September 15, 2011

Cancel the dance show and cheat a child. Nice

By John Doyle,
Reprinted from The Globe and Mail
Thursday, Sep. 15
The cancelling of a mainstream pop culture show may seem another gurgle from the sewer of corporate culture to some progressive youth and all those who reject TV in general, but it matters for the young people involved in the arts and also represents a more general, anti-democratic and anti-Canadian trend in the presentation of Canadian culture by the big TV transnationals.

The latest SYTYCDC star, Jordan Clark
On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I spent the evening at the broadcast of the finale of So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Brought my neighbour’s boy Lucas, as I’ve done for each of the show’s four seasons.

It was a fine time. The finale was flashy, fevered and adored by the excited audience in the studio. Much screaming with joy, constant applause and cheering as the final six contestants danced and their time on the show was celebrated.

Host Leah Miller wore an astonishing dress that, she told us, weighed 20 pounds. The winners of the second and third series turned up and danced. Even Brian Williams, the veteran sports broadcaster and face of CTV’s Olympics coverage, was coaxed out of his seat and danced.

The best dancer won – Jordan Clark, a 19-year-old genius from Tottenham, Ont. About 1.6 million people voted in the final round. The runners-up leapt in the air and pumped their fists. It was over, the mad, summer-long ride of endless days of dance, training and rehearsing.

Afterward, backstage, while Lucas got his photo taken with the judges and dancers, the mood was oddly subdued. I knew that everyone knew what I’d been told, off the record, that So You Think You Can Dance Canada had been cancelled by CTV. There would be no fifth season. It didn’t matter how many people had voted or would watch the finale on TV.

It turned out that just under a million did – 930, 000 viewers. That news was officially announced on Tuesday, and it’s more than a shame. No matter how anyone spins the numbers, the dance show was far from over.  It aired twice a week this summer. The SYTYCDC performance shows averaged 1.06 million viewers and the results show 969,000. Those are more than respectable numbers for Canadian TV at any time of the year, but in the summer when there are fewer viewers, they are solid hit numbers.

CTV says the viewer numbers for the finale were down from last year, when 1.2 million watched. Yeah sure, but last year’s finale aired in late October when many more people are watching TV. Sunday’s finale also clashed with countless tenth anniversary of 9/11 specials.

 I can only suspect, but I do, that the truth is even more mundane even than the spinning of ratings numbers. The new owners of CTV, Bell Media, want to clear the decks of Canadian productions created by the old regime. The cancellation of SYTYCDC was revealed days after the cancellation of the Canadian comedy Dan For Mayor and weeks after Bravo! (another Bell Media channel) cancelled both Arts&Minds and Bravo!News, its flagship culture programs. There are no plans to replace the Bravo! programs or So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

In that context, the cancellation of SYTYCDC is decidedly more than a too-bad, the-show-is-over situation. A pattern emerges and the pattern is that of an assault on the culture. Broadcasting in Canada is not a right, it is a privilege. Giving back to the culture is a requirement of doing business. In this case it’s a matter of crunch the numbers with an agenda and crush the culture.

 So You Think you Can Dance Canada was not in the same category as the karaoke shows Canadian Idol and the upcoming Cover Me Canada. Nor was it a mirror image of the cheesy Battle of the Blades. It celebrated the art of dance. It encouraged young people, especially young men, to becomes professional dancers. As the National Ballet School told me on Wednesday, “From a broader perspective, the SYTYCD productions can only help normalize/popularize the image of boys in dance. We also believe that this show and other dance-reality shows have encouraged recreational dancers to join our Adult Ballet program.”

 Little Lucas, now 11, became not only a huge fan of the show but also of dance. SYTYCDC mattered in a manner that television rarely does. Now it’s gone. One child I know feels he has been cheated.

Nice work, TV bosses.

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