Gzowski on television

PERHAPS THE MOST intriguing aspect of the opening rounds of the affair of This Hour Has Seven Days — even to those who regarded such a blow-up as inevitable — has been the contrast between on the one hand, the Marvin Mellobell bumbling of the CBC management and, on the other, the responsibility, even the maturity of the producers — the astonishing point being that, if anything, we might have expected the seasoned bureaucrats of the CBC to be at least responsible, and the brash, committed, energetic young men and women of Seven Days to act with their emotions first and their reason second.

One thing is certainly clear: the CBC grossly underestimated the popularity of both Patrick Watson and Laurier LaPierre as personalities — ignoring, for a moment, the further issue of Larry Zolf and Roy Faibish. A curious sidelight is that, although Watson appears to be the figure at the centre of the controversy. LaPierre may be the one with the real popular following. When they travel together, Watson says, it is nearly always LaPierre who is recognized, who gets the star’s double-take.

It is obvious now, even if it wasn’t before all the fuss started, that both of them are genuinely popular, public

figures, not only creators of television but creations of it.

Leaving aside the question of the wisdom of the decision to fire the two hosts — and even the question of who should have made it — it is scarcely possible to imagine it being done more clumsily. The decision certainly wasn’t a precipitate one. As long ago as January, Reeves Haggan, the CBC’s supervisor of English - language public affairs programs, had been given what he calls “indications” that Ottawa was unhappy with the two hosts, but it was not until April 5 — the day before Watson’s now-famous summons to Ottawa — that he (Haggan) was told “categorically” they'd have to go. If they could wait so long, why not longer? In a few weeks Seven Days would have been off for the summer. If the management was intent on ramming some changes down the throats of Haggan and Leiterman, why not do it then, out of the public eye?

Surely the fuss, if there was to be a fuss, would have been much less than the national brouhaha we've gone through. And next year — who knows? — maybe the show could have come back on the air and people would have sat back and said, as Alphonse Ouimet himself has suggested, “Aren't these new people good?" (For myself, I can’t imagine any pair of personalities, from the Caped Crusaders to Eddie Shack and Gump Worsley, who could possibly be better on Seven Days.)

Worse, it seems, management has constantly shifted and re-shifted its position. If management's own vigilance has taken the rough edges off Seven Days, as Ouimet implied on Newsmagazine, then why try to change it now? Are Pat Watson’s “attitudes” toward his country okay with management or aren't they? Was Larry Zolf fired or wasn’t he? If he was, what for? Why was Reeves Haggan first invited to the Halifax meeting of the CBC board, then told he wasn’t invited and finally invited again? What “loyalty” does Laurier LaPierre, a distinguished academic and a full-time teacher, owe to CBC management anyway? Or was LaPierre fired as Ouimet suggested, because he wept on camera?

The hard core of newspaper columnists and others who tend to line up behind the Globe and Mail's Dennis Braithwaite (there's no one more on I the side of entrenched power than a reformed radical) have managed to make their side of the argument fit into a neat slogan: “Management has ! the right to manage.” Well, no one on the Seven Days side (as I obviously am) is really arguing against it. Of course, management has the right to manage. What it hasn’t got the right to do. especially in an area of public responsibility like the CBC, is mismanage. And, surely, that is what going around their own lines of authority. if nothing else, consists of.

IN THE STUDIO on Sunday evening after the story broke, none of the Seven Days people seemed particularly downhearted. Warner Trover, who had been up 55 of the last 60 hours editing an item on teenage sex that never got on the air, walked around ! an hour before air-time singing. “I was I supremely independent and content before Ouimet.”

Larry Zolf, in one of the stands set up for the audience (extra seats had

been erected), hid behind a flurry of wisecracks. “The whole thing sounds like a misguided Polish joke.” he said. “Watson is the best-looking AngloSaxon on television and LaPierre is the best-looking French Canadian. I’m I the ugliest Jew. We all have to go.”

I "My feelings are hurt,” Dinah Christie told a friend. “I wanted to be fired too. Nobody notices me.”

There were reporters everywhere. Some had been there since seven in the morning — when at Seven Days do as the Seven Days people do. Leiterman came out to have his picture taken, then went back to the whisper zone, where the producers huddle on broadcast evenings. Someone went in to phone the script to Ottawa — a last-minute practice every Sunday: it is, in fact, the first time senior management gets a detailed breakdown on everything that’s going on the air.

“1 can just imagine that conversa-

tion tonight,” a reporter said. “After he’s sung Dinah’s song over the phone, he’ll say. ‘And then Patrick says. And I’m Patrick Watson, and Laurier says . . .’, and the guy in Ottawa will say. ‘Hold it! Let’s just think about that for a minute.’ ”

Dress rehearsal began. “This hour had seven days,” Warren Davis, the program's invisible announcer, intoned. Someone tried out a sketch of the Seven Days symbol, crumpled and torn, on a rear-screen projector.

The audience streamed in. perhaps even outnumbering the newspapermen and photographers. Outside, pickets marched in the warm spring night. WE LOVE LAURIER. GIVE US FOOD FOR THOUGHT.

The program began with Dinah Christie's song and then a quick shot of the chairs usually occupied by Watson and LaPierre. When the hosts did appear they were greeted by prolonged applause, as the APPLAUSE sign flashed busily over their heads, just off camera. (One script assistant has standing instructions to flash it any time applause starts in the audience, just to keep things going.) There were scarcely any other references in the show to the weekend’s biggest story. At the end. Watson said only, “This is the spot where we usually say, ’See you in Seven Days.’ ”

“1 don’t think I’ve ever felt less pressure from the brass on any show I've done,” producer Ken Lefolii said later. “We had told them that w'e weren’t going to make a big issue of it. and they just left us alone.”

IN SOME WAYS, I think it’s fair to say, the producers have seemed almost too responsible, too calculating. Douglas Leiterman, for instance, having said earlier that he would certainly not be back next season if Watson and LaPierre weren’t, then refused to answer a question on precisely that point when he appeared on Newsmagazine.

Leiterman’s grounds were that he felt he shouldn’t close any doors on the possibility of a peaceful solution. But didn’t his apparent change of mind raise some questions about how

deep his concern went about the show’s survival in the form he, the producer, thought was best? If his judgement really was that Watson and LaPierre were the two people Seven Days needed (and if it wasn’t, why were they on there?) then why wasn’t he prepared to lay his job on the line from the start? Or who do the producers believe should be making the decisions about what goes on programs? Seven Days has been extraordinarily successful at getting people to come on the air, and has even gone to some trouble to get to people who patently don’t want to be on television. But in the heat of their own controversy they’ve sometimes seemed to be being so damned responsible they’ve been close - mouthed. Watson even stood up in the middle of an interview with a private television crew, saying “I’m afraid I have to go now.” Well, fine. I’m sure they all know what they’re doing. But are they telling us?

One further question that I think has been raised by the Seven Days affair. An awful lot of truly intelligent and respectable Canadians have been working on behalf of Seven Days — more, I’m sure, than the management would have dreamed they were alienating. These people have been telling us to write our MPs; they’ve been applying, in other words, as much political pressure as they can muster. Again, fine. There were some issues raised at the outset of the Seven Days affair that obviously couldn’t be answered by anyone but Parliament. But aren’t all these people, from William Kilbourn to René Lévesque, to Pierre Berton . . . aren’t they the people who, when they happen to disagree with what Parliament has to say about the CBC, preach the gospel of political hands off the CBC?