If you've got $200-$400 million lying around, you could snag yourself a media company. You have to move quick, though, because Craig Media is on the auction block right now, and it could go at any second (like between writing this and the time of publication). Never thought about venturing into this market before? Please. Just take a look at the unequivocal disaster that is Craig's Toronto 1. I figure anybody can do a better job of running a TV station.
Two years ago Craig Media, which also owns the A-Channel in Manitoba, Edmonton and Calgary and some other stuff, managed to land a coveted broadcast licence in T.O. It trumpeted its promise to sink $15 million over seven years into Canadian productions by independent producers based in Ontario.
Wow! That's like - nothing. Well, not quite. It was enough to produce some serious Canadian schlock and smother it with American cheese. The Canadian programming includes The Toronto Show, a talent show featuring boring artists and weird Solid Gold-style dancers in streetwear scattered about the warehouse studio.
During Canadian Music Week, I tuned in to discover the program had become an infomercial for Sass Jordan. The local songstress was hosting with her "bus driver" sidekick (some guy in a bad hat). She asked him questions like "Who won the Juno for most promising female vocalist in 1989?" Well, gee! It was you, Sass! It was also 15 years ago. I won a blue ribbon for horseback riding when I was 10, but you don't hear me going on about it.
Toronto Tonight is another mess. What is this show? The news? A magazine show? A quirky, edgy Citytv-style program for young people complete with vox pops on such subject matter as practical jokes? Because that's what I'm interested in when watching the news, what some incoherent kid has to say about whoopee cushions.
I feel terrible for anchors Ben Chin (who left CBC to work at Toronto 1) and Sarika Sehgal, who are obviously intelligent professionals stuck in a quagmire of crappy production.
Last Call doesn't actually take place at last call but at 11 pm and is a bunch of people sitting around some bar drinking beer (yeah, we get it, you're drinking beer - very progressive and dangerous) and shooting the shit about topics like breast implants and hair transplants.
All this (and more, like fishing and decorating shows) is ensconced in a wash of American programming like MTV Sorority, MTV Fraternity, MTV Real World, MTV Undressed, etc. Prime-time viewing is usually a second-rate film you can rent for two bucks. (Ooh! The Last Action Hero! Cancel that dinner date!)
Since the company went up for sale, some have wondered if there was any "licence trafficking" going on here. Philippe Tousignant of the CRTC tells me the term has no real definition but is generally used "when a very brief period of time has elapsed between the acquisition of a licence and (the sale of a station)," since the licence is, of course, free. They are not handed out like Halloween candy and are very difficult to get. And Toronto is a wealthy city replete with advertising possibilities, which means that one could, hypothetically, obtain a broadcast licence, make a token go of it, then sell your company for hundreds of millions. Hypothetically.
You do have to wonder what the company thought it was doing. After all, can anyone really be as dumb as their programmers seem to be?
Did Craig Media really just fall off the turnip truck and underestimate the sophisticated tastes of Toronto audiences as opposed to those of Calgary and Manitoba? We'll never know for sure. What we do know is that there's already enough crap on the Canadian airwaves.
It's possible that Toronto 1 may not be part of Craig's sale package, though I'm willing to bet all 87 cents in my bank account that it will wind up being sold. If I'm right, there will be new owners and endless possibilities. How about an Eastenders-style soap set in Regent Park? Or a punk rock absurdist comedy à la The Young Ones? Everyone knows Canadian actors will work for an Equity credit. Maybe the morning show could be hungover guys sitting around in their underpants.
I just hope whoever scoops up the station has a bit of vision and we don't wind up with more Everyone Loves Raymond reruns. Whatever they do, they certainly can't possibly do a worse job.