MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Viewers of Canada, unite! After all, it's OUR $12 million

Douglas Marshall October 1 1968
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Viewers of Canada, unite! After all, it's OUR $12 million

Douglas Marshall October 1 1968

Viewers of Canada, unite! After all, it's OUR $12 million

TELEVISION

Douglas Marshall

HERE ARE THREE statements from a CBC press release telling us how the corporation plans to spend our $12 million on TV programs this season: “Many of the established prime-time shows, having proved their popularity with Canadian audiences, will return for another season ... Ten of the most popular episodes of the hard-hitting contemporary Wojeck series will be rescheduled ... An already crowded sports calendar will have several noteworthy additions.” And here’s a statement issued in reply by a newly formed organization called CARPOT: “Baloney!”

CARPOT, the Canadian Association Representing People Out There, hasn’t had a chance to make its hardhitting contemporary views felt as yet. In fact, I just invented it. But the need for CARPOT or some similarly constituted body to speak for the disaffected viewers of this country is obvious. Without it, a publicly owned network such as the CBC will simply continue to base its program schedules on assumptions which, if not always blithely baloneous, are far from being self-evident to the people who underwrite the operation.

I’m not suggesting that we hamstring the CBC by subjecting it to

some vast annual shareholders’ meeting. Nor am I advocating more parliamentary control; I’m not convinced that politicians know what People Out There feel either. But there ought to be some way that viewers, who are after all the raison d’être of a public TV network, can make their opinions felt about general program policy. Right now the only way a viewer can express an unsolicited comment about what goes out on the air is by picking up the phone and pouring out his soul to some harassed switchboard operator at the local CBC outlet.

In Britain the BBC has partly solved the problem by scheduling a daily 10-minute program devoted to viewers’ comments. Letters of criticism — and occasionally praise — are read out by an announcer, and sometimes the producers or directors responsible are hauled onto the public carpet to defend or explain themselves. The program is presented with wit and is immensely popular. British viewers get the feeling that somebody cares. The willingness of the BBC to admit it can goof gives the illusion of democracy and does wonders for national morale.

The CBC, meanwhile, gives the illusion of dictatorship. It is run by

people who seem to believe they are members of a jittery banana-republic regime constantly on the verge of another coup. Nobody knows whose head will roll tomorrow and everybody is so busy protecting his own back that the feelings of the peasants, laboring in Green Acres under overseers like Red Skelton, are the last thing to worry about.

No doubt there are some good reasons why the CBC policy-makers have patched together a fall schedule that is a masterpiece of left-over ideas. For one thing, the perpetual plea for something new and different has perhaps been heard too often. There comes a time, even on television, when we must face up to the fact that there aren’t any new ideas and we must be satisfied with what we have.

But even accepting that argument, an organization such as CARPOT would still have plenty of questions for the CBC that should be answered. Is it true, for instance, that what Canadians want this season is “unparalleled coverage of sporting events”? Unparalleled in this instance means eight hours a week, including such crowd-drawers as soccer games and university athletics. I would like to be shown that a majority of viewers put in a bid for this coverage.

Again, is it absolutely necessary — even taking the money-saving factor into account — to run 10 Wojeck episodes through the mill for the third time? Wojeck was undeniably great, but enough is enough. Behind this decision there seems to be a tacit

confession that the CBC can produce only two good drama series every three years (17 new episodes of Quentin D urge ns, MP will precede Wojeck Revisited). Are only two good drama series every three years the best way to spend the public’s money?

More relevant, since American imports will continue to take up most of Canada’s prime television time: Is the CBC buying the right shows from Hollywood? The two new ones are The Name of the Game, a 90-minute quickie-movie series built around a publishing empire, and The Doris Day Show, starring the “motion-picture industry’s No. 1 attraction” as a Vietnam war widow. We won’t know how good or bad these are until we see them.

But we do know the quality of such hoary old regulars as Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan, Bonanza, The Beverly Hillbillies and that exhausted one-gag vehicle. Get Smart! Would there really be a cry of outrage across Canada if we dumped some of them and tried something else? Do such slick and imaginative programs as the BBC’s Frost Report have to be seen six months later in a late-night movie slot? Why didn’t the CBC pick up the CBS series Of Black America, probably the best documentary ever to be made on this side of the Atlantic?

If you want the answers to these and other questions, join CARPOT now. Viewers of Canada, unite! Remember: you have nothing to lose but your tempers.