was embraced by French-language viewers more quickly than any other
group in Canada. They bought TV sets more rapidly and watched more
television than did their English-speaking counterparts. A majority
of television households were concentrated among the working class
families of Montreal and from the beginning, La Societé Radio-Canada,
Canada's public francophone broadcaster, was the center of French
programming in Canada and the company strategy was to attempt to
be all things to all people.
the only francophone television broadcaster it enjoyed a monopoly
position. Because it faced no competition either inside or outside
Canada, and because it had to produce over 75% of its own programming,
Radio-Canada was able to craft programs intended to enlighten and
educate as well as entertain its captive audience. The power of
television was very quickly understood by Quebec's creative community
and unlike comparable groups in anglophone Canada, television production
in Quebec drew upon some of the most creative and inventive minds
in French Canadian society. Historians and commentators generally
describe francophone television's early years from 1952 to 1960
as a "golden age". Leading academics, artists, intellectuals and
cultural heroes were quick to embrace this new medium, making television
a powerful force in Quebec's Quiet Revolution.
the realm of News and Information, Radio-Canada was determined to
keep its public well-informed--not only about the country but about
the entire world. Journalists such as Gerard Pelletier and André
Laurendeau argued that television could be an instrument of modernity
which would not only introduce the rest of the world to Quebec but
which would serve to improve knowledge and raise the sense of national
pride. Pelletier hosted Les idées en marche (1955-61), a
public affairs show which featured debates and interviews with prominent
intellectuals on domestic and international issues. Laurendeau presided
over Pays et merveilles (1953-61), a world-travel series
which featured film footage and guests who would discuss such issues
as the Middle East. Other popular news information shows included
Carrefour (1958-59) and Premier Plan (1959-60) which
were interview shows. But the most critically-acclaimed news and
information program was Point de Mire (1957-59), hosted by
René Lévesque, the future premier of Quebec. This show attempted
to popularize international issues such as the Algerian crisis and
used maps, charts, film footage, even a blackboard to educate and
inform viewers. Only occasionally did the show address Quebecois
or Canadian themes.
shows like Panoramique, (1958-59) a series of historical
documentaries from the French division of the National Film Board
of Canada, drew viewers attention to Canadian and Quebec historical
issues. Le roman de la science was a docudrama about major
scientific discoveries throughout history. Je me souviens/Dateline
was a bilingual informational program on Quebec and Canadian history.
Explorations (1956-61) was another history series which tried
to bridge the Canadian cultural and linguistic divide. One segment
from the series, "Two Studies of French Canada," was run on the
English-language CBC. Hosted by Lévesque this program tried to explain
to anglophone Canadian the recent history and aspirations of French
Variety and musical programs also carried an international flavour.
Music Hall(1955-65), Quebec's alternative to The Ed Sullivan
Show, hosted a line-up of international francophone stars which
included Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf, and Charles Aznavour as
well as well-known Canadian singers such as Monique Leyrac and Denise
provided a broad range of variety programs to suit all tastes. Feu
de joie featured jazz, Dans touls les cantons traditional
French-Canadian folk music, Chansons vedettes and Chansons
canadiennes showcased contemporary popular artists. Despite
this impressive line-up, however, with extravagant costumes and
lavishly produced numbers, the shows did not attract viewers. Variety
programming was the least popular of all the types of television
produced by Radio-Canada in the 1960s and unlike the CBC, the system
never had a truly popular program such as those hosted on the CBC
by Don Messer or Tommy Hunter. The only light entertainment show
which developed any following was the comedy-sketch series Quelles
nouvelles which had been a popular radio series and starred
Jean Duceppe and Marjolaine Hébert.
was, however, a central feature of game shows. Cheap and easy to
design and produce--particularly since they involved little prize
money--quiz shows like Le nez de Cléopâtre (1953-57) and
Point d'interrogation (1956-62) featured panels of well-known
personalities given a limit of twenty questions in which to identify
a person or object. Other shows like Chacun son métier (1954-59)
was a French version of the popular American program What's My
Radio-Canada's real strength was the novelty or fun show. Shows
such as La clef des champs (1955-59) and Le club des autographs
(1957-62) were popular with audiences as much for their comedy as
for their contests. Both were based on simple premises; La clef
des champs was a charades game but the actor and comedians competed
more for laughs than for prizes, while Le club des autographs
invited celebrities to twist and shake in a comical dance contest.
The audience's favorite and the most extreme example of this kind
of programming was La rigolade (1955-58). Referring to itself
as the "least serious broadcast on the air," it invited ordinary
people to test their skills at the silliest contests the producers
could invent. As the contests became zanier, critics decried it
as a scandalous spectacle and it was pulled off the air after only
three seasons despite being among the top-ranked shows on Radio-Canada.
programmers were continually faced with trying to balance such popular
programs with its cultural and educational mandate. Any kind of
spectacle seem to have a large audience. La Lutte (1952-59)
and La Boxe (1952-55) broadcast weekly prize fights which
attracted a large following (even among women). Sports were consistently
in demand, especially La soirée du hockey, the most popular
program on television. Though hockey had always been popular in
Quebec, television made players like Rocket Richard, the star of
the Montreal Canadiens, into national heroes. As many as two million
fans watched each Canadiens' game. Richard had become such a cultural
icon that when he was suspended from the playoffs in the spring
of 1995, the city exploded into rioting. It was no accident that
Richard made public television appeals to induce the crowds to end
This incident only added to the dilemma facing programmers as more
and more viewers demanded more sports while the elites and the clergy
condemned television for inciting and promoting violence. Television
programmers tried to counteract these charges in the 1950s by scheduling
most of its sportscasts on the weekends and by increasing its broadcast
of the performing arts.
had always believed that television could stimulate and educate
the viewer. Music, ballet, opera and drama were presented several
times a week in various anthologies. L'heure du concert (1954-66)
was devoted to concerts, opera and ballet. Initially, it offered
a series of excerpts from various productions and provided brief
lectures on various art forms. Theatre also occupied the most prominent
place in Radio-Canada's early programming, and despite the challenges
and difficulties and production costs involved with live television
drama, CBFT produced as much as two dramas a week throughout the
1950s. A demand for local productions fuelled an enormous expansion
in the development of Quebecois literature. Initially, great classical
works such as Cocteau's Oedipe-Roi had been presented, but
these were quickly replaced with local works. Soon short stories
and even novels had to be adapted for television as more traditional
works were soon exhausted. Eventually, Quebecois authors were commissioned
to write specifically for television.
1952 and 1960, Radio-Canada aired 435 plays, 80% of which were originally
written or adapted by popular Quebecois writers such as Marcel Dubé,
Hubert Aquin, Françoise Loranger and Felix Leclerc. The majority
of teleplays were showcased in Le Telethéâtre de Radio-Canada
(1953-66) which presented more than 160 works and Théâtre populaire
(1956-58) which presented more than 100 plays. Other series included
Théâtre d'été (1954-61) and En première (1958-60),
Théâtre du dimanche (1960-61), Jeudi Théâtre (1961-62),
and Théâtre d'une heure (1963-1966).
the teleplays received great critical acclaim they were far less
popular than the téléromans, televised serials adapted from popular
selling novels. Since the debut of Roger Lemelin's La Famille
Plouffe (1953-59), this television genre has been a mainstay
of francophone programming. Usually broadcast in half-hour episodes
in peak hours over the fall/winter schedule, the stories would generally
be completed in two or three seasons, but two series lasted much
longer than the norm. Les Belles Histoires des pays d'en haut
went on for 14 years while Rue des Pignons continued for
11 years. Other popular téléromans included: Quartorze, rue de
Galais (1954-57), Le Survenant (1954-57, 59-60), Cap-aux-sorciers
(1955-58), La Pension Velder (1957-61), La Côte de sable
(1960-62), De 9 à 5 (1963-66), and Septième nord (1963-67).
producer's strike at CBFT in Montreal from December 1958 to March
1959 brought serious disruption to francophone programming and an
end to the "golden age" of French-Canadian broadcasting. Not only
did popular shows like Point de Mire and La famille Plouffe
end their run, many critically-acclaimed programs were never to
return to the airwaves. The
strike has become part of the annals of Quebec's Quiet Revolution.
Some of the province's most popular television personalities like
René Lévesque abandoned careers in broadcasting, in Levesque's case
to launch himself into politics.
strike and its aftermath reflected the changing realities that television
faced. In 1960, Radio-Canada faced competition from a private broadcaster.
Télé-Métropole, "le 10" promoted itself as the station for ordinary
people. In 1971 it became part of the Télé-Diffuseurs Associés (TVA)
network. Its programming relied heavily on foreign movies and dubbed
American drama series. Quiz shows like Quiz-O and Télé-poker became
mainstays on the schedule, along with hockey broadcasts and variety
programs which showcased Quebec's popular comedians and singers
such as Robert Charlebois and Yvon Deschamps.
10" did produce a daily serial, Ma femme et moi, which ran
in 1961 but it was only with Cré Basile (1965-68) that Télé-Métropole
and the TVA network found critical acclaim for its television dramas.
Cré Basile was Quebec's first sitcom and for the first time comedy
was to become an integral part of francophone television drama.
Télé-Métropole went on to develop other popular burlesque comedies
Lecoq et fils (1967-68), Symphorien (1974-78), Les
Brillant (1979-80), and situation comedies Dominique
(1977-80) and Peau de banane (1982-87). Télé-Métropole's
programming was immediately popular. By 1966 it had 23 out of the
top 25 shows and in turn, spurred Radio-Canada to change many of
competition, advertising revenues and sponsorships began to play
a larger role in determining the television schedule. Radio-Canada's
own internal surveys taken in 1960 had shown that viewers were little
affected by the interruption in programming save for the loss of
the téléromans. Feature films which had occupied much of the 1959-60
schedule had drawn as large an audience as its regular line-up.
American imports were now available on film and could be easily
translated and dubbed for a francophone audience. Not only were
they cheaper than locally made productions, they were watched by
more people and generated more revenue for their broadcasters. By
the mid-1960s, Radio-Canada had virtually abandoned its notion of
public service in favour of a more stream-lined and entertaining
arts broadcasts were the first victims of this change. L'heure
du concert was cut back to bi-monthly broadcasts and presented
only one performance per episode as it dropped all pretensions of
educating the public. Teleplays were confined to 90 minutes per
week or appeared only in summer anthologies. From a high of almost
100 broadcast hours per year, theatre drama had dropped to 20 hours
per year in the mid-1960s. By 1966, all music, opera, ballet and
theatrical programs were combined in the two-hour anthology Les
beaux dimanches which has remained as part of the Sunday line-up.
shift to lighter programming affected all genres. Public affairs
programming reflected this change with the introduction of Appelle-moi
Lise, a late-night talk show with host Lise Payette which became
the new model for the interview format. Sports gained more prominence
and give-away shows such as La poule aux oeufs d'or (1958-65)
which had replaced La rigolade were modelled on American
quiz shows such as The $64,000 Question. It was later joined
by Tous pour un (1963-64) which became the most watched program
on Tuesday nights.
which had always been successes remained as the backbone of
Radio-Canada's production. They were joined by locally-made comedies
and sitcoms as the public broadcaster sought to win back viewers.
Moi et l'autre (1966-71), La p'tite semaine (1972-76),
Du tac à tac (1977-81), and Poivre et sel (83-87)
were just some of the lighter television series which competed with
the private network.
TVA launched its celebrated Les Berger (1970-78) series, francophone
television added the new family saga genre to its drama repertoire.
Rue des Pignons (1970-77), Grand-Papa (1976-85), Terre
humaine (1978-84) were part of the regular of Radio-Canada which
competed with TVA's Le Clan Beaulieu (1978-82), Marisol
(1980-83), and Les Moineau et le Pinsons (1982-85).
A growing concern over the sharp decline educational and cultural
programming as well as a sharp increase in dubbed American imports,
prompted the Quebec provincial government to launch its own public
broadcaster, Radio-Québec in 1968. Its programming was, and still
is, devoted to providing educational and cultural programs which
reflect Quebecois society. Largely a community-based system, it
did not begin to broadcast in the evening until the 1972-73 season.
Its programming featured many documentaries, nature and science
shows as well as broadcasts of the proceedings of the legislative
assembly. In recent years, it too has developed its own series such
as Avec un grand A (1985-1992). It has also showcased some
English-made series such as Degrassi but has remained committed
to its educational mandate. Over half of its programming is educational
and very few of its programs are American imports.
the development of cable systems and more private stations, fears
that the airwaves would be overrun with American programming once
again became an issue. Although studies had shown that only about
20% of all programming was foreign imports, they also showed that
local productions were dominant only in the informational, sports
and educational genres. More alarming was the fact that over 80%
of all drama and comedies were American-made imports.
has led to a call for a stronger commitment on the part of the province's
two public broadcasters to strengthen their commitment to producing
more local dramas since the studies also indicated that when given
a clear choice between imports and local shows, Quebecois viewers
prefer to see their own artists and programs. Many Quebecois programs
rank consistently in the top ten lists. The recent success of the
drama series like Lance et compte, Les Filles du Caleb
and the comedy hit La Petite vie, which have had huge followings
both domestically and internationally, attest to Quebecois television's
vitality and creativity.
television has always offered the Québecois a vivid expression of
their own unique history and places. Its public affairs, sports,
and popular drama have not only mirrored society's growth, they
have mirrored the development of television itself. Despite a variety
of changes and the proliferation of choices available to the average
viewer, the Quebecois remain avid television fans. They spend more
time watching television than in any other activity other than sleeping
and working. Though no longer a "captive audience", they remain
enthusiastic about their own brand of programming. Television still
remains an integral part of Quebecois cultural life as it still
strives to be all things to all people.
Richard. Television and Culture. London: Unwin Hyman, 1990.
Marc. Missed Opportunities: The Story of Canada's Broadcasting
Policy. Montreal, Canada: McGill Queen's University Press, 1990.
Paul. When Television Was Young: Primetime Canada 1951-1967.
Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1990.
Susan. The Dream of Nation. Toronto, Canada: Gage, 1983.
also Canadian Programming
in English; Family