QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2000-10 > 0971032727
From: "Renee Cummings" <>
Subject: [Q-R] Canada's complete history begins today at 7 p.m.
Date: Sun, 8 Oct 2000 15:18:47 -0400
For those interested and who can get those channel. Good luck
>From the Ottawa citizen
CBC's greatest story ever told
Like Canada itself, CBC's 'A People's History' was sometimes a tale of two
solitudes. But, says producer Mark Starowicz, the $25-million production was
worth it. Chris Cobb reports.
The Ottawa Citizen
Jean Bernier, CBC / Hundreds of actors and extras were used to film early
scenes of the CBC's 'A People's History,' such as in episode seven, above,
which depicts Les Patriots flying their revolt banner during the 1837
Rebellion in Lower Canada. Other episodes will use archival video footage.
CBC photo / Series executive producer Mark Starowicz said he was worried
that the collaboration between the CBC and Radio-Canada might break down on
linguistic lines, 'but it didn't happen.'
The CBC will launch the most expensive, ambitious series in the history of
Canadian television today -- a multimillion dollar epic that will either
bring cries of wasteful spending, or be heralded as a shining example of why
Canada needs a well-funded public broadcaster.
Canada: A People's History is a 16-part documentary series being shown
simultaneously on the public broadcaster's French and English networks over
the next two years. The first partnership of its type between CBC and the
French language Radio-Canada cost $25 million and was produced during one of
the darkest periods of budget cutting and layoffs at the taxpayer-funded
The series is crucial to the CBC. If it succeeds, it will re-establish the
importance of a public broadcaster hit hard by government budget cuts and
chronically low employee morale.
Initially, A People's History will be broadcast with only one corporate
partner, Sun Life Financial. This is far short of the CBC's initial target.
The broadcaster wanted five private-sector partners, each putting up $1.7
million to be associated with the project, but met resistance because
interested corporations are insisting that they be allowed to use the series
as an advertising vehicle to sell products. The CBC won't allow the series
to carry conventional commercials.
This first-ever televised version of Canada's complete history begins today
at 7 p.m. on CBC with a behind-the-scenes description of how the series was
made. The first episode will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22,
following an unprecedented national promotional blitz on TV, radio,
newspapers, 300 cinemas, billboards and bus shelters. Promotional material
is also being sent to history teachers and schools across Canada.
Funding for the ground-breaking project came in part from a special
$7-million fund created by the CBC's board of directors. Other funding came
from the budgets of CBC and Radio-Canada. Corporate partners, which the CBC
still hopes to attract, would have contributed $8.5 million
"The CBC, God bless it, has decided not to commercialize the history of
Canada," said series executive producer Mark Starowicz, one of Canada's most
"We want corporate partners but we won't use the series to sell doughnuts
and hamburgers. It's appalling that some people think that the history of
Canada will only be produced if it is deemed an appropriate vehicle for
selling soda pop. That's why we have public broadcasting."
Once the series gets rolling, Mr. Starowicz hopes that corporate Canada
changes its mind.
"Come this fall," he said, "I think there will be some red faces in public
affairs sections of major corporations in this country. Despite considerable
press reporting about the importance of history, corporate Canada has not
exactly stepped up to the plate. I don't think our five chartered banks are
The 54-year-old Starowicz, the brains behind CBC radio's As It Happens and
the now-defunct nightly TV program The Journal, first suggested the history
project in March 1996 shortly before the country's broadcast regulator was
due to hear applications for new speciality channels -- two history channel
applicants among them.
"It was obvious," said Mr. Starowicz, "that if the CBC didn't do it, then
the history channel applicants would."
The CBC board and management endorsed the project and a news release was
rushed out announcing the CBC's intention to do the series.
The finished product is an ambitious 60 hours (30 each in English and
French) of history drawn from oral and written material. The early episodes
are of major movie proportions with actors and hundreds of extras. The later
episodes make greater use of archival video footage. The first nine episodes
will be shown between Oct. 22 and Jan. 23, 2001. The remaining seven will be
broadcast between the fall of 2001 and the winter of 2002.
The first of two books related to the project will be in bookstores next
week. (Publisher McClelland & Stewart paid the CBC $500,000 for the book
rights). The history series will have its own Web site with 1,600 pages, not
including streamed video and audio, and will have downloadable school
projects on a special teachers' site. By Christmas, videos and DVDs of the
first nine episodes will be in stores.
The sheer size of the project, and the time and money spent on it, has
brought criticism from within CBC.
"Mark Starowicz is a big figure who always does big things," said one senior
executive. "When you're that big, and that good, everyone is hoping you put
your foot in it. He spends big budgets, has a vision and sticks to it.
Others would like some of that money, too."
Mr. Starowicz admits that the grand nature of A People's History has caused
some resentment inside the CBC but denies any other shows were cut to pay
for the series.
"By sheer logic," he said, "if there are 16 hours of history on the air, 16
hours of something else isn't going to be. But CBC documentary production
has increased and the news budget has been increased. There is some
resentment and I understand that. You get an organization that's laid off
several hundred people and you're going to wonder whether your project had
anything to do with it."
But CBC union leader Mike Sullivan says the production hasn't been a huge
issue among unionized employees.
"Starowicz is well respected," said Mr. Sullivan. "The general feeling is
that anything he touches turns to gold."
Mr. Starowicz says he would prefer lower expectations and is nervous about
the series being judged as crucial to the future of Canadian public
"I'm a bit afraid of that," he said. "This didn't begin as some kind of
constitutional statement about what the CBC is about, but with the
attritions of the last four years it's taken on this make-or-break attitude.
That isn't a responsibility I want to wear. Our objective is to show that
Canadian history is not boring, not to save public broadcasting."
Anyway, the attitude toward the project within the CBC has changed, he says.
"It's regarded one of two ways: Some feel it's the last great production of
the CBC, the way we used to do things. A lot of people have put in a lot of
effort into this because they think it is their last hurrah. Others think
it's a beachhead: We're going to show them what we can do and reclaim the
regimental colours, so to speak. I agree with the latter. This is not an
end, it is a beginning."
One major conundrum is how success is defined for a series of such
magnitude, spread over two years.
Last weekend's rebroadcast of a two-hour documentary special on Pierre
Trudeau drew 1.2 million viewers, which is roughly the peak audience during
Olympic Games coverage or Stanley Cup games.
"If Trudeau got 1.2 million at an emotional cresting that was quite palpable
in this country," said Mr. Starowicz, "we'll be lucky to get 500,000 to
"The true measure of success is the test of time," he added.
"I think it will become part of the fabric of the education system and
everybody's bookshelf. Two, three years on, we will realize that our images
of Champlain, Plains of Abraham have been shaped by the series. I think it
will have a serious legacy but that won't be perceptible in the first three
or four months."
Mr. Starowicz and his crew can claim immediate credit for producing a
relatively conflict-free French-English collaboration between the CBC and
Radio-Canada -- the first of its kind. He says it was a mutual bureaucratic
"The CBC, like the country, is two solitudes," he said. "We have two
different accounting systems, two totally different computer graphic
systems -- our computer graphic systems couldn't talk to theirs, or theirs
to ours. And there are two different universes of labour contracts. It was
like a salmon swimming upstream in molasses.
"My nightmare," he said, "was that we would have disagreements along
linguistic lines but it didn't happen. We have had arguments and lost
tempers but they were about style, not language or interpretation of
The series gets rolling on the eve of a federal election in which the
opposition Canadian Alliance will label CBC-TV as a waste of public money
and an institution ripe for privatization. The Alliance manifesto released
by leader Stockwell Day last week made that clear.
But Mr. Starowicz says the series will pass the test.
"We'll have a rocky ride at the beginning," he said, "but around Christmas,
word will get around and we'll tap into that national yearning we Canadians
have to know our history."
|[Q-R] Canada's complete history begins today at 7 p.m. by "Renee Cummings" <>|