I hope all of you are not too tired to read another review of the new The National. I thought it would be fair to wait a few days and see a few shows before wading into the fray. Unfortunately there has been no real argument so far. I have found only one positive review or comment about what the CBC hype machine calls “the new direction,” that comes from my old pal and normally an astute viewer of all that’s new and interesting in television, Denis McGrath. For a counterpoint to what I’m about to say please look at his blog ‘Dead Things on Sticks.’
As for the rest of what I’m hearing, here’s a few quotes:
“This is news lite. I can’t believe Peter Mansbridge is allowing this to happen.” That from a prominent CBC News team member.
“Well, I watched last night and, I have to tell you, I’m feeling abandoned. It’s all so damned fast and flashy. Even the new radio news … and I like Peter whatshisname as a reporter … I feel like he’s yelling at me. And what’s with the casual jargon of the anchors and reporters. What has happened to the concept of ‘excellence’? I am in mourning. Help!” This comes from a TV pro who I have always admired for her understanding of what works on television.
“Okay, maybe you can’t review a restaurant after ONE night, but how many times do you have to get food poisoning to stay away from it?
Just one example that epitomizes everything from both nights: “Research shows 82% of Canadians use the internet…” What research will we get tomorrow — the percentage of Canadians who use the toilet?! Or perhaps info about a machine that does NOT cure cancer? Oh, wait, we already got THAT today!
Just incredible…” This came in from one of the most talented producers at the Corp.
I have heard from about 15 current and former CBC News people and they all agree, they don’t like the new The National. Well, you say, these are insiders or people with ties to the way it used to be. You are right. But I also participated in a live blog with J-Source while “the new direction” was premiering. The polling they were doing showed over 70% of viewers hated or disliked the show.
The worst news of all for the CBC News honchos is the rumor going around the Corp itself. I could confirm the rumor but not the facts. Nobody is talking. The rumor is that over 700 comments came in to CBC after night one and all but 30 were negative.
It looks like the negative messages may be beginning to seep into the mindset of the news producers. By night three there were already a few minor changes. Peter was still standing, as was everyone else, but he never came out from behind the: what can I call it? It’s not a desk. It’s kind of a grounded UFO. He wasn’t left to wander and find a spot in studio. Second, there was an actual opening that promoted the stories coming up on the show. If you remember on night one, they went right into the first story cold. Also there was no weather hit halfway through the show. Pity, I’m dying to know about the new typhoon heading for Manila.
On the other hand, lots of the bad persists. There are still way too many promos. So many, in fact, that it feels like they are replacing the 20 minute documentaries that once appeared in this time slot. Worse still, most of the promos are for stories that the newscast does not deliver on, some of the promoted material even shows up as 20 second voice over, no story at all.
Oh, and did I mention Peter is still standing. Can we make our host look less comfortable on set? How about asking all his guests and fellow reporters to be even less comfortable than Peter? The best remark I saw was after the interview on night one with General Rick Hillier. Peter announced the general would be on The Hour after the news. Someone wrote in: “I bet George gives him a seat. And The Hour is the youthful, hip show.”
Wendy Mesley is one of my favorite people at CBC. She’s an excellent reporter and a tough interviewer. What the heck is she doing on this show? Her stories look and feel like unfinished Marketplace items where they forgot to tell us the point of the research. Her stuff is inane at best. What a waste.
The biggest problem of all though the lack of depth in most of the items. There were 10 voice-over items on show three. None got more than 30 seconds and none were given context or explanation. Is P.M. Harper’s first trip to China and India not more important than that? How about Hilary Clinton in Pakistan, especially on the day of more car bombings?
True, on night three they mined all they could on swine flu. It was over half the content of the program. Unfortunately it included a piece by Ian Hanomansing that was just a longer version and completely repetitious of what was in the opening story. It also featured two interviews with a doctor about what to do if you get swine flu. A, she was not the best at articulating her points and b, this was not really news. On a real newscast this could have been done graphically and succinctly in 45 seconds. It would have been easier to understand too. This segment is what we used to call a “sand bar” in my old newsroom. The show comes to a complete stop when it hits it.
From where I sit there was only one high quality worthwhile story on the entire newscast. It was Ioanna Roumeliotis’ opening item on swine flu. As for all the rest, I can pick them apart easily for their lack of depth, context, focus and journalism. The worst was probably Susan Ormiston wasting my time and yours asking Afghan President Karzai’s brother in a telephone interview if he took CIA money and whether he was a drug runner. “No” he said. Okay, thanks for talking to us.
What is the CBC trying to do here? They say they want a younger audience. Fine. But is talking down to them the best way to get young viewers? Being shallow? Look, if a youthful viewer is the type of person who will choose CBC News over CSI Miami or the Maple Leafs playing Dallas he or she is obviously not shallow. He or she want real content as much as the 60 year-old viewer. Pandering to youth is patronizing and bound to push serious people of all ages away.
The new The National is seriously flawed at best and leaning towards awful. The line-ups have made no sense. There is no natural flow to the stories. The stories when they appear are poorly reported and shallow. There is too much going on to distract and too little to hold the viewers’ attention. Thin gruel indeed.
I have a friend at CBC who predicted the whole thing would fall apart in six months and the real national news would find its way back on air. There will be no announcements, no full page ads in the newspapers. Sure we’ll be stuck with the pastel pink and blue set and even the big round thing that replaced the news desk, but the important things, the real stories, the journalism, the depth will return. Let’s all hope there will be enough viewers left to welcome it back.