I'm Mad as Hell


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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Still Shuffling at “the Corpse”

Last week I told you all about how Newsworld wants to be the Northern CNN. Well guess what? So does The National. They want to be more about news and they want to eliminate current affairs as we’ve known it.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the personnel at the top of CBC News. Most are hard news people with little or no background in current affairs. Others are just “yes” people for the Vice President, Richard Stursberg, whose only qualifications for their jobs seems to be that they will have no opinion at worst and Stursberg’s opinion at best.

About two weeks ago all of the current affairs staff at The National were given their new marching orders. Some are going to “health”, some to “arts” and some to the “investigative” unit, and still others to who knows where. None will be left to produce the longer segments that made CBC News different from CTV News or the U.S. networks. We’re talking about Gemini, Michener, and RTNDA (Radio and Television News Directors Association) award winners. The most experienced and perhaps the best long form news producers in Canada. Why? Because “the powers that want to be” at CBC have decided there is no place on the news for a longer story. Why they think that is anyone’s guess.

I have always felt that CBC News had to be more news oriented and less feature driven, but I never thought it was about the length of the segments. I thought the problem was that too many features had little to do with the day’s events. I was taught that a daily news program should reflect what is happening in the world on that day. The wonderful stories that blew the lid off the RCMP Taser fiasco are a great example of what CBC News should do. They ran close to thirty minutes and won the CBC a coveted Michener Award just a few days ago. Guess what? There is no place for that kind of story anymore.

This is ridiculous on several counts. I have seen 30 minute stories that are so riveting they feel like they are three minutes long, and I have seen three minute items that feel like a half-hour because they are so incredibly boring. A story should run for whatever length it takes to tell it properly. The length should only be an issue if it doesn’t fit into the time slot. In fact on The Journal, you all remember that show, many segments ran over two, three and even four days. I don’t remember any complaints when Terrence McKenna was winning awards for the CBC for his in depth coverage of Islamic terrorists in Canada or Brian Stewart was alerting the world to the impending humanitarian disaster that was the Ethiopian famine or Bruce Dowbiggin was opening Canadians’ eyes to the scandal that was Allan Eagleson.

Where is the context going to come from at CBC News? At any TV news service in Canada? It was the long backgrounders that provided context to the news. Without them television news is nothing but a headline service. And CBC News was the only television news service in Canada to provide contextual information that allowed Canadians to make informed decisions on some of the biggest news stories since the creation of Newsmagazine in the mid ‘50s. It’s especially frightening today when we know most Canadians get all their news from TV. That’s a 60 year legacy you hear being flushed down the toilet.

Maybe, as some believe, the CBC hopes to save money by eschewing longer segments. I’ve heard the argument that CBC news no longer has the funds to produce documentaries. That may be true. But is the answer to produce three seven minute pieces to replace a 20 minute piece? Anyone who knows anything about television production knows that a seven minute item costs just about the same amount as a 20 minute segment. So this argument has no basis in reality. The new regime at CBC News will be more expensive than what it is replacing.

Finally, the most cynical explanation for the idiocy at work at the CBC may be the best. I have been told by several staffers they believe the new The National is being set up to fail. They argue that when news viewership begins to fall Richard Stursberg will have all the ammunition he needs to cut the news budget. He will also cut the news back to just a half-hour. The history of current affairs following the news that began with The Journal will come to an unremarkable end thus putting more money into the CBC’s hands for yet another reality show and perhaps even another drama, the kind of thing we can watch on any other channel in Canada.

The CBC as we knew it is being ransacked by the Barbarians and we will all be sorry when we realize what we lost and what the CBC could have, no, I mean should have been.

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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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