I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Gemini Joke

“It’s a juried award, which means that a volunteer group screens all the entries and decides on the nominees. That jury has a lot of power, and a lot of sway, and depending how it’s made up, you can favor certain things, favor your friends, or fulfill vendettas, say what you will.”

That’s a quote from my friend Denis McGrath’s highly popular blog,  Dead things on sticks. He’s lamenting the state of the Gemini Awards, especially in light of the snub to Corner Gas. Zero nominations for the most popular Canadian comedy show ever.

Denis is too nice a guy and too committed to Canadian television to say the obvious. The Gemini Awards are a joke. The industry should join most Canadians and ignore the TV show and the process.

Yes there are a lot of very worthy winners and terrific programs honored. All Canadians should both recognize and laud the quality television that is produced in this country. Heck, I’m a Gemini winner myself. But the Geminis are far too political and far too based on friendships and network loyalties to be taken seriously as awards of excellence.

I have two stories that speak to the ‘bull’ that the Geminis are:

When I was news director at Global I was on the jury for the best news program and the best news anchor. I was on the panel with someone from CBC, Tim Kotcheff from CTV and one other jury member. We watched the tapes from across Canada and honestly discussed the quality and value of each program we viewed. So far so good.

Then the trouble started. CTV did not enter Lloyd Robertson for nomination. I didn’t enter any of the Global anchors either. It soon became obvious that Peter Mansbridge would win the Gemini by default. Tim Kotcheff immediately protested. He demanded Lloyd be nominated. But you didn’t put him up for nomination, he was told. Kotcheff said he didn’t care. Further, he said if Lloyd was not nominated he would pull CTV out of the award show and the process. Of course everyone backed down and nominated Lloyd. I then demanded Thalia Assuras’ nomination. A whole lot of deserving anchors who were entered were shut out of any chance for recognition. In truth Thalia and Lloyd did nothing special that year. They did not deserve the nomination. That didn’t matter. It never does. Oh, by-the-way, Peter Mansbridge won the award. It was a foregone conclusion. He would have won whether he deserved it or not. He hadn’t made very many enemies yet and thus as the CBC nominee it was a lock. You see, CBC had about two out of three voters in the academy. CBC won everything in those days. That’s why CTV News boycotts the awards to this day.

The second story is even more curious. About a decade later I was jury chair for the best long form news story category, my description, not the category title. The CBC’s Terrence McKenna and Alex Shprintsen had done brilliant work finding ties to Al Qaida and Islamic terrorism in Canada after 9-11. Their piece was masterful, both great journalism and wonderful TV. Our panel of five looked at all the pieces sent in for nomination and as usual discussed each item as we saw it. Every single member of the jury stated openly that the McKenna/Shprintsen piece was head-and-shoulders above anything else we saw. It was clear the piece could not lose. That year the jury vote counted for 60 or 70 percent towards the award. I don’t remember which amount is correct. It does not matter though. Even at 60 percent if all the panelists agree on the best program the voters cannot override their choice. I left thinking I knew which news item had won months before the award ceremony.

Guess what? The McKenna/Shprintsen piece did not win. That means at least one, probably two or more jury members voted against the piece they openly professed to be the best by far. Why did they do this? I will never know because it’s a secret ballot by the jury. But Denis McGrath’s quote at the top describes some of the possible reasons.

I’m sure some Gemini panels are more honest than others. Some winners are most deserving. But as long as the process allows politics, friendships and network loyalty to play as large a role as the quality of the television programs they are judging and nominating, the Geminis will continue to exclude shows like Corner Gas, it will continue to make it more difficult for non-CBC shows to win, and it will make it almost impossible for excellent small market programs, producers and on-air personalities to be rewarded. In short the Geminis will continue to be a joke to those in the know and an afterthought for the Canadian television audience.

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