CBC building in Toronto, September 6, 2011.
Credits: Alex Urosevic/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency
That's not my verdict - although I may agree with it. That's the assessment of Richard Stursberg, the former head of English services for both CBC television and radio. Stursberg has just released a tell-all book about his six years at the top of the CBC food chain and it doesn't always paint a pretty picture.
The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC (Douglas & McIntyre) details what happened when he tried to take CBC from their lowest ratings ever to new heights. From the beginning Stursberg asked questions at the state broadcaster that would make the establishment uncomfortable.
"Is the CBC there to serve the chatterati, the cultural elites - or the public at large?" he asked while being recruited for the top job by then-CBC president Robert Rabinovitch. "Is it supposed to make art-house fare or Canadian entertainment shows that Canadians might actually find entertaining?"
While Stursberg felt CBC should make Canadian programs that Canadians might actually want to watch, that was not a view shared by many who oversaw the operation.
"The CBC's Constituency of the good and the great was what determined its direction," Stursberg writes in Tower of Babble, which will be published April 21. "The board was drawn from its members. The presidents had historically come from the same group. The Constituency determined the budgets and the size of the public subsidy. They all moved in the same circles, and they all agreed that the CBC brand should be sober and a little dull. It should be like them."
One thing made clear to Stursberg was that CBC should not be involved in making Canadian sitcoms, reality shows or the sorts of American-style programs watched by millions in this country.
To be clear, Tower of Babble is just one side of the tale of Stursberg's time at the top, but it is fascinating nonetheless. He made enemies of people who felt CBC should make the "art-house fare" that no one would watch and bask in their own superiority.
Nowhere was change resisted as much as the news department. Once upon a time, and it was a long time ago, CBC's The National had been the dominant television newscast in Canada. Now it was third in a three-horse race and showed no signs of improving. Suggestions they should improve were met with contempt. Stursberg writes that the news department - Fort News, he calls it - felt it was above everyone else.
"It regarded itself as a law unto itself, independent not just of the government of the day but of the CBC board, the president and the head of English television."
Once, after suggesting that he might work within the news department occasionally or listen in on department conference calls, the head of news, Tony Burman, blew a gasket and said any attempt by Stursberg to get to know the news department would be seen as an attempt to intimidate the journalists.
"I never go to those meetings myself," Burman told Stursberg.
Despite all his fights, Stursberg would improve CBC's lot and that would be the reason for his departure. Success at the state broadcaster, it seems, comes from receiving the correct approval over a glass of Pinot Noir at a cocktail party, not from having more Canadians actually watch what you produce.
He had increased CBC's average-minute audience by 52% from a total of 215,000 in 2004 to 328,000 by 2010. Total audience share was up 34%. Success like that in the private sector would be rewarded; an executive with that record would be prized. Stursberg was fired in August 2010.
Tower of Babble may be highly critical of the CBC and what Stursberg sees as the organization's flaws, but he also displays a deep love for the state broadcaster. This book, though, is a must-read for those who love the CBC and those who hate it.
Few people could write this kind of book and so far, in recent times, only Stursberg has.