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Mike closed - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER - Late Friday, there came news that CanWest Global, the fledgling national network, had cancelled Mike Bullard's late night talk show. This came as no surprise considering the show was not as funny, as let's say, what's on at that hour on the other Canadian network CTV, the American Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Also, whatever's on American networks: Letterman, Leno, O'Brien, Kilborn, and Jimmy Kimmel.

Mike Bullard came out of nowhere six or seven years ago. He had been a cop and was working for the telephone company when he was plucked by the Comedy Network to host their flagship show. Open Mike was born and Mike Bullard was broadcasting on late night Canadian television just like Peter Gzowski and Ralph Benmergui. The show wasn't terribly good, but the Comedy Network could air it considering it was starved for Canadian content. Soon enough, its parent network, CTV came calling, and Open Mike was on the main network.

Then it imploded. After some five or six years on the network, his contract was not renewed and CanWest Global lured Bullard. Intent on building a network to rival CTV, Global needed Canadian programming. Traders was long gone, and Global's success was in airing American programming. Mike Bullard was their man, and they were ready to put him on nightly, and possibly sell him to international markets.

Let's not forget too, Bullard's acrimonious departure from CTV. Once signed by Global this past summer, Bullard had complaint after complaint about his former bosses at CTV. Everything from the studio's temperature, to having to pay for his own plane tickets when promoting the show, to guest bookers not booking any guests. Bullard was not pleased and was hopeful his new Global deal would be long running and more positive.

The whole Mike Bullard phenomenon was mind boggling to begin with. He didn't as much as burst on the scene to become a big star. No, he sort of lingered there and became a presence that way. The Comedy Network aired his re-runs incessantly, and it sure as hell seemed that you could count on a Mike Bullard re-run more than an episode of The Simpsons. He was a Canadian celebrity, no doubt, someone you'd see downtown somewhere across the country, recognise, can't pull his name, and ignore, because Canadians don't bother celebs really.

Open Mike wasn't very good, and The Mike Bullard Show was painful at best. On a very recent broadcast just after the Oscars, with Harry Connick Jr. as guest, it was atrocious to hear during the guest-chat, Bullard's bandleader, guffawing in the background. He looked like a mental patient.

Mike Bullard is not a Canadian comedic talent like Mike Bullard or any of the Kids in the Hall. Bullard was not a talk show host, though he was getting there. Asking questions like a Pamela Wallin or Craig Oliver however, is not what we need in late night television. Bullard would be commended to take his talents to radio where he'd be ideally suited. As a conversationalist, he's superb, and with his sense of humour, I have no doubt that he could become a more hip version of Peter Gzowski or Shelagh Rogers.

Mike Bullard didn't belong on late night television, but CTV made him into a star because they needed one and Global snatched him up thinking he was one. Global's sacking of Bullard is curious at best. The show debuted in late November, and was axed because of low-ratings. It seems that the American import, Jon Stewart was outgunning Bullard, and rightfully so. Stewart's brilliant satire of current affairs is seemingly important in the current climate where politics seems to dominate water cooler conversation. Global suffers from the same disease that plagues the American cable outlet MSNBC. They herald new programming only to can it, because it's not performing well. Global ought to have realised that investing in Canadian programming at that hour though needed, would not have amounted to a whole hell of a lot considering what was on at the same hour on other networks. Global's programming decision was folly at best. They should have either stuck with Bullard for the long haul, give him time to let him build what he built at CTV, or not have put him where they put him in the first place expecting him to transfer what he had at CTV. Bullard was not a heavyweight in the celebrity business to begin with to have that cache to move around with a following. Lloyd Robertson he was not.

It's awfully Canadian that our newscasters have more celebrity than our real celebrities. I'll bet you that Peter Mansbridge would be mobbed walking down Robson faster than Brent Butt. Mike Bullard's a good broadcaster. Comedian - not really. It's a shame nonetheless that Canadians have lost that outlet for a national show. Global should have just stuck with it, incurring the losses. I mean, the Canadian television industry is built on sustaining losses anyways.

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