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One of the budget-cutting devices the CBC has announced is that they’re cutting the episode orders of many of their shows: The Border, Being Erica, Little Mosque on the Prairie and This Hour Has 22 Minutes will have fewer episodes.

Bill Brioux understandably thinks this will hurt the CBC more than it helps:

The Border has had two 13 episode seasons so far. Cutting it back to, say, nine or 10 cuts a month out of an already short run. Thirteen is already nine less than most hour long TV dramas on U.S. networks. Do you start late and give other shows a chance to steal away viewers? Shorter runs also impact DVD packages, foreign sales and on-line extensions…
TV is all about keeping the lights on. You can’t do anything without the content.

I guess there’s precedent for a show being given a shortened episode order as a condition for being allowed to come back for another season, but normally networks implement budget cuts by cutting down on production costs, particularly cast members. (As mentioned before, when you see a show downsize its cast, it’s often because the network demanded a lower per-episode cost.) And there’s a reason for that: it’s not good for networks to have fewer episodes. If you have fewer new episodes to run, you have to find something to run in the place of the missing episodes, meaning either reruns, or some other show that probably doesn’t do as well. Neither of those things will make as much money as a first-run episode.

Of course, the reasons for this decision may be legitimate ones that outsiders can’t understand, but from an outsider perspective, it does look like this could be a real blow to some of the CBC’s shows. There’s a reason you haven’t seen the American networks change the title of 24 to 21 and make it the story of 87% of Jack Bauer’s day.


 

More About the CBC

  1. Immediate, wholesale privatization would be preferable, of course, but I’ll take death-by-a-thousand-cuts in the alternative, I suppose.

  2. It is a puzzling way to cut costs though I wouldn’t pretend to understand all the factors. But it does make it seem like their homegrown Canadian shows are not making much ad revenue at all, otherwise why cut the episode numbers? And how expensive can 22 Minutes be? That seems like the kind of show you’d want more of as a utility player in bad financial times. I’m not one for conspiracy theories but it’s crossed my mind that this might be a scary game of chicken in the bid to get support for more funding. Or I’m just too dumb to make the finances of it make any sense at all without assuming none of their homegrown shows generate revenue.

  3. First of all, because these rabid Albertanauts must be using bots now…every poll about the CBC shows a huge majority in support of it, everywhere but Alberta. Much love to the mouth-breathing dittoheads on the net, but you’re in the minority on this, you anonymous, tinyminded little trollkin.

    Second, this is one of those things where it looks different inside and out. I’m not going to defend the fact that there’s bureaucratic or management heavy waste that needs to be excised at CBC, but these shows aren’t made by CBC. They’re made by production companies.

    And the reason why a general cutting of costs rather than reducing episode order won’t work is because these shows are all at the line already. For the dramas, anything in the range of 1.4 to 1.8 million an ep is trying to compete onscreen with U.S. dramas budgeted at twice that. And that’s where you have to be with the look.

    On THE BORDER, we tried to do several 7 day eps last year and could never make it work, because of the type of show it was: some action, with lots of photo and video inserts, things on monitors, etc…all that had to be shot. And with the cutting style demanding a certain pace, dictating length of scenes etc. There’s a minimum below which you cannot go.

    You want an example of how close it gets? The wardrobe department told us we were casting too many men over six feet tall. Six feet plus means extra cost for wardrobe, which throws that budget out of wack. That’s how much the pennies are being stretched.

    You can adjust a show in development, or not greenlight a show that might be too expensive, but once you’re up and running you’re really either stuck, or you would have to pull a Cannell — which you’ve written about before — where you blow the wad on a flashy pilot and then stay inside for the next twelve eps. But that’s not going to work either, because audiences are wiser now and there’s more choices. They’ll tune out.

    So it’s a rock and a hard place time.

    I don’t know about 22, that’s a different budget scale — but think about it, that’s not an easy show to put together either — you have the logistics of a live to tape with studio audience, which means a once a week studio crew, you have field production costs, etc. Do you do less field pieces? Well, then what does that do to the balance in the show?

    The scale of economics is just different for Canadian shows. There’s a shoestring. And the shoestring is rented. Little cuts and tucks won’t get you there. You’re already doing all that. That’s the reality.

    • I think Denis illustrates a very good point … while people moan about the Big Bad Tax-Money Gobbling CBC, they don’t realize that independent contractors … including people freelancing news in small communities… are affected as well. As the CBC contracts, we’re loosing the idea that the CBC is a reflection of our country and communities. I live in a mid-size city of 100,000 people — more people have been tuning to CBC Radio (especially) in the last 10 years as private radio, tv and newspaper disappears. Will the CBC abandon small communities too … soon the national broadcaster will only reflect the voices of people living in large markets.

  4. That makes sense except it still implies that these shows, despite decent ratings, are not generating revenue. So what IS making money for the CBC? What do they have, or what can they make/buy that’s cheaper than all their existing dramas and comedies to fill up the slashed schedule? Do reruns make enough to keep the lights on?

    It’s early days so obviously they haven’t presented a real plan, but you gotta hope they HAVE a plan. It’s just not apparent from all this. What the hell is CBC supposed to do if they can’t generate revenue even with their successful shows, and haven’t been given the budget or mandate to ignore ratings success? Call me an Albertan – it’s true – but this budget crisis seems like the natural result not just of the current economic situation but of never answering the question of what the CBC mandate is. Right now, it seems to be failing at both the commercial and the “cultural good” sides of the equation, and no wonder.

  5. I don’t know the economics of how much revenue advertising generates. if you look at the spots in these shows, they’re national brands and stuff, so it’s not like they’re down to pitching the shamwow.

    But the plan, such as it is, and the solution, such as it is — is politically unpalatable. There have been two or three successive reports that have all said the same thing: the CBC is woefully underfunded for what it’s asked to do, and the way in which it’s funded — year to year rather than a multi-year appropriation, makes strategic planning and anything other than short term reactive responses impossible.

    This is not actually terribly complicated. It’s just that the people running the CBC are getting flack for not solving a problem that they do not have the power to solve. You could drive a truck through the CBC’s mandate. Another 900 million dollars and maybe you could do what we ask the CBC to do. But giving them more money’s a non starter. And nobody has the political stones to go in there and say, “Okay, what kind of CBC can we have for this kind of money…and what would the ability to actually plan for capital,infrastructure, and operating costs three or four years out do for us?

    So instead, everybody fights. Everybody stands up and beats their chests and defines the CBC the way they want to define it, and screams at any other group defining it a different way. And really, the management’s hands are tied. They don’t have the power to make big bold choices. Even now — why’s this thing going to be so painful? Because both the asset sale, and the voluntary retirement plan, has to be approved. Even the people making the decisions aren’t really the masters of their fates.

    it’s terribly depressing and it makes my head hurt.

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