Safe is the Word for CBC


If you were excited by this season’s lineup of shows on CBC, you’re bound to like next season. Safe is the word for our public broadcaster. All primetime scripted programs have been renewed, and no new ongoing series have been picked up. Further details will be provided at the upfront in May, so I’d still have hope that a new series or two is up their sleeve if I thought CBC could afford even the sleeve in this second year of imposed austerity.

Promising but short-lived additions are a television movie based on Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes – which, among other accolades, won CBC’s Canada Reads competition a few years ago — and the Best Laid Plans miniseries based on Terry Fallis’ political satire, adapted for television by Susan Coyne and Jason Sherman. Coyne’s association with Slings & Arrows means I already have impossible expectations for that miniseries, as well as the no-basis-in-fact expectation that, like Bomb Girls, if the ratings are decent it could become a maxi-series.

My reality-hating heart has to admit excitement about Battle of the Blades’ return after a season’s hiatus. I didn’t watch it regularly but it’s entertaining and a unique format amid all the [American Reality Show Title] Canada series out there, and it could only be a more quintessentially Canadian idea if they made the skaters ride moose covered in maple syrup. I mean that as a compliment.

The no-brainers for renewal included the resurrected Murdoch Mysteries, which gained even more of an audience in its City to CBC transition, Republic of Doyle, Rick Mercer, Dragons’ Den and Marketplace.

22 Minutes should be a sure thing based on ratings, but never quite seems to be based on network neglect. Slightly more surprising is the renewal of the under-the-radar and lukewarmly rated The Ron James Show, which nonetheless must be cheap to produce and James has earned his place with the network (but it’s not as though that always means much).

There were three titles I scanned for in the renewal list to see which one or ones caught the axe. Mr. D and Arctic Air have declined drastically in the ratings after great starts the previous year, and Cracked, while not completely DOA, never came close to cracking a million. But they were all there. Everything was there except The Big Decision.

Another kind of person would praise CBC for giving shows with middling ratings more than a season or two to find an audience. That kind of person would have thought all of them were shows deserving of a greater audience in the first place, would refrain from pointing out a couple of them found and then lost an audience, and would not have written this post after the 2012/13 season announcement.

The fact that everything was renewed to me doesn’t indicate CBC’s faith in all these shows – seriously, all of them? – but that they had no faith in any of their shows in development.

In sticking with a stable lineup, CBC is coming closer to fulfilling its impossible mission of having to be all things to all people and, in the process, making its schedule look a lot like a private broadcaster’s should, if Canadian private broadcasters didn’t look a lot like American broadcasters. CBC is staying the course with a staid lineup, and fewer people will note the loss of innovation than would have noted the loss of even a mediocre scripted show.

By Diane Wild


7 thoughts on “Safe is the Word for CBC”

  1. I often wonder whether or not one of the American nets should just do the same thing and renew most of their shows–give them a couple years to find an audience–rather than just constantly flooding their schedules with new-but-quickly-cancelled series. That way they could avoid spending all the millions upon millions on new show development for nothing. Network audiences are shrinking across the board. Audiences are getting P.O.ed. Too many shows, new shows premiering at seemingly random weeks, new shows popping up for a couple weeks only to disappear, the nets refusing to acknowledge dvr ratings. It’s like my mother said in January when I told her of a new show starting: “I’m not getting into any more new shows Ally. The last few you got me hooked to got cancelled right away. Record me the episodes and if it lasts a couple years I’ll watch it then.”

    Television viewers (like you Diane, who likely still mourns the passing of Michael, Tuesdays & Thursdays) do not forget–they hold many a grudge and eventually they quit watching new shows. I haven’t felt the same about TV since Jericho’s cancellation way back when. It’s kept me from diving into relationships with new TV series. Instead I let the episodes record on my dvr and I wait a few weeks to watch them to see whether the ratings are good so that I don’t get my heart ripped out again. Sometimes I can’t wait, as is what happened this season with the quickly departed Last Resort and old angers resurface. I got satisfaction the other night when my teenage nephew was talking about how he’d just watched all the Jericho episodes on Netflix and couldn’t wait for new episodes–I really upset him when I told him it was not going to happen. It made me really wonder just what’s going to happen with “The Networks”. When you have companies like Netflix releasing whole series at once I can see how people would leave network shows with their single episode releases in the dust in favour of guaranteed whole seasons. It makes me think CBC is being wise (due to economic necessity) by opting to lengthen existing series, even if they don’t garner optimum ratings, rather than try with something new, only to fail worse. After all, CBC’s shows are all on Netflix–it’s possible that people, upon hearing that a show like Arctic Air has a third season, are likely to catch up with it on Netflix and watch new episodes when they come on TV (or more likely, just wait until they appear on Netflix).

    Networks are still trying to snare an ever-shrinking audience by coming up with the next hit show (which, if you look at the ratings numbers, would have been considered failures even five years ago). When are they going to stop? There’s no going back. Things need to change. Networks need to adapt. Maybe CBC, by not trying for the “next big hit” and going with the “same old” will be more successful. Who knows? I only know people are tired of getting hooked my new shows for nothing.

    1. My point is more that if a show has lost 75% of its audience from premiere to season 2 it doesn’t need time to “find an audience” – it’s an admission that there’s not much hope for improvement with a new show. And that a public broadcaster shouldn’t be forced into being a purveyor of mediocre but inoffensive content.

  2. I think it’s impossible to compare the Canadian and US televison systems. The primary difference, in my opinion, is RISK. When a Canadian broadcaster orders a series, they’re typically paying 30% – 35% as a license fee for the series. Compare this to the Americans who are paying anywhere from 60% – 80% depending. In Canadian television, broadcasters are supposed to be servicing both Cultural AND business priorities. In the US, television is a business. Period.

    I think the Americans are right to cancel shows that are not working. I am one of the few viewers who loved and lost Last Resort, Deception, Red Widow, Missing, etc. And, as much as I lament the loss of those shows, I understand it. There is a loose rule in television that eight episodes in you can tell whether a show is going to be a smash, modest hit or flop, ratingswise. This rule is certainly true of serialized drama and it tends to be the case with episodic series as well. Think about the Canadian series (I won’t name them) that have been cancelled in the last few years. In some cases, these shows started with a huge audience (relative) and then the audience dropped by 40% – 50% and stayed at that level throughout the rest of their run.

    In my opnion, it’s irresponsible for broadcasters to renew low-rated series if: (a) there’s zero growth in viewers; (b) the showrunners don’t have a radical plan to reboot the series so it feels new to viewers who watch the second season; (c) the problem is theshow and not the timeslot. For example, Republic of Doyle’s ratings were middling until Dragon’s Den became it’s lead-in. And, now it’s a thriving hit. That’s a case where the timeslot was the problem and NOT the show.

    We are living in the so-called Golden Age of television. If we’re going to play on the international stage, Canadian broadcasters (just like the Americans) have to be empowered to critically look at their underperforming series and ask themselves – IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO? In Canada, we have the luxury of doing a full 12 episode season before a broadcaster can pull the plug. So, keeping in mind the exceptions stated above, if the series isn’t working by episode 12, broadcasters should do just that.

    1. Perhaps the systems are different but the bottom line is that shows on both sides of the border must compete with each other. At least that’s the way it might have been. With the advent of the DVR ratings do not reflect how much a show actually gets watched. Last Resort, for example, had poor live ratings but high DVR ratings so it got cancelled. That’s a lost opportunity on ABC’s part. However with the system we are still in, what else can they do? I think within 5 years cable and satellite will look very different than it looks now. Timeslots, for viewers’ purposes matter very little. If we want to watch a show then we’ll watch it, but only at a time convenient to us, not when we are “supposed to”. I would like to see the day when we turn on our TV and instead of flipping through the scheduled guide, we instead get a list of networks/channels which if you click on one, it will show you a list of shows on that channel and you just click on the one you want to watch (just like what you do on Netflix). I, personally, never flip through the guide. I just go to my pvr list and select a show.

      1. Well, judging from some of the network press releases at The Futon Critic, it seems that the American networks like to crow about their series doing well on DVR. The cynical side of me figures that they’re just trying to boost live viewings by making it seem that the show is more popular than they actually believe it is.

        The funny thing about the DVR…the ostensible reason why they don’t want to count it (or count it as much) in ratings data is based on the idea that DVR viewers will fast forward through the commercials — which is really what they want people to watch — and, thus, those viewers won’t get exposed to the advertising.

        I think that’s wrongheaded. My own experience is that when I watch a show live, during the commercials I pick up a book, or go to use the bathroom, or get a drink or snack, or wash a few dinner dishes. So I’m not seeing the advertising. When I’m watching a show via DVR, and I’m fast-forwarding through the commercials, I’m looking at the screen the whole time so that I’ll know when the show’s back. So I’m being exposed to the ads, even if it’s at high speed. And if there’s a commercial that I think is funny or clever, I might even stop the fast-forwarding to watch it. So I actually see MORE advertising using the DVR than watching live.

        There are undoubtedly a lot of people who think I’m at odds with the viewing experience of most people, but I suspect that there are more people like me than anyone at the networks or Nielsen would want to admit. The networks are too wedded to old paradigms to believe that they might have to rethink their approaches.

    2. I agree with you, but in order for that to happen, Cdn broadcasters cannot order shows & then let them sit on the shelf for months as has happened in the past. It’s impossible to fix things that aren’t working when the show doesn’t begin airing until long after production is finished.

Comments are closed.