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The End of (Mid)Days

The end of June will mark, not just the end of a month, but the end of an era of sorts. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's noontime news program, Midday, billed as "Canada's noon time voice", will air its final original episode after something like 15 years. It will carry on in reruns over the summer, but that will basically be it.

The cancellation of Midday is one more casualty of budget cuts to the CBC, as bean-counters and Men In Suits (hereafter referred to as MIS) decide what's best for the country. Perhaps Midday's time had come. I'm the first to recognize that if no one's watching, it's kind of silly keeping something going.

But, curiously, in the reports I've seen about Midday's demise, no one sited bad ratings. None of the MIS who pulled the plug seemed to even feel a need to justify why they had done so. Bear in mind that a few years ago, Midday was the Little-Show-That-Could. Its ratings had been much higher than anyone had ever expected a lunch time newsmagazine show to achieve.

So what's the demise of Midday mean? Anything? A TV show bites the dust - - so what, eh?

Well here in Canada there's a big issue about Canadian culture, Canadian identity, what it is, and how to maintain it when our mass culture is dominated by the United States just next door.

There's a war often between whether Canadian identity is fostered by a strong, central voice, or whether it is better served by distinct regional voices.

Obviously, Canadian identity must be both. A central, homogeonous identity is neither workable nor healthy, but a nation cannot be a collection of independent regions that feel no affinity with each other.

And that's where Midday came in.

In the mass culture machine of television, you could flip on Midday and, an hour later, have more understanding of what it is to be a Canadian than with any other series I've ever seen. Any given episode would skip from region to region, touching down to cover an election in this province, a scandal in another, and a quirky human interest story in another, as well as getting a world view with stories about foreign conflicts and the like. Precisely because it was a mix of hard and soft news, it could cover the gamut of the Canadian experience. "Serious" news shows like The National also cover the nation, but you won't really get a feel for the everyday, while "light" shows like On the Road with Wayne Rostad might let you peek into the lives of normal people, but you miss learning about the serious events that will impact on those lives. Some series are urban focused, some rural. Some are star studded, covering the pop culture of movies and music, some are concerned just with the real world.

Midday was all those things. And more.

Even with celebrity interviews Midday spoiled you. I'd often wonder why actors and novelists would diss TV, complaing about "sound bite" interviews, how they can't actually discuss their work. I used to think, "Geez, fella, you really need more than five to seven minutes to express yourself?"

Then I realized that Midday's sit down, talk for five minutes interviews was the exception, not the rule, in TV. Most celebrity interviews are a montage of shots from the latest movie/video, heavy use of voiceover by the interviewer, and then maybe a couple of ten to thirty second clips of the celebrity actually saying anything. Put in that light, I began to understand why American celebrities would sometimes act momentarily dumbfounded on Midday and remark, "that's a good question" or "wow, you guys do your homework".

They just weren't used to an interview that was more than a set up for a sound bite.

The series was, admittedly, at its best in the early days with co-hosts Valerie Pringle and Peter Downie, whose on-screen camaraderie, humanity, and contrasting-but-complementary personalities invigorated things. Subsequent hosts seemed more like...well, occasionally vapid, silver-spoon-in-the-mouth kind of people. Y'know, precisely the sort of people the MIS would relate too.

But even here, Midday exerted an influence. The series' long-serving co-host, Tina Srebotnjak started out, frankly, as an oblivious, Marie Antoinette wanna be, giggling at the most inappropriate moments, often not quite grasping the stories she was covering. Basically the embodiment of the stereotypical airheaded anchorperson. But...as time progressed, Srebotnjak seemed to grow, her mind to expand. Of late, it is Srebotnjak who will make the observant asides, who will take offense at a social injustice while her "hip" co-host Brent Bambury will make with the flippantly dismissive comments. If all those years on Midday could expand Tina Srebotnjak's world view, what did it do for the rest of us?

Now that Midday is being cancelled, apparently it will be replaced by reruns of the comedy shows This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Red Green Show. At least both shows are Canadian, but they hardly fill the social and cultural vacuum Midday will leave behind. Nor will any other network be offering a comparable window on our nation's soul.

At a time when Canadians struggle with the question of who are we? and where are we going? Midday provided, if not an answer, at least a framework for the discussion.

Cynically, one can ask if that was the point. With Midday's blend of regionalism and centralism, was it a pariah in the eyes of the agenda setters, the above mentioned MIS? Did Central Canadian "thinkers" not understand why it was reporting on gas wars in New Brunswick and did regional "Nationalists" bristle at its assumption that we were, after all, one nation? Was Midday cancelled because of budget cuts, or because it presented a true national voice at a time when MIS don't want such a voice heard?

Paranoid? Probably. But with the cancellation of Midday, one wonders if we're seeing something else. The cancellation of a national dream.

That's all for now,
the Masked Movie Critic

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