Cult Broadcasting Corp.

This will be pointless, of course, since Kirstine Stursberg has already shoved a cinder block onto the accelerator and the car is heading Thelma & Louise–style for the cliff. But why can’t CBC Television – you know, the service that right-wing assholes thinks costs a billion a year – do what the Quebec movie industry does?

Quebec movies plug every hole

I once read an explanation for the across-the-board success of Quebec cinema: Faced with Hollywood imports dubbed (or, rarely, subtitled) into French, the industry had no choice but to compete in every market category. (Except, apparently, science fiction, which is not always expensive – Sunshine or Soderbergh’s Solaris could have been shot in Quebec. Or 28 Days Later.)

This bullshit about the Quebec “star system” I have never actually bought. (And it was the reasoning behind the formation of the Star<bang> network. It didn’t work there, either, because Star<bang> got shitcanned in favour of E<bang>.) It’s true, though, that Quebec “stars” appear regularly on talk shows and such. And they’re all over the various TV series. But fundamentally I think Quebec cinema works because, even if they don’t vote for succession, French-speaking Quebeckers are fundamentally nationalistic and stick up for their own kind. The film industry provides everything they need to stay local. Anglos just aren’t like that and its film industry coddles wannabe Egoyans.

Alternative to “alternative”

I don’t see why we couldn’t adapt the Quebec model for CBC Television. Why can’t the public broadcaster’s mainstream TV channel be an alternative to everything else? To date, people have interpreted “alternative” as “doing what the Privates don’t.” But what if it means providing a little bit of everything, only better?

Now, if you miss those last two words you end up with Sophie. Miss the rest of the statement and you shitcan Intelligence and jPod (and Opening Night, and Moving On). Because what I’m talking about is plugging every hole in the schedule. The Privates plug only some of the holes. You have to match what they’re doing and also fill in what they’re missing. At that point there is, in fact, something for everyone on your service. You are then a public broadcaster.

I am not talking about doing the exact opposite of what the Privates are doing (another misreading of “alternative”). Nor am I talking about actual cloning of Privates’ programming, because then the right-wing assholes wheel out their zero-sum argument that the CBC isn’t distinctive enough from the Privates to warrant continued existence.

I am talking about offering a full range of kinds or categories of programming – becoming a general-interest service that, to attract a general audience, occasionally has to attract niches too. Like the way Procter & Gamble sells laundry detergent – Tide “competes” against Cheer and Bold, but ultimately all sales go back to the mother ship.

So: You run Heartland and Little Mosque and those gumtoothed news “parody” shows. You run American game shows just to make money. (And you also run The Simpsons, but nobody minds that.) You have news programming. You have kids’ shows, movies (including Canadian and foreign), documentaries. Sports of various kinds. Strombo. That describes the current schedule.

But what about “cult” programming? CBC has absolutely none of that. Kenny vs. Spenny does not count here, my friends. Cult shows don’t have to be obscure nerdbait like MST3K, but they have to be unusual and well-done. Because even with too frigging many specialty channels, this country is not doing cult programming anymore. It’s an unplugged hole, essentially.


  1. Ed the Sock: Shitcanned in August ’08. I must be the only invert in the country who actually enjoyed Ed’s (or Ed & Red’s) Night Party. (Actually, they could do a really excellent episode featuring teh Gays.) Tacky, vulgar, or broad in just the right way. Anybody remember Ed the Sock’s interviews with rock stars on Much? Snappy, combative, lots of verve. Hugh Dillon nearly walked off the set one time.

  2. Kath & Kim: A reason for living unto itself, my heart sank when I saw the online trailer for the American homogenization of this Australian treasure.

    NBC ‘Kath & Kim’ trailer

    We channel-surfed into it on Showcase a couple of years ago and I nearly lost my shit. It was the highlight of my week for what little time it lasted.

    Colour captions: What about piss-elegant? That’s more you. That’s not me.

    Yes, those are Australian captions

  3. Posh Nosh: Shockingly brilliant ten-minute cooking segments from an upper-class couple anchored by a pluperfect Richard E. Grant (who is, incidentally, Swazi, not British). “Next week on Posh Nosh, we’ll be disabling a partridge in its own jus.” (Videos.)

  4. Backstage Passport: Oh, dear: A documentary series about a Canadian band that nobody in Canada wants to show. Except MusiquePlus. (Quebec does it again!)

    [N]one of the four music-related channels in English Canada signed on for Backstage Passport. Of course, it’s really one outlet: MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic, MTV and MTV2 are all owned by CTV. (Much’s ex-sister station MusiquePlus was sold to Astral Media last year.)

    They also own MuchMoreRetro, MuchVibe, and PunchMuch. And MuchLoud (problems), this show’s natural home. (Or IFC.)

    “It’s not even money.... They don’t want to put out anything that might offend somebody, [anything] that’s real.... People who work at MTV Canada, they don’t fucking care who we are.”

    I contacted a Much/MTV publicist, who E-mailed that they “are looking at it. However, at this time no decision has been made.” But Mike says, “we played it for them. They weren’t interested. Now it’s too late.... MusiquePlus is the last station that’s going to get it.”

So the Corpse can’t get Backstage Passport either. Ed the Sock will need a whole new series. Posh Nosh is unnew, clever, and British – three strikes, even in a post-Tudors environment. Kath & Kim is still on the air and is immediately viable as a replacement for the seriously overplayed Arrested Development in late-night stripping.

If you’re not careful you turn yourself into a PBS member station in Idaho running Fawlty Towers during pledge drives. I know that. I also know you cannot set out to invent cult programming. It’s like setting out to be culturally significant or enduring. But some programming eventually manifests itself as cult. Why can’t we run some of it?

Why can’t CBC be the home of the next Trailer Park Boys?