Why was Doctor Who not Renewed by the CBC ?
By Randy Howell
Following the 26 episode season in 1965, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) chose not to renew Doctor Who. As ratings information is not available there is no way to say for certain why the CBC made this decision. However, based on historical information we can identify a number of factors that may have influenced this choice.
To better understand the environment that influenced the decision to cancel Doctor Who as well as understand the context regarding the unfortunate statement concerning the CBC made by the BBC Director-General in May of 1965, we first need to review the state of the CBC in 1965. This will be facilitated by comparing how the CBC operates versus the BBC.
The CBC in 1965
The CBC is the public broadcaster of Canada but its television operations in 1965 was significantly different from that of a traditional public broadcaster such as the BBC as it essentially operated as a commercial entity. The CBC English television service operated transmitters in the largest Canadian cities covering roughly two-thirds of the population but the transmitters in the smaller centers were owned by private firms that operated under an affiliation agreement with the CBC. The CBC was funded by annual grants from the Canadian government but the CBC was expected to supplement this funding through advertising. The privately owned affiliates subsisted entirely on advertising revenue and as such had a strong voice in influencing CBC programming. This contrasts sharply with the BBC who owned all of its transmitters and operates under a 12 year charter with funding secured by license fees and carried no commercial advertising.
The mixed public/private nature of the CBC was a necessary compromise that permitted the rapid growth of the CBC television network. Canada has a small population (half that of Britain) but its territory is vast (second largest country in the world by area). The cost of establishing a national television service was significantly higher than that of Britain. Further, the CBC had to provide a national television service in both English and French.
The CBC also faced fierce competition. One of its strongest competitors was the privately owned CTV network, established in 1961. The BBC also faced competition from private networks such as ITV, but much unlike the British industry, the CBC faced direct international competition from foreign networks. In 1965, some 55% of the population of Canada could directly receive American broadcasts and cable television networks were growing rapidly to distribute US programming to Canadian viewers. US broadcasters near the Canadian border had sales offices in Canada to market commercial time to Canadian firms and in some cases transmitters were established near the border to directly serve Canadian markets (for example, Winnipeg was served by KCND-TV in Pembina, North Dakota; Vancouver was served by KVOS-TV in Bellingham, Washington).
1965 was also a watershed year for the CBC. In 1965 the Canadian government appointed Robert Fowler to chair the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting to study the state of Canadian broadcasting that may lead to changes in the system of broadcast regulation and the CBC mandate with its report due in September of 1965. This could potentially lead to restructuring changes for the CBC.
Further, it was widely known that Canada would soon switch to a colour broadcast system which would incur significant costs to the CBC. The rationale for the switch to colour broadcasting was that in the Spring of 1965 the American NBC network announced that the majority of it prime-time programming would be in colour for the 1966 season. Another factor for the switch to colour is that Canada would celebrate its 100th birthday in 1967, with the occasion being marked by the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal (Expo ’67) with the CBC responsible for the construction of an expensive international broadcast centre with colour facilities. In a surprise move, on 16 June 1965 the Canadian government announced the switch to a colour TV system by no later than 1 January 1967 and thus did not wait for the Fowler Committee to table its report.
Overall, strong attempts were made to promote Doctor Who in 1965. A number of newspapers published stock newspaper articles announcing the start of new Doctor Who serials and several newspapers also published detailed episode synopses with their TV listings. The number of newspapers who participated in this manner is not large (TV Guide, Winnipeg Free Press, Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Journal, Sudbury Star, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, St. John’s Evening Telegram and CBC Times). However, this was a lot more exposure than a youth program would typically receive at this time.
Doctor Who Time Slot Choice
Doctor Who premiered on Saturday, 23 January 1965 at 5:00 PM for most locations in Canada. The choice of a 5:00 PM time slot on Saturdays is a curious one. Traditionally, Saturday afternoons in North America are dominated by sports programming. For much of the 1960’s the CBC chose to carve a niche for itself by showing youth programming at that time, but whenever it had the opportunity to show sports programming in that time slot it did so.
The ten Saturday episodes of the 1965 Doctor Who run in Canada had to go head-to-head with the very popular Wide World of Sports program carried by the ABC network in the US (and the CTV network in Canada). Not to outdone, the US NBC network carried 10 golf specials during that period: 23 January – Bing Crosby Golf Tournament; 6 February – Bob Hope Golf Classic; 30 January, 13 February to 27 March – “Big Three Golf” specials with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, all in colour. The 5:00 PM Saturday time slot also had the usual assortment of bowling and wrestling matches. All-in-all, this was pretty significant competition for a youth program such as Doctor Who but one could understand why the CBC attempted to stand out and create a niche holding for this time-slot by serving a market most other networks were ignoring.
On 6 February 1965 the CBC picked up the rights to show the NBC special for the Bob Hope Golf Classic and it pre-empted Doctor Who to air this program (by that time the CBC was mid-way through the first Doctor Who serial). The last Saturday episode for Doctor Who was on 3 April 1965 before it switched to Wednesdays (swapping time slots with The Forest Rangers, a CBC production). If Doctor Who remained in the Saturday time slot it would have been pre-empted several more times, especially for horse racing such as on 1 May 1965 (The Kentucky Derby), 5 June 1965 (Belmont Stakes) and 26 June 1965 (The Queen's Plate). The 5:00 PM Saturday time slot would also be subjected to further competition from golf specials such as the CBS network Masters Golf Tournament on 10 April 1965 and the NBC network U.S. National Open Golf Tournament on 19 June 1965. The Forest Rangers would have not have had an easier time than Doctor Who for the Saturday time slot.
After the first ten episodes, the CBC moved Doctor Who to 5:00 PM on Wednesdays starting 14 April 1965 (for most locations) which is a more traditional youth programming time slot. Given the competition with sports programming on Saturdays this change in schedule cannot necessarily be viewed as a demotion. In moving to Wednesday, Doctor Who was swapping time slots with one of the CBC’s most popular youth programs, The Forest Rangers, a series that was sold to over 40 countries (including Zambia and Rhodesia where, ironically, the series was used as a fill-in when Doctor Who was pre-empted!). At the time The Forest Rangers were showing new episodes from its second season. The Forest Rangers was owned by the CBC and it long held the 5:00 PM Wednesday time slot so the move to Saturdays must have been a carefully crafted decision. The Forest Rangers stayed in the Saturday time slot for the remainder of 1965 and all of 1966, thus completing its original run on the CBC network.
The weekday youth programming block on the CBC network for the Spring of 1965 typically ran as:
|4:30pm||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle|
|5:00pm||World of Nature (CBC)||Fireball XL5||Doctor Who||Magilla Gorilla||The King's Outlaw|
|5:30pm||Music Hop||Music Hop||Music Hop||Music Hop||Music Hop|
By the Winter/Spring of 1966 the weekday youth programming block on the CBC network was:
|4:30pm||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle||Razzle Dazzle|
|5:00pm||Passport to Adventure||Passport to Adventure||Passport to Adventure||Passport to Adventure||Flipper|
|5:30pm||Music Hop||Music Hop||Music Hop||Music Hop||Music Hop|
Clearly there was a big change in the 5:00 PM weekday time slot for 1966. All shows in the 5:00 PM weekday time slot, including Doctor Who, were not renewed. In its place, the Monday-Thursday slots were occupied by Passport to Adventure with Flipper on Fridays. Passport to Adventure was a CBC production where a panelist would present classic Hollywood serials from the 1930’s to 1940’s and would discuss the films, sometimes with a guest. This program must have been very inexpensive to produce and would seem to indicate that the CBC was trying to reduce costs. The decision not to renew Doctor Who, along with the other weekday youth programs (mostly imports) could have been a budget-driven decision. The fact that the show was hosted by a CBC panelist likely meant that the show counted as Canadian content towards the 55% Canadian content requirement as set by broadcast regulations for that era.
Move to Colour Broadcasting
The announcement on 16 June 1965 that Canada would switch to colour broadcasting would have a significant impact on the CBC. The cost to convert the CBC network to colour in addition to the very expensive construction of the broadcast centre in Montreal for the 1967 World Fair’s (Expo ’67) would tax CBC resources. This may have resulted in cost cutting measures at the CBC that may have resulted in the cancellation of Doctor Who. The first CBC colour broadcasts were in the Fall of 1966.
Besides the enormous cost, the switch to colour may have had some impact on the decision to not renew Doctor Who. By the time the switch to colour was announced the BBC was nearing the end of the second season of Doctor Who. By this point the CBC has aired 26 episodes whereas the BBC had already produced 81 episodes and the BBC was keeping a pace of 40+ episodes per season. The CBC must have know that black & white production for Doctor Who would continue for a number of years and showing episodes at a pace of 26 per season (standard North American order) would mean that Doctor Who would continue in black & white for many years. It is possible that the CBC felt that investment in a black & white series would backfire as there would soon be competition from American colour productions.
(As noted elsewhere, by July 1965 Canada had been offered a further block of episodes (a package that went up to The Crusade). Had the CBC accepted that offer, and continued with a weekly schedule and hadn't shortened the run by switching to weekdays in April 1965, that full package of episodes alone would have lasted until April 1966, pushing the series into the launch of colour.)
The switch to colour in Canada did impact BBC sales. For example, see page 218 of
- Potter, Simon J. (2012). Broadcasting Empire: The BBC and the British World, 1922-1970. Oxford University Press
BBC sales to the US were also impacted by the switch to colour. For example, see page 35 of the 1967 BBC Handbook (which looks back at the year 1966).
The “Unhappy Organization” Comment
From appearances, the BBC and the CBC have a cordial relationship. BBC Director-General Sir Hugh Carleton Greene was a regular visitor to the CBC. We know that Sir Hugh Greene visited the CBC on 10 September 1964, possibly to promote BBC programming like Doctor Who which the CBC purchased shortly afterwards.
On 14 April 1965, CBC President J. Alphonse Ouimet announced to the CBC Board of Directors that Sir Hugh will visit Canada from 1-4 June 1965 to mark the commencement of the BBC documentary series, "The Great War" on the CBC network. President Ouimet expected to meet with Sir Hugh Greene during this visit. Quite possibly, Sir Hugh would have taken the opportunity to promote BBC programming and perhaps lobby for a renewal for Doctor Who.
Before Sir Hugh arrived in Canada the Canadian Press carried a story where it reported statements made by Sir Hugh in May of 1965 that referred to the CBC as an “Unhappy Organization”. The Canadian Press article appeared in Canadian newspapers on 27-28 May 1965 (Thursday and Friday) shortly before Sir Hugh was scheduled to arrive in Canada on Monday, 1 June 1965.
The Canadian Press article referenced a London Daily Mirror article which printed the text of a speech that Sir Hugh gave to a private gathering of 200 BBC executives in the previous week (the Daily Mirror obtained a recording of the speech). Sir Hugh took an adamant line that the BBC would not relieve its financial burdens by selling advertising and brought up the example of the CBC in this regard who was referred to, but not in a vindictive manner, as an unhappy organization.
The Canadian Press article was carried in a number of Canadian newspapers (usually in the middle pages). The text was largely the same but the headline differed substantially. For example, the Windsor Star of 27 May ran the story claiming "BBC Chief Says CBC 'Unhappy'" (see right); the Ottawa Citizen on 28 May 1965 ran with the headline, “CBC ‘unhappy’, says BBC”; the 27 May 1965 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix ran with the subdued headline, “CBC Said Unhappy Organization”; tthe 27 May 1965 Lethbridge Herald ran with the sensationalistic headline, “BBC Director Tosses Rocks At The CBC”.
Not all newspapers in Canada carried the Canadian Press article, but all the Ottawa newspapers did, and Ottawa is where the headquarters of the CBC and the Parliament of Canada is located. It took some time to verify the story. In the 2 June 1965 edition of the Toronto Telegram a report was made where Sir Hugh confirmed the statements carried in the London Daily Mirror story. The article reported further statements from Sir Hugh that his remarks were made at a "confidential" meeting of broadcasting executives and should be considered in their context.
An editorial in the 2 June 1965 edition of the Ottawa Citizen came out in support of the CBC and agreed it was indeed an unhappy organization and the Canadian government should move as soon as possible to reform Canadian broadcasting and reassure the CBC. The editorial (which was reprinted in a number of other newspapers) compared the BBC to the CBC and made a point that, "Sir Hugh has been having his own troubles lately, but he is still in a much more comfortable position than Mr. Alphonse Ouimet. There are self-evident reasons of population and geography which make it both easier and cheaper to operate a national radio and television service in Britain."
The CBC reaction to these events is not known. Newspaper articles from 2 June 1965 showed pictures of CBC President J. Alphonse Ouimet and BBC Director-General Sir Hugh Greene sitting together watching a screening of an episode of the Great War documentary series. The full CBC reaction is difficult to gauge but the CBC must have been embarrassed by these events, especially in view of the fact that the Fowler Committee were drafting their report on Canadian broadcasting which may change the entire regulatory landscape under which the CBC operates.
A month after these events occurred, the CBC released its annual report to parliament. The report provided details of a brief the CBC had submitted to the Fowler Committee in March of 1965 (long before the Daily Mirror story) where the CBC outlined the position that it wanted to scale back commercial operations and desired to operate under a “charter system” similar to the BBC where it could secure long term financing (see 2 July 1965 edition of the Toronto Telegram, page 38). In effect, the CBC wanted to operate more like the BBC. In that respect, CBC President Ouimet and BBC Director-General Sir Hugh Greene were of “like mind”.
Whether these events caused a rift between the BBC and CBC is uncertain. There would have certainly been no public displays of anger. Further, CBC President Ouimet needed the support of the BBC Director-General. Once the Fowler Committee report was tabled in September 1965 the process of drafting a government white paper on broadcasting would follow and there would be a very real possibility that Sir Hugh Greene would be called upon to provide testimony to government hearings on this white paper. Indeed, both Sir Hugh Greene and the head of the British Independent Television Authority (ITA) were called upon to serve as participants in the 1966 parliamentary proceedings. Interestingly enough, the foreword to the 1966 BBC Handbook quotes a passage from the 1965 Fowler Committee report.
Even though the CBC President and BBC Director-General would have acted, in mutual interest, to maintain good relations there is always the possibility that the CBC could have discretely scaled back its BBC programming as a means to voice its displeasure (and to secure the cooperation of Sir Hugh for the upcoming 1966 hearings). Whether the Doctor Who cancellation by the CBC was in any way influenced by these events is impossible to say.
Not knowing the ratings numbers for the 1965 Doctor Who run on the CBC network there is no way to definitively know why the series was not renewed. Given that after 10 weeks it traded time slots with one of the most popular youth programs on the CBC network (The Forest Rangers) likely meant that the series was not a ratings disaster and was given every chance to succeed.
Factors that may have influenced the final decision include:
- Budget issues
The CBC was anticipating tight budget constraints given the 16 June 1965 decision to switch to colour broadcasting in a year’s time along with the significant expense for developing the international broadcast center for the 1967 Exposition in Montreal. The fact that the CBC chose not to renew any 5:00 PM weekday programs (including Doctor Who) and opted to use inexpensive filler programming instead for the 1965-1966 season may indicate budget concerns.
In 1965, the CBC had paid £331 2'6 (pre-decimal Sterling) for each of the 26 episodes, which is some £8,600 in total. Whether the CBC considered this a high sum to pay for a half hour children's programme is unclear, but had the broadcaster known that other countries were paying less than a tenth of that per episode it would certainly have been a factor in their decision against buying more.
- Switch to colour broadcasting
In addition to the considerable expense involved in switching to colour broadcasting, the CBC would have known that in just a few years a schedule filled primarily with colour programming would be in high demand. The CBC had only made a small dent in the Doctor Who catalogue (just 26 episodes) so they were quite aware that continuing with the series would have meant many years of black & white programming. (It is believed that this is also why stations in the United States were reluctant to pick up the series when it was offered to them in 1965: the advent of network colour television signaled the death-knell for black and white material, especially anything that was foreign.)
- The Unhappy Organization comment made by the BBC Director-General regarding the CBC
The timing for when this news story broke in Canada was unfortunate. It occurred just prior to Sir Hugh Greene’s visit to Canada in early June 1965. This would have been a good opportunity to promote Doctor Who and other BBC programming but it is quite possible these events may have over-shadowed these efforts. There is no way to tell for certain if these controversial statements impacted the decision to not renew Doctor Who.
We know that BBC Director-General Sir Hugh Greene met with CBC President J. Alphonse Ouimet on 2 June 1965. That would have been a good opportunity for a “handshake deal” to renew Doctor Who prior to the sudden Canadian government announcement of 16 June 1965 for the switch to colour broadcasting. It is possible that this sequence of events that took place over a two-week span in June, during the final month of the CBC run for Doctor Who, may have spelled doom for the series in Canada.
The “Unhappy Organization” debate has parallels with a 1966 CBC interview with Doctor Who co-creator, Sydney Newman, which aired on 27 November 1966 on the CBC program The Umbrella .
- It is available for view on the CBC Digital Archives.
Early in the interview (conducted circa late September or early October, if the 7 September 1966 issue of Variety Weekly sitting on his desk is a recent acquisition) Sydney Newman mentions a "silly program like Doctor Who" and to demonstrate the point he casually waves around a toy Dalek that he keeps on his desk (from 2:44). The subject of discontent at the CBC (prompted by the interviewer) started at 13:03 with peaks at 22:10 and 26:35. Sydney Newman closes out the interview with statements on commercial television starting at 40:47 where he offered such points as "I believe in commercials in the middle of the program" and "The forced break in the middle of a play is an exciting structural toe-hold that a writer can really use".
Such statements would not have been popular with the BBC management of 1966. Although, ironically each episode of Doctor Who was deliberately made with a duration of just under 25 minutes and with at least one build in fade-to-black mid-way to enable for the insertion of commercial breaks, a stipulation that Newman had forced on the producers of the new series from the out-set.
Research and text © Randy Howell