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Cable guys, broadcasters: Time to look at the big picture

You know what really annoys me? Oh you do. Yes you do. Think about it. Use that whip-smart, Globe and Mail-reading brain of yours and think.

No, not that. Guess again. No, no point getting annoyed about the new-look, heavy-duty light-show and dubious direction of CBC News. CBC goes its own way. Spends the money, does the thing, pays no attention to you, me or that professor feller at the university who thinks it's a crock. No. If CBC wants to turn The National into So You Think You Can Stand (Canada) , so be it.

Consider this - terrible, terrible things are happening in our world. We are puzzled and concerned. The H1N1 threat. Our soldiers die in Afghanistan. Carnage on our roads. Massive car bombs in Iraq kill hundreds of people. Pakistan's push against the Taliban.

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And yet, look at what takes up acres of space in newspapers, daily. Entire pages. The war between broadcasters and cable and satellite companies over a proposal to make cable and satellite corporations pay for carrying local TV channels. That's what. The cable and satellite companies began taking out full-page ads (and running ludicrous TV commercials) to attack the proposal. The other side countered, doing likewise. That, my friends, is what really, really annoys me.

I want an end to the phony war over fees to fund local TV. And I blame the cable crowd for starting up the big ads and the bickering. It's ludicrous and it's time to figure it out.

Take note of this: Last week in the United States, Fox and CBS announced they're pushing cable companies for fees. The Canadian situation is not unique. Stop the grandiosity and the bickering and look at the big picture.

On Monday, an ad for the cable crowd featured a big photo of a couple with a child, looking very concerned. Tall dad guy with a frown. Wife beside him looking on the verge of tears. And a little kid in a stroller looking very vulnerable. The suggestion is that Canadian broadcasters want to ruin their way of life. What rubbish. This is madness, all this insulting, overblown nonsense.

Meanwhile, on another page, the broadcasters are shouting that cable companies make vast, vast profits. This is true, actually. And the broadcasters say that the cable and satellite posse has been getting a free ride. Time to pay up.

I urge you to find the report I saw in The Wall Street Journal. The gist is this: "Television-network owners News Corp. and CBS Corp. are pushing cable operators to pay monthly fees to carry their broadcast TV stations." Sound familiar? News Corp. owns Fox. That mean two of the four major U.S. networks, Fox and CBS, are demanding fees from cable companies that usually carry their stations free. According to the Journal story, CBS has been quietly pushing this agenda for some time and has had some success.

Here, it's a tad more gnarly. There's an attitude that both sides here are wrong. Both greedy, both are abominations.

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Well, no. That's not helpful. Recently, Rob Wells, known to us all as Ricky on Trailer Park Boys, and key writer on the show, weighed in on the issue, in an opinion piece that appeared in several newspapers.

He wrote this: "You've probably seen the big broadcasters join together in their 'Local TV Matters' campaign. I agree, local TV does matter. The broadcasters want cable companies to pay for it. I agree, they should. When big cable earns $2-billion in profits, when they pay American stations upward of $300-million for their signals but give nothing to Canadian broadcasters, there's something wrong."

His suggestion - one shared by the "creative" guild representing actors, writers and others in the Canadian TV racket - is that cable pay up to help fund local TV, but the money must not merely go to local news coverage. "Revenues from fee-for-carriage must be seen on the screen in the form of new, original local, dramatic and comedic programming - broadcasters can't be handed a bag of money to take on their L.A. shopping sprees."

Fair enough. Cable companies, shut up. Pay up. Don't pass it on to the consumer. Broadcasters get the fees they want but a portion has to be spent on making drama and comedy. Good, fine. Enough with the melodrama.

Let's hope the CRTC makes a smart decision and understands that the couple with the kid, if they exist, are more worried about H1N1 than the barking and snarling of rich and profitable cable companies.

Also airing:

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V (ABC, CTV, 8 p.m.) is a jazzed-up remake of the 1980s miniseries which itself spawned a short-lived series. Aliens arrive. Are they good or evil? Certainly they are good-looking and charming, on the surface. Chief among them is Anna (Morena Baccarin), who sets out to seduce a news anchor (Scott Wolf) and thereby the world. Meanwhile, a bunch of people warn that the aliens are evil. V is fun, with a slight undercurrent of paranoia about "others" taking over the USA.

Frontline: The Medicated Child (PBS, 9 p.m.) is a repeat, but worth your attention if you're a parent. It examines why, in recent years, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of children being diagnosed with serious psychiatric disorders in the U.S., and prescribed medications that are just beginning to be tested in children. The drugs can cause serious side effects, and little is known about their long-term impact.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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