CBC ready to walk without its ‘crutches’

Foreign TV shows are “a crutch” for the CBC and will be cut “as much as possible” from the schedule, vows the new head of CBC’s English services.

TORONTO — Foreign TV shows are “a crutch” for the CBC and will be cut “as much as possible” from the schedule, vows the new head of CBC’s English services.

Kirstine Stewart said Wednesday that popular imports like Jeopardy! were brought in as lead-ins to Canadian offerings and successfully brought soaring ratings to the public broadcaster.

“Lo and behold, it was a plan that worked . . . . Now we don’t need those crutches anymore,” Stewart said in a luncheon speech that included CBC-TV personalities Peter Mansbridge, Kevin O’Leary and Jian Ghomeshi in the audience.

“CBC is made stronger by Canadian shows and Canadian shows are made strong at the CBC.”

Stewart said the network “will be more Canadian” over the next five years but stopped short of promising to shed all foreign series from the main channel.

She made the comments in her first major address as executive vice president of CBC English Services after taking over from previous head Richard Stursberg, who departed suddenly last summer.

Stursberg’s tenure was marked by U.S. additions to CBC’s prime-time lineup, including Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Stewart was general manager of CBC Television at the time.

Stewart says the foreign additions successfully brought audiences to homegrown series, making hits out of Republic of Doyle, The Rick Mercer Report and Battle of the Blades.

“No one ever took the use of foreign programming lightly,” she said in an interview after the speech.

“I think no one ever wanted the CBC to be using as much foreign programming as we needed to in order to get to the place that we are today but it was a means to an end and it worked.”

Stewart’s speech largely consisted of outlining the broadcaster’s five-year strategic plan, announced earlier this year by CBC president Hubert Lacroix.

Known as “Everyone Every Way,” it includes promises of new radio stations, more regional news and a greater online presence.

Despite the pledge to shed foreign series, Stewart said the network will nevertheless pursue more co-productions to fill its schedule.

She said co-productions including CBC’s lavish Canada-Ireland drama, “The Tudors,” as well as successes on rival networks including CTV and its Canada-US co-production “Flashpoint,” have opened the door to more foreign alliances.

“It exposes our great Canadian talent on a world stage that no other production can do,” she said.

“The fact (is) that we can make something like a ’Tudors’ or a ’Camelot’ in an environment where the budgets are so incredibly high. They work with the kind of talent and locations that you can’t really get if you were filming something as 100 per cent Canadian.”