Retro unlocks pubcaster’s archival treasure chest

Division's first offering is docu 'Mississippi'

TORONTO — Canuck pubcaster CBC is plundering its massive archives to create new, inexpensive programming courtesy of CBC Retro Prods., a first-of-its-kind department dedicated to blowing the dust off this material.

“These archives are extremely extensive, covering 50 years of cultural history of this country,” says Retro topper Maria Mironiwicz, who has spent 18 months sifting through hundreds of thousands of hours of programs. “There’s wonderful stuff in there, some of it is magic.”

While other broadcasters such as A&E and the BBC use their archive material, Mironiwicz believes that CBC is the first to give it its own production division. BBC is reportedly considering doing the same.

Retro is not simply churning out repeats with nostalgia value.

Its first offering, documentary “Return to Mississippi,” helped to solve a decades-old murder.

The doc was built around footage from current-events series “This Hour has Seven Days” about the murder of three civil rights workers.

The contemporary program examined why, four decades later, no one had been held responsible for the killings.

Two weeks after “Mississippi” aired in December, a 79-year-old man was charged. His trial is set for this month. “We wanted to create programs that were informative and entertaining,” says Mironiwicz, former program director at CBC’s news specialty channel Newsworld. “It supports and extends CBC’s brand, generates revenue streams and an after-broadcast market.”

The department, which has one full-time employee, Mironiwicz, has no set timeslot or programming format. Pubcaster staffers and independents are instead brought in project-by-project.

“We’re just experimenting, trying to come up with fun and novel ways to do TV,” she says. “As we find stuff, we figure out how to play with it.”

Next to air is eight-parter “Jimmy MacDonald’s Canada,” which preems June 12. In it, the footage is pulled together by fictitious 1960s anchor Jimmy MacDonald (Richard Waugh), scandalized in each seg by trends such as rock and roll and newfangled food items like pizza.

To promote the fiction, producers have convinced real-life heavyweights like Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Pamela Wallin, Canada’s consul general to New York City, to give interviews singing Jimmy’s praises as a Canadian icon.

Also in the can is three-part series “Popup Royals With Scott Thompson,” hosted by Thompson vamping as HRH; a one-hour doc on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous Give Peace a Chance bed-in in Montreal in 1968; and two one-hour docs on Canada’s worst natural disasters, all of which are skedded to air in September.

There are close to a dozen other projects either completed or in development.

Mironiwicz says it’s early days for the after-broadcast market, but the team has already sold “Mississippi” to broadcasters in Europe, South Africa and Australia, and “Jimmy MacDonald” will be marketed as a DVD set.

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