Now it’s my turn to change the narrative. The response to my last blog about the excessive nature of the coverage of the terrible death of Sgt. Ryan Russell has been overwhelming. Perhaps shockingly, there has been only one negative response. I was expecting to be bombarded with hate mail. Be that as it may, it is time to move on.
If there is an organization that is more screwed up than the CBC I would worry about its ability to continue to function. The CBC however, ambles along seemingly oblivious to its own shortcomings and failures.
When Kirstine Stewart was finally named to replace the Evil Emperor, also known as Richard Stursberg, it did, I admit, come as a bit of a surprise. In fact it raised a whole lot of questions. For instance, why did it take more than a half-a-year to replace Stursberg when the replacement was his sitting second in command? Did the CBC search for an outside replacement and fail? Was Kirstine Stewart the second, third or tenth choice for the job? Was there a fight about whether to promote her at the board level? We will never really know because once the die is cast the only story we get is how wonderful a choice Ms. Stewart is.
Even that statement raises questions in my mind. What we all know to be true, whether you thought Richard Stursberg a mad genius or the man responsible for the every mistake our national broadcaster has made in the last half a decade, was that the only opinions King Richard accepted were his own or those that agreed with his. The man accepted no opposition and heard no disagreement. In the end it was this attitude that led to his banishment. He refused to accept the CBC mandate and he especially refused to contemplate programming dealing with the 75th anniversary of the corporation. You didn’t have to be a palm reader or a psychiatrist to know that the result was that he surrounded himself with “yes” people. One senior CBC employee told me that the new boss at CBC News began every statement she made with “Richard says…”
That being the case it’s not a stretch to wonder what the heck Kirstine Stewart was doing when Richard Stursberg was in charge. On the surface one can guess that she was just another “yes” woman whose job was to agree with the Emperor and to do his bidding when he could not do it himself. Not the kind of thing I would want on my resume. It is possible she disagreed with the boss in private but based on my experience, people like Stursberg do not keep people who disagree around whether it’s in public or private. It’s also possible she disagreed but kept it to herself and her best buds, but what does that say about her character and leadership abilities?
So, I ask again, why did Kirstine Stewart get the job? What qualified her to run the largest and most important cultural institution in English Canada? Here’s what was written about her on her Wiki page, I’m guessing composed by a CBC flack:
…Stewart oversaw CBC’s fresh presentation style launch with such new hits as Dragons’ Den, The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos, Test the Nation, The Greatest Canadian Invention, and The Next Great Prime Minister – all 2006/2007 green lit by Stewart in her first year, along with the critically acclaimed and highly rated show Little Mosque on the Prairie. The show’s ratings, averaging a million viewers weekly, were a first for CBC in more than 5 years. In 2009, new shows like Canada’s Super Speller and Battle of the Blades premiered on the network. In 2008, hits The Border, The Week the Women Went, and Sophie were launched by Stewart on CBC’s primetime schedule.
Prior to her current role at CBC, Stewart was senior VP at Alliance Atlantis overseeing eight channels, including BBC Canada, National Geographic Canada and Home and Garden Television. She also worked in the US as programming VP at Hallmark Entertainment, overseeing programming of 17 international cable and satellite broadcast channels.
Ms. Layfield began her career in international program distribution at Paragon Entertainment, rising to senior vice-president of the distribution division before moving to Trio/Newsworld, a CBC/Power Corp. joint venture. From there she joined U.S.-based Hallmark Entertainment as senior VP of programming, travelling the world to head up 19 international channels. In 2003 she joined Alliance Atlantis Communications, where she doubled the audience for its specialty channels such as Life Network, HGTV and Food Network Canada…
So what can we glean from this? She loves reality TV, no surprise having come from Alliance Atlantis where that’s about all they did. She does not even have a whiff of journalism, documentary, sports or current affairs in her background. Finally, that she has never run a major terrestrial broadcast network.
I am also made to wonder what Kirstine Stewart deems a hit when most of the shows she takes credit for were anything but. The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos has never been a ratings success, Little Mosque on the Prairie took no time to lose its audience when the audience realized how shallow it is, The Next Great Prime Minister, did anybody see that? Sophie! Does anyone remember it? Truth be told the CBC has three hit shows. Dragon’s Den which is a format show bought from abroad that has little or no actual CBC input, Hockey Night in Canada which has great numbers but nobody presently at the Corpse can take any credit for, and Battle of the Blades…congratulations, one home grown hit. As an old friend of mine used to say “even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometime.”
Until Richard Stursberg came to the CBC there was a tradition that the chief programmer would come from the journalistic side, Denis Harvey, Peter Herrndorf. It can be argued that drama and comedy were given short shrift. The truth is that drama and comedy are purchased from and produced by outsiders, independent producers who come up with ideas and sell them to the CBC. News and Current Affairs are produced in house. The bulk of CBC creative staff work in News or Current Affairs. The programming that once made CBC stand-out was once News and Current Affairs. I still believe the CBC is still the CBC if Little Mosque or Dragon’s Den disappear, but the CBC no longer needs to exist if The National and Fifth Estate no longer produce excellent programs.
Under Stursberg The National was reorganized into close to oblivion. The Fifth Estate was moved to the dead zone of Friday night. The CBC claims to be getting more viewers, a statement I reject, but does anyone believe that reality and mediocre sitcoms present a reason to spend a billion dollars on a national broadcaster?
From this perch it looks like more of the same at the CBC. The Stursberg manifesto lives on. Only the stewardship has changed. Sure Kirstine Stewart will be easier to get along with. She will probably pay her respects to the board and to the president. She will even pay lip-service to the mandate. But the soft, squishy programs that we have come to see as the new CBC will continue to be the present and future. Too bad. Especially at this time, when a 1,000 channel universe and a growing on-line viewership threaten our financial ability to produce real Canadian content. Now, when we need CBC the most it is being destroyed by reality and thin gruel.