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'Canada!' salutes the CBC at 50

October 21, 2002|Jim Holt | Special to The Times

While "blame Canada" remains the rant of many film workers opposed to production going north, the Museum of Television & Radio is choosing instead to salute Canada for a half century of production.

Starting with a party Wednesday night, the Beverly Hills museum is throwing a birthday celebration of sorts for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the government-subsidized network that is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The CBC was also saluted Wednesday by the New York branch of the Museum of Television & Radio.

The 14-week exhibition -- "O Canada! A Salute to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp." -- spotlights some of the risks undertaken to produce the controversial, the weird, the banal and the boring.

Although such names as Uncle Chichimus, Howie the Turtle and Don Messer are likely to be wasted on all but the most nostalgic Canadians living here, the show also features household names in the U.S. who originated in Canadian households.

The CBC's mandate is the same now as it was when it went on the air at 7:15 p.m., Sept. 8, 1952: Promote Canadian culture.

"For the private sector in Canada, it pays to buy U.S. programming," CBC President Robert Rabinovitch says. "For the private sector, it doesn't pay to do Canadian content. So who's going to do it? Who's going to tell the Canadian stories? Who's going to show hockey? Our role is to ensure and develop Canadian content."

Local network executives might want to check out "O Canada!" if they've paid serious attention to the recent success of edgy, award-winning, quality cable shows.

"Like HBO, the CBC has the capability to do shows like 'The Sopranos' and 'Six Feet Under' because we're not driven by delivering eyeballs. We don't have to win the ratings contest," Rabinovitch says.

Also on the three-month bill are the outrageous Kids in the Hall comedy show produced by "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels, the popular "Degrassi High" series already familiar to American audiences and cult favorite poet-musician Leonard Cohen.

Two directors of "Cinema Creepy" are featured in the three-month lineup: David Cronenberg, responsible for "Crash" and "Dead Ringers," and Atom Egoyan, who did "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Exotica." Both cut their teeth on CBC shows.

"The CBC is an incubator of talent," Rabinovitch says. "We filmed Celine Dion singing at 12 years old."

The CBC vault holds 50 years of pre-fame faces now well known in the U.S., including Michael J. Fox, Martin Short, Robert Goulet and Alex Trebek.

Canadian actor Adam Beach, star of the summer war movie "Windtalkers," attended the opening of the CBC series and called the network "a great showcase for Canadian talent."

Peter Meyboom, who produced the mockumentary "Escape From the Newsroom" that premiered at the museum Wednesday, said, "The CBC is a good place to take an idea that perhaps won't fit anywhere else."

The Canadian government subsidizes 60% of the CBC, with the balance of its budget split evenly between advertising revenue and worldwide licensing agreements.

For the record, Uncle Chichimus was the bald puppet that jumped in to explain technical difficulties experienced the first day of CBC's broadcast in 1952.

Beside him on that night was 25-year-old floor director Norman Jewison, who went on to direct such Oscar-winning films as "Moonstruck," "In the Heat of the Night" and "Fiddler on the Roof."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

`O Canada!'

What: "O Canada! A Salute to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp."

Where: Museum of Television & Radio, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills.

Ends: Feb. 2.

Information: (310) 786-1000.

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