MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Down with free trade. What Canada needs are higher tariffs on TV imports

Douglas Marshall August 1 1968
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Down with free trade. What Canada needs are higher tariffs on TV imports

Douglas Marshall August 1 1968

Down with free trade. What Canada needs are higher tariffs on TV imports

TELEVISION

Douglas Marshall

In days of yore from Britain’s shore,

Tripe, for TV here was sent; YOU HAVE POSSIBLY noticed that many of the summer-replacement shows offered as popular entertainment on Canadian television have a certain mildand-bitter flavor, a Carnaby Street cut to their appearance. The reason is that British-made TV programs, under a curious concept that must date back to the days of Imperial corn preferences, count as being 50 percent Canadian. Thus when the Canadian networks find themselves slipping below the level of 55-percent Canadian content they are pledged to maintain, the day is saved by scheduling a BBC documentary or an old Carry On forever movie.

And helped uphold the concept bold

Of fifty-five percent.

It makes for a pleasant change of pace to switch from Hollywood to Pinewood, from the Ponderosa to Piccadilly. And what’s more, the system saves Canadian TV producers the trouble of having to gamble money or imagination on actually producing programs of their own. It is cheering to know we can sit back and enjoy Patrick McGoohan earning dollars for Britain and still feel patriotically Canadian.

Let us have McGoohan, drama, Guinness and laughter;

Sermons and Canada Dry the day after.

Not that everything that comes from Britain is as good as McGoohan. Not by an old-country mile. Take, for instance, The Champions on CTV. This supposedly gripping superhero series would utterly fail to suspend a

three-year-old's disbelief. The main characters are an Anglo-American trio endowed with miraculous powers by an other-world Tibetan monk. Superman had a more credible provenance. The monk, incidentally, was played by that grand old professional Felix Aylmer, who was visibly weeping into his beard. This series is so bad it isn’t even camp. I tried watching it for laughs but the worn-out gags of flagging Get Smart are funnier.

Next, the CBC has come up with a BBC import called It’s a Square World. Ha bloody ha. Humorous as Michael Bentine occasionally is, you need an Anglophonic ear and a history book to understand much of what is going on. The real joke is on us poor Canadians. Perhaps you grasped that when Bentine mentioned in one show that “so far, 1963 has been a good year.” Not just 1963, but early 1963. That became obvious when, a couple of days after Robert Kennedy was killed, the program opened with a skit on the American propensity for political assassinations. The skit was first screened in England months before President Kennedy was shot.

Go back, you Dritish comic; go you back to Mandalay!

Where the vaudeville troupers play,

And the puns come up like thunder outer context ’crost the Day!

If the CBC must import its comedy — and to be fair, its own recent endeavors suggest it should — then let it at least import something that isn’t so tactlessly out of date. Bentine is not like Benedictine; he doesn’t improve with age.

The third and only good British

import this summer is CTV’s Man in a Suitcase. It stars expressionless, mumbling Richard Bradford as McGill, a slightly shady CIA dropout based in London. The first episode was an unpromising run-of-The-Mall affair. Later the series picked up. A great deal of intelligence has been expended on the plots and a great deal of money spent on the African, West Indian and London backgrounds. A recent episode, about a crook turned mercenary turned missionary, was one of the finest 60-minute dramas I’ve seen on Canadian TV in a long time. It caught the bitter, uncompromising mood of modern Africa as neatly as would a debate between Kenyatta and Ian Smith.

The point to be remembered here is that Britain, with a TV structure that is roughly analogous to Canada’s, is at least churning out its own shows — tripe or otherwise. And selling them abroad, to boot. Half a dozen polished series have been produced under the aegis of ITV, the British equivalent of CTV, including such bestsellers as The Avengers, Danger Man and The Prisoner. The BBC, which now operates two commercial-free networks, exports a cultural stream of classic dramas and documentaries that are of matchless excellence. The principal reason for this productivity is that British regulations impose a much stricter quota on the number of Americanmade shows that can be broadcast in prime time.

I think the new Canadian Radio and Television Commission should consider similar tight regulations here. The CBC’s present production ventures, compared with those of the less wealthy BBC, are shamefully pathetic.

So notorious are the network’s overall failings that I won’t even bother enumerating them again. Yet once or twice a season, the CBC does make a half-hearted stab at living up to its responsibilities and produces something imaginative enough to justify Canada as the place where Marshall McLuhan used to come from. CTV, which can no longer pretend to financial or organizational teething troubles, just doesn’t produce imaginative TV at all beyond public-affairs shows and the odd special from CFTO in Toronto.

In the year of one-and-sixty A wise man said to me,

“Seek culture, wit and dramas But not from CTV;”

And why, under current conditions, should CTV bother being creative? Why indeed. The American shows it buys are dirt cheap; the government is satisfied with a Canadian content made up almost entirely of sports and news casts; there is no compulsion for CTV to be anything more than it is, a profitable web of secondrate relay stations. Well I, for one, believe the ground rules ought to be changed. If CTV hasn’t got the enterprise to produce more shows of its own, then it should be forced to fold up its masts* turn its deserted studios back into warehouses and get out of the television business. This would leave the way clear for a new private network that, with a stricter quota system, could give the complacent public network some much-needed competition.

“A license to print money Results in endless rue.”

And now it’s eight-and-sixty And Oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.