Monday, February 18, 2019

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Not His Year

***

2006 wasn’t a very good year for George Stroumboulopoulos.
Sure, his show “The Hour” won two Gemini awards, and it moved from ratings
deprived CBC Newsworld to the main network, slotting in right after “The
National with Peter Mansbridge” at 11pm. But 2006 also featured his
high-profile disaster hosting the joint CBC-ABC reality television production
“The One”, which was quickly yanked from the air by ABC after its debut earned
the lowest ratings for a new series in television history despite receiving the
most promotional support – read: money – of any ABC summer debut in its
history. Worse still was the fact that “The One” temporarily bumped “The
National” from its 10 PM EST time
slot, which irritated CBC loyalists and drew the ire of cultural nationalists
like Friends of Canadian Broadcasting’s Ian Morrison, who described the move as
a “fiasco”. The CBC then, perhaps unwisely, decided to move Stroumboulopoulos
right next door to the scene of the (aborted) crime, so to speak, extending his
show to one hour and putting it on the main network at 11 PM, right after “The National”. Thus far, the results
are decidedly mixed.

George Stroumboulopoulos is something of a golden boy in
Canadian popular culture, having enjoyed a string of professional successes
beginning in radio at the Fan 590 and 102.1 The Edge, and then in television as
a popular VJ at Much Music. His profile rose beyond the ranks of couch surfing
twenty-somethings and boy-band addled teenage girls when he shilled
successfully for Tommy Douglas in CBC’s surprisingly successful “Greatest
Canadian” reality television series. The CBC rewarded him with his own show on
CBC Newsworld, “The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos”, in 2004. With all this
success it isn’t terribly surprising that certain people have been enjoying his
recent failures just a little too much.

Take Barrett Hooper’s article “Stroumbo’s Gotta Go”, published in the
November 2nd, 2006 edition of NOW Magazine. In it, after attacking the
way Stroumboulopoulos dresses –
and really, has wearing black ever been a bad fashion choice? – Hooper
gets to
the core of his argument in accusing Stroumboulopoulos of being an
agent of
style rather than substance. Hooper argues that Stroumboulopoulos lacks
“the
stones” to ask the tough questions “of guests with something other than
a
record or movie to sell.” He cites as evidence the fact that “the best
he can
do against polished politico Michael Ignatieff is a smart-alecky ‘did
you steal
Bob Rae’s Kraft dinner in college?” He notes that Stroumboulopoulos let
Charles
McVety, the head of the Canadian Christian
College and the spokesperson for
the Institute for Canadian Values, “speak against gay marriage almost
uncontested.”

Neither of these interviews unfolded the way Hooper depicts them. I watched
both the McVety and Ignatieff interviews, and they were both more serious and
occasionally contentious than anything Jon Stewart, the man to which
Stroumboulopoulos is most often compared of late, has ever produced on his
show. In both cases, Stroumboulopoulos appeared to be better prepared and more
informed on the subjects at hand than his guests, and he didn’t allow either of
them to spin him for a second. McVety attempted to assert that marriage
counselors were being “fired across the country” for refusing to perform gay
marriages, a fallacy that Stroumboulopoulos immediately contested by inviting
McVety to return on his show once a single marriage counselor had actually been
fired. Stroumboulopoulos achieved an admirably rare feat in that same
interview, exposing the weaknesses of McVety’s arguments without embarrassing
him personally, a trick that Stephen Colbert could stand to
learn. With respect to the Ignatieff interview, the Kraft dinner question that
Hooper pillories was a throw-away question near the end of the set, and one
that led into yet another round of tough questions for the good professor. As Macleans pundit Paul Wells wrote on his blog Inkless
Wells,
“George Stroumboulopoulos was a champion tonight interviewing
Michael Ignatieff. Diligent, well prepped, attentive, and taking no guff from
the subject. A lot of journalists without nose rings could profit from close
attention to George.”

The blame for most, if not all, of Stroumboulopoulos’s recent struggles
belongs to his bosses at the CBC. Stroumboulopoulos’s 2006 looks positively
rosy in comparison to that of CEO Robert Rabinovitch and Executive Vice
President Richard Stursberg, who in addition to enduring the embarrassment of
“The One” have watched the CBC lose bidding rights for the 2010 Winter
Olympics, attempt to intimidate The Globe
and Mail’s
John Doyle after he wrote a critical review of “The One”, come
under attack from the new Conservative government and Heritage Minister Bev
Oda, and publicly consider the possibility of Hockey Night in Canada and its considerable advertising revenues
moving to CTV/TSN. It seems likely that
we can add Stroumboulopoulos’s role in “The One” to that list of failures, with
Rabinovitch and Stursberg encouraging him to participate as a means of
expanding his increasingly valuable credibility with younger viewers. That they
have significantly undermined his ability to exploit that credibility by
putting his show up against the wildly popular “Daily Show with Jon Stewart”
and “Colbert Report” is, if not self-evidently counterproductive, at least in
character with recent decisions made by the CBC brass. Putting
Stroumboulopoulos and his team of two or three writers up against Stewart and
Colbert’s combined staff of approximately forty is truly an unfair comparison,
and yet the CBC insists on making it, and exposing the reputation of one of
their most marketable commodities in the process.

In spite of all of this, I think George Stroumboulopoulos
will be fine. I’ve been on his show a couple of times, and both times I’ve come
away impressed with the range of his curiosity and the depth of his
intelligence. He isn’t, as Barrett Hooper appears to think, some schmuck with a
nose ring and a slacker’s disposition. He is, instead, one of Canada’s
most talented interviewers and someone who delivers the news in a way that
actually engages younger Canadians. Let’s just hope that the CBC’s executives
find the good sense to stay out of his way.

 

Toronto, January 23rd, 2007 – 1,013 w.

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Max Fawcett

Max Fawcett is the former editor of the Chetwynd Echo, a weekly newspaper in the small northern town of Chetwynd, B.C. He currently lives in Edmonton, and works as the managing editor of Alberta Venture Magazine.

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