I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

King Richard: in his own words

Having just returned from a marathon two month stay in South America and a side trip to Montreal, it came as a bit of a surprise to see that Richard Stursberg, the former grand poobah of all things English at the CBC is back too, and he’s back in a very big way.

It seems Stursberg has a new book out, “The Tower of Babble” that tells the inside story of his tumultuous tenure at the national broadcaster. It should be an interesting, perhaps maddening, look at the machinations of the folks who ran the corporation and a behind the scenes account of some of the most divisive time in CBC history.

As a sort of preview King Richard wrote what he and The Globe and Mail are calling an essay entitled “How to Save the CBC.”

If the book is anything like the essay it will be both a direct and indirect exercise in self-congratulations. Heck if Stursberg pats himself on the back at the same rate as in his essay, he will need shoulder surgery to correct the rotator cuff damage he inflicts on himself.

Stursberg’s essay in Globe starts with the amazing idea that he presided over the CBC’s Golden Age. He says audience numbers were sinking at the CBC since the 1970’s. By the time he took over they were at their lowest in history. This is sort of true. What Stursberg fails to point out however, is that CTV, Global, in fact all terrestrial broadcasters lost audience in those years. As new channels, cable and specialty came on board, audience numbers spiraled downward. In the 1970’s the worst rated network show in Canada still got a 20 audience share. By the time the new millennium started the highest rated network shows in Canada were barely able to get a share of 18. The falling numbers had more to do with the new 500 channel universe than the CBC’s failures.

He goes on to say that starting in 2006, when the CBC began to reinvent itself…code for: the Stursberg leadership years, the CBC had a rebirth in both numbers and interest. So much so that the CBC has never been stronger than it is today.

There’s more than a little hyperbole here. Never! What about the 50’s and 60’s when CBC was either the only network or one of two networks? Nevermind that. More important, let’s look at how CBC raised its ratings under Stursberg. First of all, the national network forgot it’s mandate. They stopped running arts programming. The arts on CBC was an important outlet for serious dance, music, and the like. Sure it got poor audience numbers but it served a community that had no other access on television to this sort of programming. The same for religious programs, remember “Man Alive?” Stursberg led a regime that rooted out and killed anything that didn’t meet his audience numbers expectations. So yes, if you remove a show with 100,000 viewers on ballet and replace it with a drama that gets 500,000 viewers overall numbers will rise, but at what cost to the services provided? An awful lot of important CBC support disappeared with the mandated shows.

Stursberg also takes credit for the success of CBC radio. He points out that Gian Ghomeshi’s “Q” gets more listeners than Peter Gzowski got in the good old days. The numbers data he is working from is correct. The context is AWOL.

CBC Radio is doing marvelously well. I suggest that the quality of the programs is an important factor, but a far more important reason is the fact that private radio has shot itself in the foot. Too many stations sound the same. Too many stations are programming to baby boomers who are not listening to as much radio as they did when they were teenagers and at the same time young listeners are having a hard time finding the music they want to hear. The only competition CBC Radio has is from sports talk and phone in shows. Luckily Stursberg and company never got around to fiddling with Radio One’s content or they might be in the same boat as private radio is today…leaky and sinking.

Stursberg takes credit for the CBC’s producing programs that according to him compete favorably with shows produced in the U.S. If that’s the case why is there not a single CBC show in the top 20 other than hockey? If that’s competing, I’d hate to see what losing looks like.

He claims CBC has beaten Global in prime time for the past four years. Huh? Yes the CBC beat Global the year of the writers’ strike in the U.S. when all Global was running was re-runs. Other than that I have never seen numbers that place CBC ahead of Global.

King Richard even has the temerity to suggest that “Marketplace” and “The Fifth Estate” are doing better today. What the… The fact that those two shows are doing reasonably well is a tribute to the fine people that make those shows. Moving “The Fifth” to Friday night away from the larger audience night on Wednesday did hurt the numbers. They are now below one million viewers most nights. And what the CBC did to “Marketplace” is beyond disgusting. It has been moved all over the schedule and it has seen it’s season shortened. How do you do that to one of your most successful shows? The folks who produce those programs deserve a medal for overcoming the odds that were stacked against them by Stursberg and co.

Stursberg goes on to make some interesting points about the damage that’s being inflicted on the CBC by the government cuts. He even has some interesting, if very general and unexplained thoughts about how the CBC should proceed in the future, but make no mistake, Richard Stursberg is playing fast and loose with the facts to build up his own legacy. It’s not that he is completely wrong, it’s that he is manipulating the facts in the most self-serving of ways. Read his book. It is important to understand where he was coming from, but don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. The CBC is in trouble. The mandate is all but gone and forgotten. And contrary to what Stursberg says, too few Canadians care about the future of the CBC, and for that reason, he has more than a little ‘splaining to do.

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CBC: Fade to Black

Every time someone writes a blog condemning the new CBC, like the one last week by Tim Knight that caused a small stir, there seems to be less and less interest in it. There was a time when a piece like Tim’s would have caused a tremendous reaction. CBC backers would have taken to their computers and their writing implements to shout him down or to join him in the chorus of complainers. The fact that this is not happening speaks volumes about where the CBC is today in the conscious minds of Canadians. It is in fact not a pretty picture.

The CBC move to become ultra-light in an effort to woo younger viewers and boost its ratings has been a dismal failure. The age of the average CBC audience has not declined appreciably. The audience numbers have not risen, especially in comparison to the gains made by CTV and Global since the rating system was changed. Shows like Little Mosque on the Prairie and Insecurity have served to turn loyal CBC viewers away from the network. The National’s weak efforts since it was revamped have served to cut anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the CBC News audience. The dismal treatment of current affairs mainstays like The 5th Estate and Marketplace have eroded both their numbers and their positive affect on how we view the work and importance of CBC TV. All of this is regrettable, and most important each small failure has led to the Corp’s biggest problem: too few people care enough anymore to fight for the CBC’s future.

I just returned from a trip to the east coast. When I lived there many years ago the CBC was a mainstay. It was top of mind if not top of ratings. The National’s news anchor was a star. There were programs that everyone watched and talked about. Yes, it was mainly in news and current affairs, but under brilliant people like John Kennedy the CBC was producing excellent movies and series that made a difference.
Today, I couldn’t find anyone who called himself or herself a CBC viewer. Most of the people I met don’t watch The National at all and seldom see anything on CBC. I know this is not a scientific survey, but I did see a lot of people in social group situations. The Maritimes, like Manitoba and Newfoundland were where the CBC picked up its biggest per capita audiences. That’s not true anymore for the Maritimes.

As if all this is not bad enough, at least three people questioned why the CBC should continue to exist and be funded by the taxpayers. One man from New Glasgow, a bookshop owner, went so far as to say he would not vote for any political party that would not sell off CBC TV. The general argument they make is that CBC TV programming is the same sort of stuff we see on CTV and Global. When I talked of Canadian content and jobs in the TV industry they laughed, saying if you can’t produce quality shows that I want to watch, you don’t deserve to have a job in the industry.

While many of these people’s feelings are extreme, what I see is a general malaise. People just don’t care anymore about the CBC and its future. When Parliament asked CBC to look for five percent in cuts to a budget that is already far to small to do the job, I didn’t hear a peep from anyone complaining about our cultural heritage or the need to have a national broadcaster. The silence was deafening.
CBC TV, it seems, has finally lost its standing as an important Canadian institution. Twenty-five years of budget cuts and six years of management dumbing down the content have worked their magic to make CBC TV just another station, and an unpopular one at that. The fact that the CBC costs Canadians a billion dollars per year only serves to make citizens care more about the money and less about what the network has to offer.

In the best of all worlds there would be a groundswell of opposition to what the current managers have done to a venerable institution. There would be a demand for watchable local news and a more serious National. There would be an outcry demanding a few high quality shows to counterbalance the froth. Alas, none of that is happening. What we are witness to is a slow fade to black at CBC TV. The very people who are responsible for a 75 year old legacy are either asleep at the wheel or have no idea what they are doing to the reputation and standing of the CBC.

Stephen Harper will not have to sell off the CBC, he won’t even have to do anything drastic. All he has to do is stand aside and let the CBC drift further and further into irrelevancy.

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The Fifth’s Estate

Sometimes when I look at the CBC I just want to shake my head and ask what could these people possibly be thinking? CBC has some very successful programming. Hockey Night in Canada continues to roll along with more than 2 million viewers each week even though the presentation and style are deeply rooted somewhere in the last two decades of the last century. I believe it is a testament to Canada’s love of hockey and has nothing to do with what CBC Sports adds to the value of the production.

Dragon’s Den has captured a substantial audience. Over a million Canadians seem to love to watch new business ideas, both creative and crazy, being either praised or panned by a panel of so-called experts who we are told have the funds and the experience to bring a good idea to market. It’s reality TV that works, but for the record, it could just as easily run on CTV or Global and it is a bought “format.” This show runs as a local production in dozens of countries.

CBC has always done a great job of producing sketch comedy. This Hour has 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer Report and the late lamented Royal Canadian Air Farce.

Where the network has fallen down most is in producing high quality, high concept drama and situation comedy. Little Mosque on the Prairie manages to be mostly humorless and a throwback to 1950’s style situation comedy. In Security is just plain embarrassing, unfunny, unwatchable.

The Republic of Doyle just manages to be okay as it combines a 1980’s TV private detective idea with the beauty and zaniness of Newfoundland. Finally, shows like Being Erica and Heartland have never really drawn the numbers CBC needs and they have never managed to be special or Canadian in any way I can see.

The shocking thing for me is that CBC may have the very best Canadian produced program and they have buried it where few people can find it, and worse, where the potential audience is the smallest available in prime time.

Hello! Kirstine Stewart! Have you ever watched The Fifth Estate? If you have and you allow it to continue to run on Friday evenings you don’t deserve to hold the esteemed position you now have at the CBC. If you haven’t, shame on you for not caring enough about the kind of programming CBC has done best for six decades, the programs that built the CBC. From the days of This Hour has Seven Days, to Newsmagazine, to The Journal, to Marketplace, to Ombudsman the CBC has consistently produced some of the best current affairs programs anywhere.

The Fifth Estate is as good as journalism gets on TV and further it is as great a program as any produced in this country. Every week Linden MacIntyre, Hana Gartner, Bob McKeown and Gillian Findlay churn out excellent hour long documentary reports that never fail to engage the audience. Usually the stories open our eyes to events, people or ideas that we knew little about or they provide context and clarity to some of the most important stories in the news.

Last week Linden MacIntyre hosted a wonderful backgrounder on the rise and fall of Libyan strongman Mouammar Kadhafi. Not only was it a thorough and well produced backgrounder on a leading figure in the news, it brought international perspectives from the likes of Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice. This was a show that all Canadians should have had the opportunity to see. With all eyes turned toward the uprisings in the Middle East the interest here among both news junkies and casual news viewers should have resulted in an audience of over 1.5 million. Too bad the show is buried. Even more heinous is the lack of publicity given to a program that is so important.

Two weeks ago The Fifth Estate deconstructed the shenanigans surrounding the police handling of the G-20 Summit in Toronto. I thought I knew that story inside out and was prepared to change the channel. I tuned in and I was hooked. The reporting was excellent and the insights were important. Once again I wondered if anyone knew this show was on.

This year The Fifth has covered stories ranging from the code of toughness to hockey to two episodes on Colonel Russell Williams. In the past The Fifth has blown the whistle on lottery cheating and even the sale of tainted tuna. Folks, the quality of The Fifth Estate is not hit and miss. It is consistently great journalism and even better, it is consistently great TV.

The time has come for the CBC bosses to recognize what they have. A prominent time slot on a Sunday or Monday evening is needed. More important, the powers that choose who gets the publicity dollars have to let Canadians know what’s on this program consistently and effectively. I guarantee that if Canadians knew about the content of The Fifth Estate and if it was aired at an advantageous time and day, the audience would soar to the numbers that Rick Mercer gets and more.

I should add that Marketplace needs the same kind of treatment. It should be on the air from September to May. It should have a decent time slot. It deserves to be publicized.

The CBC brass has shown its disdain for current affairs since the day Richard Stursberg showed up on their doorstep. Building a big audience has been the mantra spouted by everyone in charge. The result has been for the most part mediocre drama, bad sitcoms and a reliance on reality TV. What hurts most is that the tools were there to build audience all along. Shows like The Fifth Estate and Marketplace can be ratings winners. David Suzuki’s show still produces excellent science programming. These shows are cheap compared to drama. They have drawn big audiences in the past and they can do the same in the future. From where I sit they are the answer to the CBC’s problems. Too bad nobody in head office realizes this.

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Ding, Dong The Witch is Dead

I could hear, or should I say see, the collective smile from coast to coast to coast as the politicians say. After six years the demon of Canadian public broadcasting is gone. Richard Stursberg, the Vice President of everything English language at the CBC has been fired, or according to some resigned. Who cares, so long as he is gone? Stursburg has been the most disruptive and hated V.P. of CBC I can ever remember.

Richard Stursberg’s biggest problem as CBC boss was that he just didn’t get it. He never understood the CBC mandate. He never saw a difference between what CBC has to do and what CTV and Global have to do. He never understood that if CBC were to lose Little Mosque on the Prairie or Being Erica it would still be the CBC and that the brutal massacre of news and current affairs he oversaw could destroy the people’s network. All Stursberg ever cared about was ratings. He did not care about quality TV. He did not care about serving the Canadian public who were paying his salary. He certainly had no time for news and even less time for shows like The Fifth Estate and Market Place.

Ironically the good-bye letter from CBC honcho Hubert Lacroix cites the fact that Stursberg leaves the CBC in better shape than he found it. I can only surmise that refers to the overall ratings. In fact the CBC ratings totals may be better than six years ago but why? It seems to me that all of the numbers increases can be attached to Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Hockey Night in Canada and The World Cup of Soccer. These are either non-Canadian or sports shows and in fact the numbers have been inflated by the new people meters that measure audience. Hey CTV and Global have also seen their numbers rise and in fact while the total CBC viewership is up, the actual audience share is down. Yes he had two real successes in six years: Dragon’s Den and Battle of the Blades, but shows like these can and do run on other networks, they are reality shows. As for the rest of King Richard’s offerings, the numbers range from mediocre to poor. Not much of a legacy when you consider that news ratings are down by about 40% and that current affairs ratings have dropped precipitously.

Oh, and let’s not forget the management tone Stursberg set. He never failed to let everyone know it was his way or the highway. He treated people poorly. He knew very few of the staff who worked for him. The stories are rampant about the on-air people he failed to recognize, especially if they came from news. CBC types were always asking whether he actually ever watched the CBC. His treatment of his staff may be an even bigger failure than his wrong-headed programming decisions.

Let’s look at just a few of his accomplishments:

*Stursberg got off to a bad start in his position by forcing a massive lock-out of CBC workers. What characterized that lockout was the refusal to negotiate and the refusal to recognize the input of the workers. There is still bad blood left over from that work stoppage in 2005. In past work stoppages management always took great pains to be cordial to the striking workers. They always understood that when the strike was over they would have to go back to working side by side with the staff. Stursberg didn’t get that. He had to be the tough guy.

*He gutted arts programming on TV and under his rule lost most of the classical music programming from CBC Radio 2. It’s true the arts did not generate huge audiences, but CBC was the sole serious purveyor of that programming in Canada. (Bravo had long since abandoned its commitment to the high arts.)

*He oversaw the changes in The National that have led to the most dramatic loss of viewership in CBC News history. At a time when the new rating system saw CTV and Global new audiences climb by 40% the CBC dropped by the same amount. The “renewal” saw American news doctors come in and advise the CBC to move to shorter stories, more human interest, less serious news coverage, more weather, more fluffy animal stories…i.e. “Eyewitness News.” This was supposed to raise ratings and make younger people want to watch CBC news. It never took into account that loyal CBC news viewers were used to quality and depth and would not put up with the changes and that young people are not news viewers in general, and the ones who are, are not idiots looking to watch the kind of fluff The National has opted for.

*He moved The Fifth Estate, probably the best current affairs show in Canada, to the dead zone of Friday night so that Being Erica could get a better time slot on Wednesday. He buried Marketplace and The Nature of Things and cut way back on the number of episodes they produce each year. The result: shows that reached close to a million viewers in years gone by barely attract half that today on their best days.

For the most part, Stursberg’s new programming was part of a dumbing down of the CBC. His new offerings were always light drama, inane comedy and reality. Gone were the serious movies and series that set the CBC above its rivals. In fact, CTV with shows like The Bridge and Flashpoint were tougher, harder and more provocative than any of the new fare that Stursberg championed.

It has been reported that Sturberg is gone because he didn’t like the new CBC “five year plan.” What does that mean? We have been given no explanation. Does the CBC want to worry less about ratings? Is management upset by what’s happened to its newscasts? Until we know the answer to these questions we won’t know who will take Stursberg’s job and in what direction he or she will be expected to take the CBC.

For my part, I would like the new boss to come from programming so that he or she can assess the quality of the new offerings. I want someone who will work in partnership with CBC staff rather than acting as a tyrant. I want someone who recognizes all of the kinds of programs that are important to a national broadcaster in order to serve all of its audiences, be they large or small…and that includes news, current affairs, the arts, drama, sports and comedy. Ratings are important but so is public service when you are being supported by tax dollars. Is this too much to ask? I think not when the future of our biggest and most important cultural institution is at stake.

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Playing with numbers

Everybody is right and everybody is wrong. It sounds impossible but in the crazy world of broadcast television anything is possible. Just ask the spinners at the Canadian networks about their ratings and watch the numbers fly.

Right now we are in the midst of a massive self congratulatory period where the Canadian nets are taking to the podia to proclaim the major successes they have had over the past year. The ratings are amazing, it’s true, almost everybody’s numbers are way up. But, and it’s a big but, does that mean that there are more people watching the fare offered by CTV, Global and CBC?

To me the answer is obvious. In a world where network TV audiences have been declining for a decade or more it is hard to believe that there has been anything broadcast in the 2009-2010 television season to change the trend. Sure there have been some hits, there always are. The real reason for the numbers rising is the new counting method. This is the first television year for the new PPMs (personal people meters). These pager-like devices are worn by people and report back to companies like Neilson on what viewers are actually watching. It is clear that this is a much better system than asking someone to fill in a questionnaire where he or she could lie, forget, not bother or just plain ignore their viewing choices. On the other hand, the PPM measures what’s on the TV if you are in the room, not whether you are actually watching it. For my generation that doesn’t mean much. Put a 60 year old in front of a television and we’ll watch color bars for twenty minutes. Young people, however, are a different breed. They can be on the computer, listening to an ipod and still have the TV tuned to the hockey game. What they are actually watching or listening to is anybody’s guess. So while I accept that the new numbers are more accurate, I don’t believe they are truly accurate.

For CTV and Global the results are just about money. The more viewers they have, the more they can charge for commercial time. That’s great. Even without the new TV tax it should mean a windfall in ad revenues for this year and in the future. The Olympic numbers were staggering. On some occasions there were close to 15 million Canadians watching. Put in perspective, Canada’s best ever rated shows before this year were in the 5 to 6 million range. Over at Global shows like Survivor and House are doing gangbuster business. If we are lucky, and I wouldn’t hold my breath, maybe a few of these extra dollars might find themselves funneled into new Canadian content…in prime time.

The CBC, as usual is a different story, Kirstine (Layfield) Stewart and company are fighting for both the future of the people’s network and for the proof that the choices they made back in 2007 are the right ones.

The critics, and I am one of them, claim the CBC has dumbed down. They have dropped cultural programming, they have stopped producing gritty, real drama, and they have clearly begun a love affair with reality and fluff. Most upsetting to me is what they have done to news and current affairs. The Fifth Estate has been relegated to the dead zone of Friday night. The National has become the national joke for its lack of content and its ridiculous new set. The Nature of Things and Marketplace have been shuffled around more than a deck of cards on poker night. There is, it is clear, no backing for anything that could be deemed serious.

I am not the only one saying these things. In a Globe story Ken Finkleman and others have gone out of their way to question the direction of mother corp. These are people who in past times depended on the CBC for their livelihood.

The answer according to Ms. Stewart: check out the ratings. The CBC is thriving with Little Mosque on the Prairie, Dragon’s Den, and 18 to Life.

So here is where it is true and it is wrong at the same time happens. Yes the numbers are up. Six CBC shows have over 1 million viewers (one of which is Jeopardy). Thank you PPMs. It is also true that the corp doesn’t have a single show in the top 20 in Canada. The hockey playoffs will nudge Hockey Night in Canada into the top 20 but that will be it. Battle of the Blades and Dragon’s Den are certifiable CBC hits. But even with the PPMs, The Ron James Show, 18 to Life, Being Erica, Kids in the Hall and Little Mosque can be described as ratings losers. None reach much over half a million viewers with the best ad campaigns and the best time slots. The Fifth and Marketplace are in the same audience range without any ads and in schedule purgatory.

So when Ms. Stewart finishes patting herself on the back for her brilliance, remember that CTV is doing much better with Canadian programming and even Global is overpowering the CBC numbers. You see everything is relative in the world of TV ratings and people like Stewart are the first to use the numbers to their own advantage even when they are meaningless.

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News Lite

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.

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About the Author

Howard Bernstein is a former TV producer. He has worked at CBC,CTV, Global and has produced shows for most Canadian channels as an independent producer.

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