The Show Goes On
By Mike Toth
It's a strange thing when you work in the media.
From the cozy confines of a newsroom, studio or press box, you're able to keep the world at arm's length while you provide a running commentary on what happens to everybody else.
But every so often, the members of the media actually become the story and it can be a huge shock to their system.
Over the last few weeks, Bell Media axed a number of people, some popular programs and, in the case of a trio of TSN radio stations shuttered across the country, entire broadcast operations.
The media loves to report on itself, so Canadian newspapers have been filled with stories lamenting the loss of talking heads, such as long-time TSN'er Dan O'Toole, while crucifying Bell for placing profits above people. Of course, you didn't hear much about the many behind-the-scenes staffers who are now unemployed, as it's much more sexy to cover the on-air talent and the evil corporate villains.
At any rate, it's obviously been a brutal few days for the broadcast industry and another stark reminder that a world-wide pandemic takes no prisoners.
Thousands of people have lost their livelihoods as the fight against COVID rages on, with Air Canada announcing that 1500 employees are scheduled to be laid off next week. That news, however, seemed to get lost as the media focused its attention on the elimination of a number of broadcast personalities who may have been serving as Coronavirus comfort food for many TV viewers and radio listeners.
But the cold, harsh reality?
After a few days of hand-wringing, the show goes on.
A bunch of people on social media, upset with the dismissal of O'Toole, (one half of the late night "Jay and Dan" show) angrily pledged to never watch TSN again.
A noble gesture, for sure.
But let's see what happens to the "never gonna watch again" crowd when TSN carries big-time events such as March Madness, the Grey Cup and the World Juniors…..not to mention the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors games.
Something tells me that the boycott over the chopping of their favorite broadcaster will suddenly get placed on the back burner.
Don Cherry, for example, was the most popular personality in the history of Canadian television. But when the Coach's Corner king popped off about poppies, "Hockey Night in Canada" booted Don out the door. A lot of people swore they'd never tune in again but the last time I checked hockey was still pretty popular in Canada and if the Leafs keep winning, this year's NHL play-off TV ratings could reach all-time highs.
Cherry's story proves that nobody in life is irreplaceable, and the media industry is certainly no exception. Broadcasting, after all, is a very subjective profession. No matter what you do, it's guaranteed that some of your audience will think you're fantastic while others view you as a complete moron. The bosses are no different and if one of them suddenly takes a dislike to the way a TV sportscaster parts their hair, they could be history.
Most broadcasters have pretty big egos but, deep down, we all realize that the machine will keep churning whether we're part of it or not. When I worked at Sportsnet, for instance, we'd often resort to off-camera gallows humour to prepare for the inevitable day when a few of us would disappear from the airwaves.
"We've just learned that Mike Toth has been killed in a tragic snowball fight with a group of irate viewers," one of us would announce in a sombre tone. "This show is dedicated to Mike's memory…..Alright! Three games in the NHL tonight, and how about the mighty Leafs gunning for their third straight win? Let's roll those highlights!"
Yes, the show ALWAYS goes on.
Fortunately, I was never actually put to death in a snowball battle with my broadcasting detractors. But I have been one of the many victims of a few media lay-offs over the years.
It's never easy losing your job.
But if this stinking pandemic has provided us any lesson, it's that the most important things on this crazy planet are health, family and friends. As long as you're covered in those areas, you at least have a fighting chance.
To all the folks impacted by the Bell Media lay-offs, there's no doubt you've been dealt a lousy hand; especially when you consider the cutbacks were announced just a few days after Bell's #Let'sTalk mental health campaign. ("I've got a great idea!," said Bell's top PR wiz. "Let's axe a whole mess of people right after #Let'sTalk. It's perfect timing! After all, we're in the middle of a life-changing pandemic. And if we really want to make a splash, let's make sure to chop a high-profile guy like Dan O'Toole!)
But remember, your worth isn't defined by a faceless corporation and, if you stay strong, you will survive.
Many of you will work again in the mainstream media.
Some of you might find a fit on social media.
A few of you might actually (Gasp!) be forced to find a job in the "real" world. I've got one of those gigs and, trust me, it's really not that bad. Sure, I miss a few things about the broadcast biz. But, to be honest, my life hasn't changed much since my own days at TSN and Sportsnet came to an end. I still have the same interests and hobbies, and I still lean on the same family and friends that I always have.
The last time I checked, meanwhile, the sports networks seem to be rolling along just fine without me, too.
Yes, the show goes on.
But don't forget that your own show also continues, whether you're behind a microphone or not.