Elementary, my dear Moore


Laundry day is, for me, a wonderful excuse to spend the better part of an evening watching television. When my hamper filled up last Thursday, I plunked down in front of my television and cruised through the categories on Netflix until I landed on Sherlock, the present-day adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective novels that the BBC began airing in 2010.

After blazing through all three ninety-minute episodes in two days, I can say confidently that I love it. And I’m not alone. Sherlock has been a resounding critical and commercial success. The first season’s three 90-minute episodes – and their pedigree, being produced by Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat and starring Martin Freeman – generated not only considerable buzz in the UK. but enough excitement on this side of the pond that its debut episode, “A Study in Pink,” drew a record 6.5 million viewers to PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre, an especially impressive accomplishment considering the show’s 9 p.m. Sunday timeslot. Its second season premiere drew in 8.8 million viewers in the UK.

From Sherlock and Doctor Who to Top Gear and Planet Earth, BBC programming has made its way into increasingly enthusiastic living rooms in North America over the last decade. American television producers and writers, meanwhile, continue to mine BBC series like The Office and Being Human for a wide range of programming meant for a variety of audiences.

The BBC is an example of a public broadcaster being run properly. But in Canada, instead of trying to figure out how to emulate the BBC’s success, the minister responsible for the CBC is crowing to Postmedia about the need for restructuring and “efficiency.”

Compare the BBC to the CBC even briefly and Heritage Minister James Moore’s position is revealed as ludicrous. The budget of BBC News alone is roughly half that of the entire $1.1 billion budget of the CBC, and it not only services the 60 million residents of the British Isles, but is also a global news provider with over 40 international bureaus worldwide. Despite only having double Canada’s population, the Brits fund their public broadcaster to the tune of about £4.5 billion, or roughly $6.6 billion. To say the CBC is working on a relative shoestring is insulting to shoemakers worldwide.

That Moore and the Conservative government he represents want the CBC gutted is no secret; the broadcaster’s public budget is currently the lowest it’s been in a decade. Were they actually interested in efficiency, they’d be considering modeling the CBC more closely after its British counterpart, which underwent major restructuring in the middle of the last decade, trimmed a large number of jobs, dropped its budget down, and still outstrips the CBC both in terms of size and in terms of financial support, all while churning out content streamed and purchased on DVD by millions of people worldwide.

The BBC still isn’t perfect, and criticism comes even from within the broadcaster’s own ranks – but that criticism is paired with agile defenses of the broadcaster. Humourist, columnist, and BBC personality Charlie Brooker, for example, pointed out in an October column in the Guardian that the BBC’s lavish and often incomprehensible commercials for its programs are wastes of money and resources. Yet in the same column, he pointed out that this is a waste not simply because it’s public money into a hole, but because it’s public money that could be going toward creating more and better programs.

Brooker isn’t afraid to call his government’s desire to make cuts to his nation’s public broadcaster a stupid position, and neither should those employed by our public broadcaster. Neither should those of us with even a remote investment in Canadian culture. A well-funded CBC could worry less about pandering to advertisers; instead, it could both take the risks of the BBC and have the infrastructure to support even its riskiest programming globally. Meanwhile, Canadian broadcasters would have to actually innovate the way Britain’s ITV and Channel 4 have, instead of resting on the laurels of borderline-unexportable comfort fare like Corner Gas.

As the Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor pointed out last August, the future of the CBC is likely in focusing on building its audience online. But before forming an online audience, there has to be a willingness to invest in the content if we want to ensure that content’s success.

John Cameron

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