D’oh! CBC Sacrifices The Simpsons

Ay, carumba! Ditching The Simpsons, part of CBC’s slash and burn plan (as reported here in Variety), is a bad idea, man. As one former Canadian network executive (there’s been a lot of them lately) said to me recently, “The Simpsons have saved more Canadian networks than probably any other show.”
Just this past Wednesday, The Simpsons drew 331,000 viewers at 5 p.m. on CBC, 123,000 in the 25-54 demo (BBM NMR overnight estimates). Sophie (which definitely has been canceled) should be that lucky in prime time.
For the better part of a decade on The Comedy Network, The Simpsons has been the anchor for all to follow, boosting CanCon like The Jon Dore Television Show. It has also been a steady ratings magnet on Global, where it pulled 1,141,000 viewers last Sunday night, 598,000 in the 25-54 demo. Not bad for a 19-year-old show.
Like Jeopardy! (the only other CBC show my 16-year-old son watches) it is an evergreen that never gets old and always pulls in ad revenue. Plus it employs a few Canadian writers, including Tim Long of Exeter, Ont., and Joel Cohen of Calgary, who sneak in their share of Canadian jabs.
CBC is also unloading Martha Stewart, who drew only 50,000 in daytime Wednesday. That’s a good thing.
Scrapping an import like The Simpsons may sound like a good P.R. move and the right thing to do in this economic tailspin but in the long run it won’t help the network attract the revenue it needs to dig itself out of this hole.

5 Responses to “D’oh! CBC Sacrifices The Simpsons”

  1. This is a surprising post, Bill.

    I have to ask – what do YOU think the CBC is for?
    Why do we have it?

    Reply
  2. I’ve never been confused about this. The CBC is in the TV business. It is a tough, highly competitive business. The CBC has no choice but to play by the TV business rules. Wave the flag all you want, but the goal has to be getting Canadian stories out there but also getting those TV shows in front of as many Canadians (as well as, eventually, to people in other countries) as possible. That is the goal of every broadcaster, and CBC is a broadcaster, not a narrowcaster.
    If The Simpsons, which has drawn a large and loyal audience on several Canadian networks over the past 20 years, including CBC, can help bring viewers to Canadian-produced content that follows, it is a plus for people who watch, make and admire Canadian content. If a kid from tiny Exeter, Ont., or Calgary can land a writing and producing gig on The Simpsons–one of the most admired TV shows of all time–that will surely inspire other Canadians to write and produce TV shows. This idea that CBC is some sacred all-Canadian content machine ignores the realities of the business of television. Canadian viewers who have 24-hour access to everything from The Sopranos to Osbournes Reloaded have a window on all the brilliance and excess of American television. Viewer expectations are high, and producing competing CanCon at anywhere near that level costs money. The Simpsons and Jeopardy help lift audience levels and bring revenue to the broadcaster and do it in off-prime time. They are two great shows Canadians love.
    Back in the “golden era” when CBC was a dominant player in the Canadian TV scene, it carried plenty of American fare. In 1977, when the CBC slogan was “Bringing Canadians Together,” it broadcast The Waltons, The Marty Tyler Moore Show and All in The Family. Over the years, it has carried virtualy every iconic American TV series: I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, Ed Sullivan, Star Trek, Newhart, M*A*S*H, Barney Miller, Chico and the Man, The Partridge Family, Happy Days, The Carol Burnett Show, WKRP in Cinncinatti, Welcome Back Kotter and The Wonder Years. Somehow Canada survived and millions of Canadians also embraced Front Page Challenge, Wayne & Shuster, King of Kensington, Street Legal, Degrassi, Road To Avonlea, Kids in the Hall, Air Farce and beyond.
    Finally, we want our best shows to be embraced outside our borders. In this digital, Internet age, TV is more international than ever. Expecting our public broadcaster not to bring us a few imported nuggets is a narrow view not grounded in financial or any other kind of reality. CBC should champion Canadians first but not be so imprisoned by ideology that it fails to recognize that talent flows both ways across the border and that should be celebrated, too.
    So I know what the CBC is not for–it is not for an elite cadre of culture vultures, or people so insecure about their cultural identity that they have a cow over The Simpsons. (Brits don’t flip, for example, that Bart is on BBC.) It is for Canadian TV viewers. And it can not not be in the business of television.
    Now–could it be more competitive and provide more Canadian content if there was more accountability of that annual billion-plus appropriation? Is the scandal here that there are so many middle and upper managers spending Lord knows what on what at the public broadcaster? That would be yes and yes.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for taking the time to compose such a thorough response, Bill.
    Of course I posted it to the comments section of Tea Makers.

    Reply
  4. Here’s what I don’t understand:

    Canadians can easily get U.S. channels already. In some cases, you don’t even need cable — you can pull signal directly out of the air from Detroit or Vermont or wherever. So if a Canadian national network isn’t for Canadian content, what’s it for?

    Why should taxpayer dollars be used to buy an American show that Canadians can already see six times a day on other channels?

    Reply
  5. P.S. I’m an American living in Canada, and I actually LIKE Canadian shows. I’d be sad to see The Border get axed and replaced with reruns of House.

    Reply

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