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john doyle: television

After all of that - all the fuss, the hype and hysteria - what has Sun News Network amounted to? Cheap, cheesy, terrible television. I encourage you to watch it. You can learn a great deal about the utter banality of well-meant but bonehead TV.

Now, me, I was anxious to see it and savour it. The more news outlets, the better; the more channels we have to choose from, the better off we are. Stands to reason. And Sun News promised a great deal.

So the other day, just back from Ireland and admittedly a tad jet-lagged, I started watching. First thing I saw was the ego that is Ezra Levant waving around a giant cigar and making a speech about Cuba. Odd, I thought. Here we are at the crucial point in a federal election campaign and Levant is anxious to let us know his views on events in Cuba.

Boy oh boy, did he go on. Cuba this and Castro that, interminably. Then it dawned on me that Levant had written a long, densely written analysis of matters Cuban and was talking it at us. It transcended terrible television to achieve the level of abomination. I was reminded that there was a guy with a sock puppet named Ed, who went from community cable TV to the CITY-TV channel a few years ago. The guy with the sock had a better grasp of the basics of TV than Ezra Levant and his producers.

Being away, I had taped the opening hours of Sun News, so I looked at it. There, again, was Levant making a speech. "We're talking about truth and freedom," he declared. "If you love freedom like I do, it's a pretty happy day." Well, sunshine, not if it's like watching paint dry, it isn't.

Levant is obviously meant to be the channel's version of the outgoing Fox News personality Glenn Beck, but without Beck's charisma. Mind you, just as Beck devoted a lot of time to promoting his radio show and books, Levant, on consecutive days, plugged his book about the oil industry. Beck wrote a hilariously entertaining paranoid thriller about do-gooders taking over the world. Levant wrote a windy book about the oil industry. Sorry - not the same thing.

Over the week the impressions mounted. Impressions of a shockingly amateurish channel with a giant media corporation, Quebecor, behind it. I noted that Sun News made a self-regarding fuss about some journalists mocking the dress style of the lady hosts and anchors. The word "skank" was bandied but then retracted, apparently. Well, now. There's nothing lewd or lascivious about the frocks, skirts and tops being worn. It's just that several of the women on air look like they dressed in the dark. Sun News has achieved a remarkable feat. It has made the comely and talented Krista Erickson, a noted spiffy dresser, look like a shoo-in for an appearance on What Not to Wear.

This Theo Caldwell character is another Sun News personality who goes on and on and on. Like he'd never heard of the word "brevity" or been advised that making speeches on air amounts to really bad television. Further, he cannot conduct an interview. He makes a speech he knows the interviewee will agree with and then listens, delightedly, when they concur.

The other night he was busy discussing the "surge" in NDP support indicated by opinion polls. His guest was the renowned independent thinker, Conservative Senator Linda Frum. She said of the poll results for the NDP, the Bloc and the Liberals in Quebec, "They're going to conspire together and become one party and one coalition government, regardless of whether one party is up or down." The idea that one single party is soon to ensue from a merged NDP, Liberal and Bloc Québécois parties is patently ridiculous. Caldwell's comeback was, "I'm glad you came right out with that."

This was the single entertaining aspect of hours of watching the channel. Not because of the political intent of the statements, but because they were laugh-out-loud wacky. Look, never mind the political bent of Sun News. It's just fantastically inept broadcasting. And as such it does a serious disservice to the conservative cause in Canada. There is no news on the Sun News Channel. None. It's just one fabulously self-regarding pundit after another jawing on with blatant disregard for the needs of viewers who expect to be informed in a professional manner, even occasionally entertained. The Fox News Channel manages to be gripping, lively TV every day, even as it irritates, embellishes and sometimes broadcasts blatant untruths.

Perhaps the most damning element of Sun News is its stunning misuse of Charles Adler. Most recently a radio host, he is a superb broadcaster, highly skilled, witty and incisive. Here he looks bizarrely out of his depth, unsure and wary. Little wonder - from what I've seen, he spends most of his show talking to other Sun News personalities who mostly talk about themselves.

I don't give a rodent's posterior about the political slant of the channel. Someone had the well-meaning but eccentric idea that a totally right-wing news channel was needed. Fine, knock yourself out. But to unleash a channel so devoid of charm, bite and spice is an insult to Canadian viewers of any political persuasion.

As I write this on Friday, Theo Caldwell is back on the channel and - wait for it - making a speech about Cuba. I'm not sure of his point but, he's droning on about the fall of the Soviet Union and he's using the words "flimsy subterfuge" and "wherein." Again with Cuba. In the name of the gods of television, stop.