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Solved at last: The mystery of why Tragically Hip film was off cable here

I've spent a long time trying to find out why the documentary film, "Long Time Running," about the late Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip, wasn't carried via CTV on Spectrum cable locally on Oct. 20.

Naturally, it was available over the air to Western New Yorkers.

But several readers and Hip fans who wanted to watch the film on Spectrum about the popular Canadian band were upset it was replaced by paid programming on CTV and wondered why. They also wondered if the same thing was going to happen Nov. 12 when the Canadian network repeats the movie.

After more than a week of email exchanges with representatives of CTV and Spectrum, the memorable line first said by character actor Strother Martin and repeated by star Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke" comes to mind: "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

The story of how "Long Time" didn't run almost two weeks ago is equal parts mystery and comedy.

I proposed a trio of reader conspiracy theories to CTV and Spectrum representatives.

• Netflix, which has the American rights, requested the pre-emption.

• The North Park Theatre, which is showing it soon, requested it.

• My own theory: Spectrum forgot to take away the pre-emption of American comedies that had originally been scheduled for Oct. 20 before CTV quickly moved up the scheduling of the film after Downie died from brain cancer.

Farewell, Gord Downie: 'Good night, music lovers.'

After more than a week of email exchanges with representatives of Spectrum and CTV, it is clear the film didn't run on Spectrum because the cable channel and the Canadian network don't communicate with each other.

Here are some edited versions of the most pertinent exchanges.

Lara Pritchard of Spectrum:

"Can confirm that this was not the result of any Netflix or local movie house plan, or complaint. Thanks for your patience, I will follow up as soon as I have all the information from the teams."

In another exchange, Pritchard wrote: "The network controls the content, they would control the removal of it. We can place slate, in the absence of it (blackout). We have no evidence of any proactive pre-emption on our part in Buffalo. Have you reached out to CFTO?"

I reached out to CTV. Here is what Scott Campbell, communications manager of CTV, told me early this week after days of trying to find out what happened:

"So sorry to keep you waiting. We’ve looked into this and can confirm that the direction to black out the program did not come from Bell Media or CTV."

So it wasn't Spectrum's call and it wasn't CTV's call. So who made the call?

On Tuesday, I finally got the answer.

Scott Henderson, vice president Communications for Bell Media, CTV's owner, wrote: "While we can’t be certain what happened, because we don’t have a relationship with Spectrum, it’s possible that Spectrum somehow missed our late schedule change and ran paid programming instead of the film."

"What we can say for certain is that we didn’t black out the program and that 'Long Time Running' will air on CTV at 8 p.m. on Nov. 12."

Pritchard pretty much confirmed CTV's speculation Tuesday without acknowledging any fault by Spectrum.

She wrote: "I apologize for the duration of this. I needed to confirm with different local and regional teams what happened, to ensure I understood everything correctly. We have a standing non-duplication for that time period and received no notice to alter it, and so what I said earlier, that we didn't pre-empt it specifically, remains accurate."

A "standing non-duplication for the time period" means Spectrum runs paid programming there because the same shows are on Buffalo affiliates.

So mystery solved.

But another one surfaced.

While Spectrum said it received no notice to alter its "standing non-duplication" for the time period, its channel guide put "Long Time Running" in the time period, so someone at the cable company must have known the schedule had been altered.

I'll have to ask Robert Mueller to find out whodunit.

I can't blame Tragically Hip fans who are Spectrum subscribers if they are less than certain the film will air on cable here via CTV on Nov. 12.

But Spectrum has a long time to make sure nothing goes wrong the second time around.

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