U.S. frontier saga replaces Trudeau miniseries
TORONTO (CP) – Pierre Trudeau was supposed to be doing battle with Maurice Duplessis again this weekend.
Instead, CBC-TV will be telling the story of the settling of the American frontier. Such is the fate of Canadian content in this, Week Six of the public broadcaster’s lockout of its 5,500 unionized employees. A fall slate heavy with Canadian programming has been shelved by the network until the labour dispute ends and there’s time to properly promote the fare.
Trudeau: The Making of a Maverick – a two-part prequel to the earlier CBC miniseries – delves into the former prime minister’s earlier political life in Quebec and had been scheduled to air this Sunday and Monday night.
But instead, the CBC has imported as substitute filler Into the West, a sprawling, 12-hour multi-generational tale about the opening of the American wilderness and the impact it had on the Plains Indians. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Ted Turner, the series was filmed partially in Alberta.
“It’s a replacement schedule,” concedes CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald. “It’s not going to replace a lot of the things we had planned, like the Trudeau miniseries. I think that just underlines the reason why we need to get back to doing what we normally do.”
The replacement schedule for September and October is also top-heavy with documentaries that are pinch-hitting for the dramas and comedy viewers had been promised. Sex Slaves, a searing documentary on the international flesh trade, recently drew 479,000 viewers – a figure MacDonald says was “above expectations,” given the situation.
The main sticking point at the contract negotiations remains management’s wish to have more flexibility in the hiring of casual and contract workers, something the Canadian Media Guild sees as a blatant threat to job security. An agreement was reported Wednesday on language pertaining to the issue of contracting out, although the union stresses the contracting out of services, while important, is not the same thing as hiring employees on contract.
That agreement leaves five more key issues unsettled.
And whether Wednesday’s declaration of support by the CBC board of directors for president and CEO Robert Rabinovitch’s lockout strategy will hasten or prolong a settlement remains to be seen.
Public sentiment, meanwhile, seems divided between those who dearly miss their daily CBC fix and those who insist the network is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, and that private broadcasters could fill the bill.
Regina writer Sandra Birdsell, for example, says she really misses her CBC and that it’s part of her life.
“I can’t imagine not being able to listen to CBC Radio,” she said, calling the public broadcaster “our lifeline to the rest of this country.”
Hundreds of people packed a Toronto concert hall Wednesday night for a free benefit show and hear speaker after speaker deliver the same message: bring back the CBC.
Speeches and performances by the likes of former prime minister Joe Clark and writers Alice Munro and June Callwood urged an immediate end to the lockout.
“We need (the CBC) and we are gathered here because the custodians of that institution – on both sides of the dispute – may need reminding how much damage is being done,” Clark said.
In Sydney, N.S., locked-out employees were joined by a crowd of enthusiastic supporters at a downtown march and rally.
Listeners, politicians and many of the 25 local CBC Cape Breton radio and television employees marched along the city’s main street where the crowd swelled to about 100.
When Parliament resumes next week, Conservative MP Bev Oda wants the CBC called before the heritage committee to explain the lockout’s impact on programming and budgets. She says she understands and sympathizes with both sides.
“It’s not an easy thing to go through,” Oda says. “There are impacts not only on the employees but their families, et cetera. But the faster we can get this over, the sooner we can get on with the business at hand.”
The locked-out workers have proven to be masters at public relations with their podcasts, newsletters, websites, rallies and concerts.
But MacDonald says such pro-union stunts just serve to distract from the issue.
“And the more distractions, the more attention paid to those kind of things, you run the risk of only prolonging the time it takes to get a deal.”
Meanwhile, radio personality Shelagh Rogers and a couple of producers have been traversing the country in a minivan in a project called Caravan Unlocked, in which Rogers has been meeting both the public and CBC pickets. She arrived in Toronto this week fresh from crossing the Prairies and insists the spirit is “pretty darn good” among employees.
“But patience is wearing thin and of course the longer this goes on, there’s more anger and more of a sour feeling,” says Rogers, who concedes that even if both sides kiss and make up now it will be a long time before it’s business as usual.
“I think locking the people out was a brutal thing to do,” she says. “It was a shock. It felt like being dumped by your first boyfriend. You never forget.”
U.S. frontier saga replaces Trudeau miniseries