Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Citytv Was Really Citytv

Are happy fortieth birthday greetings in order for Citytv?
I'm just not sure.
Citytv was an example of a cagey group of promoters fashioning a new TV license application that was music to the collective ears of the CRTC.
City got its license by promising a Toronto centric channel with low power and concentration on Toronto issues.
The original owners including the savvy veteran Phyllis Switzer and the kid from CBC Moses Znaimer. Together they collaborated on one of the wildest TV channels we'll ever see.
TV critics of 1972 cheered. Blaik Kirby who I'd worked beside at  The Globe And Mail was a fervent supporter of Canadian broadcasting. Jack Miller of The Star thought the tiny station deserved a chance. Only Bob Blackburn at The Sun was properly skeptical.
Remember in those days TV critics welded enormous power.
I was the new kid on the block --I'd been at The Hamilton Spectator as TV critic less than 18 months when Citytv came on.
My Spec boss asked why I wasn't covering it. I said I couldn't. Citytv's power was so weak it died out in Oakville.
When its Baby Blue Movies came along Hamiltonians complained they had to travel to motels in Mimico to see the action.
Highlight of the station was the live City Show hosted by a stammering Ron Haggart that went right through prime time. It was on this show one day that a nervous Brine Linehan first popped up on view. Brian was interviewing Toronto based director Eric Till and he was so nervous that he invited Till back days later for a second chance.
Switzer looked at that interview and gave Brian his own daily half hour show titled City Lights. And soon Linehan's much researched interviews were the talk of Toronto.
It was Phyllis who dreamed up the idea of the Baby Blue Movie --in reality sex scenes were deliberately darkened so nobody could make out what was happening.
And when First Choice came along Phyllis tried that ploy again with a Canadian edition of Playboy TV. This time there was a huge outcry and First Choice eventually abandoned the concept.
Moses discarded the desk for his anchors on Citytv Pulse  news shows leaving them to roam freely all over the studio.
He recruited Toronto coroner and MPP Morton Shulman to host a live investigative show on the weekends. The Shuman File.
The station was so poor it could only afford antique Warners flicks from the Thirties. No matter --Znaimer hired DJ Gene Taylor to host an afternoon block --I remember one week Taylor had a Ruth Chatterton Film Festival --and people talked about it.
Instead of a lavish fall launch party Switzer invited critics and advertisers to her house and one year rented a circus elephant. The trick was the elephant had such a sensitive touch Gene Taylor was told to lie on the grass and have the elephant touch it with its foot.
However, the grass was moist and the elephant slipped grazing Taylor's forehead and leaving bruises.
Micki Moore had the daily show for women which was much parodied by SCTV. Martin Short did a wickedly funny parody of Brian Linehan renamed Bruce Linehard who relied extensively on information researched by his assistants. I remember Linehan crying on the phone to me until I told him it was a parody and a salute to his interviewing abilities.
By 1981 the station was slipping due to poor ratings and CHUM snapped it up. The original ratty studios at 99 Queen St. East were discarded for fancy quarters at 299 Queen St. West and the station  began changing into just another independent station.
Moses was busy taking shows like Fashion TV and the New Music and transferring them to bright new cable networks.
Switzer jumped to First Choice in 1982 and in 1984 headed CTV's Host Broadcasting Unit at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games (she died in 1989).
With CHUM as owner City went into movies snatching that crown away from CHCH. Then In 2007 it was sold to Rogers.
A lot of great talent passed through Citytv: Dan Aykroyd (staff announcer in 1972), the late great Bill Cameron and Mark Dailey, , Ann Mroczkowski (now at Global), Thalia Assuras, Ann Rohmer (now on CP245),  John Roberts (J.D. Roberts from New Music), Dini Petty. Only  Gord Martineau who never changes physically has remained for 35 years.
These days CTV owns the old CHUM Citytv building on Queen St. West and City is now situated at 33 Dundas Street East at Yonge-Dundas Square.
I really miss the old Citytv and think about those days ever time my streetcar whizzes by 99 Queen St. East.

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