My old friend Bruce Dowbiggin is as usual, making waves in a big way. Bruce has always loved to poke holes in the generally assumed ideas of the majority. For those of you who can remember back that far, it was Bruce’s yeoman work that helped bring down Alan Eagleson. While most Canadian hockey people were either burying their heads in the sand or dismissing the charges coming from south of the border, Bruce took up the story with a vengeance. For many months he single-handedly took on the hockey mainstream and dug up the dirt that eventually made Eagleson the pariah he deserves to be.
It was a hard fight, but that’s the sort of thing Bruce revels in, sometimes leading to his own downfall. I saw the poobahs at CBC Sports shun him and pass him over for plum assignments. It was always my contention that CBC Sports is the most gutless of quasi-journalistic organizations. They feared harming their cozy relationship with the NHL. I saw it first hand twice. Once when they denied me hockey fight footage for a serious documentary to run on CBC, and a second time when I was denied figure skating footage because the CBC was trying to buy into the Olympics. Luckily for me, CBC News came through with the footage and I was able to complete two very important documentaries. In Bruce’s case it was the news department that came to his rescue too. He produced a series on Eagleson for the news department that won him a Gemini Award. A series that ran for a week on The National.
Now Bruce is taking on one of Canadian sports television’s biggest stars and perhaps it’s biggest assumption. In a column on Friday, December 2nd, Bruce questions the real popularity of Don Cherry. Looking at the audience numbers in a clinical fashion Bruce brings up a few pertinent facts that should serve to burst the belief in Cherry’s iconic status once and for all.
Bruce points out that while the first game on Hockey Night in Canada is averaging somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.4 million viewers, close to a million people turn away from their televisions between periods, including the time that Cherry is spouting off on Coach’s Corner.
The orthodoxy has always been that Don Cherry is as big a draw, if not bigger than the hockey game itself. People are always talking about the folks who run towards their TVs when they hear Cherry’s theme music. People who weren’t even watching the hockey game yet are mesmerized by the weekly Cherry rant, and truthfully, I actually know one person who does just that, .
I always assumed all this to be true. Wasn’t that what the CBC Sports bosses were telling me? Weren’t the sports writers and TV writers all saying the same thing? How could it not be true?
Since I mostly disagree with Don Cherry and find him a dinosaur and a bully on air I justified his popularity with the belief that viewers are just as attracted to people they hate as to the people they love on television. The only things an on-air personality can’t be is boring or bland. But hold on a minute, can it be possible? Sure there are a whole lot of Canadians who love Don Cherry. I guess they love the unbridled patriotism, the crazy suits, even the rah rah love of fisticuffs and punishing hits. Some I daresay may even like Don’s anti-European and anti-French Canadian diatribes because they themselves are more than a little ethnocentric. In his column though, Bruce proves all of our assumptions wrong. Almost as many hockey fans turn the guy off as stick around to watch him. Most hockey viewers are, surprise, surprise, tuning in to watch the hockey game.
Taken to its ultimate ends, the argument can now be made that Cherry, who has on tens of occasions not only embarrassed himself but also the national broadcaster, can and should be dumped. A guy like Cherry with the kinds of opinions he spouts should not have a place of prominence on a network that is paid for and thus represents all Canadians, including those born in Sweden, Russia, Finland, Slovakia, Moncton, Trois Rivieres and Portage La Prairie.
The truth is, and has always been, the people who tune in to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers are there because they want to see a hockey game. I should have known that instinctively. I guess the pro-dinosaur hockey and television media had me convinced otherwise. For Cherry to be dumped though, I guarantee it will not come from the wimps at CBC Sports, it will have to be the people who actually run the network. And maybe, just maybe, the cuts coming to CBC in the next federal budget will be all the impetus that CBC brass needs to finally do away with Cherry, especially now that Bruce Dowbiggin has shown them and the rest of us that our presumptions about Cherry’s popularity are vastly over-rated.
If Bruce Dowbiggin were alive in the days of Beowulf he too would be considered a dragon slayer. In those days they knew a hero when they saw one.