When Global TV, Ontario’s mini-network, went on the air in January, 1974, with all the fanfare money could buy, it looked as if ex-band singer Al Bruner’s dream of a third national network was finally coming true. The way Bruner saw it, Global would start small by offering alternative Canadian programming to seven million viewers across Ontario and then would slowly expand across the nation. Twenty-two months later, the third network has turned into a bad joke.
Although it started out with an innovative lineup of Canadian shows, the network has degenerated into a cheapjack delivery system for American reruns. Indeed, Global has become such a profound embarrassment to the CRTC that it invited the network before it this month to explain why it seems to be as much as six hours a week short on Canadian programming. The answer is money. After losing a staggering $16 million during its first year of operations and half that in the second, the network just doesn’t have enough cash to make more of its own shows.
The man taking the brunt of the criticism for Global’s inadequacies is 45-yearold Allan Slaight, who makes more than $100,000 a year as Global’s president. Slaight’s company, iwc Communications, swallowed up Global when it was verging on bankruptcy under AÍ Bruner’s leadership just three months after it went on the air. Slaight solemnly promised a hastily called CRTC hearing in April, 1974, that “We will maintain the calibre of programming now evident on the Global network.” But once iwc had Global’s license, Slaight tripped over himself dumping most of the Canadian shows ( The World Of Wicks, Witness To Yesterday, The Braden Beat, The Great Debate) and snapping up cheaper American series and reruns (last summer Global’s top-rated shows were The Honeymooners and Sgt. Bilko).
Slaight concedes he “said a lot of things at the original CRTC hearing that have turned out not to be correct.” But, he explains, iwc had no idea of the financial mess it was getting into. Slaight claims the innovative Canadian shows were expensive: each episode of The Braden Beat, for instance, cost Global $17,000 (it costs only $3,000 to pick up an American show). Global spent $1.7 million on 200 old MGM movies which it intended to show on a proposed western network. That network never materialized. Global paid $400,000 for broadcast rights for the Toronto Toros hockey games, an outrageous expense considering the team was just getting started. Global also signed a five-year $500,000 contract with Maclean-Hunter for access to its business library, which, says news vice-president Bill Cunningham, Global rarely used. (The contract was canceled when Maclean-Hunter, which had put $ 1.4 million into Global at the beginning, wrote off half its investment.) The accounting department, which should have been keeping a close watch on expenditures, was operated by vice-president Frank Buckley who worked only half days and then became ill. By the time iwc had waded through the resulting accountant’s nightmare, “We came that close to walking out,” says Slaight.
Despite howls of derision from performers and broadcasters, Slaight stoutly maintains that by constantly repeating the few Canadian shows Global has left it is just about meeting the CRTC’S Canadian content requirements. But that didn’t stop him from desperately seeking a Canadian content dispensation. And his request for special consideration indicates to some observers that Global is in fact short on Canadian content. The CRTC may demand that Slaight schedule up to eight hours of new Canadian shows every week, beginning in January.
But there’s little the CRTC can actually do to enforce its Canadian content rules in Global’s case. It could yank Global’s license but it’s unlikely to take such a drastic step; Global’s private investors would lose their money. And the CRTC’S impotence has left other Canadian broadcasters in an ugly mood. “If Global can get away with what it’s doing,” demands one of them, “why can’t I?”
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