‘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?


  • Allan says:

    That clarification helps, and there’s more in your post that’s worth exploring

  • Fake Ouimet says:

    I asked Rosenthal if she’d answer a question for attribution for this blog. Then I gave her the question. Then her autoresponder said she was on vacation for a week. Then I waited well more than a week. Then there was no response.

    References? I try to back my shit up with facts.

    Fine. You people never like anything over 300 words. I know. I liked the length it turned out to have. (“That’s what she said!”)

  • Allan says:

    joe. I understand what you’re getting at. But it’s a bit drawn out more than you need to in order to make the point. And gets complicated. All those references. And what’s with the BANG’s.
    But you’ve done something here that I don’t support.
    I’ve thought of doing interviews too for the blog. Perhaps one day.
    But I don’t think it’s wise for you to be calling up people and pissing them off, in the name of Tea Makers.
    No one is trying to play tough-guy God here.
    We’re not so all scary important, and don’t need to be.
    It’s not a power trip. I think only people with some miss-guided jealousy view the blog that way.
    Your question was filled with brow-beating confrontation, so what did you expect.
    You want people to grovel before you? Issues with self-worth?

    You’ve done this before, and I think it crosses a line not called for.
    That’s stuff we can’t take back.
    You should call and apologize to these people, so that it’s on the record. They’ll continue to hate you and not trust you, but with a little less justification.

    Your point here is one we’ve both beaten the drum about before.
    It’s un-winnable. No one is going to stop George from trying to land George Clooney except George Clooney. And it’s what pays the bills. The Hour has discarded everything else they used to do. They have nothing left, and it turns out to be the only thing that brought viewers. They don’t even need George. The floor director could do the interviews.

    I saw a good piece with Russel Smith on TVO At The Movies.
    He said that it’s the booking agents who are now the most powerful people in show business, not the media itself.
    And he’s right.
    The Hour doesn’t choose the guests, the guests choose The Hour, and that’s part of what makes it such a joke.
    Either George cooperates or the celebs will gladly go elsewhere. Canada AM wants them too.
    So it bugs me when George promotes it as no-holds-barred. Really, the furthest thing from the truth.

    I know what you’re going through with these posts. You’re not here to please me.
    We can be up front with each other, right?
    I’m one of your readers too.

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