There has been a bloodless coup at CBC and the nitwits have taken over again.
That is this column’s take on the bizarre departure of Shaun Majumder from CBC’s This Hour has 22 Minutes. The situation also stands as a reminder that CBC TV has a longstanding problem with recognition of talent and that the faceless bosses matter more than those who create at the network. It’s an arrogance problem.
The first news about Majumder came on Sunday on CBC’s The National. Rosemary Barton, working without sidekicks, said: “Shaun Majumder says his 22 minutes are up. He made that announcement last night at a festival in Newfoundland. The CBC confirmed his departure today.”
That seemed a little odd. But it did certify something – such is Majumder’s status that his leaving 22 Minutes merited an item on the national news.
On Monday, Majumder released a statement on Facebook. It included this key assertion: “Unfortunately, due to creative differences between the Halifax producers and myself, the decision for my departure was not mine.” That told us he didn’t jump from 22 Minutes, as The National piece suggested. He was pushed.
Next came a Canadian Press report in which Majumder made it clear he is “not angry or upset over his departure” but “he was shocked” by it. Little wonder, given the context the CP report gives to the parting. In June, he sent a note to the show’s producers, DHX Media, which makes the show in Halifax for CBC TV. (DHX may produce it, but it’s a CBC show, part of the brand.) Majumder, who was both a performer and part of the writing team, had, he says, some constructive suggestions for how everybody could make the show better.
Unfortunately, due to creative differences between the Halifax producers and myself, the decision for my departure was not mine.— Shaun Majumder, in a statement posted to Facebook
According to Majumder, “It was a very positive letter, a very constructive letter and I think they felt like I was overstepping my boundaries a little bit and then they chose to let me go.” This is classic corporate-politics aggression. It amounts to “Who do you think you are?” It probably happens in offices everywhere. But in this instance we’re talking creative talent, someone who is an artist, not a junior file clerk telling the chief executives they’re full of it. As Barton said on The National, “CBC confirmed his departure.” That, my friends, is the definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
22 Minutes has been in decline for years. Its comedy has gone soft and silly and Majumder’s energy, bite and causticity amount to one of the very few things worth watching on it. He told CP, “I feel like our show should be a show that is unapologetic – it always has been – and it should be a show that really pushes the boundaries as much as we can.” One can assume that he meant funnier, with more edge. And boy, does 22 Minutes need that. At a time when TV news satire is thriving, 22 Minutes looks hopelessly dull.
It’s a fact that 22 Minutes is a peculiar beast. The team spends most of the year in Halifax and things can get weird there. I’ve been to visit it twice and the vibe at 22 Minutes HQ is sometimes tense. But at the tapings I’ve attended, it is Majumder who keeps the studio audience in stitches with his instant, improvised wit.
There is a book about the show. Halifax writer and journalist Angela Mombourquette’s 25 Years of 22 Minutes: An Unauthorized Oral History, chronicles a quarter-century of it, including the cast, writing and executive changes. It’s a good book. Mombourquette, who worked on 22 Minutes in the early days (she also interviewed me for the book) says she’s bewildered by the nature of Majumder’s departure.
“I was surprised to hear it, especially this close to the start of the season. His story about how it went down is pretty shocking. Television is a tough business and 22 Minutes has survived a lot of big changes over the years. Back in the day when Rick Mercer left, folks wondered if the show would last. It did, because the remaining cast was strong. This feels a little different. The legacy of the current cast doesn’t run as deep, especially now that Cathy Jones’s role has been diminished. I hate to say it, but the fate of the show is pretty much all hanging on Mark Critch now. It’s certainly a loss for the show. Shaun’s contribution has been significant and uniquely Canadian, and he’s been an important part of the show’s identity for the past 15 years.”
She is correct, which makes the situation all the more puzzling. But mention of Rick Mercer provides background. When he left 22 Minutes to launch his own CBC show in 2004, it was called Monday Report. Legend has it that CBC didn’t want Mercer’s name on the show in case, you know, he got the idea he was some kind of star. The nitwits. Then and now.