the Record was one of the most successful series ever produced
and broadcast by the CBC. It used an anthology format, offering
four to six new episodes each year linked only by the series title
and a documentary-style approach to topical stories. Many episodes
proved controversial, but the series was critically acclaimed for
its thoughtful and intense treatment of difficult issues.
The idea for the series originated with John Hirsch, who was appointed
head of television drama at the CBC in 1974. He felt that CBC drama
should have the same urgency and relevance as the network's well-regarded
current affairs programming and recruited Ralph Thomas as executive
producer of a new series which would become For the Record.
the producers and writers contributed a great deal to the success
of the series, one of the key decisions taken by Thomas was to hire
directors who had contributed to the growth of Canadian cinema in
the 1960s and early 1970s. These filmmakers were part of Canada's
"direct cinema" movement of low-budget feature films based on documentary
techniques developed at the National Film Board. In the mid-1970s
Canadian film moved toward the production of supposedly more commercial
imitations of Hollywood style and, as a result, leading filmmakers,
both anglophone and francophone, were pleased to find an outlet
for their talents in a television series which stressed its difference
from the U.S. network programs that dominated Canadian television
The series officially got under way in 1977, but the basic approach
was established in the previous season when five topical dramas
were broadcast under the title Camera '76. These included
"Kathy Karuks is a Grizzly Bear" (written by Thomas and directed
by Peter Pearson), about the exploitation of a young long-distance
swimmer, and "A Thousand Moons" (directed by prolific Quebec filmmaker
Gilles Carle), about an old metis woman who lives in a city but
dreams of returning home to die. Six new programs were broadcast
in the following season, when the series got its permanent name:
two ("Ada" and "Dreamspeaker") were contributed by another Quebec
director, Claude Jutra, while documentary filmmaker Allan King directed
"Maria," about a young Italian-Canadian who attempts to unionize
a garment factory. The most controversial production of the 1977
season was undoubtedly "The Tar Sands," written and directed by
Pearson, which provoked a libel suit because of its depiction of
recent dealings between the oil industry and politicians in Alberta.
the end of the t977 season the format and possibilities of the series
had been firmly established; but these did not fit comfortably into
existing categories of television programming. The episodes were
presented as television dramas, but the location shooting made them
seem more like films. After the legal problems with "The Tar Sands,"
the CBC disavowed the term "docudrama" which had been applied to
the series and suggested instead "journalistic drama" or "contemporary,
topical drama that is issue oriented."
Whatever the term, the series did allow for a range of approaches.
Dramatized treatments of specific topical events (like "The Tar
Sands") were rare, although viewers could often relate the fictional
stories to similar stories recently in the news. More common were
episodes (like "Maria") which dealt with an identifiable "social
problem" in terms of its impact on characters seen as both individual
and representative. While the "social problem" was a necessary ingredient,
some episodes, notably those directed by Carle and Jutra, took on
a poetic dimension with subjective fantasy sequences emerging from
their social realism.
memorable episodes from later seasons dealt with rape ("A Matter
of Choice," 1978), hockey violence ("Cementhead," 1979), separatism
( "Don't Forget 'Je Me Souviens," 1979), television evangelism ("Blind
Faith, 1982), farm bankruptcies ("Ready for Slaughter," 1983), gender
discrimination ("Kate Morris, Vice President," 1984), and the beauty
myth ("Slim Obsession," 1984).
series was praised for its refusal to allow personal dramas to obscure
the social implications of the issues. Whatever the outcome for
the characters, the endings did not create the impression that the
issues had been resolved, implying that solutions still needed to
be sought in reality. Supporters of public broadcasting in Canada
pointed to For the Record as an alternative to the formulas
of commercial television, with its demand for clearly-defined conflicts
and happy endings, and there was a widespread agreement that the
series fulfilled the CBC's mandate to provide insight into Canadian
society and culture. Its cancellation in 1985 could be seen as a
response to commercial and political pressures on the CBC, although
the public network has continued to broadcast similar realist dramas
exploring topical issues.
Collins, Richard. Culture, Communication and National Identity:
The Case of Canadian Television. Toronto: University of Toronto
Seth, editor. Take Two. Toronto: Irwin, 1984.
Gervais, Marc. "Lightyears Ahead: For the Record." Cinema Canada
(Montreal, Quebec, Canada), March 1977.
Gail. "On the Record: For The Records 10 Distinctive Years."
Cinema Canada (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), April 1985.
Miller, Mary Jane. Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama
Since 1952. Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia
Peter. The Film Companion. Toronto: Irwin, 1984.
Programming in English