BROADCASTING

The National's new man

PAMELA YOUNG November 23 1987
BROADCASTING

The National's new man

PAMELA YOUNG November 23 1987

The National's new man

BROADCASTING

The American offer included prestige and a rumored $l-million salary. The Canadian counteroffer was sweetened with national sentiment and a late-night cup of hot chocolate. Last week Peter Mansbridge, CBC TV’s national correspondent and anchorman of the network’s Sunday Report, turned down a co-anchor position on the CBS network’s planned morning news show. He made his decision after a midnight conversation at the Toronto home of Knowlton Nash, CBC’s chief correspondent and The National’s anchorman since 1978. Over hot chocolate, Nash offered Mansbridge the strongest enticement he could to keep the 39-year-old correspondent in Canada: Nash’s own job.

As of May 1, 1988, Mansbridge will anchor the CBC’s flagship news show. His salary: as much as $200,000. Nash, stepping down two years before he planned to leave the anchor desk, will host the CBC’s expanded Saturday Report and documentaries for The Journal. Said Mansbridge: “The difficult decision in this was made by Knowlton.” From its outset, Mansbridge’s career has been the stuff of journalistic dreams. When he was a 19-year-old employee of the airline Transair in Churchill, Man., a CBC Radio executive hired him after hearing him announce a boarding call. Smooth, direct and articulate, Mansbridge rose quickly through CBC ranks, becoming an Ottawa parliamentary reporter at 28.

If Mansbridge had taken the CBS post, it would have been one of the most important international moves

for a Canadian broadcaster since Peter Jennings first became ABC’s nightly news anchorman in 1965. But the CBS morning show has been plagued by last-place ratings, format changes and firings. Still, it was his midnight conversation with Nash, said Mansbridge, that “pushed me over the cliff.” Added Nash, who turns 60 this week: “The last thing I want to see is the weakening of CBC’s journalism; that’s what Peter’s departure would have meant.”

The change of command marks the end of an era. Nash, arguably the CBC’s most recognized face, became the CBC’s Washington correspondent in 1961. From 1976 to 1978, as the English network’s director of news and current affairs, he played a part in moving The National to 10 p.m. from 11 and in creating The Journal. Gail Ruddy, a Toronto media manager, describes him as “almost a cult figure.” Fans routinely shower him with gifts of candy and pictures of their dogs. Still, Ruddy predicts that the change will not affect audiences for The National and the rival CTV Evening News—1.8 million and 1.2 million respectively.

What Mansbridge’s decision may change is the perception of Canadian journalism. Said Bill Morgan, director of CBC television news and current affairs: “The CBC has been filling highlevel gaps in the U.S. for long enough. Maybe that great nation will have to stop relying on buying the skills developed in this little one.”

PAMELA YOUNG with RAE CORELLI in Toronto