Would it kill us to have a hit?

You know we turned down Canadian Idol.

When I heard it, I thought: “Rightly so. That crappy pap doesn’t belong on the CBC.”

The Toronto Metro Convention Centre, where they tape the show live, is across from the CBC in Toronto. And when I left work on certain days I could see and hear the kids waiting to get in, yelling and screaming and cheering and having a great time. The excitement on the street was palpable. Parents were there, too, smiling and wearing Idol t-shirts. The contestants showed up and the crowd went wild screaming for this little star ecosystem that they had created with their cell phones.

Then I went home and watched Canadian Idol. Ironically, of course.

This continued week after week, for a few years in a row. Then I started to think: “Hm. Maybe we were a bit hasty.”

As I sipped my overpriced Starbucks latte I wondered if some of the critics are right: maybe we are out of touch? Maybe we are the Starbucks latte-sipping Toronto-centric intellectual wankers they accuse us of being?

Canadian Idol is the crack cocaine equivalent for TV, and I’m not suggesting we should’ve run the CTV version whole hog. We could’ve stripped out the crassness. We could’ve held it in multiple CBC locations across the country, and made it more Canadian and less idolatry.

Remember that back in the day, we used to do singing contests, like Pick the Stars, which Robert Goulet almost won. Almost. We had a lot of crappy pap back then, except people called it entertainment. And they were right steamed when we canceled those shows and went upscale. The ghost of goofy Don Messer still haunts us, as much as we try to forget him.

And lest we forget, part of what made the revered This Hour Has Seven Days so groundbreaking was the visceral, immediate, populist ways it tackled difficult subjects. More often than not it aimed low rather than high, and even the guys involved admitted it was more ‘show’ than ‘journalism.’ But it got everyone talking.

As such, Tout le monde en parle is its obvious successor. Maligned, lowbrow, hilarious, and popular. As is Les Bougon (think a French Trailer Park Boys, but better). These shows are distinctly Canadian, and sometimes offensive, but there is no denying their appeal.

But instead of Canadian Idol, we took another, more cerebral British concept/contest and made The Greatest Canadian. We hyped the show. The media was all over it. People in the street were discussing Canadian history. George Stroumboulopoulos blew up a toilet on the premiere and won his way into our hearts. This shit had “high-impact” written all over it.

The ratings? Not so great.

At the time I was baffled, but looking back on it, I see it failed in the execution. It was too complicated. The premise was too contrived and clever for its own good. People wanted a Biography-style look at Terry Fox and we gave them Sook-Yin Lee in India on a bicycle talking about Terry Fox. See the difference?

Now, I love public broadcasting more than anyone, and I believe that it should set at a higher standard. That’s why I’m here.

But as long as we have to play the ratings game, the advertising game, the popularity game, and the political game, maybe we should step back a bit and think about giving the people some more of what they crave, rather than what we think is good for them.

Because really, we know what they want. We’ve known it from the beginning. The CBC was built, for the most part, as a reaction to Amos ‘n’ Andy. This is why we show The Simpsons and American movies. But what we really need is some good, Canadian, popular, populist English TV.

And to do that, maybe we should lay off the Starbucks and spend a little more time at Tim Horton’s.


  1. Cin
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 1:04 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Uh, hello, everyone, am I the only person who remembers the Great Canadian Music Dream?

    Justin, GCMD was the the show you’re describing. And I really enjoyed it. It was a hell of a lot better than Idol, abd lots of people voted on the Net and by phone. I think it was on in ’03 or ’04.

    It was a hit, it just wasn’t an American spin-off.

  2. Justin Beach
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 7:41 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    So do it properly? Instead of just inviting new bands/performers to do interviews on CBC radio, have the music folks pick 10 up and coming bands, then have 4-5 of those bands a night perform one (original) song each and base the entire thing on voting from the public (no whiny judges rating the performance). Finish off with the top 2 or 3 bands performing a full show at the Glen Gould theatre, then do it again next year. It doesn’t have to be pap.

  3. Ouimet
    Posted November 20, 2005 at 3:23 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Yes, that’s right, Tod – I left that part out. In that deal, that was the real showstopper.

  4. Dwight
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 3:36 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    No argument there. That would have been a PR nightmare, with cause. One bad decision avoided, I say.

  5. Tod
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 8:32 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    From what I understand, the deal to run Canadian Idol was tied to an agreement that the network would HAVE to also air American Idol (as CTV does).
    Of course, had CBC taken the deal, it would have had to air the U.S. version and can you imagine the cries of horror then?

  6. Dwight Williams
    Posted November 17, 2005 at 8:06 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Anyone up for some homegrown, “maple leaf roundel on the hull of the starship” space opera? I’m up for firing a shot or two across the Galactica‘s bow at Space…and no, I ain’t kidding.

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