Oh, no. Cutbacks at TVO. Was it some mad lawn mower still running from the Harris era that finally got to the book patch and, buzzzzz, cut down the Genie Award-winning literary show Imprint? Hard to say.
Station honchos certainly don't blame a lack of cash for the demise of the 16-year-old writers' talkfest. Sure, ratings are down somewhat this year, but could that have something to do with the show's new slot opposite Jon Stewart's Daily Show? When I ask TVO head Isabelle Bassett, a self-described bookophile, she paints the cancellation as a kind of efficiency shuffle and points out that book coverage has now spread to other shows on the station, like Allan Gregg's In Conversation With, Big Ideas and More To Life.
Yet when I ask Gregg, he estimates that only 5 per cent of his shows are dedicated to literary writers. Big Ideas has no discussion of writing craft, no fiction, no reviews and certainly no poetry. Same for More To Life.
Strange, all this, considering that book people are passionate about their substance of choice. They tend to put their money where their minds are. According to a Statistics Canada survey, twice as much cash is spent on books in this country as is lavished on live sports events - $1.13 billion a year, making literary pursuits the third- largest cultural industry in the nation.
And if you doubt that the electronic media can impel a book purchase, consider this: winning the CBC's Canada Reads contest in 2002 resulted in 100,000 extra sales of Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin Of A Lion.
Why, then, is TVO, the province's education station, so radically shrinking its coverage of the great educator, literature, leaving dedicated TVO book addicts with no appointment viewing? It almost feels as though someone has put literary coverage in the washer and left it too long on spin.
The answer may lie in something else Bassett tells me. The show, she says, "had its life. Now we've got to go on looking at a new audience, younger people maybe.'
Ah, so that's it. The chief of our provincially funded broadcaster wants to cook up a zingier format. More hip. More youthful. She wants more bread and circuses? Here are a few ideas to help Bassett repopulate her airwaves:
CANADIAN IDLE: This sure hit follows the activities of literary grant recipients, namely lazing around at cafés. At the end of their tenure, all such writers will be tracked down and harangued by factory workers and nurses, people who actually work for their money.
AUTHOR BEAUTY CONTESTS: I add this suggestion despite a strong sense of shame that such a superficial idea has even occurred to me. I'm compelled to say that I'd refuse to take part in any such contest, nor would I consent to write any reviews or TV Guide synopses. A book, after all, should be judged by its cover, not the author's face.
THROWING THE BOOK: Our detectives will uncover connections between authors and their reviewers. Whenever bosom buddies, hirelings, kiss-ups, angle-danglers or power-sucks are found to have puffed their best friends, they'll be confronted, and once a week we'll throw the book at them.
BOOK FIGHT CLUB: Just like Fight Club, only combatants will batter one another with durable hardcover copies of Canlit classics. This, however, will be a no-conversation show. The rule is, no one talks about Book Fight Club.
EXPLOSIVE ENDINGS: This performance-oriented show answers the burning question, What will win - friction or fiction? While an author reads her work, a small incendiary device hidden at the back of the book will rub two tiny sticks together till the book ignites or the story ends. Has the name Hot Type been taken?
TITLE TO BE ANNOUNCED: Competing authors will hurl their books at distant soft clay tablets. When they're removed, the book that's made the deepest impression in the clay will win the prestigious Hurler Award. The only problem with this show is that its only suitable title is already taken by the excellent show that was just cancelled - Imprint.