The CBC is a national obsession. Everyone has an opinion on it. It's too left-wing; it's too right-wing. It's too commercial; it's too boring. The CBC mirrors, reflects and magnifies all the tensions within Canada. The debate about its direction and focus is the debate about what matters to the country.
In 2004, CBC television had sunk to its lowest audience share in its history and Radio 2's audiences were on life support. That same year, Richard Stursberg, an avowed popularizer with a reputation for radical action, was hired to run English services.
With incisive wit and a flare for anecdote, Stursberg tells the story of the struggle that resulted, a struggle that lasted for six turbulent and controversial years. It's the fascinating story of the attempt to transform the CBC into a broadly popular, audience-focused organization. It is a story about shows, stars, flops, hits, arguments, deals, successes and failures. It is a story that was fought in labour disputes, the press, the board and the government.
Shortly after Stursberg arrived, the corporation locked out the employees for two months. He was characterized as a thug and a spineless rat. Four years later, he signed the most harmonious labour contract in the history of the company. He lost the television rights for the 2010-12 Olympic Games, the Canadian Football League, curling and the Hockey Night in Canada song. He won the biggest NHL contract in history, secured the World Cup of Football and produced the biggest sports audiences in decades.
He had unprecedented ratings successes - Little Mosque on the Prairie, Dragon's Den and Battle of the Blades. He had terrible flops. He rebuilt the news -- making Peter Mansbridge stand up -- and was roundly criticized for "Americanizing it." He cut 400 jobs and enjoyed the highest levels of trust and support from CBC staff. He antagonized Canada's cultural elites, the media and politicians. He enjoyed the best ratings for radio, television and online in CBC's history.
He fought endless wars with the President and the Board about the direction of the Corporation and ultimately was dismissed.
This is the story of what was done, why it was done, and why it mattered. It is a story about our most loved and reviled cultural institution during its most convulsive and far-reaching period of change. It is for those who think the CBC has lost its way, those who love where it is, and those who think it should not exist in the first place. It is for those who want argue about the Corporation's place in Canadian society, and for those who simply want to know the gossip about its greatest shows and greatest stars. It is for those who want to know what Don Cherry, Peter Mansbridge, Wendy Mesley and Rick Mercer are really like, as well as those who want to know how to negotiate a deal with Gary Bettman, develop a hit television show or face down enraged classical music enthusiasts and curling fans.
It is the story of the best mirror we have to show us who we are.