As sure as the sun came up on the day after the federal election, there were huge sighs of relief at CBC HQ. After all, it would have been super awkward to find Andrew Scheer was prime minister, given that CBC entered into a hissy-fit lawsuit against the Conservative Party during the election campaign. For using the broadcaster’s footage in an online advertisement.
Who does that? Well, CBC management does, throwing caution and common sense to the wind and, worse, adding the names of two prominent political reporters – Rosemary Barton and John Paul Tasker – to the lawsuit. For a while there, Barton, who is easily CBC’s best anchor and interviewer, was presented with the appalling vista of limiting her coverage of the Conservatives to, “See you in court.”
It’s not just the ineptitude of CBC lawyers that rankles right now. As the country and the entire television industry moves onward, CBC TV seems inclined to go backward. It’s stuck in some kind of old-school network TV groove and obstinately refuses to budge.
Take Battle of the Blades (Thursdays, CBC, CBC Gem, 8 p.m.). Frankly I couldn’t take it when the darn thing returned from the dead a decade after it first arrived. As it happened, I had some sewing and ironing to do that night and the chores trumped Battle of the Blades with ease. When I did check in on the thing, it was same-old, same-old. Many viewers must share my indifference.
The first episode in September drew about 700,000 viewers. Now in mid-October, the show is getting about 480,00 viewers. It’s at the under-half-a-million level. Ratings figures added after delayed PVR viewing will add to those numbers, but not enough to make the show anything like the brief ultra-Canadian sensation it was a decade ago.
Sticking with numbers, the smug inside-CBC notion that it has found a groove with comedy is undermined by mass audience detachment. One recent evening, Still Standing had 331,000 viewers in overnight ratings, 22 Minutes had 347,000, the new TallBoyz had a disappointing 111,000 and Baroness von Sketch Show had 171,000. Those are shocking numbers for Baroness, widely considered a CBC triumph and airing on the IFC cable channel in the United States. There’s something terribly awry, possibly a severely outdated promotional strategy, when a CBC TV tour de force is languishing in the ratings.
And then there’s CBC’s on/off thing with Netflix. When I read recently that CBC president Catherine Tait had said in an interview that the broadcaster would no longer work with Netflix, my reaction was, “What?” (In fact, the many variations on “what” that Amber Ruffin does on “Amber Says What” on Late Night with Seth Meyers could not do justice to my “What?” reaction.) First, CBC TV was all in with Netflix, and benefited enormously from the streaming service’s involvement with Anne with an E and Alias Grace. Then Tait made outlandish comments about the alleged “cultural imperialism” personified in Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Those remarks were later clarified with some expression of regret, but now it looks like a complete U-turn in CBC TV’s pact with Netflix. It’s a U-turn taking CBC TV backward. In the inside-CBC world, it seems irrelevant that such shows as Kim’s Convenience and Schitt’s Creek have reached a huge and appreciative audience through the international Netflix platform.
You have to wonder if CBC TV executives actually have a plan apart from resurrecting old series and changing the corporation’s position on Netflix. There are, I hasten to add, some experienced TV executives working under Ms. Tait. I’ve met some of them, so I can confirm that they exist.
As for the immediate future, there looms the arrival of Family Feud Canada. Sixty episodes coming, no less. It might be a charming, harmless TV exercise. It had better be a hit, because it will dominate the CBC TV schedule for ages. It had better bring in the advertising dollars, too, that being the point. Get this – when only two CBC shows sneak into the weekly top-30 most watched TV in Canada, Murdoch Mysteries and the Rogers-owned Hockey Night in Canada, the master plan is to offer a hoary old game show concept with a Canadian twist.
These are exciting times in the TV industry. Streaming services abound, more are coming and the bar has been raised for quality content, thanks to the internet allowing such services to thrive. Perhaps CBC TV’s plan for the future is to sue the internet. That’ll show the upstarts. The hissy-fit feud will go to court and be funnier than most content on CBC TV right now.
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