FECAN, IVAN

Canadian Television Programming Executive

For years, Ivan was known to the Canadian broadcasting industry as TV's controversial "wunderkind." In 1985, when he was thirty-one years old, the Toronto native was recruited by the U.S. television network NBC as the new vice-president of programming under then-programming chief Brandon Tartikoff. NBC and CBC had the Canadian comedy series SCTV in common at that time and Fecan met with Tartikoff to discuss new program ideas. Impressed with the young man, Tartikoff, himself a young executive, offered Fecan the NBC job.

After two years at NBC, the head of English-language CBC, Denis Harvey, brought Fecan home as Director of Programming, where he began to institute program development, especially in comedy. He moved the award-winning young people's series, Degrassi Jr. High, to Monday nights in prime time, where it flourished even more. He also hired a Canadian script doctor at CBS, Carla Singer, to work with the producer on Street Legal, the drama series about a group of Toronto lawyers. Although it started out with weak scripts and pedestrian directing, the series found its legs, became much more professional--some would say more "American"--and lasted eight years.

Fecan's rise to the highest levels of the industry can indeed be described as meteoric. Fecan began as a producer of the popular and respected three-hour radio magazine show, Sunday Morning. Moses Znaimer recognized his talent and took him away to be news director of Citytv, the hip new upstart local station. Two years later he became program director at CBC's Toronto station, CBLT. He updated that flagship station by bringing in electronic news gathering (ENG) equipment, two-way radios, and more reporters. Leaving news for the entertainment side of the business, Fecan spent sixteen months as head of CBC-TV's Variety Department. He is said to have renewed variety programming there by using more independent producing talent.

Fecan's goals were to make CBC programming break even, to attain an all-Canadian schedule, and to produce high-quality shows that audiences wanted to see. There are two schools of thought on his tenure as CBC's Director of Programming. One is that he brought polish and quality to the national network while boosting Canadian-produced shows; the second is that he turned the public broadcaster into a veritable clone of the American networks. What is not in dispute is that he shepherded some of the finest TV movies during his leadership, including The Boys of St. Vincent, Conspiracy of Silence, Love and Hate, Glory Enough for All, Where the Spirit Lives, Life with Billy, Princes in Exile, Dieppe, and Liar, Liar. In fact, Love and Hate (about the true story of a Saskatchewan politician who murdered his ex-wife) was the first Canadian movie of the week to be aired on a major U.S. network (NBC). The series The Kids in the Hall, The Road to Avonlea, North of 60, Scales of Justice, 9B, Deqrassi High, The Odyssey and Northwood came into existence because of Fecan. The Kids in the Hall went on to become a hit on American television and The Road to Avonlea won awards all over the world and ran for seven years. In addition to The Kids in the Hall, in the comedy arena, he launched The Royal Canadian AirFarce, CODCO and This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

Fecan made professional use of competitive scheduling and programming tools he had learned from Tartikoff and Grant Tinker at NBC. Negotiating that delicate balance between Canadian content and American revenues which has so often been a problem, he programmed American series in prime time to help bring in much -needed money--Kate and Allie, Hooperman, The Golden Girls, and The Wonder Years. Some argued that Street Legal had become too Americanized, like L.A. Law, its counterpart, despite the obvious Toronto locations and the Canadian legal traditions and local issues. (The shows were developed and coincidentally went on air about the same time.) Street Legal also, however, began to draw more than a million viewers a week, a hit by Canadian standards, after two seasons of mediocrity.

A much more risky and dubious decision was to create Prime Time News at 9:00 P.M. to replace the Canadian tradition of The National and The Journal at 10:00 P.M. It turned out to be an unwise move and The National was soon returned.

Such shows as Adrienne Clarkson Presents, Harry Rasky's world-famous documentary specials, the documentary anthology Witness, and Patrick Watson's The Struggle for Democracy illustrate Fecan's commitment to Canadian production which is neither American-style nor draws large audiences. Canadian content grew from 78% to 91% under Fecan's direction and the amount of U.S. programming dropped. Although criticized for concentrating too much on the national network instead of on regional programming, Fecan strengthened the main network in a time when local stations were about to be cut or closed altogether by severe budget restraints not in his control. It has been claimed that CBC's audience share declined over his tenure, but in boom years for cable and pay, his work probably prevented much greater declines in ratings which all networks, even the three U.S. majors, suffered.

Fecan left CBC and joined Baton Broadcasting in January 1994 as Senior Group Vice President and became Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in January 1995. Baton operates the commercial CTV, Canada's other national TV network.

-Janice Kaye

 


Ivan Fecan
Photo courtesy of Ivan Fecan

IVAN FECAN. Born in 1954. Educated at York University, Toronto, Canada, B.A. in Fine Arts. Producer, Sunday Morning radio show; news director, Citytv; program dirctor, CBC Toronto; head of network Variety department; moved to Hollywood as vice-president of creative development at NBC, 1985; director of television programming, CBC, 1987; board of directors, Baton Broadcasting, from 1987; vice president of Baton Broadcasting, 1994; chief operating officer, 1995.

RADIO

Sunday Morning (producer)

FURTHER READING

"Passing the Baton: Douglas Bassett Spearheads an Overhaul of Baton Broadcasting with Visionary Ivan Fecan." Financial Post (Toronto, Canada), 29 April-1 May 1995.

"Baton Promotes Fecan to COO." Financial Post Daily (Toronto, Canada), 18 January 1995.

"Hefty Bonuses for Broadcasters." Financial Post (Toronto, Canada), 26-28 November 1994.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English; City TV; CODCO; Degrassi; Kids in the Hall; The National; North of 60; Road to Avonlea; Royal Canadian Airfarce; SCTV; Street Legal