‘Star system’

Maintenant j’ai besoin de ma chanson
Toutes mes lignes de téléphone sonnent
J’suis bookée à la télévision dans tous les shows de promotion

– Céline Dion (for it is she), «Des mots qui sonnent» (Dion chante Plamondon [iTunes])

Last month, the organ of a competing broadcasting empire dragged an old chestnut out of the vaults and lectured us on how to “fix” the CBC.

Bruce McDonald was at least fun to read. But then they looked around for somebody who presumably was first in line to see The Devil Wears Prada, the female demographic being notably underrepresented at the CBC, and located “Amanda Rosenthal, president of Amanda Rosenthal Talent Agency Inc.”

A “star system” is a general term that means we need to create vehicles that celebrate our talent in a way that makes it appealing for them to stay in Canada and work.... CBC has invested in their star system and that’s built up over time.

As an agent, I think The Hour is a great show for my clients. The format is cool, edgy and young; any of my clients would want to get an interview with George. His show is great because it’s another way of getting talent out there. Celebrating it. Promoting it.... When an actor can sell a Canadian project, more projects get filmed.

We don’t want our best people abandoning us for L.A.

Unless of course they come back afterward.

Anyway, this is the same starry-eyed, tacky, half-assed bullshit that led to the formation of the Star<bang> network (né StarTV, not pronounced “start vee”). The station was explicitly formulated to conjure a star system into being. Let’s revisit “A Star Is Born” by Greg O’Brien, Cablecaster (what?), April 1999:

“These two channels [Star<bang> and CLT] are the most important things in CHUM’s life in the next 18 months,” [Jay Switzer] says. “[...O]ur entire machine will be put behind the launch of these channels. It’s an important benefit. You won’t be able to have your kids watching Much, or you won’t be able to see a Céline Dion video on MuchMoreMusic, or watch something on CP24 or see an episode of The X-Files on Space, or watch NYPD Blue on Bravo<bang> without seeing and hearing about Canadian Learning Television and Star<bang>[...]

“It’s celebrity-driven. It’s creating and exposing – in a good way – our stars in Canada. There isn’t a place for them, certainly not on a 24-hour basis,” says the channel’s general manager, Marcia Martin.... “We’re all interested in celebrities and the mystique of the screen and the people behind it....

“People said it’ll never make it if it’s just Canadian stars,” she explains. “But we have enough stars here, or in L.A. or in New York that are ours so we said let’s do the show and see how far we can go without having to put in the U.S. element.”

I guess going to L.A. isn’t such a problem after all. (We can do a satellite remote!)

Shineboy Govani wrote in the Tubby (2000.09.23):

Sociologist C. Wright Mills... wrote half a century ago that celebrity is “the crowning result of the star system in a society that makes a fetish of competition.” [...] Maggie Cassella, an on-air host with Canada’s StarTV, strikes a similar note. “Television has sunk so low that anything goes,” she notes. “Even members of Survivor are doing spots on television shows like JAG.... Besides,” Ms. Cassella adds, “of course these TV stars are disgraced. We want our celebrities to be disgraced.”

True. Isn’t it widely accepted now that the result of a star system is something like Paris Hilton flashing her privates?

This-all was tried already in Quebec. They even used the same phrase. Maybe it works there because Quebec is pretty much a language isolate in North America. They have to compete with Hollywood in every market segment. Plus they have a knack for kétaine. The Quebec star system represents the Sexe-Si-Bon/rue Ontario est wing of Quebec culture. We don’t hear too much about that down on Queen West, do we?

Besides, you know the star system is a failure when the conglomerate that buys your star-system channel shitcans all its staff.

So I put a question to this talent agent:

Why are you calling for a “star system,” a term always given in quotation marks, when that was the entire purpose of the Star<bang> television network? Irrespective of owner, Star demonstrably failed to inculcate anything resembling a star system here. In fact, Star was such a failure it no longer has any dedicated staff; it’s a hollow shell. Why are you proposing something we know doesn’t work? (Because you heard it worked in Quebec for Céline Dion?)

When confronted with actual facts, the agent did what agents do: She said nothing.

The fact that she plugged The Hour as a great place to plug her clients says a lot, does it not?