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CBC is smart to snuggle up to country music and its fans

A Monday in September. Still, we await the start of the new TV season. What's on tonight? The 2011 Canadian Country Music Awards (CBC, 8 p.m.) and yet another Republican Party presidential candidate debate. That's what.

If you've been watching CBC – and some people certainly do – you've probably seen a promo for the new CBC season and the broadcaster's stable of TV stars. You know the one – a fella starts singing, "You know me/ Better than I know myself/ You see me/ Different than anybody else." Along comes images of CBC stars and the singer goes on about "Let's go higher, let's go higher." It appears to be the CBC's theme song for the new season.

The singer is Johnny Reid and he's not taking about, you know, actually getting high. He's singing about being positive. So there. Reid is a major factor in tonight's Country Music Awards. Up for a ton of awards. He's the biggest thing in the genre in Canada right now. His hit from last year, Today I'm Gonna Try and Change the World is one of those masterpieces of mush that have a long, long life.

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To me, it's interesting that CBC embraces country music. (It's not the first time the CMA Awards have been on CBC, but the Johnny Reid connection is emphatic this year.) The genre is enormously popular but rarely gets the kind of coverage that other areas of pop culture merit. It's not slick enough, hip enough and, as far as advertisers are concerned, the music probably appeals to the wrong demographic.

And yet it doesn't diminish in popularity. Tonight's awards show is the culmination of an entire week of events, all taking place in Hamilton. Toronna has TIFF, Hamilton has the Country Music week wingding. There you go.

Reid's main rival at tonight's awards is Dean Brody, from Jaffray, B.C. Brody belongs to the "hat" side of country. That is, he wears a hat and poses like a cowpoke, in jeans and T-shirt on album covers. (Reid doesn't wear a hat, far as I know, and usually wears a suit.) Brody's story, as it is usually told anyway, is an interesting one and a clue to both the enduring success of country and the CBC's smarts in snuggling with it.

He got a break a few years ago, a recording contract in Nashville, and moved there. Things didn't work out and he went home. There he was working shifts at a sawmill and seeking a full-time job as a miner when he was called back to Nashville. He eventually had a hit album.

Stories of hard work and bad luck are an integral part of country music. No matter how much Las Vegas glitz the genre absorbs, it still speaks to core and often conservative values. There are still the hats and no-hats among the male singers. Often, of course, the female singers have the stark appearance of people who have been surgically enhanced. But they don't sing about that. Often the women sing songs in which it is cheerfully suggested that men are vile, unreliable scumbags but, doggone it, the ladies love them anyway. Clearly part of the essence of country music is the belief that life is hell, but if you bang a tambourine while singing about that sentiment, things will work out in the end.

Of course, there's an entire channel devoted to the essence of country – CMT. The channel will air the CMA Awards at 10 p.m. tonight, following its usual menu of America's Funniest Home Videos and several episodes of Reba, the hokey sitcom starring country singer Reba McEntire.

Now, me, I've never cared for country music. I'd change the radio station if Johnny Reid came on. But I do think CBC is wise to stick with it. Fads in TV and popular music come and go, but country music stays the same and its fans are loyal. CBC needs loyalty.

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Also airing tonight

CNN Tea Party Debate (CNN, 8 p.m.) has a bunch of Republican hopefuls argue about eliminating the minimum wage and stuff like that. Wolf Blitzer is in charge.

Check local listings.

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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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