E.N.G.

Canadian Drama

E.N.G., a Canadian television drama series set in the news studio of a local television station, ran successfully on the private CTV network for five seasons from 1989 to 1994. After a slow start, which almost led to its cancellation at the end of the first season, the series steadily gained in popularity as audiences responded to its blend of personal and public issues. It was sold to many countries and well-received when it appeared on the Lifetime cable network in the United States and on Channel 4 in Britain. The letters in the title stand for "Electronic News Gathering" and were often seen on black-and-white images of news footage supposedly seen through the monitors of hand-held video cameras. Through its depiction of news gathering and studio production work, the series was able to respond to topical issues and comment on the role of the media in contemporary culture. The news stories were framed by the personal and professional relationships of the newsmakers, as the objectivity demanded of news reporting collided with the subjective feelings of the reporters or with commercial or political pressures.

The series began with the arrival of Mike Fennell (Art Hindle) to take over as news director, a position to which the executive producer, Ann Hildebrand (Sara Botsford) had expected to be promoted. As these two endeavored to establish a professional relationship, amid the various crises of the newsroom, Ann carried on a supposedly secret affair with Jake Antonelli (Mark Humphrey), an impetuous cameraman who often broke the rules and found himself in dangerous situations. In the course of the series, Mike and Ann became personally involved, and the final episodes left them trying to balance their careers and their relationship after the station's owners decided to adopt a "lifestyles" format.

The major significance of E.N.G. stems from its attempt to negotiate between the traditions of Canadian television and the formulas of the popular American programs that dominate CTV's schedule. In media coverage of the series, it was often compared with the CBC's Street Legal, which began two years earlier and which set its personal and professional entanglements in a Toronto law office. Both series were compared to such American hits as L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues, but both presented recognizably Canadian situations and settings. Since most original Canadian television drama has been produced by the CBC, a public corporation, the success of E.N.G. raised hopes that the private networks would offer more support to Canadian producers.

E.N.G. did have one foot in the Canadian tradition associated with the CBC and the National Film Board, a tradition of documentary realism and social responsibility, and it gave work to a number of veteran film and television directors. Yet the major project of the series was clearly to deliver the pleasures of "popular" television, using a formula which owed more to the melodramatic structures of the daytime soaps than to traditional Canadian suspicion of "crisis structures." When E.N.G. began, it used a fairly strict series format, each episode presenting a complete story with little cross-reference between episodes. The later seasons saw a movement toward a serial format as the personal lives of the characters assumed more importance.

But the basic formula remained the same throughout.


E.N.G.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Communication

A number of loosely-connected stories were interwoven, offering viewers a variety of characters and situations, and inviting them to make connections among the stories and to activate memories of other episodes in the series (and to make comparisons with other similar series). In "The Souls of Our Heroes" (March 1990), for example, the main story dealt with competing accounts of the events in Tiananmen Square, while Ann received an unexpected visit from a childhood friend and her two children and a producer attempted to enliven the Crime Catchers segment of the news with fictional re-enactments. "In the Blood" (January 1991) used the motif of "blood" to link its two main stories: an attempt to capture a day in the life of an AIDS victim and an investigation into an alleged miracle involving a bleeding statue of Jesus. In these episodes, and most others, the focus was on the implications of the way the news is reported: for the newsmakers themselves, for the people on whom they are reporting, and for the community that watches the final product.

Although E.N.G. was clearly indebted to similar American series, its ability to blend melodrama with a serious treatment of topical issues was not shared by WIOU, a short-lived series with a remarkably similar premise which appeared on CBS in the fall of 1990.

-Jim Leach

CAST

Mike Fennell.............................................. Art Hindle Ann Hildebrand..................................... Sara Botsford Jake Antonelli................................... Mark Humphrey

PRODUCER Robert Lantos

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CTV/Telefilm
1989-1994

 

See also Canadian Programming in English