Delightful, lovable chaos

Allan Fotheringham July 20 1987

Delightful, lovable chaos

Allan Fotheringham July 20 1987

Delightful, lovable chaos


Allan Fotheringham

There is little enough of it, mercy knows, so one is grateful to discover humor wherever you can find it. Even deep within the Report on Business section of the good, grey Toronto Globe and Mail. But there it is, the boffo line of the week, inside the story of how Winnipeg millionaire Izzy Asper has finally won his long court battle to wrest control of the independent Vancouver TV station CKVU from its founders, Daryl Duke and Norm Klenman. “What rankled most,” the story said, referring to Duke, “was Mr. Asper’s assertion that the station wasn’t well run.”

Hoo boy. That’s one of the great whoppers of all time. Daryl Duke is a lovely guy, impossible to dislike, owner of one of the most fertile minds I have ever met. Charm drips off his elbow. He has merry, intelligent eyes and a white Monty Woolley beard. He dresses to outrage, somewhat like a 60-year-old passing as John Travolta. But he really has the attention span of a hummingbird, and CKVU under his tenure was chaos—delightful, lovable chaos, but looneyville incarnate.

Your blushing agent has some intimate knowledge of all this, because I used to work for the joint. Like, from day one. I was there when she opened and, when I left, many tears and ulcers later, she was the same revolving door. The standing joke was that CKVU had three separate staffs: one coming, one going, one working.

We can recall, as clear as the dawn, the day in the ballroom of the Hotel Vancouver when Daryl (who can talk the way Fred Astaire could dance) delivered his application before the CRTC commissioners for the much-lusted-after licence. Ottawa was actually going to allow an independently owned station to go into competition against the saintly CBC and grasping, a-dollar-aholler CTV. The blushing agent was a member of a competing bid, and I listened transfixed as Duke (a man never met but much renowned by reputation)

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

spun his mesmerizing promises.

A Vancouver boy, born and bred, he told a tale of how he was going to bring “the smell of Stanley Park” to the screen. He was raised as a boy on English Bay and he was going to bring the sniff of the shore and feel of the mist to the boob tube. The hell with all these grasping entrepreneurs, as he gave the back of his hand (and his gold chain) to the competing bidders, he was the soul incarnate of humble little Vancouver and he was going to give this town something that would shake the mountains.

It bowled over the CRTC. It bowled

over me. And the last time I looked, CKVU was being run by two imported Miami Nice guys from Los Angeles who kept having difficulty as they asked the locals whether Vancouver’s chief magistrate was known as Mayor Mike or Mike Mayor. His actual name was Harcourt, but in L.A. argot these things are confusing.

So we went to work there (no one can resist Daryl’s charm), beating up on visiting cabinet ministers, going up to hotel rooms to interview Bette Midler and Mitzi Gaynor, engaging in staged debates with a goofy and teethy politican newcomer called Bill Vander Zap. Laurier LaPierre, of This Hour Has Seven Days fame, moved from Montreal to be a host and resident personality. The luscious Pia Shandel came aboard. For a time, it was known as the only TV station extant with more hosts than viewers.

It was wall-to-wall fun, but insanity. The problem was Daryl’s antic imagination. He had done everything. A

postwar product with pal Klenman of the University of British Columbia, he rose quickly through staid CBC ranks, went to New York, started the first late-night talk show, produced Steve Allen, moved to Hollywood, acquired a taste for cowboy boots and wives.

He liked being the owner of a TV station, but even more he liked being a film director. He was off to China to film Tai-Pan. He was off somewhere to film The Thorn Birds, the Australian soap opera. Occasionally, he would come back to his sandbox, CKVU, to tinker and sack some more people who were never clear as to who their boss was. (How can you not like a boss who, when asked for a decision, used to say, “Will you give me a couple of days to procrastinate on that?”)

The result was that there was once an hourlong special, run by a guy hired directly from newspapering and knowing nothing about TV (thereby resented by the resident types, who let him hang himself), that opened with the chap inexplicably walking backward on

0 a beach. The film was re£ versed. He tried again.

1 He was still walking backward.

Daryl’s protégés have gone far. One moved on to be Dan Rather’s producer in New York. Another neophyte, Genevieve Westcott, has just returned from New Zealand after twice winning the TV-journalist-of-the-year award, to be a host on CTV’s W5.

The hosts revolved. We loved him, but he was never there enough. The researchers revolved. The technicians revolved. There have been more lawyers on the premises than sound men. Daryl, flitting in from somewhere around the world from another movie project, sparked off ideas, phoned in instant suggestions from home and chopped more heads.

Daryl never realized that Vancouver wasn’t Los Angeles or New York, with an endless supply of eager TV talent. He had a million ideas. But he was never there enough. And so the station that was going to waft the smell of Stanley Park is now owned by a financier from Winnipeg whose chain-smoking has destroyed his nostrils. Sad stuff.