Before the CBC announced which shows would be returning next season — and by process of elimination, which wouldn’t — I was making the joke that my recommendation would be “keep Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays, poach Call Me Fitz, and change the network name to DianeTV.”
There are a few truths in that jokey non-answer:
- I don’t love a lot of Canadian television shows. That’s no slam on our homegrown industry — I don’t love more than a few currently airing shows at any given time.
- I don’t voluntarily watch anything else on CBC (ie not for the purposes of keeping up to speed for TV, eh? on some of the other fine-but-not-my-taste shows, or not because I’m trapped in a sports bar during the Stanley Cup playoffs).
- Everyone wants a CBC that reflects their individual tastes. Everyone is doomed to disappointment.
There is no way to talk about the current cuts without being highly subjective, coloured by our own favourite shows and expectations for a public broadcaster. But next year’s CBC lineup is not what I want to watch, and not what I want from a public broadcaster, and not just because they cancelled my favourite show.
I want a public broadcaster that doesn’t have to rely solely on ratings, that can take risks on the kind of challenging and creative programming private networks won’t touch. Unfortunately in Canada, “programming private networks won’t touch” narrows the field down to “Canadian shows that might be a hard sell to a US network.”
The 2012/13 lineup is a safe lineup, exactly what many of us expected given the magnitude of the recent cuts to CBC’s budget. Anything with a pulse was renewed, even a fading pulse. Anything that could play to a broad audience … the kind of audience a country’s private networks should be serving, only Canada doesn’t have any private broadcast networks who believe creating content is more important than simulcasting content.
I look back at some of my favourite Canadian shows, the ones I named as my top 10 of the last 25 years, and I see Intelligence, The Newsroom, Twitch City, Anne of Green Gables, Made in Canada, Rick Mercer Report and “some years of This Hour Has 22 Minutes” on my list. That’s 7 CBC shows in my top 10, many of them creative risk-takers.
The list was compiled long before Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays aired, but it would now make the cut too. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut at the new CBC, so I will have to be grateful for this lovely mini-series that entertained me and spoke to me, that I found funny, poignant, and important (but not in a boring pretentious way).
When it was clear that Michael would have, as co-creator Matt Watts liked to joke, no more than “boutique ratings,” critics remarked that HBO Canada would be a better fit for the series. That may be true, but that’s a sad statement on where we’re at in the Canadian television landscape.
Specialty stations such as Movie Central/The Movie Network and HBO Canada, stations few Canadians have access to, are currently the only fitting home for shows Americans don’t want access to and that aren’t populist enough for a gutted CBC.
There should be a place on a public broadcaster’s schedule alongside more popular fare for a critically acclaimed cult show and, yes, even a dipped-in-maple-syrup-and-riding-a-moose reality series such as Battle of the Blades.
We can write our MPs or protest about cuts to the CBC, but their woes (and mine) are part of a bigger issue. Our Canadian television industry as a whole does whatever it can to not produce Canadian television, leaving our public broadcaster to try — and fail — to appeal at all times to all people.