Canadian television viewers faced a big dilemma on Wednesday night: They had to decide whether to tune in to cable news for live coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives vote to impeach President Donald Trump or flip to the CBC for Family Feud Canada.
After all, only two previous presidents had ever been impeached, while the CBC’s launch of a Canadian version of the mindless U.S. game show amounted to an impeachable offence. Any patriotic Canadian might have felt a civic duty to bear witness to this abuse of tax dollars.
The CBC even had the gall to suggest that, by adapting the game show for a Canuck audience, it was fulfilling its mandate. General manager of programming, Sally Catto, described Family Feud Canada as a "unique opportunity for audiences to connect and celebrate with families from across Canada.” Survey says ... pathetic.
In unveiling its 2019-22 strategic plan earlier this year, the CBC vowed to “be a champion for Canadian voices and stories in a world where the proliferation of foreign content could all too easily drown these out.” That was after CBC president Catherine Tait decried the “cultural imperialism” of foreign streaming giants such as Netflix and “the damage that can do to local communities.”
And Ms. Tait’s answer to the Netflix threat is Family Feud Canada? Shame on her.
Almost everywhere else in the world that a local version of Family Feud has existed – including Britain, Australia, Germany, Belgium and France – it has run on a private network. In Quebec, a French-language version of the show ran on the private V network for several years.
If the CBC has any reason to exist, it is to make us more engaged citizens, not more complacent ones. It’s bad enough the public broadcaster is willing to devote two hours a week of its precious prime-time schedule to a game show. Did it have to choose the Feud?
It’s not Jeopardy, after all. It’s not even The Price is Right, which admittedly nudges spectators and contestants alike into doing basic arithmetic. Family Feud Canada demands nothing of viewers except perhaps breathing. It makes Battle of the Blades look positively highbrow.
And for what? It’s far from clear that Family Feud Canada, with a regular 7:30 p.m. time slot from Monday through Thursday, will be the ratings blockbuster that the CBC has been counting on to boost advertising revenues and maintain viewers through the evening. Besides, what are the odds of a Feud fan sticking around for The Nature of Things or The National, anyway?
The worst part of it is that the CBC’s top executives keep getting away with stunts like this. No one in Ottawa is willing to hold them to account. The CBC’s board of directors long ago abdicated any responsibility for enforcing the network’s mandate, as outlined in the Broadcasting Act. It’s unlikely that newly appointed Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, charged with overhauling the act, will betray the Liberal base by reining in the CBC.
The CBC’s current mandate – to “inform, enlighten and entertain” Canadians – is admittedly so vague as to allow its programmers to get away with pretty much anything. A more appropriate test for Mr. Guilbeault to consider would be whether any given program would exist without the CBC. If not, it might merit a spot on the CBC, provided it met criteria for quality.
The CBC’s current schedule is full of hopelessly weak dramatic programming that appears to exist only to provide income for private producers who live off the public purse. The occasional standout – such as Schitt’s Creek, which recently snagged U.S. Screen Actors Guild nominations for best ensemble cast and female lead Catherine O’Hara – looks all-American.
Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals reversed budget cuts made under the Tories, the CBC has seen its annual subsidy rise to more than $1.2-billion. Last year, the public broadcaster brought in an additional $249-million in advertising revenue. More than half of that came from Radio-Canada, however, which remains popular in Quebec.
In English Canada, the CBC draws about a 5-per-cent share of prime-time viewers. It has spent countless years and billions of taxpayer dollars trying to boost that number with lowbrow programming gimmicks – Family Feud Canada is just the latest – to no avail.
Maybe it’s time for the CBC to get serious and concentrate on smart and challenging programming that private networks won’t touch. If that means shrinking its bloated self, so be it. It might finally discover its calling, if it still has one.
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