“If I ran the CBC..
These thirteen TV personalities argued for hours, at Maclean’s request, about some things the new royal commission on broadcasting won’t discuss. Here are the results ... direct from the tape recorder, as edited by Blair Fraser
Joel Aldred Nathan Cohen Roy Ward Dickson Cal Jackson Jane Mallett J. B. McGeachy Mavor Moore Pat Patterson Toby Robins Frank Shuster Gordon Sinclair Lister Sinclair Johnny Wayne
This month a royal commission will start public hearings on Canadian television—how it should be financed, how it should be regulated, what Canada’s basic policy on television should be. But the royal commission has decided not to deal with program content, which is rather like planning a national nutrition scheme without ever mentioning food.
MACLEAN'S CANADA'S NATIONAL MAGAZINE
This article is an attempt in the opposite direction—it is, to continue the metaphor, a colloquy of professional cooks. At the request of Maclean’s, thirteen people who have one thing in common, the fact that they actually work in television, recently sat down around a horseshoe table in front of a battery of microphones and a tape recorder. All are known to audiences from coast to coast and in some cases to audiences throughout North America. In bringing them together Maclean’s sought to mingle the widest possible variety of backgrounds. The group included relative newcomers as well as veterans who have been prominent in broadcasting since the very early days of radio. It included comedians and learned panelists; actors and announcers; quiz masters and musicians. It included one man who left Canada to achieve great success in the United States and another who left the United States to achieve great success in Canada. It included some people who believe in the publicownership principle behind the CBC and others who believe the CBC is cheating the taxpayer and the listener by trying to do things that could be done better by private stations.
The panelists talked for three and a half hours, with Ralph Allen, the editor of Maclean’s, acting as moderator. As would be the outcome if any thirteen Canadians, in any walk of life, debated for that length of time on the programs and general methods and objectives of broadcasting in Canada, they achieved a unanimous conclusion on nothing whatever. But during the course of arriving at a series of cordial—and sometimes uncordial—disagreements, they spoke many pungent, wise and witty words on one of the liveliest of all public issues. This is an edited, abbreviated account of what they said.
First, here are their answers to the chairman’s question: “What would you do, if you had the power, to improve Canadian television?” Mavor Moore, formerly a senior official in CBC television and now a free-lance writer, actor and producer: Stop trying to copy what the Americans do best. In everything we do we must step over the present into the future. If we try to follow what the Americans are doing we shall always be twenty-five years behind ¿hem; if we’re really smart we can go over their heads, as we did at Stratford, and start leading them.
Johnny Wayne, co-author, co-director, co-star of the comedy Wayne and Shuster show: I’d rather see a lousy original idea than an imitated good one. I think that’s a big problem in Canada: we’re all looking to the States and saying “My God, they’re doing a wonderful job, why can’t we imitate them?” I think we might as well learn to understand that we’ve got so much here to work with—and then work with it. Many of our shows are pallid imitations of American shows. We try to do a spectacular, for instance, with two cameras and an old bowling alley, and naturally that’s exactly what the people see. We can’t do spectaculars, not on the scale the Americans do, but there are certain little personal shows we can do better.
Frank Shuster, the other co-author, co-director, co-star: If I were TV czar I’d put all the money into a nice theatre, where there’d be room for an audience to sit down. That’s one of our main problems—one of the reasons why our variety shows are the weakest. Johnny and myself feel the need most of all because we’re doing a comedy show. We need laughs; we need reaction: that gives the show a lift. There must be a rapport between the performer and the audience. We do not get that because we’re blocked by a wall of technicians. We can’t get to our audience.
J. B. McGeachy, omnipresent elder statesman of CBC panel shows: First I would blow up the CBC television building in Toronto, which is an architect’s nightmare, and build a good one. Secondly I would try to encourage Canadian playwrights in comedy they are now too devoted to the lugubrious.
Cars you sell cars on a philosophy show?
Lister Sinclair, radio and TV playwright and frequent panelist: T think budget allocations should be revised. Far too much money goes to light entertainment. Some of it should go toward something more educational, the shows on which the CBC presumably tries to justify its existence. One of the CBC’s most important programs, Exploring Minds, is a shoestring show, and it shouldn’t be.
Roy Ward Dickson, program director of the private station CHCH-TV in Hamilton and nationally known as master of ceremonies on programs like Fun Parade: I say let’s drop all commercial support for the CBC—it’s only four million dollars in television this year. Withdraw all that commercial atmosphere and let the CBC devote itself to improving people’s thinking.
Joel Aidred, one of the highest-paid commercial announcers in the world, a Canadian who now does most of his work in the United States: I wholly agree with the private broadcasters of this country that the CBC should get completely out of commercial telecasting and that private networks should be allowed to operate in Canada. Let the CBC fulfill what I think is its primary function, supplying programs of perhaps minority interest . . . The first thing I’d ask for is a clarification of the CBC’s policy or lack of policy, and I’d go right back to Davidson Dunton’s early remark before Canadian television began, that the CBC was not going to commit all the grave errors of American programming. That policy seems to have reversed itself, and we have all kinds of re-run shows from the U. S. on the CBC. Once I got their so-called policy set, I would get away from one of the major faults of the CBC and that’s the matter of short runs. A good example is Nathan Cohen’s program Fighting Words. It’s on the air, it’s off the air. Cal Jackson puts on a good jazz show; it’s dropped dead. Why?
Pat Patterson, a successful Jill-of-alltrades on radio and TV who has been actress, writer and producer of her own program, and commercial announcer: I agree with Joel about short runs, if a show is successful it should be left on the air—even if it runs twenty years, as long as the people are enjoying it. This is something the CBC has not done. It takes a long time to build up a good audience. I’d also like to suggest an end to the system whereby one man is both producer and director, an almost impossible task. A man who has the strength and energy to do all these things must be in fighter-pilot condition—there could be three people what tries to do here.
Cal Jackson, pianist and jazz-band leader who has been invited to bring his band to the Stratford Shakespearian Festival this summer: I feel there should be one, at least one, representative jazz show on CBC. There isn’t one now, and there hasn’t been one since The Big Band (his own show) went off in March 1954. They tried to have one with the Trump Davidson Dixieland group but they chopped that one too.
Nathan Cohen, theatre critic and chairman of the panel show Fighting Words: I would bring back a program called The Haunted Studio, for my money the best show ever done on the CBC, an imaginative musical show. It got kicked off because there was no time, and because of the demands of sponsors for other shows. The other thing I would do, and this I think is a criticism of CBC policy in general— particularly in the variety field—is pay more attention to the development of characters like, for example, Shirley Harmer. She has, for my money, one of the freshest talents ever to come along in the Canadian entertainment world, and it’s been badly misused. I’d build the show around her, I wouldn’t just have her on it—there’s a difference.
Toby Robins, one of the leading leading ladies of Canadian television drama: For purely selfish reasons T’d like a lot more drama shows. Unselfishly, I’d like to see some top American artists brought in to star and to help the Canadian performers—I say top people whose equal can’t be found here, the very best we can get. Spend a lot of money to bring them in, and let them help us.
Jane Mallett, a character actress of long experience on stage, radio and television: I don’t want to look across the border to copy, but I’d like to see a program on Canadian television like Ed Murrow’s Everyman on the Farm, where he took you through the country and the individual farmer spoke to you. I know it would cost money and you’d have to get the right man to do it, but I would like to see a program done— with showmanship—on the subject of Saskatchewan, so we can all find out about it, about the farms.
Gordon Sinclair, who is both a newspaper critic of TV and a frequent TV performer: I’d like just one thing and that’s to make use of the free-lance or independent producer. Everything now is staff-produced at the CBC, and think there are some talented people available in the free-lance field who might be useful.
Taken out of context, of course, these brief rejoinders give several false impressions. For one thing they sound orderly when in fact the conversation bounded all over the lot like a spilt cup of mercury. They also suggest more agreement in some respects and more disagreement in others than really was present.
What kind of an audience?
One of the nearest approaches to unanimous agreement came at the very outset, when the chairman put the question: “What is the audience that you as individuals are shooting for? And what do you think of that audience?”
Nathan Cohen, chairman of the CBC discussion program, Fighting Words, was the first to answer: “When Fighting Words was first conceived our principle was very simply that we wouldn’t try to talk down to the audience. We were going to assume that the audience would be as intelligent as anybody who appeared on the panel. I think the longevity of Fighting Words has confirmed that principle.
“We have run the gamut,” Cohen went on. “We have gone from deliberately popular subjects to abstruse ones, and the abstruse have been just as popular as the deliberately ordinary. In fact we often get complaints from our audience that we aren’t appreciating their tastes as we should.”
Ralph Allen: Do you deliberately exclude the mass audience from your calculations when you choose subjects and panelists?
Nathan Cohen: Mass aud ience? What’s that? We look for the best people, that’s our only criterion—the most articulate people.
Roy Ward Dickson, the private station man from Hamilton, was the next to speak. He was the only one of the thirteen contributors who accepted the term “mass audience” without challenge.
“I think it’s the key word,” Dickson said. “It’s the mass audience that pays the taxes, and also buys the product that makes the whole thing possible. God bless ’em—if they weren’t there, there wouldn’t be any television and there wouldn’t be any radio. It’s a matter of arithmetic.
“And as far as mass audience is concerned, you must, I think, consider that there ¿s a lowest common denominator. You must appeal to all the people, which means you must include the lowest common denominator. At the same time you must—but not too obviously—attempt to raise that lowest common denominator. There has to be harmony between those two viewpoints. It doesn’t exist in either field in television today.”
“What do you do about those who don’t fit the lowest common denominator?” the chairman asked. “Do you believe in addressing them separately?”
Dickson’s answer was yes: “There is only one way .you can address the body politic to satk . at point, and that is to address them .eparately. You can’t hold the attention simultaneously of a cultured, highly educated man and the mass housewife, because their tastes are not on a par. Unfortunately the first group is in the minority as yet, and will be for some generations.”
Roy Ward Dickson: The moment you talk down to people, you’ve lost them.
Frank Shuster: Why, Roy, you talk down all the time.
Roy Ward Dickson: No, sir, I don’t. I’m down there with them.
JOHNNY WAYNE: I’d like to deplore the “let’s-look-acrossthe-border” attitude. I say let’s forget about what everybody else is doing and try to do something on our own.
You know, after Frank Shuster and I graduated from the University of Toronto, we became the Elder Statesmen of the college shows. All the kids used to come to us and say: “Well, we’re going to do a show—the U. C. Follies.” We’d say: “What are you going to do?” and they’d say: “We’re going to do an Olsen and Johnson show—guys running up and down the aisles with flowerpots.” We’d say: “Have you ever thought of being original?”
Well, we’re in the same boat right now in television. We’ve got kids running up and saying: “We’re going to do a Steve Allen show.” You know, go up and hand out salamis. Or, “We’re going to be the Quasi-Ukrainian Hit Parade and you know how we’re going to do it? Instead of having numbers pasted on somebody’s behind we’re going to have a graph. That’ll fool ’em. Nobody will see what’s happening.” Or they’ll say, “Let’s do an Ed Murrow show. Have a fellow smoke a cigar instead of a cigarette.”
I say, “Down with this stinkin’ attitude!” I say we can do our own kind of show that’s exciting and interesting.
Ed Murrow’s fine—one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen. But that isn’t the only kind of show that can be done. Let’s say: “This is what we shouldn’t do. Now let’s see what we can do in our own line.” I think Tabloid is a perfect example of a guy getting two cameras together and saying, “Now we’ve got to make something interesting out of this—how are we going to do it?” And they did it without thinking about any American shows at all.
Should we copy the big U. S. shows?
Johnny Wayne: Frank and I are always surprised at the high level of intelligence in the so-called lowest common denominator. We find that in comedy there’s no such thing. You can’t divide it up and say you’ve got to throw pies in somebody’s face to appeal to Joe Lunchpail, and you’ve got to walk around like Noel Coward to appeal to Joseph Champagne Bucket. We’ve found that the tendency .is to underestimate the average viewer. When we thought we’d done something right down the line for the average guy, we’d find the average guy would be just as happy if we did something really satirical, something we thought would be too subtle. So we get mail from a professor of philosophy and we also get mail from a guy who handles a machine in the steel-car company. They’re all very happy about it, and we’re surprised, and we try to aim a little higher all the time.
Toby Robins: There’s a fine line of distinction between high-brow and middle-brow and iow-brow. After you do a show which you think will appeal only to high-brows, you’re amazed at the reaction you get. The audiences are amazingly perceptive.
Pat Patterson: I object to this business of “lowest common denominator.” There’s no reason why a professor of English can’t enjoy a good juggling act. I resent the assumption that only stupid people like entertainment which doesn’t challenge the mind. It’s a good show or a lousy show—there’s a good tap dance and there’s a good discussion of philosophy.
Joel Aldred: My situation is a little different from that of most people here because I’m involved entirely with commercial presentations. People who are selling products naturally are looking for the widest possible audience so they try to please what they think is the widest possible taste. But I agree with Toby Robins that the line betweer so - called high - brow and low - brow entertainment is a very thin one.
Lister Sinclair: One of the most painful things on television is the ostenta] tiously low-brow show which is ob-! viously trying for as wide an audience as possible and which has, in the old phrase, pretensions to mediocrity. We are saddled very much with that kind of thing. Variety shows are presumed to be wide-audience, low-brow shows; a program like Exploring Minds is presumed to have a more limited appeal. But I question very often whether these shows do reach the audience they’re intended to reach. You can do a musical variety show which is just plain lousy—we have a number of that kind. You can do a program on philosophy and make it very exciting, not unduly simplified but made as simple as the subject warrants. But just because it’s semi-educational doesn’t make it good. In both cases the work has to be done right from the beginning, every time.
Joel Aldred: People basically want education, I think. I agree with Lister Sinclair that a program like Exploring Minds could appeal to a very wide audience provided it’s done in a manner very easy to understand. The CBC’s problem in presenting serioustype programs of this nature is that they get people who are basically stuffy in character.
Nathan Cohen: Oh! I want to protest. If you’re going to go into that again . . .
Several people started talking at once, and the verbatim transcript records “general mumbling.”
Finally Joel Aldred’s voice emerged: I mean, people who may have trouble explaining to the popular mind a subject which they understand thoroughly but which the average person does not understand thoroughly, but would like to understand thoroughly.
Jane Mallett: How many programs of Exploring Minds have you seen? Joel Aldred: I am talking generally, taking a subject matter like Exploring Minds which is . . .
Jane Mallett: Yes, but you said they were stuffy people. I was wondering if you’d seen any of them.
What is high-brow entertainment?
JOEL ALDRED: I’d like to bring up a point about so-called high-brow and low-brow entertainment. I feel very firmly that the line of delineation is a thin one. I think it’s a matter of presentation; an excellent example occurred within the last two months in the United States.
The first example was when the National Broadcasting Company spent a great deal of money presenting the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (in Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty). It got a tremendous audience. This was absolutely unexpected: they had no idea they were going to get the type of audience they did, or the size of audience they did. And when they got a big audience, obviously they got most people— regardless of their so-called intellectual level.
Secondly, Producers’ Showcase produced a show several weeks ago (Festival of Music, NBC, Jan. 30) which I had the opportunity of sitting in on and watching. It cost five hundred thousand dollars. It had all the finest artists of distinction, all the great operatic stars, name stars, musicians and so on. The program was emceed by Charles Laughton. Yet it got a very low rating. Why? I think the basicreason was that instead of having a person who could tie a program together and talk in the language of the masses, they had Charles Laughton breaking the thing up. He’s an excellent performer but a lousy emcee.
Joel Aldred: No, I have not seen any of them.
Jane Mallett: Well, I have, and they’re quite exciting.
Speaking on another aspect of the same theme Lister Sinclair had sharp words for intellectual snobs who think it beneath their dignity to write to radio and TV specifications. He recalled a writers’ conference not long ago where someone “made a sarcastic speech about how to write for radio” and enumerated a list of rules: “Take popular themes from local history. Write them up in melodramatic style. Make sure you have a striking opening. Give good acting parts. Exaggerate some characters. That’s the kind of stuff that goes on radio and television.”
Lister Sinclair: It seems to me he described precisely the way Shakespeare wrote.
J. B. McGeachy reported from personal experience that the Canadian television audience is expanding upward into higher income and intellectual brackets: ‘“When I first started in TV the only people who ever mentioned having seen me were in' the humbler walks of life, the milkman or the janitor or the elevator operator. Lately I hear from-much more eminent folk. Even university professors occasionally confess to having seen me on television.”
“I think there has been far too much e nphasis on ratings in this conversation,” McGeachy went on. “Size of audience is not the most important thing. The best newspaper in England, The 1 imes, has the smallest circulation.”
“Best by what standard, Hamish?” Roy Ward Dickson enquired.
McGeachy’s reply was a muffled bellow. “By MY standards. By intellectual standards. Ratings, indeed! What rating had John Keats? What rating had Christopher Marlowe?”
Cal Jackson, speaking as a jazz musician, agreed with those who had found that a really good show always reaches a wider audience than any rule of thumb would predict for it. He recalled a successful program he had produced for CBC several years ago:
“The initial idea was to present a jazz orchestra, without a lot of other acts being on to make it more a variety show. Within the first two months we had a fifty-eight percent rating. Now the idea is, here is a show designed in a lofty manner from a jazz standpoint— we didn’t have to have the Peggy Kings or the Johnnie Rays or any of the rest of that. The show was beamed to the high school and university crowd, but it actually enjoyed a much wider audience. Quite elderly people used to write in and say they were learning a lot.”
Ralph Allen: Excuse me, Cal, but what happened to your show?
Cal Jackson: I was told my services were dispensed with, in March of 1954.
Ralph Allen: Why?
Cal Jackson: The reason given was that there was just no air time for the next season, which would be September 1954.
Ralph Allen: Yet it was phenomenally popular.
Cal Jackson: Yes, it was quite popular, but evidently there might have been the feeling that a thing of this nature shouldn’t get such a run as to become more of a cartel than a show. As a matter of fact, though, we did not run out of ideas.
Does the sponsor interfere?_
Gordon Sinclair, speaking both as critic and performer, agreed about the taste of mass audiences but opened up another line of discussion with his example.
“I think the level of taste is a good deal higher than most people think it is,” Gordon Sinclair said, “and I suggest as an example a recent edition of Tabloid. Dr. Edward S. Carpenter, a University of Toronto anthropologist, did a fine piece, but on a high-brow level, teeing off on “the happiness boys” who write these success stories — such as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie and various other people, and also on evangelists who preach one thing and practice another. It was a very high-level discussion on a program that’s normally light and frothy. He got the biggest unsolicited mail response that’s ever been known in the records of Tabloid.”
—"Sinclair was asked for a definition of “the happiness boys.”
Gordon Sinclair: A group of authors all writing books on “If you do this, you’ll all be happy.” They say happiness is the greatest goal in life and if you aren’t happy, you should be happy you aren’t happy.
Ralph Allen: Isn’t it rather paradoxixl that to a large extent the very eople Carpenter was attacking, those /ou call “the happiness boys,” are still in control of television?
Gordon Sinclair: Yes, I’m afraid it is, 'd yet someone who tees off on “the ’miness boys” will attract a terrific 'e.
i Cohen: Gordon, what do you he happiness boys” are in
^r.clair: Nate means that he is .ol of a little bit of television and he isn’t on the side of happiness.
Nathan Cohen: Are you referring to television in general, or to television in those places where the wishes of the sponsor or of the advertiser are dominant?
Joel Aldred: I’m going to withdraw from the discussion right now.
The subject of sponsorship and advertiser influence came up again later, and it was Joel Aldred himself who raised the subject: “Why should CBC policy exclude such things as discussion shows from commercial sponsorship? I can see no concrete reason ...”
Pat Patterson: There’s a very good reason as far as discussion shows are concerned. You’d be influenced by your sponsor.
Joel Aldred: I’m firmly convinced from my experience that the amount of sponsor influence on program content is almost nil. I can’t recall any time when a sponsor deliberately altered a program content which had been decided upon by the producer or the star.
Chorus of voices: I can, I can.
Ralph Allen: All right, one at a time.
Mavor Moore: It’s useless to talk about sponsors as a unit. Some sponsors have been most extraordinarily farsighted in this matter. Other sponsors exei'cise a very close control.
CAL JACKSON: I feel that this business of going to foreign shores, so far as the Canadian artist is concerned, has been reversed. In my case it has been. I haven’t enjoyed as much popularity in the United States as I’ve had since I moved to Canada. I left the U. S. on my own hook. All the things I’m doing now I could have done while I was there— and the fact that I was out at M-G-M four and a half years as an assistant musical director didn’t deter me from the fact that I wanted to actually become myself. And I didn’t become myself until I came here. I was not given the opportunity there to become myself—and yet the U.S. is the place where people from Canada go to “become themselves.” This can work both ways as I see it. The popularity that 1 have there is wholly due to the fact that I came here.
Does the J. S. offer artists a better chance?
Johnny Wayne: Even if there were no pressure at all I still think the viewing audience would feel the sponsor did exercise pressure. That alone is enough to destroy the show’s effectiveness as a free discussion.
Joel Aldred: I think that attitude has been fostered by the CBC and the CBC alone.
J. B. McGeachy: It isn’t a question of manipulation. The situation is that a commentator or a panelist on a discussion program would not feel quite so free if the program were sponsored.
Joel Aldred: Now let me give you an example. There’s a TV program in the United States sponsored by LonginesWittnauer (watchmakers) called Meet The Press. I’ve listened to it many times when there have been contentious issues, political and otherwise, and I’ve certainly never felt thex’e was anything wrong with Longines-Wittnauer sponsoring that program. Certainly the discussion has been free and easy, and some dreadful things have been said back and forth. People have been literally insulted on the program.
Pat Patterson: I think the point is that any sponsor of a discussion show would be a fool if he didn’t look at the scripts. If the Longines-Wittnauer company has a panel and somebody brings up the very interesting point that watchmaking is a racket—is the sponsor going to let that be said? Of coui-se he isn’t. He’d be crazy.
Johnny Wayne: Would General Motors sponsor a show in which the labor leaders would come up and argue about the recent strike at Oshawa? They’d be idiotic to do that, too.
J. B. McGeachy: May I make a specific point? I had the pleasure of introducing Senator Estes Kefauver on the CBC a few months ago, and he said to me that he was very alarmed by the suppression of free opinion in the United States.
Roy Ward Dickson: Oh, he’s a Democrat trying to get back in myj
J. B. McGeachy: I think he’s hoi^ng what he said. I have written hur: .s of pieces for the CBC about pon.ics and have never once been asked to submit my script in advance. I’ve always been allowed to say exactly what I thought—in fact I am permitted to make remarks about international politics which by American standards would be absolutely outrageous. How many times have you heard any American commentator criticize the policies of his country—let us say, on recognition of Red China?
Toby Robins: Is that sponsorship or McCarthyism? Americans are afraid to say such things even in private conversation. They’re petrified, at any social gathering.
Should we copy the Americans?
Commercial sponsorship was only one aspect of a topic that kept recurring from start to finish of the morning’s conversation — the influence of the United States on Canadian television, and the relative merits of the systems there and here.
Cal Jackson, an American who has come to Canada and won success here, was asked for his own comparison of the two countries as places for a popular musician to work.
“I find that you can do a lot more things in Canada the way you yourself would like to do them,” Jackson said. “More than you can in the United States, speaking from my own experience. I found in Canada that when I did my program, there was no one to tell me how to do it.”
Was that necessarily a good thing? “Yes, I feel that from the standpoint of a person who is trying to dream up the format of a show, it’s a very good thing.”
But a greater fraction of time was spent, not so much on comparing Canadian with American conditions, as on discussing the effect on Canadian programs and performers of the tremendous gravitational pull from south of the border.
Most if not all of the thirteen people present agreed with Mavor Moore’s statement, quoted at the outset of this article, that Canada should “stop trying to copy what the Americans do best.” But there was little agreement on what should be done instead, or even on the net effect for good or ill of American competition.
J. B. McGeachy raised one aspect of the question: “Was the CBC right in starting television with the young men here, who have had to learn in Canada, or should they have imported highpriced characters from other countries?”
Joel Aldred’s answer was a flat no to the first question and a hearty yes to the second: “I think it would have been a good thing for the CBC if they had brought up production people from the United States in the early days of television here, and paid them their twenty-five or thirty thousand a year.
It would have saved the CBC a lot of headaches and a lot of money in the end. The people here would have learned the techniques which have been proven in the United States because of their vast experience.”
Nathan Cohen: They did bring up some people from the U. S.
Joel Aldred: I know some were brought up but most of them were not people involved in over-all production with U. S. networks. Also, the few who came got co-operation in the early days because producers and directors would go to a person like Cal Jackson, say, who was an authority in his own field. They were feeling their way, and because Cal knew his way and could express himself he was a great help to them. Nowadays the CBC men don’t go to people like Cal for ideas or suggestions. They’re experienced now, after three years, and they feel they know the answers.
Roy Ward Dickson: It so happens I spend a lot of time in the States, my wife being an American, and I get the American point of view. The showbusiness atmosphere down there doesn’t exist here on a very large scale. To start with, they have Broadway and Hollywood. Right there they have a tremendous factor that we haven’t got, with all the machines and power and money (there’s that horrible word again) and the arts of publicity. Does anyone know of one firm in Canada which deals in publicity as such? I mean the kind that will arrange to have your jewels stolen, or have you seen in a bathing suit at Cypress Gardens.
Lister Sinclair: Does anyone know of one Canadian performer who could afford that service?
Roy Ward Dickson: Having ¿orne little experience in the art of showmanship I feel that internal programming is taken for granted in the CBC—-that is, the type of programming that Will have real effect. Now, take sortie df your discussion programs on the CBC. Personally I like them; I mean I don’t want to say anything against them, but looking at them from the point of view of reaching the most people and doing the most good I feel they lack something. Now take this Meet The Press— clever, clever, because built into it there’s no more programming than there is in some of our Canadian special shows except one thing: showmanship. It’s hard to define but it’s there.
Nathan Cohen: I can tell you what it is on Meet The Press. The aim is to make the guest look a fool. Make him say things he doesn’t want to say and doesn’t mean.
Roy Ward Dickson: All right, I still say these shows have that extra showmanship built into them by having an imaginative production attitude with a view to reaching as many people as possible. If we used showmanship along the lines of this dimension Joel Aldred has mentioned, and we don’t need a Shakespeare to do it, we would reach more people.
Have Canadians got showmanship?
Showmanship was a major subject Oi conversation in which all thirteen men and women took part. Gordon Sinclair was the first to raise it.
Gordon Sinclair: CBC television ously lacks showmanship. Tb' some excellent technicians; t directors who are young mr their trade and learning i they haven’t been brough tradition of showmanship as dem».. _ Wayne and Frank Shuster, here, have.
Ralph Allen: Gordon, have you got a simple definition of what you call showmanship?
Gordon Sinclair: I’m afraid not. But it’s a tradition the CBC will eventually get: it has to do with burlesque theatres, and being backstage and the flavor of these things . . .
Johnny Wayne: Showmanship is a question of experience and experience is a question of time. Those CBC programs that are dull are dull because the producer is green and doesn’t yet understand how to make them vital and alive. But I notice each time there’s a little more flair.
Frank Shuster: You see in Canada we haven’t had the chance to develop showmanship. I think everyone will agree that the Americans have it. What Gordon was reaching at goes away back through the years—to the old Show Roy Ward Dickson: It’s killing me, but I say it takes that kind of pioneering here in television, the same sort of thing that put radio over in the beginning. You guys remember it too, you remember slugging along for a few bucks a week. We all dream— we’re going to do everything; we’re going to beat the United States with one tenth the population and no money at all. We can’t do it by doing the variety shows on a cheap basis, with stars that nobody ever heard of, or imported third-rate American nightclub stars who’ve never been heard of up here. We can do it by having our own kind of entertainment here, the occasional terrific play, the occasional this, the occasional that, but let’s not try to do everything.
Nathan Cohen: I want to take exception to some comment on the variety show. This may sound paradoxical, but I don’t think it’s half as bad as these people here have been alleging.
Lister Sinclair: You’re right, Nat. It’s more than half as bad.
Roy Ward Dickson: You put them up against the American shows and—I Trate to say this—they stink.
Nathan Cohen: I don’t think they stink and I’ve watched them.
Roy Ward Dickson: How can they do anything about them when they haven’t got the money to do a decent job?
Nathan Cohen: There’s one kind of variety show I think we can do and have done better than the Americans and that is satire. It’s practically nonexistent in American television. We have done some exceedingly good samples of it. If you mean shows where girls sing and dance and act, I’d agree that we can’t do it very well because we haven’t very many girls like that—they haven’t been trained. But now, and this has only happened within the last four or five years, our singers are taking dancing lessons like mad, our dancers are taking singing lessons.
Jane Mallett: I think in Canada we’ve done programs in radio with tremendous showmanship. Take for instance the Stage series, which began in 1944 and has lasted twelve years, and through which a great body of actors were trained. There’s no doubt that in Stratford now a lot of the performers got experience and training with the Stage series. In television they started the trial-and-error thing with inexperienced producers and directors, but they’re getting better. I don’t see why we can’t make our own and not look across the border to copy. There has been right through a healthy radio in Canada; the work has come from the CBC and it has been a tremendous influence on showmanship. I think the same thing can happen in television.
Lister Sinclair: This talk about imitating or not imitating the States is interesting because I think it does dominate our thinking. Some people say let’s have an Olsen and Johnson type show. Other people say let’s avoid it at all costs—you know, like the really hard-core Scots Presbyterians who stand up to px-ay in church because the Papists kneel down! Surely the object is not to be original, necessarily, but to be the best. If you’re the best, nobody cares who started the idea. Jane mentioned the Stage series as an original idea. I think, to be honest, that it was not original—it was really the Columbia Workshop idea.
We learn a great deal from clowns”
MAVOR MOORE: About a year ago, a young lady in a burlesque theatre in Japan was arrested because she had come down off the stage during her act and started wandering around among the audience. The charge really amused me because it would never have been laid in this hemisphere. The young lady was charged with “excessive entertainment. ’ ’
What this demonstrates very neatly is the fact that perhaps the most tragic elemenfcün our kind of business in oulç’'tíme is the division tlxafc has Jt^iken place between entertainment, socalled, on the one hancL.and education,on the other! This is purely an inteUectu-.il distinction. By amilatgre tluxaudience doesn’t make;, this .distinction for itself.
arerheing:»educated somehow or o^erä iírnay be down or it may be up. but you are not escaping it "ryou are being affected by the rogram. It is educating you some way. It is teaching you omething. You are getting mething from it. Likewise if an educational program does not entertain you then you are not getting educated by it.
Shakespeare knew this perfectly well when he put a lot of foolish words in the mouths of wise old men and some very wise words in the mouths of his clowns. We learn a tremendous amount from our clowns.
Jane Mallett: But the actual working out of it became original, in our own corner of the earth. It became a thing of our own here.
Lister Sinclair: I agree, I think in fact it did become that. But the very important thing that I’m after is this: We’ve all been saying we want more comedy writers, we need this, we need that. We need to keep reminding ourselves that there is no substitute in the arts for the individual artist.
Ralph Allen: Do you feel, Lister, that there’s a lack of respect in Canadian television and radio for the quality and value of the individual artist?
Lister Sinclair: Yes, I do. I think there’s a feeling that if, say, Frank jave Uanada it’s too .-go, they’re really sorry. And they are really sorry, because there are many people in the CBC who know exactly what’s going on. But we can’t make him the kind of offer which would keep him here, and that is partly due to the audience’s response. You know the sort of thing—if the guy’s all that good, what’s he doing here?
Mavor Moore: We want to see people leave. It’s the badge of success.
Lister Sinclair: That’s right, it’s the gold medal. Thaateuv’s gone to Broadway or Hollyw^jbct W London or somewhere . . .
Should they Hypw out commercials?
'*«íif ' >:U.1 pfiGliU «¿Jfc
The division of opiniön abuut Amteri. can programs became hgv&ibshnfcpei^' with Dickson and Aldred otiK^ascbide and the other eleven peopl&%3¿fbtlfíi other, when the point at issue waèi the »■ CBC itself. «gUyt
Because the main question under discussion was how to improve Canadian radio and television, the conversation was mostly critical in tone. Only Nathan Cohen kept reiterating that Canadian programs are pretty good already; others seemed to feel that changes for the better were urgently needed and overdue. But in fact, all except Dickson and Aldred were wholly and heartily in favor of the CBC and of the Canadian system of publicly controlled broadcasting. Dickson and Aldred didn’t come out flatly for abolishing the CBC but they did favor many restrictions and changes.
It was evident that the kind of CBC they would approve is evidently nothing like the corporation that now exists.
Both wanted the CBC to get out of commercial television and leave all advertising revenue to the private stations. Also, both believed the CBC was unpopular with the Canadian people and would not be supported by a public given a free choice.
J. B. McGeachy: What’s the basis for your statement that the Canadian public is not pro-CBC?
Joel Aldred: The only figures we have are the program ratings.
Frank Shuster: There was a Gallup Poll recently on it. I think it was pretty even—fifty-five percent for and fortyfive percent against.
Ralph Allen: You suspect the validity of program ratings?
Pat Patterson: I suspect it very much. Lister Sinclair: As an ex-mathematician I can assure you that the statistical basis of program ratings is lousy in the extreme. But even if they were accurate, they still would not measure everything. The BBC has an idea which I think is sound, of combining with the rating a figure called the appreciation index. There are some programs which everybody knows from the start are going to be minority programs. In that case it’s obvious that the rating is not going to be any measure of the success of the show; no matter how good it is it’s still going to have a rating of seven percent or something. What’s important about this show directed to a certain minority, is whether or not it is pleasing that minority.
Roy Ward Dickson: More important, what are the other ninety-three percent doing about it?
Lister Sinclair: No, this is a democracy and one of the principles of democracy is that everybody should be allowed what they want. Not that everybody should have what most people want.
Nathan Cohen: Lister’s point is the most sensible thing said in this whole discussion. There is no such thing as one audience. The mass media have to give something to every section of the community. Roy has an audience for his program PM, but does it follow that because a lot of people want to watch PM, other people should be denied the opportunity to watch (Lister Sinclair’s program) A Is For Aardvark? You keep coming back to this point, Roy, that you want to deny opportunity to everybody except this theoretical mass audience. You want the^CBC to take the onus off the intei'ests so the commercial }n make all the px'ofit. That’s /ant.
toning money . . . d Dickson: Part of this
come from the advertisers.
||jf:t afford, to provide a pro r'qps million.
9te|d: I think there’s goiinjfiti fee a change. We have, late the very things Hut, and that’s why tttak multiple aMÊmri* in clti H so that people èaiPftave • There should be >S private net ïythis country' and the' CBC
»ly a certain amount of led educational or intel-
Dickson: No, you can’t tell
Eohen: Roy, the money must
öt the past xrivate stations, and the sy’ve used one man to do a ¡jhow with an album of in view of the fact that Valent has not been very well by private stations, is it possible for private stations to support a Canadian industry? Or are they going to get all the old Hopalong Cassidy films? If the buck is the criterion . . .
Joel Aldred: Here’s one Canadian >who thinks it is possible. I tell you quite frankly when the day arrives that there is a private television station in this town, I’m one of the guys who are going to bid for it. I think it could be made a financially good operation. Secondly I think that if there is a private network it can be opei'ated more economically than the CBC, because they are not going to be held down by the expense of the large public affairs and all this sort of stuff that goes on in the CBC.
Mavor Moore: It costs at least ten times as much to produce anything like a comparable live show in Canada as it does to bring in an American film. I think this answers a great deal of the question as to whether a private staion operator who is a businessman can xuy any Canadian programs.
Joel Aldred: In that case I would love ,o haye_-your business, because I am dÄxng it for less than twice as much.
Lister Sinclair: Private stations can operate only in areas of dense coverage. The reason the CBC costs a lot of money is that it is forced to provide coverage to areas where it is not economic, because of the great area of Canada and the thinness of the population. I resent very strongly the suggestion that the private broadcasters should be allowed to take all the cream and the CBC be left with the skim.
But though eleven of the thirteen people rejected Joel Aldred’s suggestion that it would solve the financial problem to leave all TV stations in private hands, nobody came up with a solution to the CBC’s financial problem though all agreed it was crucial.
“I think it should be said that all of us around this table are prejudiced,” Mavor Moore remarked. “We all have an axe to grind. I am by no means certain that the interests of the performers and the interests of the Canadian public are one and the same, and I think we should be cai'eful in stating our points of view to recognize our prejudice.
“We want to live hex*e because we like this country. We want to\ work here. But it is quite possible to make out a good argument that Canadian entertainment, the whole ¿industry, should be dispensed with bjÉÉtefê the large propoi'tiön of the happy with what it gets border and ai-gues t hat' if any good they should go south.
“But if we are to have Canadian radio and television the first point is the one the royal commission is about to take up, the matter of financing. It’s impossible for any corporation such as the CBC to work on an annual basis which it has to do at the moment. Now this affects everything. It affects staff, the matter of one person doing three people’s jobs. It affects particularly space—as you know, the CBC is scattered all over the city, and has no proper theati'e.
“All these things ai'e primarily due to the fact that the CBC can’t look more than a year or two ahead, financially. It has to go to parliament for an annual grant. Now this to me is absolute nonsense. It is the very first thing that must be solved if the CBC is to tackle any other problems.”
It was to solve that very px'oblenx that the royal commission headed by Robert M. Fowler was set up. The performer's all seemed to agree that the CBC’s fate and future hang upon the commission’s success in finding a solution-but they themselves had no definitive solutions to suggest. ★