Yearning for local television

Last month, CBC television aired a half-hour special program called Secrets of Montreal.

The show, hosted by evening news anchor Debra Arbec, talked to some figures in the anglo Montreal cultural community about some of their cultural “secrets”. The guests include some pretty big local names, like comedian Sugar Sammy, filmmakers Jacob and Kevin Tierney, chef Chuck Hughes and musician Melissa Auf der Maur. They talk about restaurants, bars, urban spaces and other things they love about this city.

This, all in high definition (actual HD, not the fake HD we see on the newscasts). I actually can’t think of another program produced for a local audience by any of the three anglo broadcasters in this city that was done entirely in HD.

Secrets of Montreal host Debra Arbec

It’s not the greatest half hour of television ever (that soundtrack gets annoyingly repetitive after a while, for one, and some people have noted the Travel Travel-esque vibe), but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to see more of: local programming that isn’t confined to a newscast.

Even though Montreal has three local English-language television stations (four if you include the multiethnic CJNT/Metro 14), none of them air original local programming that isn’t either confined within the schedule blocks of their newscasts or done from their news sets. Not to take away from the quality of local news being produced by these stations, but there are some things we’d like to see that can’t be converted into a two-minute news package or six-minute sit-down interview.

Seeing this show was a breath of fresh air, a sign that maybe the CBC was starting to rediscover the idea that its programming should reflect not only the national culture but the local one as well. And I was hopeful that this was a sign the local stations were getting more control over their programming schedules and/or budgets, being able to work on special projects like this.

But I was disappointed somewhat when I discovered through Google searches that this idea didn’t come from CBC Montreal. “Cultural secrets” shows were produced across the country: Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver¬†and apparently other places as well. All were done to coincide with “Culture Days” and the CBC’s 75th anniversary. All followed roughly the same idea, and all aired Sept. 29th at 7:30pm, in the timeslot normally reserved for Jeopardy. (In fact, for Videotron illico users, the show was listed as an episode of Jeopardy, and remains labelled as such on my PVR. This may have resulted in many potential viewers missing the show.)

What bugged me about this national congruence was that it reminded me how much of what happens locally at the CBC is actually decided nationally, imposed on the regions in a cookie-cutter fashion.

It reminded me of Living [insert location here], the regional lifestyle show duplicated across the country that was cancelled during the big round of budget cuts in 2009. At least that was regular programming instead of a one-off show.

When I start giving more serious thought to proposals of radical changes at the CBC, this is one of the reasons why. The other stations are doing daily local newscasts (and, unlike CBC Montreal, they don’t take the weekends off). If this network is going to be funded mainly through government financing, shouldn’t it offer something different?

I’m aware of – and sympathetic to – the budget constraints faced by CBC and its Montreal television station. But English Montreal (and, for that matter, English Quebec) is a linguistic minority, and one would think the CBC would be a leader in giving this community a voice. Lately, it’s seemed more like an also-ran, which is particularly outrageous considering how little is done outside of news at CTV and Global.

Secrets of Montreal, directed by Vincent Scotti and Filippo Campo, and starring Debra Arbec, can be viewed in its entirety on the CBC website.

6 thoughts on “Yearning for local television

  1. Michael Black

    But “Living Montreal” was badly brought in, stuffed in the afternoon, nobody talked about it, and I don’t think they ran ads for it. It wasn’t bad, though of course it shared segments with other cities, so it couldn’t be too specific to Montreal. As we realized with the changeover to DTV, local tv stations no longer have enough control to put in announcements of local tv.

    But that was a slow reversal from when the CBC dictated how many years ago that there’d be no local tv, so Ci5tyBeat and the more activity oriented show with Patty Kim wre gone. That was a big deal and was due to budget cuts, and I bet due to “reorienting the CBC”.

    “Living Montreal” and the rest sort of live on in “Breeze” which is on about mid0day on Saturday or maybe Sunday, a half hour show with segments from across the country, the sorts of things that the Living series covered. That too doesn’t get promoted, I stumbled on it, and it disappears or moves around since I stumbled on it again and realized it had been missing.

    Then the CBC reversed itself, dropping the Living series, I think again for budget reasons. Living overlapped with the Gill Deacon Show era, it almost seemed like the cancellation of both were related, “let’s change direction…”.


  2. David Rose

    Let’s be honest, Canadian broadcasters are perfectly happy buying cheap American programming rather than producing Canadian programming, even sure-fire hits like Canadian Idol, which was the top-rated show in the country but still got cancelled by CTV.
    And CTV didn’t even have the guts or honesty to admit they cancelled the show – their official B.S. line was that Canadian Idol is “on hiatus”. What a crock!
    English Canadian broadcasters are callous and don’t care about our domestic culture, and certainly don’t care about regional programming.
    Again, I must stress that even if a Canadian show is poular it still won’t last long because it’s always cheaper to buy American.
    The CBC takes a lot of criticism, some of it justified, but it’s the only hope this country has of establishing a solid cultural base. You won’t get that fom CTV or Global!

    1. Tv Dude 2002

      If Canadian Idol had remained profitable for CTV it would still be on.

      I haven’t heard one person say they miss it either. It was pretty bad in my opinion.

  3. Vincent Scotti

    Like it or not I’m glad you took the time to tune in, watch and comment. It’s hard to turn a big ship like the CBC but if more people comment on our show and others on the CBC website, with a little luck we can make more, and make them better. MTL has a strong voice, it just needs a little boost.

    co-director of Secrets Of Montreal


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