Dear CBC…I’ve been thinking about you again.

March 9th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Dear CBC

Harsh words have been spoken since you announced plans to radically alter your programming strategy, including a significant reduction in classical music play. The requisite facegroup is already thriving, and people are talking smack about you. I wanted to let you know that I don’t think that cutting classical music is necessarily a bad thing, and that it’s not all your fault. Baby, we can still make this work.

Since even before the Chretien years, your budget has been hacked and slashed to bits. As taxpayers and voters, my friends and I are partly culpable here. More recently, we let Bev Oda and Josee Vernier (are they puppet cabinet ministers or are they just grossly incompetent?) bitch about your lack of accountability and relevance without coming to your defense. Bill C-10 is symptomatic of the Harper government’s unwillingness to engage the arts in good faith. I know you would be less inclined to throw around words like “ratings” if you didn’t have an unsympathetic government holding a gun to your head.

As others have pointed out, classical music is not the only provocative and sophisticated music thriving in Canada, and your programming should reflect this. In the Globe and Mail you argued that “only a tiny fraction – 0.8 per cent – of new Canadian songs get commercial radio play and that the Radio 2 changes will allow for much more Canadian music to be heard.” It really hurt me when you went on to name Joni Mitchell, Feist and Diana Krall as your new interests.

I think you are finding solutions to the wrong questions. You asked “How can we increase market share in the 31-49 group?”, and now are trying to fight the soft rock battle of the 401, which at best is a war of attrition. What you should have asked was, “What can we do better than anyone else that an iPod can’t?” That’s the biggest problem with the programming changes – I know you want me to listen, but Joni will always be better on my Touch.

Oh CBC – I just wish that instead of Feist, you would have said (Christine)Fellows. You’re the smart geeky kid, and you’re trying to be a cool preppy. You’ll never be hip as long as you need consultants to define the concept; by the time they write their report, it’s already so six months ago.

While acknowledging that change always meets opposition, Jennifer McGuire, executive director of radio, said that overall ratings haven’t dropped as significantly as anticipated, as some listeners tune out and new ones tune in.

My sneaking suspicion is that you’re not being completely honest with me. If you had something good going on, you’d be throwing it in my face. By the way, change doesn’t always meet opposition, and change isn’t always good. Nevertheless, I can read the writing – we’ll see each other now and then, but the thrill is gone. I should have seen it coming months ago – you don’t bring me flowers anymore…

BTW – don’t bother playing it for me – it’s already on my iPod.

(Link to a previous letter to the CBC in September 2007)

Toronto’s NOW Magazine, critical letters and the editorial process

February 14th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

I recently attended a performance of Canada Steel, and was horrified to read the following review in Toronto’s NOW Magazine:

Theatre Reviews
Labour bored


CANADA STEEL By J. Karol Korczynski, directed by Graham Cozzubbo (Canada House Artistic Co-op).
At Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). To Feb 17. Pwyc-$25. 416-531-1827.

Rating: NN

Ever notice the industry-induced haze that hangs over Hamilton Harbour? Well, this same condition pervades Canada Steel, J. Karol Korczynski’s long-winded new play about a laid-off Hamilton factory worker and his family.

This second instalment of Korczynski’s sociopolitical Canada House trilogy opens with unionized steelworker Gus (a twitchy Daniel Kash) on sick leave due to mental illness. The plant closes down while he’s off, and Gus finds himself unemployed, destitute and distraught. When the union cancels his health benefits and withholds his pension, Gus snaps.

The play introduces many implausible subplots having to do with politics, sex, sports and art to explore the evils of industry and union bureaucracy.

Among them, the Leafs make the Stanley Cup playoffs, Gus’s wife, Rose (Alison Woolridge), finds a Pablo Serrano canvas and sells it to sleazy union official Les (Brian Marler), and Gus cultivates a telephone relationship with Bhopal (Pragna Desai), a poorly treated customer service phone rep based in Mumbai. Desai’s storyline and performance provide the show’s few dramatic highlights.

Many of these characters go on about using “synergy” to solve problems. However, there’s little evidence of that synergy in the play’s production values. Director Graham Cozzubbo’s staging looks cramped when more than two characters are onstage, and Brent Krysa’s cumbersome scenery leads to clunky set changes. With the trilogy’s final play yet to come, now might be the time to file a grievance.

So – I decided to write a letter to NOW, to try to teach that reviewer a lesson!

Re: “Labour bored”, the review of Canada Steel by Debbie Fein Goldbach.

Debbie Fein-Goldbach’s review of J. Karol Korczynski’s play “Canada Steel” was a thoroughly unflattering assessment of a play that I thought was wonderful, but that is not grounds to get me off my happily sedentary butt and write a letter. Her clever sniping and witty one-liners do little to mask the fact that she has written a lousy piece of journalism.

She spends over one third of her column disdaining the “implausible subplots” introduced by the play, but she neglects to do her homework. The first one she mentions, the Leafs making the Stanley Cup playoffs, must be her way of assuring us that her cleverness is still in full force? She then questions the likelihood of the character Rose finding a “Pablo Serrano canvas” and selling it to a sleazy union official. This isn’t just implausible, it’s impossible, since Pablo Serrano is a fictitious character who may be meant to suggest Diego Rivera. As far as Rose selling the painting to a union official, well, that’s just false. The sale of the painting was discussed, but anyone who has seen the play would know that she never sold it, since she was physically unable to. The final scene of the play explicitly discusses the sale of the painting by another party, and not to said sleazy union official. This is not a small slip, this is a mangling of the plot.

A competent reviewer is not just a bon-mot vendor, and is most decidedly not someone who cannot remember basic details. An additional caveat to any aspiring theatre reviewers – fantastic things happen on stage, even more implausible than the Leafs making the playoffs or someone finding a painting and selling it. A good review should offer insight and, yes, opinion from someone who is able to see more clearly and truly than the norm. I’m not convinced that Ms. Fein-Goldbach is this person, but regardless, I would encourage her take her own advice, and “cut the cutesiness to find the heart.”

What they ended up printing was this:


Wonderful Steel

Debbie Fein-Goldbach’s review of J. Karol Korczynski’s Canada Steel (NOW, February 7-13) was a thoroughly unflattering assessment of a play that I thought was wonderful.
But that’s not enough to get me off my happily sedentary butt to write a letter. Her clever sniping and witty one-liners do little to mask the fact her review is lousy journalism.

The Leafs making the Stanley Cup playoffs must be her way of assuring us that her cleverness is still in full force?

I encourage Fein-Goldbach to take her own advice and “cut the cutesiness to find the heart.”

I know they have to edit letters, and in retrospect I realize my letter should have been ruthlessly self-edited. Still, I feel like they tailored the editing in such a way that my main points were not made, and I sound like an incoherent and inarticulate theatre booster. My first thought was, “Geez – I wanted to teach NOW a lesson, but boy did they end up learnin’ me good!” My second thought was, “I should probably stop writing negative letters into NOW lest everyone consider me a blithering idiot.”

Conclusion: In a war of rhetoric, it is folly to attack the one who ultimately decides what you will say.

The Slow Death of the CBC

September 22nd, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

The Powers That Be
250 Front Street West
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6

An Open Letter to The Powers That Be

As a faithful CBC listener of some twenty-three years (full disclosure – I am thirty-three), I wish to write you and explain to you why my radio has been somewhat silent as of late.

I have tried to listen to the new programming. I really have. In the spirit of embracing change, I felt it only fair to go along for the ride, and open myself up to new ways of thinking. Please take me at my word when I tell you that I did not reject the changes out of hand.

Sadly, for me, I cannot derive any enjoyment or commensurate value from listening to The Signal in its current format. I miss the Arts Report and Two New Hours, and I worry about the direction the CBC is taking. And I cringe when words like ratings and demographics and relevance get thrown around.

Don’t get me wrong – I love listening to mainstream music. I do play in a number of “pop” bands and I do own a fair-sized “pop” CD collection. The problem is that I’ve always had the ability to access this music on the airwaves, and I still do. I will never turn to the CBC to fulfill this need because, quite frankly, you don’t do it very well. Your efforts at being “current” bend more towards “tired” or “cliché”, and most obviously come across as being “efforts” instead of being “it”.

What you used to do so well, so much better than anyone else, is intelligent programming – programming that grips and stimulates and challenges, as opposed to “soothes” or “helps to pass the time stuck in a traffic jam” or “eases the wounds that she left when she tore out her talons with pieces of my heart still stuck underneath her nails and went off with that jet-setting executive from 102.1 The Edge”.

That’s the CBC I listened to for over two decades, and that’s the CBC that I can’t find anymore.

Please, reconsider your actions, and find a way to once again feed and nurture my brain. My radio has not been turned on, literally, in over a month.


Gregory Oh

This letter was sent to The Powers that Be at the CBC:

Robert Rabinovitch
Jane Chalmers
Jennifer McGuire
Mark Steinmetz
Timothy Casgrain