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TELEVISION / BLOOMSDAY / ASSESSING THE MOOD

No, I wasn't calling for Letterman's firing. But some wish I was

Headshot of John Doyle

jdoyle@globeandmail.com

Today, June 16, is Bloomsday. This is good. It always cheers me up.

Around the world, people celebrate James Joyce's UIysses, the events of that novel - surely the greatest ever written - having taken place on the 16th of June, 1904. That was the day that Joyce first went out for a walk with Nora Barnacle, who would later become his wife. It's a fine thing, the festivity in honour of a novel.

It's a darn good thing it's Bloomsday, and I'm cheery about it. Because there are reasons to be irritated, if not downright despairing - well, fed up anyway.

No, I don't actually want David Letterman off the air. That was in jest, an ironic remark in the context of that Sarah Palin woman demanding an uprising against the entire U.S. entertainment industry.

And yet some people believe I was calling for Letterman's dismissal yesterday. The heart sinks. This is one of those periods when I get the distinct impression that Canadians are a glum, humourless people with a strong puritanical streak. It's one of those times when I feel the journalism favoured by most Canadians is hectoring, finger-wagging disapproval of something or other. No joking, no mocking, no teasing. Canadians like to read, see and enjoy commentary they agree with - and the more cheerless the better.

This is reflected is our TV comedy, I think. This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Rick Mercer Report tend toward the gentlest kinds of satire, and, in most instances, the comedy isn't aimed at Canadians anyway. It's aimed at politicians and other public figures. Thus, there's a distancing effect. It's not about us, it's about some big shots who are probably too big for their boots anyway.

Canadians are also great complainers and sulkers, and quick to take offence and disapprove. This certainly applies to the TV racket.

The other day I wrote a column agreeing with a remark by an executive producer of Flashpoint who had suggested that some Canadian TV writers are snobs about working on commercial TV programs. This is true. Most Canadian TV writers are clever people, hard-working, always willing to learn and cheerful about the challenge of writing material that will engage and entertain a mass audience. However, there's a minority who are appalling snobs. Bitter, sulking snobs they are, this little bunch. I know it, and the Writers Guild of Canada knows it. And yet, the head of the Writers Guild unleashed a condemnation of my remarks, used the term "soccer hooligan" to refer to me and then proceeded to complain about the current situation in Canadian TV - "in which U.S. networks bulk up their prime-time skeds with programs bought cheaply in Canada - to spend CTF [Canadian Television Fund] money on stories written for generic anytown-USA productions."

This will probably be news to most Canadians but, apparently, the number of Canadian-made TV shows being picked up by the U.S. network is a disgrace. It's a terrible thing to happen. Shouldn't be allowed. Banning it all would be the best thing. Exactly why, puzzles me. Writers, actors, directors and producers are getting paid to work on a slate of new shows that get prime-time exposure in the U.S. market and around the world.

Always with the complaints, that's the Canadian way. Let's find a problem and sulk about it. If anybody disagrees, let's condemn them. I hate to break it to those Canadian TV writers - mostly darling people, I emphasize - but the country is not terribly interested in your arcane complaints. The economy is in tatters. Unemployment is rising. People are worried about their mortgages, pensions and their children's future. If you've got a problem with Canadian-made shows airing on CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC, you're talking to the wrong people. Including me. We've got our own issues to complain about. And, by the way, on two of those Canadian-made, U.S. network shows, Flashpoint and The Listener, Toronna is Toronna, not Anytown, USA.

A person could get fed up with the Canadian complaining and humourless sulking. Even on Bloomsday.

***

Airing tonight

FRONTLINE: BREAKING THE BANK (PBS, 9 p.m.) is a new and terrific, in-depth look at the merger of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch that was supposed to help save the American financial system and stop the imminent bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers from setting off a massive chain reaction. It didn't work. As Frontline points out, "Within days, the entire global financial system was collapsing." Mostly the program is about Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, an enigmatic, mercurial figure. One commentator describes him as "the most competitive person in the history of the United States, including the Union Army." It's also about how the big financial institutions in the United States are obliged to operate, now that they rely on government money to survive.

MENTAL (Fox, Global, 9 p.m.) is new, and if you don't find the hero too irritating - A Dr. House-type psychiatrist (played by actor Chris Vance from Prison Break) - it can be soothing. The theme, always, is that the mentally ill are often misunderstood. Our hero is, of course, especially equipped to gain a true understanding of them. There are romantic entanglements too. Tonight, our hero tries to help a boy who is obsessed with a video game.

NATALIE MACMASTER AND FRIENDS (Bravo!, 8 p.m.) is for fans of virtuoso aye-tiddly-aye music. MacMaster performs with fiddlers Andrea Beaton and Glenn Graham. Not Bloomsday-related, but sweet, sweet music. J.D.

Check local listings.

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