Artsculture

CBC Wants 'Intelligence' Dead, Says Show's Creator

Chris Haddock on politics, televised and not.

By Murray Dobbin, 3 Dec 2007, TheTyee.ca

Chris Haddock (long hair with hat)

'Intelligence' writer/producer Chris Haddock.

Intelligence tells the story of a Vancouver drug lord (Ian Tracey) who has been forced through circumstances to become an informant for the female head of the Pacific Region of CSIS (played by Klea Scott). The tense and atmospheric drama is so complex you have to pay close attention or get lost pretty quickly.

The plot thickens, as well, around whether the show will survive on the CBC (where it airs tonight at 9). Intelligence writer/producer Chris Haddock told The Tyee he believes the network is gunning to "bury" his program, despite its popularity in markets around the world.

One of the many story lines in Intelligence focuses on efforts by powerful interests to bring about "deep integration" of the U.S and Canadian political and economic systems. Part of that plotline is the infiltration of Canadian institutions by U.S. intelligence agents. Intelligence is set in Vancouver, just like Haddock's two previous series Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall.

While Intelligence has fiercely loyal fans and has received rave reviews from critics (and eleven Gemini nominations; with one win) its relatively low audience numbers, at about 250,000, provide CBC management with the excuse to dump the show. And plans are afoot to do just that, if Globe and Mail TV critic John Doyle, and others with access to the insiders at CBC, are reading things correctly.

But Haddock suspects that the low numbers are in part a useful problem deliberately created by those who have their own reasons to change how drama is done at the network. "Somewhere in the CBC someone is saying 'do not promote this show.'"

"The question is why would they be so hostile to the show? I can't for the life of me put my finger on it because it is broadly appealing and has had such success internationally." (CBC officials have denied any decision has yet been made about a third season.) In the past decade the CBC's trademark has become excellent drama and high quality production. Reality TV is for the other guys. On the face of it -- superlative reviews, sales into 143 foreign markets, a fiercely loyal core audience to build on -- you might expect the CBC to be proud of it and push it for all it's worth. But that would assume those running the CBC are actually dedicated, heart and soul, to public broadcasting. Haddock is not so sure.

During our conversation, here's what else he had to say:

On deep integration and the issue of water exports:

"I was looking for an idea which I could discuss practically because deep integration is a process of infiltration that is sometimes so slow that you don't really see it as it is occurring. So I needed something that everybody across the country could understand. If you go to the CSIS web page, they say the number one threat to Canada is economic. I wanted to know -- how do you make that exciting? How do you articulate that?

"I had realized before how passionately Canadians care about their water, the idea about being the caretaker of water, I thought, 'This is the perfect metaphor for losing the country.' Everybody knows about it, it's a common everyday item, but yet it has great levels of conspiracy behind it."

On being good and popular:

"When you work in a mass medium, you find that all the networks and distributors and the sponsors want programs to appeal to everyone. What I discovered is that rather than trying to appeal to absolutely everybody in the world, if you draw something that is very particular and very specific, it becomes universal. Because one of the universal things about people is that they are curious. We seek sometimes to identify through parallel recognition. So if I work very specifically about a corner store in the Downtown Eastside, people universally recognize a corner store. If I write specifically about what's going on in Canada, the paradox is that people understand "Oh yeah, yeah we have a spy service in Turkey too" or "we have a big dope industry in Turkey too" so people go "right, I understand those things and here are the specifics of it in this country.

"The casting is a huge part of believability. Because people look at the cast that we've brought together and they appear real. They don't appear as in Hollywood either too young or too pretty for the job. The leading men and women have character in their faces. Then in terms of what comes out of their mouths, the dialogue has to appear natural even though it is obviously heightened."

On everyday 'intelligence':

"Intelligence is something we all experience in our everyday lives. If we have the right stock tip, we are going to make out, if we don't we're just guessing. Everybody is using intelligence in their everyday life and feel like they know what it's like to have the inside scoop on something."

On doing a US version for Fox:

"There are no barriers to doing a third season and to also launching a U.S. version for Fox. In the sixth season of Da Vinci I was doing a series for CBS at the same time. One of the things that I battle as a writer/producer is that we don't see the film and television industry in quite as sophisticated a way as they might in other parts of the world. Which is to say, this is built like a manufacturing process and if the demand for your product increases, you just adjust for higher capacity."

On the CBC's decision not to promote the program:

"I've been told with previous projects that the most effective time to promote is in the two weeks prior to the start of the season. Yet we went into the first two weeks before the show with zero promotion anywhere. That isn't accidental. That is a very well planned 'bury' by someone. It is somebody high up in the food chain who has the power to say, 'Do not mention this show.'

"We were nominated for eleven Geminis. Prior to the Geminis, there was an episode of The Hour about the nominations but there was not one mention of Intelligence. The story became how Little Mosque on the Prairie had not been nominated."

On who might be pissed off:

"The question is why would they be so hostile to the show? Who is feeling threatened by it? Is it the fact that I'm talking about dope, the narco-economy? Well, there are lots of people who would be offended by that. Or is that I'm talking about money-laundering? Well, there are lots of people who don't want it talked about because they're practising it. Is it the deep integration theme? Is that too politically sensitive for Harper's Ottawa? Is it personal? Who knows?

"So who holds the power to try to stop it? I don't know. But who holds the power to keep it on the air is the public. There's a good campaign to keep it now because CBC has overplayed its hand in trying to dismiss us and they have done it so obviously.

"I also wonder if it isn't part of a move to disenfranchise independent producers right across North America as media monopolies get bigger and bigger. In Canada, it's very difficult to survive here as an independent producer and there are lots of big guys who don't want the independents around because they want to suck up whatever government subsidies there are out there."

On regime change:

"All I can say is that it has been a very difficult time with the regime change when they brought in a bunch of new people at the CBC. That's often the case with any studio, is that when a new regime comes they want to start with a clean slate and be able to take credit for any new successes that are on the network. They tend to dump other people's projects that have been coming along. But under no circumstances with a public broadcaster should one person be allowed to make such decisions. Then you simply become a corporation like any other."

On preparing the CBC for privatization:

"I would argue that the most valuable resources that the CBC has are its audience, and that is its number one value is that there are so many people who trust it, rely upon it, adore it. It's a spot of clarity and a counterpoint to what's going on out there. If you look at the sports franchises that are being given away to other networks and other things that are being done, you can say without question "yes, we are seeing at the CBC a privatization of trying to drive its audience and its advertising money to other places." Television as a general medium is losing numbers and going down. But the audience that watches the CBC tends to be a little bit older, tends to be very faithful in its viewing, and tends to have a little bit of dough so they are really an ideal target demographic. So that's the audience the private networks would like to capture and if the CBC is in some ways cooperating in that, it doesn't actually surprise me.

"It's obvious that many Crown corporations have been and still are targets for takeover by the private sector. What makes it different is in the media landscape we have today in Canada where media monopolies are getting bigger, something like the CBC which is a non-biased entity is under fierce attack.

"And unfortunately it seems that whatever regime is in power federally the CBC is then brought to heel to some degree, and I think that's what we are seeing now with the Conservatives who really can't completely dump the CBC because it is the national broadcaster and appeals to a lot of their constituency. But they do also see it as a critical entity which exposes their government. It did that with the Liberals as well, and the Liberals didn't hold it in high esteem either."

On needing the original CBC more than ever:

"The CBC was born out of similar circumstances many years ago when there was a media monopoly and a feeling amongst people that it was necessary to have an alternate source of information and intelligence for the Canadian people. And now in exactly the same times I think it is really essential. The CBC is a threat because it's able to warn us of things that are going on in Canada that some of the other private corporate interests in Canada wouldn't want to warn us of because they may benefit from them.

"So I think we are really on that train. But I do think that there are a lot of people out there who are passionate about the CBC and curious about what's going on too because there have been so many changes, a lot of them not for the better. And we frankly need to figure out some way to get more funding back into the corporation while at the same time looking who in the CBC is making the big decisions."

On ordinary people saving the CBC:

"Everyone might have a different strategy. I think it includes voicing it in CBC radio call-ins, the writing of letters both to the CBC board and to the CBC public relations department, e-mailing, speaking to local political representatives. Because so many things get affected as the CBC gets hurt. We have encouraged a whole generation behind us and given them hope to think that there are careers in film, television, and radio and of course the Internet and if we do not have infrastructure within the country they will be lost.

"It is just a strong industrial strategy to have a strong public broadcaster that can continue to educate all these people as it educated me. It's where intellectual creations are tested, talked about, held up to review. Television and radio are where the public has conversations with itself these days. It's essential that we maintain the CBC as an independent place to do this otherwise you don't know what those conversations are."

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