Page Challenge, television's longest continuously running panel
show, was one of the most familiar landmarks on the Canadian broadcasting
landscape. During much of its 38-season run on the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation (CBC), from 1957-95, it was among Canadian television's
most popular programs, regularly drawing average audiences of one
to two million in the small Canadian market; towards the end, viewership
dropped, numbering about 500,000 in the show's final season. A book
was published in 1982 to mark the show's 25th anniversary.
Page Challenge was first born as a summer fill-in show; at the
time, it was one of many quiz shows on the air, a genre popular
because of the low production costs involved, and Front Page
Challenge was in fact named after an American quiz favourite
of the time, called The $64,000 Challenge. A half-hour program,
Front Page Challenge featured four panelists, usually well-known
journalists, who would ask yes-or-no questions in an attempt to
correctly identify a mystery challenger connected to a front-page
news item, as well as the news item itself. After the panelists
had guessed correctly--or been stumped--they would proceed to interview
parts quiz show and current affairs panel, Front Page Challenge's
hybridization of televisual genres drew in not only audience members
attracted by the entertainment value of the quiz show format, but
also viewers who were curious about who the week's mystery challengers
would be, and eager to hear them interviewed by Front Page Challenge's
panel of crack journalists. Long before current affairs programs
or all-news channels like CNN or CBC Newsworld began to offer
up similar fare, Front Page Challenge provided Canadians
with a human look at the newsmakers they read about in their morning
papers. Over the years, some of the show's guests included figures
as diverse as Indira Gandhi--saying she would never go into politics--Eleanor
Roosevelt, hockey player Gordie Howe, Tony Bennett, and Errol Flynn,
along with Mary Pickford, a Canadian and one of cinema's first stars.
Walter Cronkite even announced his new job as CBS anchor on the
a television program noted for its attention to the newspaper, Front
Page Challenge panelists were almost exclusively eminent Canadian
newspaper workers. For most of the show's run, well-known reporter
Gordon Sinclair and journalist-writer Pierre Berton joined actress
Toby Robins to form the panel, with a guest panelist making a fourth,
and Fred Davis hosting the show. Broadcaster Betty Kennedy replaced
Robins in 1961, and upon Gordon Sinclair's death in 1984, he was
replaced by author and columnist Alan Fotheringham. Another prominent
reporter, Jack Webster, was added as a permanent fourth panelist
Front Page Challenge pointed not to the everyday world, but
to other points within the media universe--the television program's
very name evokes the newspaper--is significant as more than a sign
of the times, however. By building a show in which competence in
recalling newspaper headlines is the most important attribute, Front
Page Challenge helped reinforce the social importance attached
to what is reported in the media. The show's use of the newspaper
as a frame of reference for significant events had the effect of
perpetuating the idea that news happens in the real world, and that
the media simply reflect these goings-on. As much research has shown,
though, what we read in the newspaper is as much the result of the
institutionalized conditions of newspaper reporting as it is of
what goes on "out there"--the news is constructed by the media.
Front Page Challenge, then, was an early example of the proliferation
of television programs which recycle media content as news--Entertainment
Tonight is perhaps the best-known example--and demonstrates
how this type of programming tends, among other things, to contribute
to the "aura" of media, in which the media world comes to stand
in for the lived world.
the product of the quiz show genre popular in the 1950s and 1960s,
Front Page Challenge stood both within and outside of that
television format, and thus provides a unique vantage point from
which to look at the quiz or game show. Whereas the game show is
characterized by its catapulting unknown, everyday individuals from
the private sphere into the public sphere of television--providing
home viewers with an easy locus of identification--Front Page
Challenge featured only well-known public figures or newsmakers.
Indeed, the only way an ordinary viewer might hope to participate
in the program, other than becoming involved in a news event, was
by successfully writing to Front Page Challenge and suggesting
a front-page story to be used. Unlike other game or quiz shows,
there was little competition--the panel worked together as a team--and
almost no prizes to be won. Even the home viewers themselves were
positioned in an unorthodox way on Front Page Challenge:
whereas in other game shows the viewer plays along with the contestants,
often shouting out the answer in her or his living room before it
emerges from the television speaker, the Front Page Challenge
viewer was able to actually see the mystery challenger, who stood
behind the panelists, hidden from their eyes, but in full view of
the elements of the quiz show genre seen as crass or vulgar helped
to provide Front Page Challenge with an air of legitimacy
and respectability that the straight quiz show did not enjoy; the
show's evocation of the newspaper's seriousness, its panelists,
and its location on the State broadcasting network marked it as
a "quality" television program. This controlled distance from what
was seen as "American mass culture" helped distance it considerably
from the quiz show scandals which plagued American broadcasting
in the 1960s--including Front Page's namesake, The $64,000 Challenge.
Front Page Challenge was taken off the air in 1995, a move
emblematic of major restructuring at the CBC, it signalled the end
of an era in Canadian television broadcasting. The program's mixing
of quiz show and public affairs, its lending of journalistic credence
to the game show genre, and the interest with which audiences tuned
in to hear and watch newsmakers of the day exemplified television's
ability to convey the human qualities and attributes of those who
were in the news.
Front Page Challenge
Photo courtesy of CBC
Win Berron, Fred Davis
Toby Robbins, Alex Barris, Gordon Sinclair, Betty Kennedy, Pierre
Berton, Alan Fotheringham, Jack Webster
Win Barron, Alex Barris, Fred Davis
Harvey Hart, James Guthro, Andrew Crossan, Don Brown, and others
Barris, Alex. Front Page Challenge: The 25th Anniversary.
Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1981.
Terry. "Front Page Challenged." Saturday Night (Toronto,
Canada), July/August 1995.
Larry. "The In-difference of Television." Screen (London),
Martin. "The Eternal Challenge." Saturday Night (Toronto,
Canada), March, 1992.
H. Marshall. Understanding Media. New York: McGraw Hill,
Robert. "Television News and Its Spectator." In, E. Ann Kaplan,
editor. Regarding Television. Frederick, Maryland: American
Film Institute, 1983.
Tuchman, Gaye. Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality.
New York: The Free Press/MacMillan Publishing, 1978.
Michael. "No more Front Page Challenge. No more Canada?" The
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 15 April 1995.
Programming in English