MACLEAN'S REPORTS

When is TV not TV? When it’s in color

Color TV has created a tintillating new medium that may change the world

JON RUDDY August 1 1967
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

When is TV not TV? When it’s in color

Color TV has created a tintillating new medium that may change the world

JON RUDDY August 1 1967

When is TV not TV? When it’s in color

Color TV has created a tintillating new medium that may change the world

NOW THAT EVERYBODY has learned — at least by rote — Marshall McLuhan’s first lesson that the medium is the message, along comes another Canadian pop-ademic with the McLuhanesque discovery of an all-new communications medium: color.

“The point is that color television is not television, it is color,” insists T. Joseph Scanlon, director of the school of journalism at Ottawa’s Carleton University. New medium— new message. To those of us who’d assume that Gordon Sinclair, say, in livid color would be the same crotchety old windbag he’s always been in blackand-white, Scanlon would argue that a tinted Sine is not so controversial, not so abrasive, not even so noticeable. And in color he may look u`p to 10 years younger.

These revelations are no pigment of Scanlon’s imagination. They were demonstrated in a remarkable experiment performed last spring on 21 Carleton journalism seniors. Other academics have pointed out that what we see on color TV differs in some degree. McLuhan once said that color would improve Prime Minister Pearson’s TV image, since it is “kinder to the more sharply defined countenance.” A U.S. experiment pointed up the fact that color has a greater

impact on women than on men. Advertising agencies have discovered that sponsors who look to the rainbow often find a pot of gold — color beefs up the impact of commercials. But Scanlon is the first to try to prove that color is an entirely new language, following radio, film and TV.

To do it, the onetime Toronto reporter enlisted the help of the CBC’s Ottawa head office where, on March 8, the students split up into two groups and watched — on black-andwhite and color monitors — two hours of live coverage of the procession and funeral mass for Governor General Georges Vanier. “They were told in advance that they would have to write a report of the funeral,” says Scanlon. “What they heard was the same; what they saw was purportedly the same except for the addition of color. The reports, far from being the same, were totally different.” Here’s how:

■ The students who watched color coverage were much more deeply moved and reacted as participants rather than observers. From a blackand-white report: “I really wished I could have attended in person.” From a color report: “The golden glow of the Basilica gave me the feeling I was really there.”

■ The black-and-white group merely took notes but the color group became involved. Black-and-white reports were far longer and more detailed. The reporting of details indicated that the viewers of black-andwhite coverage were more aware of both picture and sound.

■ The black-and-white group paid careful attention to commentators Norman DePoe and Stanley Burke and were often irritated by their observations (“DePoe’s voice, somewhat subdued in an effort to add solemnity to the occasion, sounded like someone with laryngitis, and his attempts to be profound were laughable . . .”). The black-and-white group made 111 references to commentators, 67 by name, and tossed in 45 critical comments. The color viewers made only nine references to the commentators, just one by name. Clearly, the color group had ignored the audio coverage.

* Asked to estimate the age of Dr. Jean Vanier, son of the late Governor General, the two groups averaged 10 years apart. The color group thought he looked younger. Ancient politicians and balding broadcasters take heart.

It is easy to find an apparent hole in Scanlon’s research. “Color is still a novelty to most people,” says John Barnes, the CBC’s TV network supervisor of music and special programs. “By default the color viewers would be attracted to the color and disregard everything else.” But Scanlon says that only one of the students in the group was a “color virgin,” while two had regularly watched tinted TV at home. “The differences were so great that the novelty effect is not a good enough explanation,” he says. Scanlon believes that the implications of the experiment are enormous. He says flatly that color lectures on educational television would be “experiments in futility” — since, presumably, nobody would be listening. He says that TV violence will have a more serious impact on children if the gore is red. “Color could change our attitudes about politicians and government and society. It could change our government . . . The effects of media are mysterious and uncharted.”

JON RUDDY