Battle of the Network Prime Ministers

30 Nov

In the Globe and Mail the other day, columnist John Doyle analyzed the popularity – rare for a Canadian-made TV show – of the Rick Mercer Report. He wrote:

The reality of the culture is that Canadians absorb Canadian news on TV and in Canadian newspapers, follow Canadian sports, read Canadian authors and listen to Canadian pop music. They don’t watch a lot of Canadian TV. The dynamic is different. So Mercer has taken the elements of what Canadians connect with in the culture – Canadian news, sports, music etc. – and packaged and poured them into what Canadians are less enamoured with – Canadian-made TV.

True enough. With few exceptions – Rick Mercer being one – when Canucks turn on their TVs for entertainment, they tend to tune in to American programs.

But… Hollywood television writers have gone on strike this fall, shutting down production on all manner of TV programs, from late-night comedy shows to sitcoms to weekly dramas. As the strike has dragged on, the American networks have relied ever more heavily on reality TV programming.

In Canada, some of the substitutes for all the absent American comedy and drama have been our own homegrown reality shows, produced by Canadians for Canadians.

Yesterday brought the afternoon debut of one new reality show: the Karlheinz Kerfuffle, which got high ratings… on every television set within a ten-block radius of Parliament Hill, at least. Although it didn’t garner great critical reviews, there was good news today for the program: A threatened cancellation / extradition did not transpire. It will be back on the air next week.

Then there’s the long-running, ongoing Canadian reality show: Battle of the Prime Ministers.

Or is that actually not a reality show, but instead… reality?

Whatever. It has been more entertaining, even, than professional wrestling.

A blow-by-blow recap:

• In the pilot episode, Brian Mulroney comes out with his long-awaited and… long… memoirs, which include poison-pen attacks on old nemeses Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien. Mulroney writes that the late Trudeau’s youthful opposition to sending troops overseas to fight the Nazis negated any moral authority he ever may have had as Prime Minister.

• Then, Chrétien comes out with his own… not-so-long…. memoirs, which include his own poison-pen attack, this one on his successor Paul Martin, who – he writes – surrounded himself with “self-serving goons”.

• In an unexpected early-season plot twist, Chrétien is hospitalized and undergoes emergency heart surgery on the eve of his promotional book tour. But the wound his book has reopened in the Liberal Party remains untreated.

• An unscheduled cameo appearance from the current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, announcing an inquiry into Mulroney’s dealings with controversial businessman Karlheinz Schreiber and a ban on members of his government from having any dealings with the former PM, their fellow party member.

• The triumphant late-season return of Chrétien to the show, continuing his attacks on Paul Martin and on Mulroney.

• Joe Clark wades in… no, hold on a second… Joe Clark hasn’t appeared yet this season. But in an earlier season, he attacked Stephen Harper as a “dangerous leader” and refused to join his fellow Progressive Conservatives in the then-new Conservative party.

All this may demonstrate that in the minds of some Canadian Prime Ministers, legacy building is a competitive, zero-sum game. This stands in marked contrast to politics south of our border.

Why? I had some thoughts on that matter in  this earlier blog post.

The general rule seems to be that backbiting and partisan squabbling continue well into retirement for our former Prime Ministers.

It’s no great reflection on the political culture of this country. But at least it gives us something to watch until they can settle that darn Hollywood writers’ strike.

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2 Responses to “Battle of the Network Prime Ministers”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. TV Movies Soaps » Battle of the Network Prime Ministers - November 30, 2007

    […] Alan Echenberg placed an interesting blog post on Battle of the Network Prime MinistersHere’s a brief overviewHollywood television writers have gone on strike this fall, shutting down production on all manner of TV programs, from late-night comedy shows to sitcoms to weekly dramas. As the strike has dragged on, the American networks have relied … […]

  2. Paul Martin speaks: “goons” is “nuts” « echenblog - December 16, 2007

    […] was – as I’ve previously noted – one of the more engaging episodes of this season’s “Battle of the Network Prime […]

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