Friday, April 20, 2012
CBC's Kirstine Stewart on the unkindest cuts of all
There she was on the "TV Leaders" panel, the only women among the Boy's Club of private network broadcasters. Didn't even get introduced by the moderator.
That morning, a much anticipated release goes out announcing what shows made the cut on CBC's battered 2012-13 schedule. There is press in the room, and Stewart, flanked only by media relations officer Chris Ball, knows she's going to have to deal with it. Surprisingly, just three of us follow her into the next room for a private recap on the cuts.
The public broadcaster has had a pretty good winter, launching two successful shows in Arctic Air and Mr. D. They did it in a crowded January and February when few U.S. shows took off. NBC, which saw big budget shows like The Firm and Smash flop and stumble out of the gate, would be popping corks over Arctic Air-level success.
CBC's good fortune, however, was obscured under the black cloud of funding cuts. Coupled with the unrelenting, year-long "state network" attacks from Quebecor's various media outlets, and Stewart dropped her guard long enough to admit that it does feel, as some have suggested, like the rug has been pulled out from under her.
The public discourse on the fate of the CBC, growing louder in some quarters, hasn't made things any easier. Ken Finkleman--who enjoyed carte blanche for years at CBC as the well funded darling of previous regiems--let loose a searing rant currently circulating on a viral video clip. In it he names Stewart and her predecessor Richard Stursberg as the two who wrecked everything at the network by trying to put on shows viewers want to watch.
Asked directly about the Finkleman clip, Stewart says she hasn't seen it, but she's heard about it. Always a smart answer.
Stewart insists every single show on her schedule would be back if not for the funding cuts--even low-rated Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays. She says Battle of the Blades, off the protected list, is on a one year hiatus. Strictly a cost saving venture. Executive producer John Brunton hopes Stewart is not just blowing smoke about a return in one year (see previous post).
When another reporter suggests dumping Blades and Cover Me Canada signals a move away from even cheaper reality fare, Stewart points out she did green light Over the Rainbow, a new theatrical competition series in partnership with Mirvish Productions. The series is basically the search for a new Dorothy.
Earlier in the TV Day session, Stewart was asked about CBC veering down in the muck with other reality show programmers. She defended the move, pointing out that another public broadcaster, the BBC, was doing its own version of The Voice next season. "Without that revenue, we couldn't make other [scripted] programming," she said.
Extending Marketplace from 12 to 24 episodes helps fill a few holes on her weakened schedule. The consumer series has earned the boost with million-plus ratings on Friday nights. Adding the five-year-old Rogers' period drama Murdoch Mysteries will also help. The acquisition Titanic: Blood & Steel, from the people behind Camelot, sounds like it will arrive late and sink, but Stewart thinks (or hopes) the 100th anniversary thing will still float in the fall.
Still--adding the Titanic? While you're re-shuffling deck chairs??
The good news for the shows still on the CBC schedule is that Stewart is hoping to bring them all back with full, regular orders. She trimmed back on 22 Minutes and other shows in the past and the lesson was its a real momentum killer. Everything will be finalized by May 10, when CBC announces its schedule in Toronto.
One thing viewers will notice is more double pumps. For years, the Rick Mercer Report has aired on Tuesdays and repeated on Fridays. Other shows will get the Mercer 2.0 treatment. There are six fewer shows on Stewart's schedule, and holes have to be filled.
Another challenge is replacing the supper hour imports Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Those deals run out in September and CBC will have to find an all-Canadian replacement. Stewart did not suggest this, but perhaps shows from other dayparts, such as Stroumboulopoulos or Steven & Chris, will get second windows.
Again, more will be revealed May 10. Till then, Stewart is staying as far as she can from open windows or high ledges.