Defending Leslie Merklinger

Denis McGrath is a veteran Canadian television screenwriter whose work includes episodes of Showcase's Continuum and CBC's InSecurity and Republic of Doyle. He sent this letter in response to yesterday's post: CBC Puts Reality TV Exec in Charge of New Radio.

Denis McGrath is a veteran Canadian television screenwriter whose work includes episodes of Showcase’s Continuum and CBC’s InSecurity and Republic of Doyle. He sent this letter in response to yesterday’s post: CBC Puts Reality TV Exec in Charge of New Radio.  It is published here with his permission. 

Hey there Jesse,

How this usually goes in this situation: the outraged person goes and cancels the money that they’ve given you.

I’m not going to do that. I read another ridiculous attempted “take down” of you yesterday and marveled how the forces really are lining up against you.  I think you’re ridiculous in your news-centric and stuffy view of “what the CBC should be doing.” But you’ve had balls and are trying to be a provocateur and I like that. Canadian Media certainly needs it.

What it — and what CBC specifically, does NOT need — is more FRANK-lite, anonymous-disgruntled-person sends one bitchy email and that’s your story.

So I’m not gonna go cancel my Patreon patronage. Instead, I’m going to write a bit about my friend Leslie Merklinger and see if you employ those balls of yours to amend your story with a dime’s worth of perspective. I’ve known Leslie for about twelve or thirteen years.  Here’s the only non-spun “fact” in your piece:

She does not come from CBC Radio.

But here’s who she is: she’s worked in Canadian media and journalism for over 30 years.

You know where she started? THE SHULMAN FILE.  You know where else she worked? Canada AM. She also worked at the Journal. Saint Barbara Frum once personally praised a story she did, called her into her office and everything. That’s not an uncommon occurrence with Leslie.

She’s started at least eight or nine shows of which I’m aware. I’ve worked with her. I’ve worked FOR her.

Her perspicacity in giving notes puts her in probably the top five note-givers I’ve worked with, either in documentary or drama-based storytelling. I’ve had a lot of notes given to me in my time. I WISH I could get notes from Leslie every day. It would make my work, and my life, inordinately easier.

Leslie has worked as a news producer, a supervising producer, a live events producer, a researcher, a chase producer, an exec producer, a network exec, and a production exec at several documentary companies.

She raised three terrific kids on her own (for most of those years.) For a lot of long hours, those kids spent time with mom in edit suites sitting on couches as she got her story to air. She’s worked as far as I know at CTV, CBC, Global, CityTV, TVO and production companies such as Red Apple before moving to then-Canwest, now-Shaw as a Production Exec, eventually becoming a Director of Programming at Food.

You know what she did at Food? She was the person who didn’t let bullshit get past. She was the exec who caught the producers off guard because her notes were good. She saw the holes in the story they didn’t see themselves. You couldn’t just “slide it past” Leslie.

Her years of producing and structuring stories meant that she was the exec who couldn’t be snowed — who came back at you with penetrating analysis about storytelling and how to engage the audience. She is goddamn good at what she does, in an industry where you can’t always say that’s the case.

You want to know something else about Leslie? Okay, how about this: she has a wealth of knowledge about various other ways the industry works and the ins and outs of it because she has a large group of fiercely loyal friends — top producers at CBC, independents, Camerapeople, executives, writers, directors, and editors. A lot of those people became friends with her because they worked with her, and respected her. She inspires that in people.  She’s married to one of the top editors cutting factual television in this city. And the only reason I mention that, is this: between them they have an informal deal where he recuses himself from any program she has oversight over. That’s called an ethical firewall. Nobody asked them to do that. They just do it, because it’s right.  Lord Jesus Sakes, does that sound like something CBC could use right about now?

The other thing about Leslie is that when there isn’t a BlueJays game on, she’s listening to CBC Radio. A lot. Constantly. Consistently. And for over a decade, if there’s something that I hear or want to break down or analyse that I hear on CBC Radio, SHE’S the one I want to discuss it with.

Broadcasting has changed considerably over the last 25 years. Leslie’s lived every moment of that. She’s been on the forefront of inventing, and re-inventing new formats and program types.  She’s done most of that as a freelancer — getting hired time and again for the same reason CBC just CREATED a position for her — because she’s super duper impressive. You talk to her and you realize she understands international media in a way that most don’t.  She’s spent the last year and a half getting her masters degree in communications as a distance learner from Bournemouth University while holding down a full time executive job at Shaw. Does that sound like a slacker to you

Much of the problem in CBC — things that YOU have railed against — is that it has a closed, frighteningly parochial and impenetrable culture that runs on patronage and makes inexplicable decisions.  The inner poison and resentment and the management culture at CBC Radio is obviously in dire need of a breath of fresh air.  Does CBC management make bad decisions sometimes? Judging by the last little while, obviously. But this idea that CBC Radio is a beautiful flower where nothing needs to change and the future will be fine if we just let everything go along the way it’s going now — is laughable.

Disgruntled anonymous CBC Radio drone can complain, that’s certainly anyone’s right. But focusing on the one metric – “oh you haven’t come from radio” – beggars belief when it’s stacked against the truth of an entire life spent in Broadcasting. Not sales. Not PR. Program creation, producing, storytelling. The heavy lifting stuff. The stuff that needs doing. This is a GOOD NEWS story. CBC Radio hired someone who can ADD to the place.

Internal partisan politics at CBC will not solve the ills of the organization. At this point, it’s fruit of the poison tree. Bringing in someone like Leslie — someone with a love for what CBC Radio does well, and a no-nonsense, no-bullshit, hard won, hard-fought, in-the-trenches, earned every promotion, cut to the quick intelligence and fierce love for content — might just be the thing that manages to do all those things that CBC always says it wants to do but never quite accomplishes: broaden the audience, let new ideas flourish, breathe some air into the place.

It’s a shame you went with the first email you got, the grumbling, bitchy as usual CBC carping, Jesse…because if you’d spent ten minutes talking to Merklinger, you’d actually realize that she shares many of your frustrations….but she actually has the skillset that can do something about it.

Do better, Jesse.  Kicking against the pricks doesn’t have to mean jerking one’s knee at every email you get.

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