Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top Ten Canadian TV Stories Of 2013

1. The decline of Canadian TV criticism is the big TV story of the year.
It's happening all over North America and is considered so dire many U.S. networks are seriously thinking of exiting the semi-annual TV Critics junkets in Los Angeles.
I well remember the 1970s when the CBC could count on over 35 TV print critics coming to its press tours in Toronto. The last time out in December I counted about five hardy souls who were left.
Most of the TV books have departed, too, including Southam's TV Times and the print version of TV Guide Canada.
And when my old paper The Toronto Star pulled venerable Rob Salem from the  TV beat, well, it was all just a bit too much.
2. The end of TVOntario's Saturday Night At The Movies could have been predicted for some time.
But when the axe man cameth in September it just didn't seem quite right.
Heck, I was around at the Hamilton Spectator as the boy TV critic when high school teacher Elwy Yost started the ball rolling. on TVO in 1971.
He was able to buy old black and white flicks for pennies and very soon was challenging CBC's Hockey Night In Canada for ratings supremacy every Saturday night.
In sort order his competitors started buying up collections just to make sure Yost didn't get them.
Elwy's yearly jaunts to L.A. produced some priceless moments. Such as the time when Joseph Cotten wandered into the interview room Elwy blubbered "Kane! Kane!" as Cotten took out his hanky and wiped away Yost's tears.
But could the series survive without Elwy?
Apparently not! And switching to more recent flicks angered its core audience.
To save money TVO cancelled the series and substituted classy documentaries which sank like a stone in the ratings.
3. Kirstine Stewart the fairly youngish chief programmer for CBC thought about it and thought about it.
And then she jumped to Twitter Canada.
Getting out of CBC was her chief objective as every year the programming budget was squeezed and the venerable Corp suffered from death by a hundred cuts.
Stewart's sudden departure said it all: public broadcasting in Canada is under the gun and may not last much longer.
4. And then CBC lost Hockey Night In Canada which many weeks is the sole Canadian show in the Top 10 on this country.
Rogers Media snapped it up and who can blame them?
All that lush Canadian content means Rogers can just about wave goodbye to scripted Canadian drama forever and a day if it wants to.
Hockey Night In Canada will continue for now on CBC but the Corp loses about $400 million in advertising revenues from this deal.
Meaning fewer and fewer prestige Canadian CBC shows will be coming our way.
5. The strange death of CBC's National News has been neglected by every writer around including me.
Trouble started when American "fixer uppers" were hired to jazz up the venerable show.
They concocted a set that looks like one of those seedy wine bars in Yorkville that I sometimes inhabit.
Host Peter Mansbridge looks might uncomfortable although he's still one of the show's biggest assets.
A lot of the venerable reporters we've come to respect have drifted off to retirement. Last week it was London correspondent Ann Mcmillan, the classiest TV reporter CBC has had in decades.
And these days without adequate lead ins the ratings some nights at 10 hover around 400,000 --I know the series gets repeated all over the place but it's still a very bad showing.
The show needs a rejuvenation not of visuals but of content although one idea to bring back The Journal just won't happen because the price would be too high.
6. Here's I say I was wrong. I made dire predictions CTV's news at 11 might crash without Lloyd Robertson  who finally retired (he now hosts W5).
I thought Tom Clark should have been uncle Lloyd's replacement and he was not.
Instead Lisa LaFlamme too over and she runs a tight ship keeping the news items percolating as she jumps from story to story.
I had a hard time with her brusque manner on Canada AM but she has improved and become more of a team player. The result: CTV ratings are standing tall at 11.
And having CTV's reporter Bob Fyfe  nightly break the next leak in the Mike Duffy Senate story surely has been the biggest help of all.
7. The persistence of Inspector Murdoch Mysteries proves that with quality material a defiantly Canadian series can certainly persist and prevail. Ratings this year are higher than ever buoyed by the persistent reruns which seem to be on Citytv morning noon and night.
8. So here I am phoning the Prague long distance operator as I try to ring up an old friend. "Toronto?" she squeals. "Rob Ford! Rob Ford!" Seems that Mayor Ford has taken over the political TV landscape. And just a few years back a wonderful CTV comedy series starring a happy imbecile --the title was Dan For Mayor --was dismissed by some critics as implausible. Well, there you have it.
9.  I'm in a classroom talking to six graders about TV. And many of them say they rarely watch. They download everything to their phones, their tablets, their computers. They seem amazed when I tell them I remember when TV came to Toronto in 1948-49 and we had our choice of two flickering black and white images from Buffalo. Which leads me to wonder what will happen to Canadian TV in the future? Or does it have a future at all?
10. And then the ice storm cometh. Talk about relevancy. I kept my TV set on all day. The reporting was tops, the information never ending. and I suddenly realized i needed TV more than ever.


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