Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Here's Where I get Interviewed!

 A quite brilliant graduate student dropped by the other day to interview me about my strange career as a Canadian TV Critic. Some of her questions were so brilliant I volunteered to pass comments on to readers:

SHE: How did you get started as a TV critic?

ME: It was a Toal accident. I was a summer student at The Globe And Mail and the TV critic, the wonderfully acerbic Black Kirby fell ill and I took over for a bit. I worked next to him in the tiny M&D Department --that means "Music and Drama:"/

The theatre critic, the imposing Herbert Whittaker had been at it since 1935. He had to file his copy by midnight and wrote his reviews on slips of paper which were sent down the chute and by 11:45 the full page would come up and he'd have 15 minutes to correct names.

John Kraglund was the classical music writer and he was there, too, most nights although his reviews were usually brief.

I remember coming into the department at noon one day and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy were waiting for Herbie to take him to lunch.

On another day Katharine Hepburn's chauffeur was there waiting to drive Great Kate to Lunch.

Also in the department: Martin Knelman (movies), Barbara Gail Rowe (dance) and Urjo Kareda (features) and the art critic who wrote a full page every Saturday ----

And I was there for two summers and then The Spectator phoned and offered me the TV critic job --the venerable Jack Miller had just left for The Toronto Star and I followed him there in 1980 when he jumped to the science beat.

SHE: HOW difficult was it covering TC from Hamilton?

ME: Miller told me to ditch my cart and take the bus in every few days to Toronto for screenings and interviews. There were no cassettes at first so I'd go into tiny screening rooms and watch a rough cut of whatever program I had requested.

SHE: Was nothing being done in Hamilton?.

ME: CHCH was an independent station. Sam Hebscher bought the movies for the station and CHCH had the world TV premieres of such hits as Gone With The Wind, The Ten Commandments, Ben-our. They also made such series as Party Game, --I remember interviewing Bill Shatner on that tiny set--he did eight episodes in one day --he was paid per episode. I was also on the set of Ein Prosit, Hilarious House Of Frankenstein,  hey, CHCH had some great Canadian content and syndicated these shows including Pierre Berton to the rest of the nation's TV stations.

SHE: What did you doin Toronto?

ME: More screenings. At TVOntario I interviewed old movie buff Elwy Yost multiple times---

SHE: Do you think this Saturday Night At The Movies and those old films --could he be a hit in today's market?

ME: I doubt it. Because Elwy was the only game in town showing old black and white movies. Some Saturday nights he was beating CBC's Hockey Night In Canada. So CBC and other networks bought up whole collections to keep him from running them.

SHE: What about CBC?

ME:I was on the set of such CBC spectaculars as ballets directed for TV by Norman Campbell. Harry Rasky produced one Raskymentary a season --dazzling TV portraits of the likes of Raymond Massey, Christopher Plummer, Bernard Shaw. And Rasky and Campbell won Emmys for CBC. Today all that has disappeared.


ME: As we get more channels the quality of the old line networks has dipped because of lower ratings.  CBC needs more money than the government is willing to give. So quality programming has dropped precariously.

SHE: What about the old commercial nets?

ME: I think CTV made a bad mistake cancelling Canada AM because it was too expensive to produce.  Some of CTV and Global's hour dramas were just fine: ENG, Traders but they are too expensive what with falling ratings.

SHE: Who is hurting, do you think?

ME: Canadian actors and writers who have stories to dramatize but the money is no longer there. There are the quality documentaries? The more channels we get the lower the quality of the product unless you are willing to pay a fortune for speciality channels. The federal government has got to get involved. Canadian TV movies have virtually disappeared.  Arts programming from opera to ballet has gone.

SHE: Sounds like you want a return to the good old days?

ME: No, that's impossible. I just want Canadiasns to become concerned about the shrinkage of quality Canadian TV programs --that's all. 

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