It is truly the “dog days” of Summer when your TV screen is filled with endless repeats. Repeats that no one really wants to watch anyway, compared to the better uses we can make of our time.
But this Summer, the re-runs are more prolific than ever on CBC-TV. What really hurts is that they come at us during a lousy — cold, wet and rainy – time when our options for diversions are fewer than usual.
The weather’s better around our place this week. But when even The National starts running old news items — as it did this week with a piece on Canadian asbestos exports — I say it’s time to ask what’s going on?
The repeats are even more obvious on CBC Radio. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard endless repeats of Dispatches items, replays of The Debaters, or the endless repetition of features from The Current.
The CBC warned us, back in May, that the network’s $171 million shortfall this year means more repeat programming. As one example, they’ve cut in half the old two-hour noontime call-in shows (surely one of the most economical types of broadcasting) in favor of jamming in more re-runs.
Come August 31, the CBC will expand its supper-time local TV newscasts from 60 to 90 minutes. But listen to this: CBC spokesman Chris Ball cites the increase not as a means of delivering a fuller range of local news, but as “as a way to do things smarter and do things on a cost-effective basis.” Cheaper, in other words.
At the bottom of the CBC’s soul-searching is the conflict between buying high-priced American shows that will draw ad-rich audiences, and of fulfilling what should be its primary role of giving Canadians information and cultural content that supports our uniqueness in the world.
You can see an attempt to do this in the two-part mini series, Iron Road, that began last Sunday night and winds up next Sunday. It’s the melodramatic and not entirely historically accurate story of a Chinese girl who comes to Canada (Gold Mountain) in search of her father, lost during the building of the railway in B.C.
I watched with a critical eye because I’m just finishing up work on my Young Adult title, The Boy in the Picture. It’s the story of young Edward Mallandaine, the boy whose shining face peers out from the famous picture of the driving of the Last Spike of the CPR.
Part sex drama, part kung fu movie, The Iron Road has some beautiful scenes and well played out vignettes. It’s the first joint Chinese-Canadian film production in 22 years and it’s based on what was originally an opera.
The Iron Road, however, is more fiction than fact. The Canadian Pacific Railway is replaced by the Nickel Railroad, and none of the characters even suggest the real people who recruited six thousand Chinese workers to drive the railway up the Fraser River canyon and across the mountains into Alberta.
Whether a production like this creates an appreciation and understanding for Canada’s heritage is highly arguable. It brings the fact of the railway building to a broad Canadian audience. But it tells us nothing of the struggle than brought it into existence, beyond providing a worthwhile recognition of the ordeal of its Chinese laborers. That’s entertainment!