Right off, an ugly problem stood between me and my assignment to write a piece on CBC Newsworld, “the all-news channel for Canadians.”
I would have to watch it.
Try it sometime. While you yawn your way through another Capital Report or Ontario Update you get a small dose of what it must be like to be a convict stuck in solitary confinement. With the “luxury” of just one small window, you gaze expectantly upon an interminable greyness that occasionally darkens or lightens in intensity as you await release or, as in my case, a publication deadline.
CBC Snoozeworld. What else to call it? It’s narcolepsy with silly haircuts.
As a confirmed zapper, I play more than 40 cable-delivered channels like a hopped-up roulette addict before I settle on a show that will sustain my interest. But I zap past Newsworld faster than by any other channel. Except perhaps the home shopping network As inevitably as home shoppers tune in to find wall-to-wall cubic zirconia, Newsworld viewers are rarely without a steady, slow-march parade of talking heads.
But don’t take my word for it. Before I started watching and forming my own prejudiced views, I wanted the cross-Canadian perspective. So I called a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, and even an Indian chief-all bona fide Canadians-to see what kind of impact Newsworld has made since its debut in July 1989. First I asked if they watched.
“Umm, yes and no,” equivocated Victor Boryski, a 39-year-old butcher and co-owner of The g; Butcher Block in Saskatoon. “I’ve heard of it.”
After a little prompting, Boryski confessed he didn’t tune in to Newsworld much, but that he watched CNN-a lot. “They (Newsworld) should do more on-the-spot type video,” he continued. “People love that stuff.”
Francis Reynolds kneads dough at Larkin’s Bake Shop in Halifax, but she didn’t seem to have much need for Newsworld. “Hmmm…Newsworld? Tell me about it.”
I explained its all-Canadian, all news worthiness to Larkin. “I wasn’t even aware we got that here in Halifax,” she said.
Wendy Grant, chief of the Musqueam Band in Vancouver, had actually seen Newsworld. “Yes, I do watch. But I don’t deliberately tune it in. I’ll just watch it for a few minutes if the subject interests me,” she said.
Okay, so Anita Hayes, the 38-year-old proprietor of Candle & Flame Creations Ltd. in Calgary doesn’t actually ‘make’ the candles she sells. So call the press council.
“Newsworld?” Hayes queried, when asked about the channel. I might as well have asked her about genetic engineering or how to hot-wire the Space Shuttle.
“1 don’t watch it very much at all,” she confessed. “Sorry.” I assured her that it was quite all right. It was perfectly understandable.
Realizing this wasn’t enough to milk into a complete column, I resigned myself to a few days on the couch watching Newsworld. Here are some of my notebook excerpts from a recent Monday morning: Canada Live with Anne Petrie. She does phone interview with brother of hostage Thomas Cicippio. No pictures. Just Anne on the phone.
Business News with Petrie and Ira Katzin, a Toronto financial analyst, via phone. No pictures again. Get up and look out window. Do a few stretches.
Southam correspondent Stephen Bindeman talks to Petrie about the John Munro c~se from Ottawa. Pure talking head stuff.
Syllables melt into a blah-like drone. Go to the kitchen and get Diet Sprite. Practise golf swing in living room. You get the picture.
And man, is it borrrrring.
Even the news, with Sheldon (Mr. Excitement) Turcott, seems somewhat anaemic. While the CBC National has some undeniable flair, albeit steeped in a central Canadian bias, Newsworld news appears bland and cheap.
On one newscast, Turcott intro’d eight times. Four had no correspondents attached to them. Three had no accompanying pictures Gust Turcott reading). And one, the most interesting visually, was a satellite borrowed story about Michael Jackson from CBS news.
Even when Newsworld is good (like an eccentric, it produces intermittently quaint entertainment), it sputters.
On the morning hostages, Terry Waite and Thomas Sutherland were released, Newsworld was first (before CNN, before any network) to break programming and go live to Damascus.
But the Waite-Sutherland press conference was delayed. Newsworld returned to regular programming (the rivetting Tomorrow Today with a compelling rep’ on “innovation in containerized freight”) and, when t news celebrities showed up, it went back. But this tir CNN had beat them there.
Good things do happen on Newsworld, though. Honest. Antiques Road show, a totally weird collector’s digest from Britain, is one of my favorite T shows. On the Arts, an entertainment review show, is lively. So is Ideas c Camera, a TV version of the CBI radio show Ideas. Midday, too, which airs on the CBC as well as Newsworld is watchable in a soft, chirpy, trendy urban sort of way.
But even Midday, slick and glib a it appears, isn’t immune to thc Snoozeworldian karma.
Recently we witnessed a pretty decent “theme” Midday that focussed on Canada’s hungry. After an interview with a Newfoundland welfare mother and a factoid on food banks, the show cut to a commercial. It was for Lite Delite-a diet frozen microwave dinner for yuppies.