Starowicz’s Vision through Trials, Tribulations and Turbulent Waters

 
Mark Starowicz was the Executive Producer of the CBC’s documentary series, Canada: A People’s History. This history series went onto become one of the largest rating grabbers in Canadian television history.  One would expect that the series would be pretty easy to put together considering it had the manpower of CBC television studios in Toronto and Radio-Canada in Montreal as well as sponsorship from both Sun Life Financial and Bell Canada.  However, this could not be further from the truth.  In Starowicz’s book, Making History: The Remarkable Story Behind Canada: A People’s History, he gives first hand details about the trials and tribulations that he and his production were forced to endure in order to attain the Starowicz’s vision of a televised Canadian History series.  Everything from sinking ships, budgeting issues, staff cutbacks death and illness and plain frustration over the bureaucratic inner workings of the CBC would nearly sink the series.  But alas, as we all know, the series did eventually make it to air and would become quite successful.    
 
The very beginning of the series saw a camera crew, a production team, Mark Starowicz and his daughter set off on a vessel in search of the replica of The Matthew along the northern shores of Newfoundland.   The Matthew was on its way to pick up the Premier of Newfoundland at the time, Brian Tobin, and his accompaniment of ministers and other political dignitaries for a sail in and gala landing.  However, the Premier was never picked up by the Matthew.  Why did this happen?  The CBC boat, after finishing nearly sank while trying to return to port.   It was a local trawler responding to their maydays that saved them.   But the Coast Guard ship, following protocol, cut the Matthew and began the search for the CBC boat.  So the Matthew, once the Coast Guard ship returned, had to make up time miss the picking up Tobin and his entourage.  The media caught wind of this and had questions, but Starowicz had returned to port and left town before the media could contact him for comment.    

Hillarious stories like this one occur throughout the book.  Starowicz, for good measure, also mixes in some tragedy in order to make the story dramatic and exciting.  The tragedy is perhaps best characterized at the end of chapter 13 and the beginning of chapter 14 when Starowicz is still amongst another round of turmoil at the CBC, his wife wants a divorce.  The Prime Minister, following the resignation of CBC President Perrin Beatty, refused to appoint a new President for a long period before finally appointing Robert Rabinovitch.  This delay left the CBC virtually rudderless since nobody new which way the CBC would be director towards on a corporate level.   To make matters worse, one of Starowicz’s key allies in working the system of the CBC, Bob Culbert, lost his job as executive director of news and current affairs because Harold Redekopp, the head of CBC English Television, wanted big changes in CBC Newsworld (Starowicz 233).   Add to this the discovery that Governor General Romeo LeBlanc decided to retire from his position due to the discovery that his Right Honourableness had diabetes.   LeBlanc departure was a big loss because he was seen as a keen ally in trying to gain corporate funding for the history series.  Add to this several illnesses and eventual deaths of key production management people throughout the series production tapings, it would seem the series might have been cursed from day one.  At times Mark’s world was falling around him, yet he continued on.  It is truly amazing Mark didn’t fall into a sense of depression and totally give up on the series itself.   

 From the tragedies grew new opportunities as Mark used his contacts in order to get the production process back up an running.  An example of this would be the pulling out of an initial funding deal at the beginning of the book.   Starowicz was severely upset when the National Film Board pulled out of funding the series.  However, Starowicz worked his contacts and, somehow, the CBC ended up convinced, despite being cash strapped (Kelley, internet).   The series was born and a bright future of filming lay ahead.   But once things got going and seemed the sky was the limit, another tragedy happened that would hamper production of the series.   Whether it was a CBC television technician strike or wondering what kind of sponsorship deal would be in the works, the series always had a problem to contend with in order to eventually to go onto become a total success.   

The success of both the assembled production and directing team would be short lived once the series finished airing.   Due to continued fiscal and political directional problems at both Radio-Canada and the CBC, a lot of the assembled directors, producers, camera crew, historical researchers and historical artifacts went their separate ways.  A rich treasure trove of Canadian historical production value had been lost.   This treasure trove of production could have helped solve historian J.L. Granatstein’s question of “Who killed Canadian History? by helping to re-invigorate the Canadian public in the interest of history via good CBC produced documentaries. However, the CBC and Radio-Canada let this possibility slip away, which would be the final tragedy in at end of the series the public never heard about until Starowicz’s book was released in 2003.

Mark Starowicz provides both first hand accounts from both his view and the people involved in the production of Canada: A People’s History in order to provide the reader a candid look at how the troubled series came to be.   Mark Starowicz had a vision on what he wanted this series to look like from the very beginning.  Starowicz steered towards this vision through the turbulent waters made by the CBC’s reluctance both fiscally, politically and linguistic problems as well as the calm waters while successfully filming reenactments of battles like the Plains of Abraham.  Starowicz finally saw the vision pay off when the ratings of launch of the series on CBC television literally shot through the roof.  Starowicz’s book tells how it all happened from beginning to end, and proves the series was far from easy to produce.

 Bibliography 

Canada: A People’s History.” CBC. Online. Internet. 23 July 2004.  Available: http://history.cbc.ca/.
 

 Starowicz, Mark. Making History: The Remarkable Story Behind Canada: A People's History.  Toronto: McLelland & Stewart Ltd., 2003.

 
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