightest criticism in the press and bore grudges. Some of its senior staff and executives were egomaniacs more interested in directing malice at others than in making great television.
Still, there was much to admire. Before there was an abundance of specialty channels - some to be owned by CITY's corporate parent CHUM - CITY-TV had The New Music , Speakers' Corner , CityLine , Fashion Television , SexTV and Media Television , shows that stretched the boundaries of what local TV could achieve. The New Music was essential viewing for years, a street-level journey into popular culture. It was rock journalism on TV, and often the smartest show on the air when it came to pop culture. Jeanne Beker interviewing punk musicians in washrooms, the guys blithely flirting with her. Avi Lewis crashing the backstage area after major concerts. Superb television. CITY-TV triumphed over the appalling knock-off local channel Toronto One, a station that attempted to copy and outdo CITY but failed miserably. CITY-TV's news operations were also a magnet for very talented young journalists. The list of former staffers who went on to much bigger networks and operations is very long.
Now, what made CITY-TV special has been disemboweled by Rogers Communications, the cable company that took over the CITY-TV channels some time ago. Of course, it would be the cable company that took a knife to CITY-TV. Of course, the cable company would talk about how the changes "are necessary to align our operations with the economic and regulatory realities of our industry."
Whatever. You could say that now there's another reason to blame The Jay Leno Show and loathe the big-chinned company man. If you wanted to see The Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. in Canada - and not that many people did, really - you watched it on CITY-TV. Some genius at Rogers bought into the whole Jay Leno thing. And paid heavily.
But it's not just that. For years, the CITY-TV package worked - an emphasis on strong local news coverage, a good array of movies in prime time and an eccentric array of locally produced programs. Exactly why it was necessary to mess with the format is beyond me and a lot of other TV consumers.
Maybe there's some truth to the assertion that the current "reality" of the marketplace makes local news in the CITY-TV style no longer financially viable. But, perhaps there's also some truth in the assertion that Rogers screwed up, hopelessly. And here's one truth you can take to the bank: One of the continent's most recognizable news brands has been destroyed. Is there a place in hell for those who do that? No. It's just business.
Check local listings.
Mounties Under Fire (CBC 9 p.m.) takes the view that it's been an unusually difficult time for Canada's national police force. Faith in the RCMP has been decimated - by the Maher Arar case, the pension scandal, many deaths on duty and the inquiry into Robert Dziekanski's death. Here, filmmaker Helen Slinger examines how the RCMP is dealing with the situation and what it plans to do about the future. The program suggests there are painful adjustments necessary and some may never happen. The Mentalist (CBS, CTV 10 p.m.) changed dramatically in tone in December, when several characters were killed and the serial killer Red John re-emerged from the shadows. It was a shockingly good episode. Since then, it has been back to its lighthearted tone. But this is still a show worth watching regularly. Tonight, Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) and the team investigate the murder of a mayor's aide.