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Cathode Ray Mission: The Original Global Television Network (1974)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

Instead of covering a specific cult show, this edition of Cathode Ray Mission will look back at the messy birth of a big Canadian media player–the first three months of programming at the Global Television Network. Global, in 2012, is one of Canada’s four major over-the-air broadcasting entities, fighting against CTV, CBC and CityTV for ratings supremacy. But things weren’t always this way.

Global was formed by Al Bruner and Peter Hill’s Can-Plex Ltd., in 1970. Bruner, a former big band singer, remade his name as an advertising manager for Toronto’s CTV affiliate, CFTO. CHCH founder Ken Soble lured Bruner to Hamilton. Bruner built CHCH into a money machine, as the station made huge yearly profits.

Both Bruner and Soble dreamed of a creating third national Canadian network together, until Soble died in 1966. Bruner actually convinced the Canadian Radio-Television Commission to give Can-Plex Ltd. a licence for a regional televised program service. Global was envisioned as a national network, but settled for a studio in Don Mills, Ontario and six retransmitters.

On January 6, 1974, Global held a four-hour special to commemorate its launch. Less than three months later, Global almost died.

The Basic Formula

Global’s 1974 debut resulted in 25 original shows — at least, according to Jim Bawden of The Toronto Star. Foreign programming, and feature films from “all over the world,” made up the difference.

Here is part of Global’s initial 1974 slate. Some shows don’t have years attached to them; I couldn’t identify when those shows ended.

  • CAVEAT EMPTOR, a consumer affairs show
  • EVERYTHING GOES (1974), a talk show. Initially hosted by Norm Crosby, singer Catherine McKinnon became a co-host early in the run. Ken Finkleman, Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short were among its writers
  • FLICK FLACK WITH WILLIAM SHATNER, a film-related interview series
  • FOUR FOR ADVENTURE, a travelogue. Four Quebec filmmakers visited South America, talking to Canadians who worked in that continent. Also featured a recipe each episode
  • GLOBAL NEWS JOURNAL, a public-affairs documentary series
  • GLOBAL POST, a five-minute business update
  • MY COUNTRY, where Pierre Berton talked about…well, his country
  • SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS (1973?-74), a satirical news show produced by Don Harron. Harron, Catherine McKinnon, Patrician Anne McKinnon, Barbara Hamilton, Jack Duffy, Bill Luxton, Les Lye, Howard Jerome Gomberg, Geoff Scott, Barry MacLoughlin and Ken Shaw were the castmembers. Gordon Pinsent and Billy Van made guest appearances
  • SUNDAY NIGHT HOCKEY, which televised Toronto Toros WHA games. Peter Gzowski and Ken Dryden (yes, that Ken Dryden – Dryden sat out the 1973-74 NHL season) were involved with the initial broadcasts
  • THE BRADEN BEAT (1974), an “on your side” consumer affairs show hosted by Bernard Braden
  • THE CANADIANS, a Stanley Burke-hosted show about the lifestyles of famous Canadians
  • THE GREAT DEBATE (1974-?; 1983-84 on CHCH), where Pierre Berton and others debated controversial topics
  • THE WORLD OF WICKS, an interview show hosted by cartoonist Ben Wicks
  • THIS PROGRAM IS ABOUT SEX (1974), with Dr. Sol Gordon
  • WHAT’S HIS NAME?, a game show where Catherine McKinnon, Don Harron and Jack McClelland attempted to guess the identities of famous Canadians
  • WITNESS TO YESTERDAY (1974 on Global; 1974-75? on TVOntario; 1998 on History Television), where broadcaster Patrick Watson “interviewed” an actor playing a major historical figure

The Weird Bits

Global initially disdained local advertising, and allowed only eight minutes of commercial air time. The point of the program service was not to be local. Many of Global’s original shows were made by independent producers, in an effort to keep costs low. Global aired news updates between programs, which was a new concept at the time.

SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS had a distinct Ottawa flavour, which wasn’t suprising, given that it was the brainchild of Bushnell Communications executives Stu Griffiths and Roy Fabish. Bushnell Communications, at the time, owned CJOH. SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS was initially a CTV pilot; Global, desperate for content, bought the show’s rights.

There was a faint whiff of nepotism in SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS — Don Harron was married to Catherine McKinnon. Patrician Anne McKinnon, though an actress and singer in her own right, was Catherine McKinnon’s sister. In addition, Bill Luxton and Les Lye were well-known for WILLY & FLOYD (CJOH/syndicated, 1966-88). SHHH! IT’S THE NEWS was a CJOH show in drag.

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Here’s to a Full-Tilt Summer

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CanFilm Five: Programmer and Filmmaker Dion Conflict

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Dion Conflict is Toronto-based film historian/film maker/programmer. From its beginning showing film prints in the back room of Toronto Queen Street haunt The Rivoli , his CONFLICT ARCHIVES celebrates its 20th year of putting neglected celluloid back on the screen with eclectic programs that have entertained audiences not only in Canada, but also the United States, Estonia, and Finland (where one of his screenings clobbered Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE). Dion is the man behind many film screening series including Hunka Junk, Midweek Mondo Madness, Trailer Trash and, most recently, SHOCK AND AWE, the all-night Grindhouse film fest showcasing 16mm and 35mm film prints unseen on any big screen in Canada in decades. The latest SHOCK AND AWE marathon screens at Toronto’s Revue Cinema on June 23, 2012 and will include SLEEPAWAY CAMP, RAPPIN’, HORROR HOSPITAL and more (see Dion’s blog for more details and ticket info).

Dion is also the founder of the world’s first 24 hour online streaming video superstation (Paxels) which not only included 50% original content and ran endless short films, music videos, interviews, films, seminars and sports. Currently, Dion is developing his feature film script (a comedy) and speaking with other production companies and producers. He notes, “If I could have ideal casting for the project, it would have Boris Kodjoe, The Situation, Ron Jeremy, Tyler Medeiros, Canadian Ben Johnson, and Men Without Hats on the soundtrack.”

 Dion sez:

As a kid, and still today, one of my favorite cartoons is DAVY AND GOLIATH, the claymation religious cartoon with young Davey (wearing his checkerboard shirt which looks like it was made from a tablecloth at a Big Boy Restaurant) and his dog Goliath. They usually would get into some adventure where something goes wrong. Goliath would kinda egg the kid on, and his sister Sally would snitch. Davy’s Dad would go “Did you learn something Davy?” Davy would reply and God would also be thrown in the equation.

You don’t need to watch DAVY AND GOLIATH to learn some valuable life lessons, or listen to a Play-Doh dog egg you on to get in trouble. All of the most important lessons I have learned in life have been from Canadian cinema. Here’s my top five most valuable life lessons from Canadian film.

LE PARTY (1991)
When I went to Montreal to screen “Dion Conflict: Trailer Trash”, I told the audience that the best Canadian film ever was from Quebec was LE PARTY, a statement that made the audience both gasp and laugh at the same time.  The late Pierre Faladeau made this trashy little opus about a travelling troupe of “entertainers” doing their annual show at a Quebec prison–including a drag queen singing about his/her mother, a magician (who complained about working for the CBC and a fibreglass factory), a Francophone country singer belting out a song about penetration, a comedian named Leo with terrible jokes, and not one, but two strippers (and one fake leopard skin/rug).  While the show goes on, there’s plenty of copulation, contraband drug use, and crying.  The band “Rapid Fire”, looking like a Trooper cover band, plays on while the prison officials look away.  LE PARTY is so friggin awesome, I could talk about it endlessly, but I would rather you see it and agree with me that it’s the best Canadian film ever. 

LIFE LESSON LEARNED: If you have to get thrown in the clink in Canada, INSIST it is in Quebec.



 
ODDBALLS (1984)
It ran endlessly on First Choice Pay TV (before the crappy merger with Superchannel, and not the new one) and I would watch it every time.  Chris (Wally Wodchis) ends up getting shipped off to “Camp Bottom Out” where owner Hardy Bassett (a fairly sauced Foster Brooks) considers selling until his grand-daughter convinces him to give the summer camp a chance.  Can Mr. Skinner and his goofy son Chadwick sabotage the camp’s success in order to turn the camp into a shopping mall?  ODDBALLS is filled with tons of gags (complete with goofy sound effects) as Chris and the boys are endlessly looking to get laid.  Funny because most of them look like they are not old enough to have a wet dream (and it’s an all-boys camp).  You find yourself groaning so much at the gags, that it ends up being somewhat funny. ODDBALLS might be the Maury Povich BABY DADDY offspring of MEATBALLS.

LIFE LESSON LEARNED: Not everyone in Southern and Central Ontario will sell their land for shopping malls or condos.

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Cathode Ray Mission: YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION (1979)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

For this column, we’ve decided to do something a little different and look at a Canadian TV show that  straddles the line between “cult” and “mainstream hit.” Mainstream hits are obviously not Canuxploitation, and YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION (CJOH, 1979; CJOH/CTV/Nickelodeon, 1981-87, 1989-90) was a mainstream cable hit in its day. The show is most fondly remembered in its half-hour format on Nickelodeon. It was literally the primordial slime from which Nickelodeon was born.

What some YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION fans don’t remember is the show’s formative years, as an hour-long Saturday morning variety hour. Early YTV viewers might be familiar with WHATEVER TURNS YOU ON (CTV, 1979), YCDTOTV‘s half-hour primetime variant.

The Basic Formula

YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION takes its cues from ROWAN AND MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN (NBC, 1968-73) — short sketches, catchphrases, recurring characters, and heavy repetition. What sets YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION apart from LAUGH-IN is its casual contempt for authority, and its insistence that child amateurs perform the comedy. Les Lye, the sole adult male castmember, appears in all incarnations of YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION/WHATEVER TURNS YOU ON.

Viewers who watched Nickelodeon and/or CTV in the 1980s likely know what the show’s sketches are like. Nickelodeon’s signature slime comes from YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION. If I type the words “Barth’s Burgers,” readers of a certain age will likely wonder what Barth puts in them.

A Dixieland jazz arrangement of “The William Tell Overture” identifies YCDTOTV, the way “The Liberty Bell” identifies MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS (BBC1, 1969-73; BBC2, 1974 as MONTY PYTHON). Other elements ganked from MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS include the Terry Gilliam-esque opening credits, a public-domain theme song, and that casual contempt for authority.

The Weird Bits

The 1979 and early 1981 versions of YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION barely resemble the Nickelodeon version. CJOH originally formatted the show as a variety hour — sketches, disco dances, call-in contests, live transitions, and “music videos” of various origins. Video game competitions took the place of the disco dances, in 1981.

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CanFilm Five: Producer and Writer Greg Klymkiw

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Greg Klymkiw is an Ontario-based writer, producer and journalist. He programmed a Winnipeg rep cinema specializing in cult movies and served as a film buyer for small-town movie theatres (including tons of drive-ins). As the Director of Marketing for the Winnipeg Film Group, he developed the brand of the Winnipeg style and masterminded the marketing that turned Guy Maddin’s TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL into an international cult sensation. He produced John Paizs’s early shorts, Maddin’s first three features (GIMLI, ARCHANGEL and CAREFUL), the Berlinale Best Feature Film Award Winner THE LAST SUPPER and, among others, the notorious BUBBLES GALORE. For 13 years he was the Producer-in-Residence and Senior Creative Consultant at Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre. He is currently producing, screenwriting, consulting and script editing. As a film journalist, his writing appears at: Klymkiw Film Corner, Electric Sheep, Canadian Film Corner, Daily Film Dose and the legendary Joe Kane’s “Phantom of the Movies Videoscope”. Greg sez:

I’ve always loved genre pictures and in one way or another they have all inspired my life and career in terms of trying to make movies that defied expectations (while also fulfilling them). What’s kind of cool, is that I could probably name about thirty of so Canadian films that delivered the goods in this respect, but for the sake of brevity, here are my Top Five Most Inspirational Canadian Genre Films (in ALPHABETICAL order):

CRIME WAVE
Yeah, yeah, I know, full disclosure and all that; John Paizs is one of my best friends and colleagues. However, I’m also a worshipper and student of the Paizs Method. I have seen CRIME WAVE so many times that I stopped counting after 50 viewings (not including just watching and re-watching my favourite scenes). The movie never fails to delight and inspire me. The combination of sun-dappled and lurid colour, the clear joy and love for B-movies, the brilliant use of narration, humour that is always absurd, perverse and just plain laugh-out-loud funny are just a few things that place this movie in the top five of this list, but frankly, also in the Top Five of all Canuckian movies. Importantly, Paizs’s humour is reverential and NEVER tongue-in-cheek. I learned more about the art of actual filmmaking from Paizs and CRIME WAVE is a huge part of that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoGk_QL2xnw

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