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me to leap forward seven years. In the
fall of 1966, Murray Chercover, then vice-president and general manager of the
Canadian Television Network (CTV) asked if I would be interested in joining the
network as Director of News and Public Affairs. Following my early years on the CBC, I had been managing editor
of the Toronto Star, had resigned to run for the leadership of the
Liberal Party in Ontario, and had subsequently worked for two years as
president of a company called Technamation Canada - of all this, more
later. I told Chercover I would be
interested but wanted to mull it over.
good reason. There had been a recent
front-page brouhaha at CTV. Peter
Reilly, the Director of News and Public Affairs, had resigned at a press
conference, charging that he had been subjected to intolerable interference by
the chairman of the board, John Bassett.
Bassett was also publisher of the Toronto Telegram and the owner
of CFTOTV, the key station in the new network.
had come to know him during my tenure at the Star; in my bid for the
Liberal leadership he had supported me editorially. I called him on the telephone:
I asked, "are you aware that CTV has asked me to run News and public
course I am," he said in his ebullient way. "It was decided at the last meeting of the board.
I have three question: the first is, are you in favour of my
been pushing them for weeks to get you.
number two: if I take the job will you leave me alone to do it?"
only that," he said with a laugh, "I'II kick anybody's ass who tries
to interfere. He was chuckling audibly on the line.
three: is CTV going to make it? Is it a viable net work?"
took some fifteen minutes to answer that.
CTV was a new and as yet unproven venture (it had gone on the air April 15,
1966), a coalition of nine privately owned stations that has now grown to
seventeen. In its fledgling months,
apart form a national newscast and some sports coverage, it had done little
serious programming. People in the
business had dubbed it "the game show network," and there were doubts
about us whether its owners were committed to serious programming. And there were questions whether it could
compete with the public network and with the variety of American programming
flooding across the border. Bassett
convinced me that the board was prepared to commit the money and airtime
necessary to do a responsible job.
moved immediately on two fronts: to strengthen the national news, which lacked
organization and was often slipshod in presentation, and to build a demoralized
W 5 into the flagship of the network's public affairs coverage. Both tasks ran immediately into snags.
problem with the national news was that it was largely a one-man
operation. Harvey Kirck was both
news-reader and editor, and often wrote much of his own copy. He is a first-rate news-reader and a superb
extemporize, but these skills were being minimized by his involvement in
preparing the newscast and operating the department. His workload was made heavier because his right-hand man, Jeff
Fry, had recently been seconded to W 5.
notified Harvey that I had decided to relieve him of his responsibility as
editor. He was incensed and demanded to
see me. In my office he began to
upbraid me at the top of his voice, and with that voice it was audible
for blocks. Gordon Keeble, who was then
president of the network and whose office was the most distant from mine,
finally came to the door, reached in and pulled it closed. "Nobody," he stage whispered,
smiling wryly, can get any work done. After an estrangement of a few weeks,
Harvey and I became friends and have remained so over the years.
were made in personnel. Some were let
go; some left. New staff was hired,
including a fair-haired kid from the CTV station in Calgary, Peter Kent. Unsolicited, he had sent me a half-hour
documentary on Vietnam with a note that he had prepared it entirely on his
own. The shooting was amateurish and
the narration a bit "gee whiz," but it was obvious that Kent was a guy
with initiative and guts. I hired him
immediately. A few years later he was
hired away by the CBC, where he read the news on The National and was
then transferred to The Journal.
had asked me not only to supervise W 5 (Who? What? When? Where? Why?) but to
produce it, and I found myself directing an organization and a program about
which I knew almost nothing. I had
performed on-camera hundreds of times but had never worked behind the scenes,
and I was immediately confronted with some of those moral dilemmas that are
part of hardnosed television journalism.
first week on the job, I attended the preparation of the upcoming program
mostly to familiarize myself with the various procedures. In the main studio, a segment of the show was
being videotaped for presentation later that night. The guest was the pilot of the lead plane in the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor. He had since become a
born-again Christian and was being junketed about North America giving his
testimony of God's intervention in his life.
The interviewer was Doug Johnson, a tough reporter with a blunt,
straightforward style. Not long into
the interview he pressured the guest to admit, now that he was a Christian that
what he had done at Parl Harbor was reprehensible. The man spoke only rudimentary English and seemed confused. It was clear however that he didn't think he
had anything to apologize for. It was
equally clear that Doug wasn't going to settle for anything less than a
confession of guilt. The Japanese was
unable to express himself clearly and Doug was badgering him. It wasn't a fair contest. Suddenly, with cameras rolling, the guest
walked off the set.
Fry, the producer, came to me, elated.
"Great," he said.
not so sure about that," I said.
"Doug bullied the man, and the poor guy was at a disadvantage.
looked at me in disbelief. "Are
you serious? I've been hoping that one day somebody would walk out with the
discussed it for ten minutes. Jeff saw
it as a legitimate and eminently desirable example of the immediacy of
television. I saw it as an unfair fight
in which a confused man was publicly harassed.
But I was by no means sure of my position. Moreover, I didn't want to overrule the leader of the demoralized
W 5 unit before his staff, so I yielded.
Later, watching the item, I wished I hadn't.
following week, there was a second dilemma.
A deranged student in Austin, Texas, had bought a rifle, climbed a tower
overlooking the main quadrangle at the state university and killed and wounded
a number of students. The W 5 staff had
prepared a piece designed to demonstrate how loose security was in public place
and how easily the Texas tragedy could be repeated in Toronto. Their cameras had followed a reporter as,
without difficulty, he purchased a high-powered rifle, wrapped it in butcher
paper with its shape still evident, went to Old City Hall, walked in full view
past a policeman, ascended the bell tower and aimed the gun over a parapet at
the street below. The camera looked
down the barrel and the viewer could see people on the streets fixed in the
sights. It was a graphic demonstration
of how easily it could be done.
question that troubled me was: were we performing a service by dramatizing the
lack of security or were we drawing a blueprint for a mentally unbalanced
viewer, perhaps even stimulating him to act? Again, I yielded. In subsequent months I would act more firmly
in similar situations.
were two notable instances where questionable items went to air not because of
indecision but by inadvertence. Each
was a "first" in Canadian television: the first time the word
"fuck" was spoken on television, and the first time full frontal
nudity was shown on the home screen.
had developed a new program, Crossfire, for late-evening viewing. It had a simple format: four guests,
literate, articulate men and women, would be seated on easy chairs in an
informal setting. The host, Mavor
Moore, now head of The Canada Council, would introduce a subject; it was hoped
a sophisticated, mature discussion would ensue. As is often done, it was decided to make a "pilot" to
learn what problems might be encountered and to polish the presentation. The subject discussed on the pilot was,
"The Nature of Obscenity".
One of the guests made a comparison between what is commonly thought of
as obscene and what, in fact, is. He
said, as I recall it: "If, in describing the act of human copulation I
were to use the Anglo-Saxon word, fuck, that would not be obscene. But if I were to mount a defense of the use
of napalm by the Americans in Vietnam, that would be. "His use of the word posed no problem: the program was
simply a pilot and would not be broadcast.
However, when the series had its premiere, a
technician mistakenly racked up the
videotape of the pilot rather than the program scheduled. At home, watching, I realized immediately
what had happened. It was impossible to
do anything so I simply hunkered down and waited. As the moment approached and the guest spoke the famous
four-letter word, it seemed to my hyper sensitive ears that the volume had
suddenly been turned up and the sound was reverberating across Canada. It was a legitimate use of the word, of
course, but unacceptable on home television in 1966. (It still is, with rare exception, today. ) There were few
letters of protest.
"first" in frontal nudity happened on the national news. There was a member of the news department
who, for his own reasons, resented my involvement and my authority. One day, in Harvey Kirck's absence, he
telephoned and, by way of a briefing, informed me that one of the items being
filmed that day was a special report on a class at Three Schools, an art school
in down town Toronto. In a bid for
publicity and revenue, the school had started a class for businessmen with no
artistic talent. As recreation, they
would draw nude models. I knew the
school; I'd attended life-drawing classes there. It sounded like a good off-beat feature and I okayed it, but
instructed him that there was to be no frontal nudity. That night I watched the newscast. The camera slowly circled the model, going
through a full 360Ί, and, in so doing, depicted her, pubic hair and all.
was not in any way obscene: the model was comely, the pose was graceful and the
shooting was not exploitative. But
there was the problem of my directions being disregarded. I called the man and asked him why he had
gone counter to my instructions without so much as a call to inform me.
he said, "there was nothing wrong with the shot.
agree, but you didn't trouble to tell me that.
was busy," he said. "More
than that, I resent you telling me my job.
can understand that. But my job
is to run the network's news and public affairs, and if there's a problem, the
can is tied to my tail. If I give a
specific order, I expect it to be followed or a legitimate reason given for
said, "Look, I've been in this business longer than you have and I wont
Put up with you telling me my job.
said, "In that case, you wont have to.
the nudity drew a sizeable protest from viewers.
shakedown period was over at CTV, and it was time to engage the CBC in direct
confrontation. The opportunity came on
June 5. Israel had launched preemptive
strikes against Egypt, Jordan and Syria and the Six Day War was on. There was widespread concern that the
fighting might escalate. The United
State and USSR were making belligerent noises and the United Nations Security
Council had called an emergency evening session. The Middle East was a tinderbox.
in the afternoon, Murray Chercover called me into the office of Arthur
Weinthal, Director of Programming. The
two of them were watching the U. N proceedings on a feed from an American
network. Chercover put a question to
me: "Do you think we should preempt our programming tonight and carry the
council session until they make a decision?"
the CBC going to carry it? "I asked.
would mean a sizeable loss of revenue from cancelled commercials. It would also mean the disruption of nor mal programming and a
subsequent need to juggle schedules.
Even more important - for CTV was in a battle for audience - it would
mean a drop in the number of viewers and complaints from people upset because
their favorite programs had been can celled.
But the session was important, and if the CBC was going to be
delinquent, CTV should provide the service.
I said so.
Chercover said, grinning. "Arthur
and I had decided that that's exactly what we should do. We'll arrange for a feed from NBC.
decision was important to me. It meant
that CTV was prepared to budget enough money to enable us to go head-to-head
with the CBC, and I was itching for the confrontation. The battle would be fought on three fronts:
Sunday nights, to take advantage of the new interest in public affairs
engendered by the enormously popular This Hour Has Seven Days; the
coverage of the two upcoming political conventions, in which Robert Stanfield
and Pierre Trudeau would take over the leadership of their par ties; and the general
election that would bring Trudeau to power.
were stories about the coming confrontation of the two networks in all the
print media. Barbara Frum wrote a cover
story in the Star Weekly, "The Battle of the Sunday Night TV
Shows. calling the rivalry between W 5 and the CBC's The Way It Is "the
most interesting fight Canada's two television networks have entered
What is particularly important is that to a very
large extent, the field that television people call public affairs is the core
of all Canadian broadcasting. It is the
one field in which Canadians have learned to excel; the one thing that our
networks have been both willing and able to do that the American networks until
this year at least haven't.
would be an uphill battle. CTV had no
tradition in public affairs and relatively few resources in dollars or
people. CBC's The Way It Is,
under Ross McLean, the man who nine years earlier had introduced me to Canadian
television, had a weekly budget of about forty thousand dollars. Ours was eighteen thousand dollars. Ross had a staff of fifty-five to
sixty-five, W 5 had fourteen, plus five part-time. In late August, Ross and I had an amiable conversation at Pierre
Berton's annual pool party and agreed that, while each would give it his best
shot, there would be no dirty tricks.
5 seized the advantage by beginning its season two weeks before The Way It
Is. For openers, I decided to
contrast two antithetical "philosophies. both of which had enormous
audiences: Billy Graham's Christian fundamentalism and Hugh Hefner's
"playboy philosophy. It would be difficult to find two men more
unlike. I interviewed Billy, sitting in
the pews of the Avenue Road church, putting questions to him on two or three
dozen pertinent public issues. I met
with Hefner in Montreal - I took an immediate dislike to the man - and put the
same questions to him. We then interact
the two interviews, with each man responding in turn to the same question. The differences were predictable but interesting. We were off to a good start.
following week we did the story that created more press attention than anything
we carried that year. I had long been
an admirer of and more recently and acquaintance of James Pike, a bishop in the
American Protestant Episcopal church.
Bishop Pike was a brilliant man.
Raised a Roman Catholic, he was a successful lawyer before he felt
called to the ministry. He served as
chaplain at George Washington University and at Vassar before being named head
of the department of religion at Columbia University. He was for six years dean of the cathedral of St. John the Divine
in New York City, after St. Peter's in Rome the largest sanctuary in the world. There, he was a leading and early opponent
of the infamous senator Joe McCarthy and a pioneer fighter for civil
when he was Bishop of California, he came to doubt some of the central
Christian doctrines and renounced the church.
his only son committed suicide. The boy
had begun taking drugs and had been deeply disturbed after a homosexual love
affair. Pike was shattered. He blamed himself: if he hadn't been so
busy, so preoccupied with his work, he might have been closer to his son. With his usual zeal and intellectual
vigour. Pike began a quest to reach his
dead son through experiments in the occult, and was encouraged by what he
believed were messages from "the other side.
Spraggett, whom I hired as religion editor on the Star some years earlier,
suggested that Pike might be willing to appear on W 5, perhaps even to
participate in an on-camera sιance. I
asked Spraggett to find out if Pike would be prepared to have the sιance
telecast. Spraggett reported that he
the medium for the sιance, Spraggett suggested Arthur Ford, then the most
respected of those oddball spirit communicators who purport to contact the
dead. On the night before the telecast,
Ford agreed to conduct a private sιance at my home. Present with Sylvia and me were Spraggett and his wife, Gary and
Jackie Lautens,* Pierre and Janet Berton, and two friends of theirs visiting
from Vancouver. Ford went into his
trance and affected to get into a conversation with his "contact. a
teenage Indian boy who began to bring "messages" to members of our
group. There was some advice for
Lautens, who didn't seem much impressed.
My mother sent word that I should not grieve any longer (she had been
dead for a number of years), and a one time Liberal politician from London,
Ontario turned up to state that I would soon return to politics.(I didnt.)
There were messages for the Bertons, too, although Pierre might best have been
described as a hostile if interested witness.
following night, in the brilliant light of the television studio, with Arthur
Ford in his trance, a series of men and women from "the other side"
passed messages through ford to a curiously uncritical Pike. There were some remarkable moments. A professor from Columbia identified himself
by referring to an incident that had occurred when only he and Pike were
present and which Pike asserted no one else could possibly know about. At the end, as Pike purportedly communicated
with his son, he was in tears. It was
a dramatic hour. Afterwards, Pike told
reporters he was satisfied that contact had been made.
was a front-page story across Canada and in the American papers, including The
New York Times. Cosmopolitan bought
the transcript. An American newspaper syndicate
sent excerpts around the world.
was not until after his death that Ford was revealed as a superlative
con-artist. Among his papers were
discovered some of the meticulous research he did before his sιances, including
his preparation for the session in Toronto with Bishop Pike.
McLean thought the sιance was dirty pool.
He complained to the press: "When an item like that is made into a
major story. . . . It is a programming decision I would have spurned. "If so, he would have been wrong. Pike was among the most brilliant clergymen
of his time, and spiritualism was and is a widespread religion. Our broadcast was the one time for millions
of people to watch firsthand and judge the phenomenon.
following Sunday, CBC's The Way It Is had its premiere. It hadn't been planned, but that Sunday
evening W 5 was pre empted for a showing of Mutiny on the Bounty,
programmed to launch the ad campaign for the Ford Motor Company's new
models. The film broke all ratings
was an eventful year and an intensely competitive one. In my view it was healthy competition and
the beneficiary was the Canadian television audience. Nor was the year without its temptation to seize an unfair
advantage. One Sunday afternoon, Jeff Fry
came to me, a tight, sly smile on his lips.
"The film lab," he said, "has just delivered to us the
film for tonight's The Way It Is. Each week, both shows prepared a
number of items on film for that week's program. Both used the same film processor. On this occasion, the deliveryman made a mistake and delivered
the CBC film to us. Without the film, The
Way It Is would be unable to mount a presentable show.
looked at me. "What do we
call Ross and tell him We're sending his film over by taxi.
grinned wickedly. "We couldn't
delay a couple of hours?"
I said, wanting to. "And when you
call, tell him that that's . . . the way it is.
December, 1967, I originated a series of annual programs, A Conversation
With the Prime Minister. It was an
hour-long interview with the PM, videotaped to be played on New Year's
Day. I did the interviews during my
tenure at CTV, Bruce Phillips has done them since. Over seventeen years, the program has invariably made front-page
late fall, 1967, Lester Pearson announced that he would step down the following
spring, and the Liberal party was involved in a search to find his
successor. There was much speculation
as to which candidate Pearson would support and, in my interview, I planned to
press him with questions. However, we
were no sooner in the limousine that would take us to the CFTO studios in
Scarborough, than Mr. Pearson informed me that the subject was off limits. Nevertheless, during the drive to the
studio, he let me put to him the names of the leading contenders while he,
obviously enjoying himself, made capsule comments:
Paul Martin, then Minister of External Affairs
and at the time absent on cabinet business in Europe: "You can count on it:
Paul will hurry back to make the announcement that he's a candidate. If necessary, he'll walk on the water.
Allan MacEachen, Minister of Health and
Welfare: "Allan's too canny to run.* He knows he wont have a chance - and
Paul Hellyer, Minister of Transport:
"Paul's a good fellow but he's just too stuffy. It hurts him to bend.
Robert Winters, Minister of Mines and
Resources: "Too much the Baron of Bay Street [as he was called].
Pierre Trudeau, Minister of Justice, and at
the time an undeclared dark horse: "Charles, let me ask you a question:
can you see Pierre in his sandals standing in a Saskatchewan farmer's potato
patch asking the man for his vote?" I responded, "With respect, Mr.
Pearson, with television you no longer need to stand in a farmer's potato
patch. And Mr. Trudeau's very good on
television. He shook his head.
"He did a good job as my parliamentary secretary, but that doesn't
take much. He's done well in Justice,
but he has a long way to go before he's ready.
Jean Marchand, Minister of Manpower and
Immigration: it was obvious that Pearson favoured him. He spoke of him with affection. I raised the question of his health, which
was rumored to be poor. Romeo LeBlanc,
then Pearson's press secretary and later Minister of Fisheries, turned half
around in the front seat and interjected, "Jeans problems are mostly in
his head. He wears himself out worrying
about every decision before he makes it and after it's made. "Pearson none the less insisted that
Marchand was the best man available.
"And he's from Quebec, remember.
There's a tradition in the party that we alternate between a French-and
an English-speaking man.
did the interview in a sealed studio with commissionaires guarding the
doors. It was understood that the text
of the inter view was off the record until a transcript was released for New
Year's Day. Unknown to us, a Telegram
reporter sneaked into the studio and eavesdropped behind one of the
enormous curtains. He wrote the story
and the Tely published it.
received a call from the prime minister's office; Pearson was enraged at the
leak. I too was angry - we'd been
scooped on our own story - but my apology was only grudgingly accepted. The PMO was certain that John Bassett had
known of the interloper: was Bassett not the owner of CFTO? Was he not the
publisher of the Telegram, and a prominent Tory? They were wrong, of
course. I knew that Bassett wouldn't
approve a breach of security in his own building (it would be
counter-productive, if nothing else), but I knew also that he was too much the
newsman to have an exclusive story fall into his hands and not print it.
extraordinary French Canadians burst suddenly on the Canadian political scene:
Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque. The two
men were as different as their backgrounds and over the next dozen or more
years, they would contest mano a mano over issues as fundamental as the
existence of the country. I had met
Levesque socially through my work in television, and I liked him. I had not yet met Trudeau. It occurred to me that the radical
differences in these two men - coming as they did from different sides of the
tracks and now moving onto the national stage - would make an illuminating documentary
and, under the working title One Canada: Two Nations, set out to make
was born in New Carlisle, a predominantly English - speaking village in the
Gaspe. His father was a country lawyer,
by no means poor but certainly hinterlands bourgeois. The youthful Rene intended to follow his
father to the bar but dropped out of law school and, after a stint as
correspondent for the U. S. Office of
Wartime Information, joined Radio Canada where he was a popular commentator.
met Levesque in 1963 when I went to Montreal to participate in a special
broadcast. After the show, a number of
us went to a friend's home for drinks and talk. As the evening progressed, Levesque picked up a cane-backed chair,
parked it at the centre of the living room, straddled it and expatiated about
the problems and the unrest in Quebec.
The people in the room, most of us in broadcasting, listened transfixed
to this skinny, unkempt man as he talked about the coming confrontation. At one point he said with vehemence,
"And if it finally comes down to it - to where a choice must be made - I
will choose Quebec over Canada.
was a Toronto producer there, a tall, good-looking man, impeccably dressed and
impressive in manner. "Rene,"
he interjected, a pained expression on his face, "don't say things like
that. We're troubled about the
problem, too - it certainly worries me.
And it worries my friends. All
you do when you talk like that is make thing worse.
got out of his chair and walked over to the Toronto producer. They made an incongruous pair. Rene was almost a foot shorter; he was
dressed in jeans and an open-neck shirt with the cuffs rolled to the
forearms. He poked a bony finger in the
producer's chest and hissed: "what do you mean, you and your friends are troubled
by the problem? Have you given it as much as five minutes serious thought?
Do you ever think about it or talk about it other than as some of your bloody
cocktail-party chit-chat? Care? You couldn't care less.
afterwards, the party broke up, but a few of us stayed on. Levesque talked almost non-stop until three
in the morning.
had entered provincial politics in 1960, working as a Liberal, and had come to
power with Jean Lesage. He was part of
the main thrust in the Quiet Revolution that followed the death of Duplessis
and did much to popularize the cry, maitre chez nous. He made the slogan tangible by spearheading
the amalgamation of a number of private power companies into Hydro Quebec. But he remained restive, even after the
Liberals were re-elected in 1962. He
says now, "I was a separatist as early as 1963.
Trudeau's origins were almost antithetical.
His father, Charles Emile, owned an automotive-service business, and in
the early years of the Depression, sold it to Imperial Oil for $1. 4
million. He parlayed that sum to more
than $2 million by the time he died in 1935, and his three children are
multi-millionaires. Pierre Elliott was
only fifteen when his father died. He
spent eight years at College Jean de Brebeuf, a strict Jesuit school, and
remains a committed if unorthodox Catholic.
He studied law at the University de Montreal, articled with a Montreal
firm, and for his own reasons stayed out of the war. There were four years of bumming around, mostly in Quebec, and
then back to school: Harvard for a master's degree in political economy,
lectures at the Sorbonne, and work under Harold Laski at the London School of
Economics. Then more travel.
home he participated briefly in the now-famous Asbestos strike, and went on to
ten years of editing and writing for Cite Libre. In 1965, Trudeau, Pelletier and Marchand -
the so-called "Three Wise Men" - went to Ottawa where, at first, he
made little impact as Lester Pearson's
parliamentary secretary and then as Minister of Justice. John Diefenbaker was outraged and the press
intrigued when he turned up in the Commons wearing sandals and an ascot with an
openneck shirt. There was public
attention when he bested Quebec's Premier, Daniel Johnson, in a televised
constitutional conference, even more prominence when he spoke brilliantly in
the Commons during the debate on Bill C-187, An Act Respecting Divorce,
and again when he brought down his Omnibus Bill to Reform the Criminal Code,
during which he spoke the oft-repeated, if borrowed, line: "The State has
no business in the bedrooms of the nation.
preparing our parallel documentaries on the two men, we got promises of
interviews from both but had trouble nailing down a time with Trudeau. A crew was almost living with Levesque,
filming him on a trip home to the Gaspe and recording his hectic daily
pace. But Trudeau was elusive. We finally were given a guarantee that when
he returned from a year's end vacation in Tahiti (where, incidentally, he met
Margaret Sinclair), he would meet our crew for a filming session.
his absence the documentary took on added significance. The Trudeau boom had begun. Trudeau-for-Leader committees were springing
up across Canada with the overnight swiftness of mushrooms. The absent - and to this point, reluctant -
candidate was attracting impressive support.
On his re turn he kept his promise to be interviewed, and Don MacPher
son, my executive producer, and I flew to Montreal to screen the footage. We were elated by our coup; we would have
the first extended interview with the man the nation was talking about.
watched the film with accumulating dismay.
The director we had assigned, an experienced and talented man, seemed to
have suffered a temporary lapse of judgment.
He had placed Trudeau behind a tiny desk against a flat background,
poorly lit, and had filmed him with one camera for the better part of an
hour. In that hour, he had asked in consequential
questions and, without changing the camera angle, had let his subject ramble on
absently and indifferently. Nor had he
provided cutaways - shots form a different vantage point - so that the film
could be edited. Our coup had become a
and I held a crisis meeting in a hastily rented room at the Queen Elizabeth
hotel, seeking to avoid a disaster. We
were, as I recall it, not a week form our airdate. MacPherson worked around the clock, snatching only moments for
sleep, cadging film from sources in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. I returned to Toronto to work on the
script. Finally, only minutes before
broadcast time, we were ready. The
documentary was assembled live, on air, in one of the hairiest broadcasts Ive
been a part of. The critics and the
public hailed it (it was the first parallel examination of the two men who
would dominate the political stage for the next two decades) and, although I
ground my teeth at the program's imperfections, I drew some satisfaction from
its timeliness and its reception.
were now on the eve of two of the most dramatic political conventions in
Canadian history. The Progressive
Conservatives would select as their new leader a most unlikely politician,
Robert Stanfield, in a convention that would see the public humiliation of John
Diefenbaker,the man who had given them their one hour of glory and had then
outstayed his welcome. The Liberals
would say an affectionate farewell to their leader, Mike Pearson, and put
themselves in thrall to the most inscrutable and volatile man ever to lead
them. At CTV the decision was made to
provide full coverage of both conventions.
It was a move that surprised many but created little expectation: such
events had been the exclusive preserve of the CBC since its beginning.
had put Don MacPherson in charge of the physical and technical
arrangements. He is now president of
First Choice Canadian, the national pay-television service, but he was then
working as producer at TV Ontario. I
met him through Nathan Cohen, who had telephoned me not long after I went to
CTV to say he had something important to discuss with me. We met for lunch. I saw to my surprise that he had brought a friend, Mac
Pherson's. Before our food was served,
he filled me in on Mac Pherson's background and concluded by saying, "He's
the most knowledgeable man in Canada on the technology of television. You need him. Hire him".
was something less than sanguine about the decision to hire him when, the day
before the Conservative convention convened, I visited Maple Leaf Gardens to
check on how our meticulously laid plans were progressing. The CTV broadcast booth was being hammered
together. It looked like an oversize
construction shed, jerrybuilt with rough studding and plywood, and was perched
precariously two-thirds of the way up the Garden's slope. I was made even more uneasy when I strolled
over to the CBC booth. It was virtually
complete, glass-enclosed, looked expensive and substantial, and was crammed with
brandnew electronic equipment.
returned to our location. MacPherson
saw the questions in my eyes and grinned.
"Don't worry", he said.
"Well be fine. Then he added, the frown on his brow matching
mine, "That is, if the chroma-key works.
At the moment it's got some bugs".
hope for superior visual coverage rested in large part on this new development
in television. Chroma-key is a system
that makes it possible selectively to superimpose one picture on another with
each picture dominant in predetermined areas.
Using the system, it was possible for me to sit at the anchor-desk with
an unobstructed view of the convention floor while behind me, a picture could
be seen of what was happening on the floor.
Without chroma-key, the CBC commentators were at a disadvantage. In order that they and the convention might
be seen on the screen, they were forced to sit with their backs to the action;
they could only know what was happening on the floor by watching monitors. CTV's coverage of Conservative convention
was the first such use of the chroma-key technique by any network. The system, much improved, is now
commonplace at major events in Canada and the United States.
had another advantage in the contest: the CBC had grown fat in its virtual
monopoly; our people were hungry. On
the eve of the convention, I gathered the commentators, floor reporters and
cameramen for a briefing, and ended with a pep talk, It wasn't quite, "
Get in there and win this one for the Gipper"; It was more in the order
of, "Let's do a replay of the David and Goliath scenario. Hardly standard
procedure in the sophisticated business of modern broadcasting, but it
selected our staff of floor reporters and commentators with care. I'd hired Pierre Berton, Scott Young - who
was writing a featured column at the Globe and Mail Doug Fisher, a former member of parliament turned journalist, and
Peter Riegenstrief, the pollster.
Harvey Krick, Max Keeping and Jim Fleming (now the federal Minister of Multiculturalism),
all staffers, held up their end. I
manned the anchor desk from the opening gavel to the end of the
had one consuming goal: get the story and get it first. If a delegation was split or wavering in its
allegiance, if a candidate was about to withdraw and throw his support to
another, if the party wheels were closeted in one of the dressing rooms below
or plotting amid the cigar smoke down the street at the Westbury hotel, we must
get it to air first. Most of the time
Berton was relishing his return to the role of reporter and was dashing about
the Gardens like a cub. He took
advantage of the fact that he was as much a celebrity as most of the candidates
to entreat or browbeat information from Conservative officials. Twice in the early balloting he made his way
to where the votes were being counted and, at the crucial moment, leaned his
six-foot, three-inch frame over one of the scrutinizers and said, "Here,
let me see that," copied the figures and sprinted to the nearest CTV
camera to report the totals long before they were announced by the
the final ballot, after an engrossing struggle between Robert Stanfield of Nova
Scotia and Duff Roblin of Manitoba, Tory officials tightened security. The area where the votes were counted was
isolated by a hastily rigged rope barrier.
But they had not reckoned with Berton.
On the floor, he encountered Robert Macaulay, a Toronto lawyer and the
so-called "minister of Everything" in the Ontario government. "Bob," Pierre said, " do me a
favour. Get me the figures on the final
was extemporizing at the anchor desk when I saw Berton on the monitor
struggling to don a pair of earphones and reaching for a hand microphone. Simultaneously, Don MacPherson's voice
jangled in my earpiece. "Go to
Berton! Go to Berton!" We broke the news of Stanfield's victory ten
minutes before it was announced by the chairman. The CBC was forced to quote our figures - without, of course,
admitting where they got them: "While they're not official, they are from
a reliable source.
coverage was praised by the newspapers and there was much chiding of the public
network. I knew, however, that having
taken the CBC by surprise the first time, it would not be so easy the
contest to succeed Lester Pearson had fascinated the nation; not simply because
the Liberals were in power and the new leader would become prime minister, but
because of the presence of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The excitement he engendered exceeded even that which surrounded
john F Kennedy when he made his bid for the American presidency.
was a media dream. He was photogenic,
sophisticated, contemporary, unpredictable and utterly unlike the common
perception of a politician. And he
embodied the new sense of Expo'67. From
the moment he disembarked from the special train that brought him to Ottawa on
the eve of the convention (flanked by edger Benson, the Minister of Housing,
and Mitchell Sharp, the Minister of Finance,) and like a political pied piper
strode up the ramp to the station trailing a cheering, chanting crowd, it was
obvious to all but the blind or obdurate that the convention was as good as
an engrossing and occasionally bitter struggle lay ahead. Among those grasping for the succession
were: Paul Martin, Robert Winters, Mitchell Sharp (who, on the eve of the
convention, dumped his supporters with unseemly haste and scrambled to board
the bandwagon), John Turner, Paul Hellyer, Allan MacEachen, Joe Greene and Eric
Kierans. Absent was the early
frontrunner, Pearson's personal choice, Jean Marchand. When, for reasons of health and/or
temperament Marchand stepped aside, it was the final factor in bringing Trudeau
in. It was imperative that there be a
French Canadian in the race - not least, because of the Liberal tradition that
the leadership of the party alternate between a Quebecois and an
CTV we had been planning for the convention for weeks. I arrived in Ottawa the day before the
opening gavel, lugging two briefcases stuffed with research material, to find a
Trudeau cocktail party in progress at my hotel. The entrance, the lobby, the mezzanine and the lower levels were
jammed with a moiling, beribboned, hyperactive mob. It was almost impossible to move about. The frenetic adulation that surrounded the candidate was almost
beyond belief. Women of every age were,
quite literally, left faint when he passed by.
There were squeals of excitement reminiscent of the madness I'd
witnessed in the Paramount theatre in New York City thirty years earlier when a
stickthin young Frank Sinatra first burst on the scene. It has been called Trudeau mania - it was
the way from the airport, I'd gone to the site of the convention, to check that
all was in readiness. Again, I felt a
tremor of fear and insecurity. Our
cameras, borrowed from CJOH TV, were just being put in place; relatively small
Phillips units, boxlike, battered and unimpressive. The CBC had purchased new RCA cameras and had eight of them
positioned on the floor. They stood,
hooded in slick plastic covers like sleek thoroughbreds waiting to go to the
post. More alarming was the fact that
the opposition had not one but two studios: a glass-enclosed announcer's booth
at the ideal vantage point above the convention floor, and a second all glass
facility at floor level beneath the stands, to was a duplicate of the rickety booth
we had used in Toronto, and in spite of the new CTV banner hanging from it, it
looked lowrent and tacky.
the CBC had learned little from the Conservative convention. Their anchorman and his associates still sat
with their backs to the action. We had
stolen Tom Gould, their best commentator at the Tory convention, and had
brought in Berton again. We had two
other advantages: their new cameras, although impressive in appearance, could
not match ours under poor lighting conditions and could not produce a
comparably bright picture when turned on the crowd or on the candidates' boxes
at the perimeter of the floor.
Moreover, I had noted during the Conservative convention that, at the
climax, a horde of newsmen and photographers had swarmed about the finalists'
boxes, and neither our nor the CBC's floor cameras had been able to see over
them. Both we and the CBC had prepared
what were called "creepie-peepies" shoulder-borne light cameras -
but I was certain they too would be useless in the crush. Consequently, I had ordered a ten-foot
scaffold secretly built and stored out of the way backstage. At the crucial moment, although forbidden to
do so by the arena management, We wheeled it into the convention floor, a
cameraman balanced precariously on top, and got an unobstructed view of Trudeau
in his moment of victory.
MacPerson's voice rasped in my ear: "Charles! Charles! Martin Luther king
has just been shot!"
had just come on the air for the opening session of the Liberal party leadership
convention. I was at the anchor desk in
the CTV booth; MacPherson was outside the stadium in the remote unit - an
oversized van crammed with electronic equipment, which housed the control room,
nerve centre of the broad cast operation.
The news of King's assassination was soon followed by fragmentary
reports of burning and looting in a number of American cities. All our plans to set the scene at the
convention, to run film clips of the candidates and to present rundowns by our
regional reporters went down the chute.
information was sketchy at best and changing every few minutes. I extemporized as best I could. A dozen times, we cut away to take feeds
from the American networks and from our own newsroom in Toronto. The news of the rioting grew more ominous as
the hours passed. We had no option: the
opening session of the convention was put on the back burner and we
"winged it" until 11 p. m.
when we could hand off to the national news.
following day, the convention returned to normal - if "normal" can
describe that convention at any point.
Overarching everything that happened was one obsessive question: can the
Trudeau juggernaut be stopped?
early indication of the trend came with the arrival of the Newfoundland delegation
headed by premier Joey Smallwood.
Newfoundland had been thought to be securely in Bob Winters' camp;
Winters was himself a Maritimer and a longtime friend of both Newfoundland and
Smallwood. But a few days before the
convention, Trudeau made a flying trip to St. John's and the word went out that
Joey, ever the political opportunist, had defected. But there were reports of dissention in the delegation over the
switch, and this led to what could have been the most hilarious gaffe in
Canadian broadcasting history.
was in the midst of presenting a round up of reports from the floor. Each reporter was at standby with the
representative of some region by his side.
One of them, Henry Champ (who has Since gone to NBC television news), was
with a burly, beery Newfoundland delegate.
Mistakenly thinking he had been given a cue and not realizing he wasn't
on the air, Champ began his interview:
are rumors of major split in the Newfoundland delegation," he said. "As I understand it: Joey Smallwood
wants the entire delegation to declare for Trudeau but some of you aren't
prepared to go along. Are you one of
those? Tell me what's happening.
delegate paused a moment to gather his thoughts, his mind unfocussed after a
long night of partying and politicking.
"well," he said.
"here's the way it is. I'm
Bob Winters man myself and they're try into get me to switch. I'm not sure exactly what's happening, but
I'll tell you this: Joey can point my cock but he can't tell me when to
I, too, was supporter of Bob Winters and hand
written speeches for him during his successful run for election in Toronto York
west. In my position, I couldn't show
preference, but I had helped Clem Neiman, winters' campaign manager, plan the
demonstration scheduled to follow the candidate's speech. His slogan was, "It's Winters' Time,
"so I had proposed that, as the demonstration began, white confetti be
poured into the air conditioning system, which led to great ducts high above
the convention floor. At the same
moment, Winters' supporters would toss foam snowballs back and forth. Somehow, the engineer was talked into
permitting the confetti, hundreds of snowballs were passed out and hundreds of
"It's Winters' Time" signs were brought in. As Bob finished a lackluster speech, suddenly it was
wintertime. The air was full of
confetti snow and hundreds of snowballs flew through the air. It was a hokey scene, and in the broadcast
booth, a bit embarrassed, I made innocuous comments.
early balloting went as expected.
MacEachen, who had talked himself into believing he had a chance, went
out on the first vote and crossed the floor to join Sharp and Benson in the
Trudeau box. Others would soon
follow. Person signaled his approval of
Trudeau and the bandwagon began to roll.
But the opposition was hardening.
Judy Lamarsh made her famous whisper to Paul Hellyer (unhappily for us,
picked up by a CBC microphone), "Paul, you've got to go to Winters. Don't let that bastard win it, Paul - he
isn't even a Liberal.
Hellyer wouldn't yield. Nor would John
Turner, who stubbornly stayed in for the last ballot, and Trudeau carried off
the prize. The final totals were:
Trudeau 1,203, Winters 954, Turner 195.
The building erupted in an explosion of sound and celebration. It didn't end until voices were hoarse and
partisans exhausted and marching bands could no longer pucker.
began the most tumultuous era in Canadian political history.
was going on midnight when I packed my notes and personal belongings to leave
the broadcast booth where I had spent the past fourteen hours (and won the
sobriquet, "Ol' Iron Kidney").
I was feeling a variety of emotions: exhaustion - I'd been broadcasting
for two and a half days, elation - the polls and the comment in the media
showed that our coverage had again topped the CBC's, and uneasiness - Trudeau
stirred in me a vague sense of disquiet.
(I remained a cardcarrying Liberal for another six years, but in five
general elections could not bring myself to vote to return him to office. ) And
I was heart sore for Bob Winters. He
had put on a brave front, as had all the defeated candidates as they gathered
on the platform for the traditional show of solidarity, but I could see that he
was suffering. I had some understanding
of what he was feeling; I had come second in a close fight for the leadership
of the Ontario Liberal party just three years earlier, of which more lately.
I walked toward the exit with MacPherson and some of the crew, the floor was
inches deep in spent campaign material.
The lights had been lowered and the arena was almost empty; only the
cleaning crew was in sight. We paused
for moment in the foyer. From the
corner of an eye I caught a movement in the shadows beneath one of the great
concrete stairways. It was Bob Winters,
alone. I called out to him and went
toward him. We put our arms about each
other and stood quietly for a minute or two.
His body was shaking. An hour
earlier, he had been the centre of hundreds of adoring supporters, marching
with a flashing smile, hands held aloft at the head of his demonstration, the
focus of millions of Canadians. Now,
here he was, fighting to contain his emotions, alone in the shadows beneath a
concrete stairway in deserted hockey rink.
doesn't count in politics.
weeks Trudeau called an election, naming the date as June 25. The moment the writ was issued I moved to
mount a half hour special out of our affiliate station, CJOH, in Ottawa. Tom Gould would host the show and, after an
examination of the issues, would conclude by interviewing Pauline Jewett. I was aware of the risk. It was imperative that the broadcast be non
partisan. Jewett was an academic and an
incisive political commentator, but she had been active in the Liberal party. *
To avoid partisanship, I drafted a list of questions and sent them by telex to
Ottawa, instructing Gould not to depart from them.
show went well and Jewett was even more than usually succinct. As the program continued, I realized with a
touch of trepidation that the questions I had drafted would be exhausted before
the time ran out. With a minute left,
Gould unwisely asked Jewett to hazard a guess as to what the result of the
election would be. She predicted a
Liberal sweep, with a mere seventy-four seats for the Tories. (In fact, they won seventy-two.) I
long afterwards, the telephone rang.
"John Bassett. the voice said - Bassett's usual opener for a phone
call. "I've been sitting here
watching television with some of my friends, [Eddie Goodman, Finlay MacDonald
and George Hees, as I recall it, all prominent Conservatives] and I've just
seen my station used for a partisan political broadcast. He then launched into
a tirade, charging me with using my position at CTV to help the Liberal
party. He continued, in full voice and
without a pause, stating that, in future, he would vet any programs produced by
me before putting them on the air and would not allow me to host another show
on his station. I said nothing, waiting
until he finished. From the day I
joined CTV, I had known that the time would come when quarter and I had planned
what I would do if we ever bumped heads -
I would counter-attack with equal vigour
he paused to draw breath, I said, "John, you're dead wrong. You haven't heard one partisan word from me
from the day I joined the network. If
anything, I've leaned over backwards.
You're accusing me of slanting our programming; you know that's
absolute crap. When our coverage of the
conventions was being praised from every side, you were happy to get the
benefit; now you say you'll vet any program I do before it goes on the
air. I say: if you change one of them
or refuse to carry any of them, I'll resign. '
fumed at each other for the next few minutes, until he banged down the
phone. I called Chercover at home. "Murray. I said, "we've got a
problem. I told him the story. He
said, "Look, don't do a thing. Go
to bed. We'll see what happens
following morning my telephone rang.
Bassett," he said.
Templeton," I said.
wife gave me hell last night for shouting at you.
was in the bedroom above my study, and when I went upstairs she asked me what
the ruckus was all about.
tell you what; I'm prepared to forgot it if you are.
John said. "Now I want to talk to
you about hosting a new show for me on CFTO.
long after the shouting incident, I found myself facing the possibility of
another clash with Bassett. Chercover
said to me one day, "you're looking for a new research assistant. I may have just the right person for
you. But there's catch.
was indeed looking for research assistant.
I was planning a summer replacement series and hadn't been able to find
the person to do the preliminary digging and the research needed for each show. Chercover's nominee was Isabel Gordon, whom
I knew only as a former women's editor of the Telegram.
catch is, "Chercover said, "she's John Bassett's lady friend, the
woman he's going to marry. "Oh," I said, considering the land mines
that might lie ahead. "I'll hire
her," I said, "on one condition: that if she doesn't work out, I can
came to see me the following day. I
explained the job, told her what would be required of her and named the
salary. All was agreed to and I hired
the next two weeks I hardly saw her.
She would come in mornings, more or less on time, spend less than an
hour in the tiny office I'd assigned to her, mostly on the phone and then
leave. I might not see her again all
day. I was beginning to think I would
have to dismiss her. One morning she
knocked on my door and asked if she could speak to me. She then showed me the results of the
research she'd been doing. It was
innovative and went far beyond what I'd asked for. I said, "Isabel, this is absolutely first rate. Unfortunately, I can't use more than half of
your suggestions. It's a summer
replacement show. I simply don't have
the budget. Nevertheless great work.
following morning my telephone rang.
"John Bassett," the voice said. "I hear you don't have enough money in your budget to do
that summer replacement show. I said, "I'm afraid not, "He
chuckled. "You do now!"
week or so after the election was called, I had a phone call from Finlay
MacDonald. I knew him as the owner of the
CTV affiliate in Halifax and as a prominent Conservative. He came to see me and brought with him Eddie
Goodman, a distinguished Toronto lawyer.
Eddie (known to his friends and the press as "Fast Eddie") had
been chairman of the recent Conservative leadership convention and was one of
the major figures in the party. Both
men were convinced that Robert Stanfield was a better man than Trudeau and felt
certain that, if Canadians could see the two of them in personal confrontation,
they would recognize Stanfield's worth.
They hoped to accomplish this through a nationally televised debate, but
wanted to restrict it to Stanfield and Trudeau. They knew that if the CBC mounted the debate, it would, as the
public network, insist on including Tommy Douglas, the leader of the NDP, and
Real Caouette of the Creditistes. Their
proposal was this: Stan field is prepared to commit himself to a televised
debate on CTV, if you can get Trudeau.
grasped the opportunity. As a private
network, CTV would not be bound to include Douglas and Caouette, It was my view
that a face-to-face debate between Trudeau and Stanfield would not only be
great television, it would provide an invaluable public service, enabling the
Canadian people to take stock of the two men, both of whom were new to the
national political scene. I called
Keith Davey, who had been Pearson's campaign manager and was performing the
same function for Trudeau. He liked the
idea, said he would take some soundings among his associates and get back to
me. To my surprise, there was immediate
agreement. But by the time Goodman and
MacDonald met with their Liberal counterparts to discuss the format and the
rules, it was evident that the initial enthusiasm was cooling. Within days, it became obvious that, for all
the positive noises being made, the Liberals had no intention of
first objection, that there would be widespread resentment at the exclusion of
Douglas and Caouette, was raised despite the fact that the two-man
confrontation had earlier been perceived as a plus. They then questioned whether CTV's coverage would encompass most
Canadians, particularly in Quebec where the network had only one station, CFCF
Montreal. It was a valid
objection. Chercover got on the
telephone and within a day arranged for the broadcast to be carried on a number
of independent stations, including Quebec City, Sherbrooke and a French station
in Montreal. As well, a simulcast would
be transmitted nationally on radio. The
nation would be covered.
the Trudeau strategists were now firmly opposed, and for understandable
reasons. Trudeau was dominating the
media coverage. Why share it with
Stanfield? Trudeau was well ahead in the public-opinion polls. Why risk a major gaffe before the entire country?
Even though they were confident their candidate would win against Stanfield, a
four-man debate would be safer. Trudeau
now made a public statement that he wouldn't participate unless the minor
parties were invited, and added that he favoured including the public
network. There was no option but to
that point things went downhill. I met
a number of times with the operational brass at the CBC and found myself
involved in endless convoluted discussions about format, rules of debate,
personnel, locale, equipment and so on.
On the eve of the debate, in which I would act as moderator, I flew to
Ottawa knowing that "The Great Debate," eviscerated by politics and
bureaucratic caution, would probably end as "The Great Bore.
rehearsal was scheduled for the early afternoon on the day of broadcast. Its purpose was to familiarize the
principals with the physical arrangements and the tangle of rules that now
restricted the participants. Each man
arrived separately; first Douglas and then Caouette, both apparently
relaxed. Stanfield, shepherded by a
coterie of tense advisors, came next, appearing subdued and serious. Trudeau was late; he'd attended a funeral
and was dressed in formal attire.
However his mood was anything but funereal; he was bouncy and
ebullient. He gave me a smile and a
wave, winked at Sylvia (caught up in Trudeaumania, she'd insisted on attending
the rehearsal), went to his assigned position and swung a leg over the top of this
desk. Then, affecting a sudden schoolboy
primness, he sat on his high stool, the model of deco rum, procedures and he
listened impassively. When the red
light, which would signal the expiration of his time period, flashed, he
burlesqued an appalled grimace, leaned over his desk and covered the light with
all the bravado of the rehearsal, it was evident as the telecast began that
Trudeau was frightened. At the
moderator' desk I was no more than a dozen feet from him and could see the
working of his jaw, the frequent swallowing and the tension in his body. Little wonder - the potential for disaster
was there. He had vaulted from the
House of Commons to the zenith after only three years in parliament. There were dozens of current issues on which
he hadn't had time to brief himself.
Caouette (who was not permitted to join the debate until the halfway
point, as the Creditistes were not a national party) was no threat but Tommy
Douglas was; he was an experienced and incisive debater and had been in the
Commons for years. Moreover, it was
known that Stanfield had prepared himself with long and careful briefings. The possibility existed that, in full view
of the nation, the Trudeau skyrocket might descend a charred stick.
in most televised political debates, there was no clear winner. The followers of each man could extract some
satisfaction from his performance.
Douglas and Caouette, who had less at stake than the others and had been
around for years, did acceptably.
Stanfield did better than many expected, but that is faint praise. Trudeau was restrained and flat and
monotonous of voice, but he made no mistake of consequence and was generally
credited with handling himself well.
But the debate itself never
election campaign was a royal tour; the election a coronation. The Liberals won 155 seats - 27 in the
western provinces to the Conservatives' 72.
Stanfield fumbled a football and the election. Tommy Douglas lost his seat.
The universe was unfolding. . .
morning of election day I drove into CTV's underground parking area. As i Got out of the car, the accumulated
fatigue of the past nineteen months suddenly settled on me and I hadn't the
strength to walk across the floor to the elevator. I rested on the fender of the car for the minutes until I
gathered the strength to make my way to my office. The previous three days had been spent incommunicado in a hotel
room, fixing in my mind the myriad details necessary for making pertinent
comment and swift analyses during an election broadcast. It was the first general election in which
computers would be used and we were fearful of a breakdown. That possibility added to the pressure. Our weeks of meticulous preparation had
focused on this day; but now that it was here, I found myself doubting that I
would be able to do my job.
was late June. The hot studio was
hotter because of the lights and the large number of people working on the
floor. To counter the heat, I wore
walker's shorts instead of trousers - when I was seated behind the anchor desk,
who would know? The desk where I would spend the next four hours was raised
above the floor and it was necessary to mount a riser to climb into my chair.
On the desk before me were a red telephone connected to Don MacPherson in the control
booth and a television monitor sunk flush with the desktop. Tom Gould sat to my left, sifting through
the first computer printouts, the trickle that would soon become a flood. Seated at a table behind and below meat
floor level and hidden from the cameras was Susan Dexter a W 5 staffers
seconded for the evening. I had her tie
a string to my ankle. As new printouts
were delivered to her, she would cull from them those I needed, and when they
were in order, tug on the string. I
would then put my hand below the desk and take them. Computers and string. . . . !
rehearsal, I felt a pervasive trembling in my body and a wooliness in my
brain. I seemed oddly removed from what
was happening. We were scheduled to go
to air at 7:30 to get a jump on the CBC, which would begin its broadcast at
8:00. At one minute to air time - to
warm up my brain, as an athlete might his body before a contest - I commanded
my mind to run through the names of the ridings in Prince Edward Island and
Newfoundland. I couldn't recall even
the four ridings in PEI. Panic. I was suddenly drenched in sweat and
overcome by dizziness. .
floor manger was giving me the countdown.
"Five-four-three-two . . . a pause and then the stab of the
forefinger. I began to talk, almost
automatically, the sentences forming themselves in the murk of my brain,
setting the scene for the election and giving a rundown on the features we
would be providing. Then, mercifully,
the floor manager gave me the cue for a commercial break.
light on the telephone flashed. It was
MacPherson. "Are you all
right?" he asked. "You don't
don't know what's the matter. My head's
full of wet Kleenex. I'm dizzy and
faint. I'm not sure I'm going to make
do you want to do?"
an eye on my right hand," I said.
"If I'm in trouble, I'II tap with my forefinger on the desk. If you see that, cut to Gould,"
do," he said. "Ready to come
out of commercial.
next four hours were nightmare. I had
lapses of memory and moments when I thought I was going to faint. But as the evening progressed the tension
eased. I leaned on Gould more than had
been planned and his solid professionalism took up the slack. But we didn't do as we had hoped and not as
well as the CBC.
following morning I went to my office at CTV headquarters and stopped by Murray
Chercover's office. He looked up at
me. "What ate you doing
here?" he said. "Go on home.
told him I had a few things that must be done and then said "Murray, I
love my work and I love CTV, but I'm not ready to die for it.
looked at me and grinned. "Go to
bed for a week.
is one of the most important men in Canadian broadcasting but is unknown to the
public. His knowledge of the complex
details of broadcasting is astonishing.
He knew the operation and the budgetary details of my department - and
every other department - better than I did.
But in all the time I worked with him, he never interfered. He counseled, he advised, he proposed, but
having trusted you with the job he left you free to do it.
managerial capacity can best be seen in CTV's coverage of the historical Apollo
11 lunar landing. The United States'
manned flight to the moon and back spanned nine days, included a landing on the
moon, an exploration of its surface and a safe return, NASA announced that,
during the nine days, it would transmit seven teen hours of television
pictures, from blast-off to splash-down and recovery. The CBC announced that it would carry seven hours. Chercover asked for my recommendation as to
what CTV should do. I thought about it
overnight and went to his office the following morning.
should carry all seventeen hours," I said. "Every available minute.
looked at me. "I agree with you,
"he said. That would be ideal.
But do you have any idea what it would cost?"
this is Columbus and Magellan. It's as
though there were cameras along when they set sail.
so you're fascinated and I'm fascinated, but will the viewer watch seventeen
hours of it?"
sound sure of it.
looked down at his desk, frowning. Then
he lifted his head and said, "Okay, we do it.
he had been wrong, it could have cost the network more than a hundred thousand
dollars. It could have cost him his
job. In fact, every commercial slot was
sold. The CBC, which began with partial
coverage, quickly expanded its service to match ours. It was the greatest event in television history and was watched
around the world by the largest audience of all time.
period during which I was at CTV happened to be among the most exciting in
Canadian journalistic history, made more exciting to us because we were finding
our way, taking chances, experimenting.
I was teamed with committed and imaginative people, most of whom worked
far too hard.
were encounters with extraordinary people, of course: the justly famous and the
merely notorious, the pompous, the sleazy, the ambitious, the godly, the kooks
and the rogues - a cross-section of the men and women who "make news.
Television is a magnet; it drowse to it people of every imaginable diversity to
present themselves before its lenses, and draws others to watch
transfixed. The television camera is a
kinky voyeur: it lusts with equal passion for mangled bodies and widows' tears
and slaughtered seals. It mingles with
angry mobs, dogs the steps of preening politicians and crowds close to
catastrophe. It makes nonentities
celebrities and licensed brawlers rich.
If Andy Warhol is right and the day comes when everyone will be famous
for fifteen minutes, it will be because of television.
me, television was work, opportunity and a stepping-stone. In 1959,an interview I did on the CBC led to
the offer of a job at the Toronto Star.
In 1969, when I returned to television, programs produced at CTV led to
becoming editor of Maclean's magazine.
In each case, my work in the electronic medium led to print journalism,
which runs counter to the flow - television usually recruits from the
press. There was no deliberate going
against the grain; it merely happened that way.
was never fully committed to television.
To individual pro grams and to special challenges, yes, but never to the
medium itself. It is possible to do
some things superlatively well on television, but they are the exceptions. Commercial television, by its very nature,
breeds mediocrity. It is an insatiable
dragon, whose keepers must feed it every hour of every day of the year. A result is that those who work in
television find themselves, for all their high resolves, living with
compromise. There is little time for
contemplation, there are few opportunities to step back and scrutinize what you
are doing. A valid and shining idea is
inevitably diminished as it becomes subject to the limitation of budgets, the
caution of bureaucrats, the exigencies of time, the complexity of the
mechanism, the shortage of first-rate technicians, the low level of public
expectation and the hundred other woes that bedevil the production
process. As has been said,
"Television is a one-ton pencil. It is a powerful means of communication;
it is also unwieldy and expensive.
of this justifies or excuses the banality of 90 per cent of television
programming, but it does explain it.
And it reveals why most television programs are tired imitations of
earlier successes. They may amuse but
they seldom stimulate robust laughter.
( Most television laughs come from studio audiences responding on cue,
supplemented by ancient guffaws recycled on tape. ) The best programs available
on a given night are usually something unscripted, such as sport, or something
borrowed from another medium, the cinema.
does some things well: political conventions, public affairs, sorts,
examinations of nature. It does some
things poorly: news (with a few exceptions), political campaigns, live theatre,
classical music. It has gone to seed
(as has public affairs radio) on "causes," among them homosexuality,
environmental pollution, abortion, racial prejudice, rape and, lately,
incest. Each is important and needs the
focus of attention, but one tires of the onslaught, and the end result is
informed indifference. Television
builds calluses on our compassion.
the beginning, television news was presented in a straightforward manner. The news-readers were staff announcers who
presented little more than radio with pictures. The shooting and preparation of film excerpts was a slow,
laborious process, and the film portions of the "telecasts," as they
were then called, were usually a day or more behind the events.
as techniques improved, portable videotape cameras appeared and satellites
began to transmit pictures worldwide, viewers discovered television news to be
an undemanding and entertaining way to keep abreast of what was happening in a
world that had become, in Marshall McLuhan's phrase, "a global village. "There was an immediacy, an apparent
authenticity to television reporting.
You could sit in your living room and be an eyewitness as politicians
made pronouncements or bombs shattered villages or belly-clubs crushed skulls
or firefighters poured their torrents into infernos. And audiences increased.
saw this gathering crowd and sought the opportunity to proclaim the virtues of
their wares before it. As the number of
viewers increased, the income from commercials sky rocketed and "the news"
no longer showed as a debit on the balance sheet. Inevitably, the quest for the advertiser's dollar led to a
competition for viewers. Networks and
local stations strove to provide more news, more immediate news, more
interesting news. The news-reader gab
way to the anchorman (more accurately, anchorperson, for there are an
increasing number of women in the business) and, especially in the United
States, he or she become as much a media star as the singers, dancers and
comedians in the entertainment part of the industry. Walter Cronkite, a former CBS anchorman, was selected in a
national pool as "the most trusted man in America. Aurely the CBC's
Barbara Frum is the best known television "personality" in Canada.
growth and popularity of television news has produced problems. The time allotted must be filled. If there isn't enough news it must be
manufactured. If there is a shortage of
hard news, gussy up an inconsequential item.
Seek the human-interest story.
Create a media event, transforming a non-story into an apparently
important happening. Develop stories
about "problems" in the society.
And even more important, seek news that makes for interesting pictures. A line-up editor will be disposed to
allocate more time to a riot at a rock concert than to a Nobel
presentation. A protest provides better
footage than a press conference.
Responsible broadcasters will strive for a balance between legitimate
news and trivia; others will major in ambulance-chasing, fires and police
is subject to the need for pictures.
Its reason for being is to transmit visual images. This is its strength and its weakness. No reporter's words could communicate so
graphically the defeat of the Amercian withdrawal from Saigon as did the
pictures of the Vietnamese clinging to and falling from the helicopter
skids. And nothing was more boring than
those dated "file tape" shots of the British navy in the
Falklands. Therein lies the problem:
television must put up pictures, even when there are no pictures worth putting
up; the "talking head" is no more than picture postcard radio.
will undoubtedly get both better and worse, in large part because of the
proliferation of channels brought about by cable and satellites. There is little reason to believe that the
increase in the number of programs will lead to higher quality programs. There will be one improvement; as has
happened with radio and print, the proliferation of channels will generate a
full spectrum of highly specialized offerings.
Already, there are channels that offer nothing but news or sports or
religion or motion pictures, as will the viewer's ability to determine
programming through videocassettes and other systems of storage and
was present at the beginnings of television.
I expect to be part of its continuous evolution. It wasn't for all the nostalgia, better in
the old days, although it was more exciting because it was new and live
and had to be innovative. But for all
the proliferation and scope, the task remains the same - to communicate with
that one individual in his or her living room.
It is an exceedingly difficult thing to do well.
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