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┬áthree 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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