Dizzying Post-Boxing Day Blather

Part of the holidays includes food, drink, some quiet time, annoying time with crowds, and, er, getting sick now and then, so it’s perhaps expected that whatever knocked me down last Wednesday came back this holiday weekend. Instead of delicious chocolates and cake, it’s been Advil and lying horizontal to quell headaches & dizziness.

Before getting knocked down, I did manage to draft a batch of reviews and finish up on some posts, so ideally they’ll start appearing Wednesday, with stuff almost everyday until they’re all online, and I’ve time to get a short story out of the way.

Boxing Day? Did most of the egregious spending online, and there will be no frivolous purchases for the next 60 days. However, New Year’s Eve I’ll have a pair of posts not on ‘the best of 2010’ but trends good and bad in home video, and soundtracks. A lot has changed in the past 2 years in terms of what people buy and how they watch movies at home, as well as the release of soundtracks sort of at a crossroads in terms of staying in the physical realm of limited CDs and digital downloads. It’s just my 2 cents, but since the first family VCR was purchased in 1983 and the first soundtrack album maybe 29 years ago, I get to wax and bitch a bit.

Odds and sods:

This week marks the 50th anniversary of CTV’s birth. It’s the country’s biggest (and what I think was) the first indie network. There was the CBC and local stations, but it took CTV to bring in more choice, as well as the next wave of newcomers in the seventies like Global (CanWest), CHCH Hamilton, and CityTV into Toronto and Ontario homes.

CTV is a funny station, because they’ve also grabbed aspects of the U.S. model, in terms of branding their talent, sticking to the rigid 'local news' format, and trumpeting their virtues as a local and provincial feel-good entity that’s always there for the community. The corp does benevolent, charitable acts, but sometimes you wish the bumpers and promo spots would get ratcheted down a few notches.

The station had a brief fling rebranding itself as the BBS network, but reporters seemed to have trouble saying “BBS” (it came out as “Beeb-brpz-Ess’) and most viewers reacted to the sudden name change as ‘Huh?’ so the owners erased all memory of that blunder and went back to CTV.

Then came 2007, and the ‘My Toronto is CTV News’ campaign. Trumpeted as “dynamic,” it was actually an assault of self-aggrandizing sloganism using montages and vignettes that made little sense. Smiley happy people holding up hand-crafted signage that inferred the network supported local colour, culture and myriad endeavors but came off as saccharine and sometimes insipid. Most ad breaks began and ended with a repeat of the promos, and within a half-hour segment of the noon show, that meant maybe 8-10 assaults. Sometimes the promos were repeated one after the other when the station was short of ads, making things even more interminable.

It’s like walking into the dining room and shouting “The turkey I’m making is AMAZING!” every 5 minutes before the stupid bird is brought in so we can start eating the damned thing. The promos took away from the news content that was being sold by implication as substantive, and the promos often function as filler material on slow news days. I know this to be true, because during the duration of that awful campaign, I hit the mute button religiously during the ad breaks.

That campaign was compacted and somewhat put into stasis, but it’s been appropriated by the CTV News Channel with anchors appearing in a new montage spouting the phrase in linked fragments: “I. I am. I am CTV. I, am CTV.  I am CTV News. I AM CTV NEWS.”

Sure you are. We know that. But who cares? If you were saying ‘On behalf of CTV News, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making us your choice of news, culture, and a trusted friend of your family,’ I’d listen, but ‘I am CTV News’ is blatant adspeeke. You could be saying ‘I am the giant cheese melon, and you wear ball-bearings most mightily,’ and the advertorial impact is just as mute-worthy.

One final potshot at CTV’s stitched nylon ego. When I visited friends in Ottawa years ago, I noticed the local news had similar graphics, similar promos, and format. It was like bizarroland, with Toronto people replaced by another group with slightly different architecture in the title montage. One format, cookie-cut for all local markets. It’s an efficient use of ad money and implementation of a refined campaign, but there’s something surreal in journeying from city to city and noticing the colours, sounds, and format are the same… but there’s body doubles, hired from the same telegenic grad school.

In the plus category, CTV’s running a few vignettes on their birth and development which are kind of fun. When I was a rugrat, I also rushed home from school to catch The Flintstones and The Adventures of Superman, and while CTV did have a hand in funding The Trouble with Tracy, it’s not really a point of Cancon pride. (Please, play the YouTube links.)

The show was made from creaky, unfunny fifties radio dramas updated with ‘hip’ and contemporary argot and featured grotesque camera mugging and a horrible laugh track. Even as a child I knew there was no dignity in the show – but I was gripped by the pastel colours and repeated cutaways to frozen ‘Wah-wah-wah’ grimaces and pregnant-paused, eye-rolling. It’s among the worst shows ever made, and deserves to be back in circulation as reminder of how, like the Americans (Supertrain, anyone? Manimal?), we too made stinkers.

Not in the CTV's prestige montage is The Starlost, but that’s okay. It did have a life of its own as a bad TV favourite, and like many Canadian productions, it’s available on DVD… in America. It sort of follows the (il)logic that pundits used to repeat: Canadians don’t’ embrace talent unless it’s a success in the States; then we love them, but then complain why they never came back home, and if they did so, we’d ask them where’d they fuck up to get booted out of the U.S. entertainment industry?’

That’s sort of an exaggeration, but it’s a taste of the cynicism that used to be levied on Canadian talent, which isn’t as severe anymore. Part of the downturn of self-loathing stems from the music industry (courtesy of early Cancon rules) that begat superb talent which always existed here, but lacked the wiggle room in media outlets to reach audiences.

Still, there’s something ridiculous in having to import these vintage shows because no one will carry them here on DVD. I guess the existence of Starlost, Friday the 13: The Series, War of the Worlds, The Littlest Hobo, and Swiss Family Robinson (note the Chris Wiggins motif) demonstrate a broad audience stateside that liked our stuff – spacey, gory, weird, saccharine, and cheesy, respectively.

And one last point: Mike Myers did use the Definition game show theme in his Austin Powers triptych, but the theme was based on Quincy Jones’ evil “Soul Bossa Nova,” which just keeps going and going and going and going and going until the mixer turned the recording knob to FADEOUT.

And then it remained buried in your brain forever.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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