Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Rewind and Search: Conversations with the Makers and Decision-Makers of CBC Television Drama

by Mary Jane Miller

Mary Jane Miller’s Rewind and Search is too epic an accomplishment to categorize merely as a sequel to her Turn Up the Contrast (1987). The new book was begun in 1988, three years into the era of crippling government cutbacks and during a period of “profound structural reorganization” and “indisputable internal crisis” at the CBC. It takes up, in a sense, where the earlier one left off, but then circles back to the beginnings of television drama in this country and, by employing a sort of bureaucratic fugue for voices, provides a compelling drama of its own: a Götterdämmerung-like crumbling of high aims and noble intentions that gives way to pandering to what is believed to be popular taste. Miller, unfailingly fair and generous in her sympathies for the CBC’s difficulties (some of them), is not reluctant to declare her ambivalent feelings about the venerable old institution.

The almost elegiac tone set by her talks with CBC past personnel accumulates, over the course of the book’s first half (the second half of the book is about decision-makers, and is not – cannot – be as moving), into a sort of morality play – and a powerful, if inadvertent, sketch of the elusive Canadian character. In talking with the late Alice Sinclair, a story editor who came to the CBC in 1959, Miller mentions her admiration for The Collaborators and the way it anticipated Hill Street Blues by 15 years. Sinclair agrees. “Canadians have a habit of anticipating major trends in television,” Sinclair tells Miller, “we just don’t notice when we do it.”

The past is a hallowed place: producer/director Mario Prizek wistfully recalls the electric joys of producing TV drama live. The present is all strife and compromise: Nada Harcourt, executive producer of Street Legal, provides an outburst typical of the kind of defensiveness that everywhere tinctures Rewind and Search.

And so the voices, past and present, accumulate, weaving together a gilded nostalgia for the past, a tremulous idealism, crippling anxiety, bitter regret, and a widespread giving up. The book ends with several long, slick, interviews with BBS’s Ivan Fecan, begetter of the CBC’s now defunct “Canadianization” program (attacked everywhere as “made-in-Canada Americanization”).

Finally, all passion spent, “repositioning” is over and the CBC is numb and depleted. Miller refuses, however, to give up on it: “The corporation,” she writes, “needs to sit down, rewind, and search its own history and its ethos.” Mary Jane Miller is one of the body politic’s attendant surgeons. Maybe, with books like this one – even at this late date – she can make a difference.


Reviewer: Gary Michael Dault

Publisher: McGill-Queen’s


Price: $49.95

Page Count: 568 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7735-1365-5

Released: May

Issue Date: 1996-5

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs