TORONTO — For many years, Canadians have spent New Year’s Eve with the Royal Canadian Air Farce on CBC. After one last December flypast, however, Canada’s longest-running television comedy troupe will be grounded.
Founding member and executive producer Don Ferguson got the news in a phone call last May that CBC would not be ordering another Air Farce special for this New Year’s Eve, which has been airing since 1992. Instead, they will put together one final farewell show on Dec. 30.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Sally Catto, CBC general manager, programming, said Thursday in Toronto. “Air Farce has had an incredible run and they are iconic in every way.”
The TV special’s ratings did not have an impact on the decision, she said. In an era of diminishing broadcast returns, Air Farce was a consistently strong performer, drawing over a million viewers on New Year’s Eve over the past two years, according to Numeris.
Changing times in the television business, she suggested, are more to blame. Budgets are squeezed as broadcasters attempt to offer original content to traditional TV viewers as well as to today’s streaming audience. Specials, she added, “are harder for us in the context of all those competing needs.”
CBC’s comedy dollars, as well, already support three sketch shows on Tuesday nights: “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” the new series “Tallboyz” and “Baroness von Sketch Show.”
The Air Farce franchise ran as a radio program from 1973 to 1997, and a weekly TV show from 1993 to 2008. Considering this long legacy, Catto offered Ferguson one last opportunity to produce an hour-long goodbye for fans.
“We were very grateful when they came back and said they can do it,” says Catto. “It means a lot to us and I think it speaks to their commitment to Canadian audiences.”
The reduced budget, however, will force Farce to fly through their sketches without a studio audience.
“It’ll be the first and only time in 46 years,” says Ferguson. “I’m grateful that CBC has given us a chance to say goodbye, but it still hurts a little.”
He plans to assemble the same cast who performed with Farce last New Year’s Eve, including fellow founding trouper Luba Goy, Jessica Holmes, Craig Lauzon, Darryl Hinds, Isabel Kanaan and Chris Wilson. Ferguson says everyone participating, including himself, is getting paid a minimum rate allowed by Canada’s acting union due to budget constraints.
The special will feature highlights from the past decade of New Year’s Eve shows as well as clips from the 16 seasons when “Air Farce” ran as a regular weekly TV series. These will include salutes to two dear, departed original farceurs, John Morgan and Roger Abbott.
There will also be the usual jabs at headlines from the past 12 months. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being current,” says Ferguson, “and that will remain our focus inasmuch as the reduced budget permits.”
Just don’t expect a final F-bomb attack. Not in the budget.
Ferguson, 73, has no bitterness about CBC’s decision to end the Air Farce broadcasts.
“All things come to an end,” he says, calling CBC, “the ideal broadcast partner.” He’s proud that, at various times, Air Farce was the public broadcaster’s, “number one radio series, then number one TV series and now we’ve had ten years of number one TV specials. It’s a great way to end because we’re going out where we belong — on top.”
Catto says CBC plans to offer something new this coming New Year’s Eve, but wasn’t ready to announce what that might be at this time.
—Bill Brioux is a freelance writer based in Brampton, Ont.
Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press