Television

Brian Linehan has ways of making people talk... and talk... and talk

HARTLEY STEWARD January 24 1977
Television

Brian Linehan has ways of making people talk... and talk... and talk

HARTLEY STEWARD January 24 1977

Brian Linehan has ways of making people talk... and talk... and talk

Television

Everybody laughed when young Brian Linehan first sat down in front of Toronto’s CITY-TV cameras. Even at a station that was known to let the receptionists read the weather, he was green. Linehan fumbled and mumbled his way through a 15-minute interview with Canadian director Eric Till. He was bad. even for a last-minute substitute. The producer told him that for the sake of all their reputations the tape would never be aired. Undeterred. Linehan. then 26. asked a bemused Till if he would return to the CITY studios next day and then convinced the producer to let him try again. He was no Dick Cavett the second time around, but the tape was usable.

That was four years and some 800 interviews ago and today Linehan is Canada’s newest television star. The most celebrated of celebrities clamor to get on his half-hour CITY Lights show: Burt Reynolds. Paul Newman. George C. Scott. Clint East§ wood, Warren Beatty. Lynn Redgrave. > When Maggie Smith came to Stratford this summer to play Cleopatra, she would be interviewed only by Linehan. Ella Fitzgerald called and asked to be on the show.

Unlike the early days of CITY Lights, when Linehan did one or two shows a week, depending on how many celebrities were in town, he now chases the stars to Hollywood. New York and Europe, taping five shows a week. He is also syndicated to CKSO in Sudbury, CKPR in Thunder Bay, CFPL in London, CKND in Winnipeg, CFRN in Edmonton and CFCN in Calgary.

Last fall Vancouver TV stations declined an invitation to pick up CITY Lights. so Linehan and CITY-TV, adding a new twist to the television border war between Canada and the United States, sold the Canadian show to «.vos in Bellingham, Washington, a station that has its largest audience in Vancouver.

In addition, Linehan is almost a regular on AÍ Hamel’s CTV daytime show where he does a pug-nosed version of Rex Reed, gossiping cleverly about the stars he has met. (A series of accidents and operations gave him a nose that makes him look like a baby-faced boxer who’s lost most of his fights.)

Linehan’s secret is as old as interviewing itself. He comes to each interview prepared well enough to dazzle the subject. He recently astonished guest Moe Koffman by reminding him. among other things, that Koffman had been fat as a youngster, that he played the violin until he was 10 and that he switched to the saxophone only when he walked by a music store and heard his first sax music. He

knew things about Koffman that Koffman had long since forgotten.

Linehan digs into newspaper files, clips newspaper articles and reads the trade papers as if his life depended on it. He keeps a brow n envelope of his own notes on each guest filed neatly in his CITY cubicle-office. As conversation stimulants, he uses quotes from other performers, from writers, critics and even from the guests themselves— sometimes from as much as 20 years ago. He’s not above dishing up a little trade gossip if he thinks it might get a good reaction. He asked Hollis McLaren if it was true, as he had heard, that the Ontario censor wanted to eut a scene from her movie. Partners, because she was shown violating the traditional missionary position in one explicit sex scene. Linehan got the blush and giggle reaction he was looking for.

Linehan’s early interview-ing technique came under harsh criticism. The critics called him sycophantic and insisted the big names lined up for his show' only because he flattered and fawned over them. Much of the early criticism was bang on. Linehan did tend to smile ingratiatingly like a teenage fan who suddenly found himself at the next table to his favorite movie star.

But the awe is wearing off as the guest list and Linehan’s confidence grow. Undergoing a Linehan interview today can be a bit like getting a massage from a sadist. He makes you feel terrific, then elbows you in the solar plexis. On a recent show he had Canadian actor Barry Morse nodding and grinning at the mention that he played

Shakespeare before the Royal Family while he was still a child. In the next breath Linehan put an end to the grinning bv asking why Morse did mediocre pop television shows like Space 1999.

He so startled actor Burt Reynolds with his research and probing questions that Reynolds called Linehan the best interviewer he’d ever met and then proceeded, uncharacteristically, to unburden himself before the cameras like a psychiatric patient.

Had Linehan not been such a sickly youngster (respiratory problems) he would likely still be living in his hometown of Hamilton. Ontario, working at one of the city’s steel mills like his four brothers. He characterizes himself as the odd-child out—the lonely kid who spent his time reading books and watching movies while the others played sports and went to dances. By 17, though, Linehan was rescued from the steel mills. Odeon theatres brought him to Toronto as an executive trainee. Part of the job was screening movies, and during his five years there he screened more than 1,200. No mean asset for his present job.

Today, Linehan is enjoying the first flushes of stardom and the former “oddchild out” takes a certain delight in the fact that his old friends in Hamilton can see him nightly on the tube rubbing elbows with the movie stars. “They’re all so proud of me now,” he says. “The girls who wouldn’t dance with me and the boys who used to beat me up.” HARTLEY STEWARD