A recent commenter, Zaraya by name, made mention of “The Puck Crisis”, a nine-minute mockumentary I wrote for a CBC (Canadian National Television) special that Lorne Michaels produced, in partnership with my brother, on what was called The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour. Zaraya seemed to think that “The Puck Crisis” was pretty good. I liked it quite a bit myself.
As Zaraya noted, “The Puck Crisis” in not available on YouTube, or anywhere else. This is not my only disappointment concerning the CBC’s undervaluing of broadcast material. There was a Public Affairs program called Of All People that, hearing that I had failed twice before, sent a camera crew to film my upcoming Driver’s Test for network television. I passed.
I would have liked to have a record of both things. Unfortunately, the CBC is notoriously frugal. They probably taped over my efforts with coverage of the annual Governor General’s “Speech From the Throne”, or whatever. Either that, or the producers cut the videotape into little strips they could slip under their spinning tires during snowstorms.
Most people know that, other than Anne Murray the “Canadian Songbird”, Canada’s primary claim to international fame is hockey. Canadians take the game extremely seriously. I don’t know about now, but when I lived there, Canada’s Number One-rated television show was Hockey Night In Canada. The second highest rated program was Wednesday Night Hockey.
I had once seen a mock documentary called “The Spaghetti Harvest”, where, with a totally straight face, a short documentary-style film was presented, featuring happy, Italian peasants, harvesting their spaghetti crop. The film showed them cheerfully severing long, thickly growing strands of spaghetti hanging earthward from well-tended groves of “spaghetti trees.”
I took the same format and I adapted it to hockey.
It started with a two-minute commentary I concocted for a show I was doing regularly on CBC radio. I later showed it to Lorne, certain the idea might work even better on television. Lorne agreed, and off we went.
Time has relieved me of some of the specifics, but I believe it went something like this.
We opened at a news desk, where a seriously looking anchor announced the catastrophe to the nation:
The puck crop is desperately imperiled, endangering the imminent future of hockey in Canada, specifically the upcoming NHL season.
“Stock footage” showed Canadian puck farmers, in happier times, gathering their crops, ala “the Spaghetti Harvest.” The crops were flourishing. Healthy. Fecund. And gloriously abundant.
And then, tragedy struck.
“Dutch Puck Disease.”
The virus had been inadvertently imported to Canada on the sticks of a touring Dutch hockey team. The lethal germs infected all the crops in their path, bringing the Canadian puck farming industry to its knees.
The formerly burgeoning puck farms are now revisited. But this time, the once vigorous pucks, droop limply from the trees, no longer their vibrant black color, but sickeningly gray, decayng and desiccated. Think: leprosy, but with hockey pucks.
We then cut to the Canadian equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, where expert scientists weighed in on the situation. Using microscopic blowups, Canadians were told that, as the Dutch hockey teamed barnstormed the country, the “pucktacocci” spores from their sticks took to the air, ultimately penetrating the fundament of the deteriorating pucks. There is, as yet, no way to reverse the infestation, no protocol for keeping the virulence in check.
Actual hockey players were then interviewed, all of them understandably concerned. Without pucks, the game that they love is in terminal jeopardy. One player reminisced,
“When we were kids, we used to play hockey without a puck. But at the end of the game, we never knew who won.”
Also included were a series of unscripted “Person-In-The-Street” interviews. A camera was set up on the corner of a busy Toronto intersection, and random passersby were asked how they felt about the endangerment of our national game. One teary-eyed hockey fan could only say,
It appeared he might need to be sedated.
A beleaguered puck farmer is then shown, wondering where his future livelihood lay. He tried to diversify, planting a crop of lacrosse rackets, but his heart, he explained, just wasn’t in it.
Finally, the news anchor turned to the camera and made an appeal, soliciting donations to help find a cure for “Dutch Puck Disease.” In the end, the “Dean of Hockey Broadcasting”, the iconic “Voice” of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Foster Hewitt, sitting behind a large, oak desk in his office, injected his own heartfelt plea:
“Send a buck, and save a puck.”
And that, more or less, was that.
Words cannot do justice to the presentation. I wish you could see it. But even if you could, its impact would be considerably watered down unless you were able to think like a Canadian.
And I’m not sure if that’s even possible.