Eleven reasons CBCers loved/hated Richard Stursberg
The CBC’s anything-to-boost-ratings executive VP Richard Stursberg has left the building (some say he was escorted out) after six years of transforming the CBC from the sober public broadcaster that offered Canucks wise political parody and educational features into the home of such slick shows as Dragons’ Den and the defunct MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives.
Like any network capitalist, Stursberg has his foes and followers. The Toronto Sun highlighted the network’s 52 per cent increase in viewers in an average minute and 34 per cent jump in overall market share since Stursberg started, while former CBC producer Howard Bernstein called him “the most disruptive and hated VP of CBC” in his blog post “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead.” Here, a roundup of the major changes at the CBC under Stursberg’s rule >>
Losing the Hockey Night in Canada theme song
It wouldn’t be the Mother Corp. without the good ol’ hockey game, so CBC signed a $100-million deal in 2006 to keep Hockey Night in Canada. But the cash ran dry when it came to securing rights to the famed theme song. In 2008, CTV bid over $2.5 million for the jingle, meaning CBC forfeited the rights after 40 years. National fury ensued, and the network held a contest to come up with a new tune (how does it go again?).
Revamping Radio 2
CBC’s ratings crusade headed to Radio 2 in 2008, ditching the “challenging” classical-heavy programming for jazz, pop and roots, along with more mainstream composers, like Mozart and Beethoven. Months later, CBC admitted that it had received thousands of complaints about the format change.
In summer 2005, after negotiations with the Canadian Media Guild over employment outsourcing came to a standstill, CBC locked out 5,500 union employees. The Mother Corp. was unbending in its demands to be able to hire workers on a contract basis instead of making them staff employees. The eight-week lockout occurred in August, and a new contract was signed in October, giving CBC pretty much what it wanted.
Losing the rights to the Vancouver Olympics, CFL and curling
The pain of knowing virtually every TV in the country was tuned to CTV during the Vancouver Olympics (including Stursberg’s own, we assume) must have been sharp. While CBC claimed that it had tried “really hard” to win the bid, clearly the $73 million (U.S.) it paid for the past two Olympics didn’t come close to the $153 million (U.S.) CTV was prepared to drop. The Ceeb also lost the rights to CFL games and curling to TSN—i.e., CTV—this year.
Broadcasting FIFA World Cup
Winning the bid for this year’s World Cup was sweet redemption after the Olympics debacle. From John Collins’ meek quips to the corny segments on future footie stars, the CBC was the source of water cooler chatter for over a month this summer, making a decent attempt at putting a local spin on a sport North American media devotes almost no attention to.
CBC News Network
When Newsworld became the CBC News Network, the new “breaking news” format created a carbon copy of CNN, forcing Peter Mansbridge to stand to deliver the news on The National and earning comparisons to David Letterman and Jay Leno. Stursberg called the criticism “pathetic.”
Creating Battle of the Blades
This Canadiana reality TV experiment drew an astonishing 1.7 million viewers last year, thanks to the ingenious and awkward pairings of such figure skaters as Shae-Lynn Bourne and Jamie Salé with such NHLers as Claude Lemieux and Glenn Anderson. Scoring Tie Domi as a contestant was a major coup: he was the best reason to watch. The second season will feature wingers Theo Fleury and Russ Courtnall. We’re hoping for a Sidney Crosby–Tessa Virtue pairing in the third.
Bringing in Dragons’ Den
Before Canada was hailed as the place to do business, this Investment Idol franchise showed cutthroat Canadian suits mocking delusional upstarts as they proposed such money-making enterprises as electronic clotheslines and mood-enhancing water bottles. After five seasons, Dragons’ Den has garnered a surprising amount of respect from the business community and given Kevin O’Leary near-celebrity status as the show’s Simon Cowell equivalent. Like any good capitalist venture, the show has spawned an as-seen-on-TV on-line gift shop selling coffee cup rim rollers and doggie backpacks.
Creating Little Mosque on the Prairie
Stursberg named Little Mosque, Corner Gas and Due South as the only shows that can be “remotely identified” as hits in Canadian TV, after Little Mosque drew 3.7 million for its first episode. The show’s cringe-inducing writing may have been a factor in its ratings dropping to an average 810,000 per episode in 2008 and 516,000 this year.
Adding game shows to the schedule
OK, Alex Trebek is Canadian, so Jeopardy sort of qualifies as CanCon. Sort of. But Wheel of Fortune? Game shows might be a staple of old timers’ daytime viewing, but most onlookers were baffled by their introduction to CBC’s lineup in 2008. The shows beat out Marketplace (it was bumped to the spring) for the 2008 fall schedule, building CBC’s reputation for dumbing down its programming.
More original series
The CBC has always had a bad reputation for having no viewers, but unlike the traditional educational features of the old network, most of the original series brought in during Stursberg’s time were both viewer-less and fan-less. From such lame book adaptations as Heartland and Douglas Coupland’s jPod to the now-cancelled Intelligence and The Border (to name a few), the network became pro at churning out embarrassing original programming. It did learn from one mistake, though. After the annoying single girl comedy Sophie tanked, it created Being Erica, a show with almost the same premise that is actually half-decent. We’ll see how Republic of Doyle and 18 to Life do—two seasons is the life expectancy of CBC original shows these days.
2 thoughts on “Eleven reasons CBCers loved/hated Richard Stursberg”
Stursberg’s assault on classical music was irresponsible, philistine, misguided and unjustified. Now that he’s gone, just give us back what was taken from us!
Let’s get the facts right. The CBC wanted to employ as many people as it wanted on a contract basis, rather than in an ongoing, permanent manner. What it got: contract employees can be NO MORE THAN 9.5% of the permanent workforce. It’s a huge difference. The lockout was completely unnecessary — a huge miscalculation in strategy on the part of three CBC senior executives, including Stursberg. We would have been able to arrive at that agreement without such extreme action on the CBC’s part.
Please read my blog on the Stursberg “departure” at
Canadian Media Guild
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