Monthly Archives: October 2008

Cash Cab and other Discovery Channel cash grabs

Back in January, I worried with my infinite wisdom about an application to the CRTC by Discovery Channel Canada to allow game shows as part of its programming categories. I worried that this might be an excuse to import a U.S. British trivia show called Cash Cab into Canada, stretch the limits of the channel’s mandate and suck up some easy cash.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. The CRTC approved the change in its license, and Discovery announced that it was carbon-copying importing the format for use here. I still held out hope that the format would be predominantly educational in nature, and/or that the subjects of the questions would deal with science, technology and nature.

After watching a couple of episodes (you can see complete episodes online here), it seems my original fears were more than justified.

For those who haven’t seen it (or don’t want to see it), Cash Cab’s format has a guy driving a van through the streets of Toronto, and then surprising people who come aboard by telling them they’re on a TV game show they’ve never heard of (a part that’s either hilarious or awkward depending on your tastes). He then asks them questions, gives money for each right answer, and when they get three wrong they’re booted out of the cab.

It’s nothing more than a cookie-cutter trivia show with a lame hook. Some of the questions are certainly scientific in nature, but others relate to sports, business, history and even popular culture. It’s hard to distinguish these questions from the ones on every other trivia-based game show out there.

Discovery’s reputation: Destroyed in Seconds

For how bad Cash Cab is, Destroyed in Seconds is worse. This embarrassment of programming is essentially a carbon copy of World’s Most Amazing Videos (which currently airs on Spike TV), in all the bad ways imaginable. Here’s how both shows work:

  1. Find a video that shows some catastrophic event: a plane crash, a bridge collapse, an explosion. Usually this will be amateur video of poor quality, but that’s ok. In fact, it adds to the realness of the show.
  2. Ensure that nobody dies in the event that took place. You wouldn’t want to be accused of profiting off someone’s death, after all. You want miraculous escapes and/or recoveries here. Exceptions can be made if the video is really good and you don’t actually see any bodies.
  3. Show the video as a man with an exaggerated voice explains the situation (usually something along the lines of “it looks like an ordinary day, but in a few seconds their lives will be in mortal danger”), until the surprising, terrifying event happens.
  4. Have the narrator explain, as briefly as possible, what caused the catastrophy, as well as the aftermath.
  5. Show the moment of catastrophe over and over and over again. Slow-motion, zoomed-in, any different way you can think of. Have the narrator point out how the people on the video were “inches from certain death” or “moments from disaster” or “lucky to escape with only minor injuries”
  6. Move on to the next clip.

There is no educational value to this show whatsoever. You learn nothing other than what an explosion looks like.

Compare that with a show like Mayday (my personal favourite) which re-enacts airplane accidents (with cool computer graphics) and then explains very seriously and clearly what caused them and what has been done to ensure they don’t happen again. Or Mythbusters, which tests sometimes silly hypotheses, but does them in (mostly) scientific ways. Both have the idea of teaching viewers as the main focus, and entertainment is a convenient medium to do so.

For Cash Cab and Destroyed in Seconds, the main focus is to entertain. That’s not a bad thing, and these shows have their homes (Cash Cab on the Game Show Network, Destroyed in Seconds on Spike TV), but neither belong on the Discovery Channel.

If we’re going to continue with the idea that specialty channels should have protected formats (and you’re well within your rights to question whether that’s necessary anymore), we should honour those formats, not try to find ways around them to pad the bottom line.

Strike ends at Winnipeg Free Press

Workers at the Winnipeg Free Press, who have been on strike for two weeks now, last night voted to approve a new contract presented by their employer. Details are a bit sketchy, but the wage increases are 2% a year, with 1.5% during the final 9 months. The employer apparently also took the merging of newsroom jobs off the table.

The union executive didn’t recommend the contract to its members (it didn’t recommend against it either, saying it needed a mandate from members before it could go further). But the union tells CP it thinks it got a fair deal. (More coverage from Reuters and UPI)

The website has been shut down, and the Free Press will be published again starting tomorrow.

Welcome back.

CJAD’s State of the Station this Thursday

CJAD Program Director Mike Bendixen is taking the mic at CJAD Radio 800 on Thursday at 10am to talk directly to listeners.

Here’s the email announcing the program:

CJAD’s program director takes your calls, answers your questions

I strongly feel that CJAD 800 is your radio station and I know that you have questions about how it’s run, so for the first time ever I’ll be taking your calls. We’re calling it the “State of the Station” and it will happen this Thursday October 30th from 10:00am to 11:00am on the Tommy Schnurmacher Show. A full hour for you to call in and get answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Oh, and it’s also a chance for you to let me know what you like and love about the station!

So, make sure to book this special hour on your calendars and make sure to tell friends and family. And don’t forget that you can listen on-line at

Expect old anglos grumbling to the radio station filled with grumbling old anglos that they’re not grumbling enough about being old and anglo.

(Plural nouns) matter

From Readers Matter (overamplified and distorted sound warning):

A spoof on the Gazette’s “words matter” TV campaign (not the first one either), to get people to pay attention to what’s going on in contract negotiations and sign a petition (now with over 5,000 signatures) put forward by the union. A Facebook cause has also been setup with 343 members.

UPDATE: Another video has just been posted.

Meanwhile, CTV News Montreal covered the Gazette union situation last night during its noon-hour and evening newscasts (Windows Media video). It includes an interview with Bernard Asselin, the VP of marketing and reader sales, who says that pagination is a “technical” job, and so it shouldn’t matter if it’s centralized in another city. He also says that “our goal, which is the same as the union’s, by the way, is to protect local content.”

Can you bribe with charity?

The Globe and Mail, never one to hesitate to point out even the slightest lapse on the part of Canwest-owned media properties, has a story about Global Television giving $5,000 to charity in exchange for an interview.

Normally, (respectable) journalists refuse to pay for interviews because doing so would encourage people to make up stories for money.

In this case, though, the money went to a charity, and not to the person being interviewed.

Does that make it ethical? I don’t know. But I’m sure this will become a discussion at a journalism class somewhere.

Goodbye Free Press

A year after a former publisher for an Irving-owned New Brunswick weekly left and started a competing paper, that paper (the Carleton Free Press) has been forced to close down. Might have something to do with the Irving-owned Woodstock Bugle-Observer slashing subscription and advertising costs to run the CFP out of business.

We’ll see if those rates go back up now that the Free Press is no more.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, the Irving company Brunswick News, which owns the Bugle-Observer and every other newspaper weekly in New Brunswick, denies the charges, says it wasn’t using predatory pricing and that the Free Press’s financial problems had to do with the sagging dollar. Pandering politicians have called for inquiries into Irving’s newspaper monopoly.

Happy Birthday, National Post (sorry about your Toronto magazine)

National Post Page 1: October 27, 1998

National Post Page 1: October 27, 1998

If there’s anything the National Post can cover brilliantly, it’s the National Post. Yesterday, Canada’s conservative voice turned 10 years old, and they’re going all out with a special anniversary section on their website talking about how awesome they are.

Everyone and their cat is producing first-person retrospectives of how new and cool the Post was back in its time. Kirk Lapointe, who worked at the Post during its launch, also chimes in.

Among the other anniversary features:

The Post, naturally, also has a bunch of story ideas of questionable journalistic value or relevance, like talking to 10-year-olds about what it’s like being 10 or a story about how Google’s also 10 (they’re like the Post, only not evil).

My take

Love it or hate it, journalists like myself always welcome new voices, and the Post is no exception. It was a bold new paper that took off with a bang. It had big design ideas, it gave a focus to opinion, often promoting such pieces to its front page, and it took some risks.

My biggest problem with the Post has always been its typefaces. Awful, awful fonts. Nothing annoys me about newspaper design more than bad fonts (except, perhaps, long blocks of all-caps text).

As an employee of another Canwest newspaper, whose profits are used in part to keep the money-losing Post afloat, there’s perhaps a bit of resentment. But, like the Ferengi, it’s cute and I’d hate to see it die.

Goodbye, Toronto

The news isn’t all cheery though. Thanks to budget cuts (the Post is widely known as a financial black hole for Canwest), the paper has been forced to cut its Toronto magazine section. Some content will be incorporated back into the rest of the paper, but that still means cuts. (Insert joke here about the rest of the paper becoming the Toronto section of the National Post.)

Gazette honours Con U J-school kids

Earlier this week, The Gazette distributed awards in the form of bursaries to some Concordia University students who, one would assume, are worthy of their awards through some form of awesomeness.

I was surprised to recognize two of the names, since I’ve been pretty detached from my alma mater for three years now (long enough for everyone who was there to have gotten a degree and moved on).

A side note to these journalists-to-be: Set up blogs or other forms of personal websites so when people like me talk about you, we have something to link to. Remember, you are whatever Google says you are.

The winners are as follows:

Congrats. Now go back to contemplating how this whole industry is on a downward spiral of doom.

Obama is our supreme leader

Well here’s a shocker: The New York Times endorses Barack Obama. Really? The paper that hasn’t endorsed a Republican for president since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 is lining up behind Obama?

At least it provides a history of its endorsements for us news junkies to feast on. Some of its favoured candidates have included losers Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry, as well as Republican Thomas Dewey, who sadly did not defeat Truman.

Well, at least Ron Howard’s endorsement is cute. Will the Fonz vote put Obama over the top?

Google Transit includes all Montreal transit networks

An eagle-eyed netizen tells me that Google’s Transit service, which allows you to choose “by public transit” when finding directions via Google Maps, has been updated to include route and departure information for the STM’s buses and metro.

For an example, here’s a route by public transit from Fairview Pointe-Claire (where all the anglos hang out, didn’t you know?) to The Gazette’s offices on Ste. Catherine St. downtown. (Et, bien sûr, c’est aussi disponible en français)

The service, which is also available in Vancouver, Ottawa, Fredericton and dozens of U.S. cities, and had previously included AMT train service (which was much easier since there are much fewer departures to put in a database), is effectively a competitor to the STM’s existing Tous Azimuts service, which although revolutionary when it was introduced is now over a decade old and doesn’t meet today’s usability standards. Google Transit is slicker, faster and easier to use.

Like Tous Azimuts, Google Transit suggests alternate routes, says how long they’ll take, and provides the time of departure and arrival of each bus or metro.

This is no simple undertaking. Google requires the transit agency to provide a database of all departures for all routes in a specific format. We’re talking thousands and thousands of departures here.

This might also make other third-party STM trip-planning services obsolete, as Google Maps becomes a must-have application for cellphones.

UPDATE: I’m told by a helpful reader below that this also includes off-island transit networks like the Société de transport de Laval and the AMT-administered CITs, but not the south shore RTL network yet RTL data just went live so it now includes all the networks.

UPDATE (Oct. 29): Google, the STM, STL, RTL and AMT are making the joint announcement today, 10am at Google’s Montreal HQ (1253 McGill College) (Thanks Jean). Google Transit has already been updated to list all the transit agencies in the area (thanks Dumitru).

Expect media coverage of the new service during the evening news. Some technology media are already covering it. UPDATE: more pieces from The Gazette, Branchez-Vous and RadCan. And Tristan Péloquin has some background about this project.

Google has also setup a special page with an introductory video in French and English, thought the English version has a British narrator and uses New York as an example.

CTV to expand weekend newscasts

Bill Brownstein reports in The Gazette that CTV Montreal is expanding its weekend evening newscasts from 30 minutes to 60.

That sounds pretty cool except when you consider that, in exchange, they’re cutting two weekend shows: Entertainment Spotlight and SportsNight 360.

I won’t shed too many tears over Mosé Persico and Entertainment Spotlight (ok, maybe one for Natasha Hall having to find new work – again). But the cancellation of CTV’s weekend sports show and the final indignified push out the door for Ron Reusch might ruffle some feathers (UPDATE: A Facebook group has already started).

To make up for the cancelled shows, the weekend newscasts will have expanded entertainment and sports-related features. The changes will take place in January.