Hour Has Seven Days has repeatedly been cited as the most exciting
and innovative public affairs television series in the history of
Canadian broadcasting. It was certainly the most popular, drawing
more than three million viewers at the time of its controversial
cancellation by CBC management, which was unable to withstand the
cries of outrage from offended guardians of public morality and
the growing insurgence of the Seven Days production team.
The creation of two young producers, Patrick
and Douglas Leiterman, the series debuted on 4 October 1964 and
came to its well-publicized end after 50 episodes on 8 May 1966.
Watson and Leiterman had worked together as co-producers on two
previous public affairs series, Close-Up and Inquiry.
Given the go-ahead to create a new public affairs series they envisioned
a show that would be stimulating and exciting for the Canadian public,
and that would develop a wider and more informed audience than previous
public affairs shows. Both producers were deeply committed to the
importance of public service broadcasting and to the importance
of pushing the boundaries of television journalism to reflect the
techniques of investigation and advocacy more prevalent in print
journalism. Leiterman in particular argued against the prevailing
ideology of CBC journalistic practice that called for adhering to
the strict tenets of objectivity and "studious neutrality." Watson
brought a more intellectual approach to the show, having studied
English Literature and Linguistics in undergraduate and graduate
show was launched with great fanfare in the fall of 1964 with a
relatively large budget by the CBC of over $30,000 per show, about
twice the average of other public affairs programs. The first year's
shows were co-hosted by John Drainie, Laurier LaPierre, an academic
historian turned TV talent, and Carole Simpson, soon replaced by
Dinah Christie. The role of the women was limited primarily to songs
or satire. Upon Drainie's illness at the start of the second year,
Watson was persuaded to abandon his producer role to join the on-air
team in a move that CBC management thought would reduce the controversial
style of the program. A very talented and energetic young team of
producers, reporters, interviewers, and filmmakers was recruited.
They included some of the prime future talent in Canadian documentary
film and television, such as: Beryl Fox, Donald Brittain, Allan
King, Daryl Duke, Peter Pearson, Alexander Ross, and Larry Zolf.
inspired by the earlier British satirical review of the news, That
Was The Week That Was, Seven Days utilized a one hour, magazine
format that combined satirical songs and skits with aggressive "bear
pit" style interviews, investigative reports and mini-documentaries.
On an irregular basis the entire show would be devoted to an in-depth
documentary film under the title "Document". Several important award
winning films were produced and shown. One of the most noted was:
Beryl Fox's "Mills Of The Gods," a moving examination of life for
American soldiers and Vietnam peasants during the Vietnam War. A
distinct point-of-view, which was new to public affairs TV, was
often very present in these productions.
concrete example of one show's line-up might best illustrate the
basic elements of the magazine format and explain why the series
made CBC executives nervous and upset the more traditional journalists
and members of the public. The episode for 24 October 1965 opened
with a satirical and irreverent song by Christie about the Ku Klux
Klan, followed by preview cuts of later show segments, credits and
a welcome of the live studio audience by LaPierre. (Live audiences
were a staple of the program, contributing to its actuality impact.)
The first story was a filmed report on the funeral for a Sudbury,
Ontario policeman including an interview with his family and a colleague.
It underscored the important role of the unrecognized policemen
across Canada. Story two focused on the current Federal election
featuring sometimes irreverent street interviews from Toronto and
Vancouver, and finishing with a shot of an empty chair and the question
of whether the party leaders will show up to be questioned. The
next segment was a satirical sketch portraying Harold Wilson, then
Prime Minister of England, in conversation with Lester Pearson,
then Prime Minister of Canada running for reelection. The fourth
story was a short feature on Penthouse magazine with pictures,
interviews with the publisher and two British clergy, and commentary
about the objectification of women. The fifth story was an on-location
interview of Orson Welles by Watson. The sixth story was a filmed,
almost lyrical, portrait of the Canadian boxer, George Chuvalo.
Running almost 22 and a half minutes was the final story on the
Ku Klux Klan (KKK). After an introduction by Christie, a satire
of the KKK appearance before the U.S. House Un-American Activities
Committee, and a short film of the civil rights struggle in the
United States, two members of the Klan were invited into the "hot
seat" to be interviewed in full costume. About halfway through the
interview and after a question as to whether the Klansmen would
shake hands with a black man, a black civil rights leader from the
United States was invited to join the interview. There was some
exchange of views until the interviewer tried to get the KKK members
to shake hands with the black leader, at which time they stood up
and left the set. The show closed with a request for feedback and
a reprise of the Christie song.
fast pace, the topicality of many of the segments, the portrayal
and incitement of conflict, the irreverence of songs and skits,
and the occasional emotionalism of the on-air team members all added
to the popularity and the controversy that built around Seven Days.
LaPierre was once shown wiping away a tear after one filmed interview-a
gesture that the then CBC President Ouimet remembered angrily years
later as one more affront to appropriate journalistic practice.
The production team was proud of its non-traditional approaches
to portraying the news, selecting guests, and even the way it gathered
material for the show. At different times "regular" journalists
accused Seven Days reporters of stealing material or of poaching
on their territory. One of the final straws for the program was
going behind the scenes of a "Miss Canada Pageant" to film and interview
contestants in their hotel rooms and bedclothes despite the fact
that the rival CTV network had an exclusive coverage contract with
the pageant. This and other journalistic "improprieties" led to
a memo from Bud Walker, Vice-President of the CBC that foreshadowed
the demise of the series.
This Hour Has Seven Days
cancellation of Seven Days and the firing of Watson and LaPierre
in the Spring of 1966 (Leiterman was later forced out) was met with
a large public outcry, probably the largest in Canadian history
for any TV program, and certainly for any public affairs program.
Partly orchestrated by Watson, Leiterman and LaPierre there were
public demonstrations, thousands of letters and phone calls, indignant
editorials, threats to resign by CBC staff, and calls for Parliamentary
inquiries. As a result a Parliamentary committee hearing that favorably
featured the Seven Days team stretched over several weeks. Prime
Minister Pearson appointed a special investigator which kept the
program in the news for several more weeks. The final reports seemed
to chastise both sides in the dispute but was harshest with the
CBC for its heavy handedness and bureaucratic timidity. Watson,
Leiterman and LaPierre were public heroes for a time. Several members
of management resigned, at least two in protest at the handling
of the show and its principals. Vice-president Walker lost his job
ostensibly for the way he handled the dispute but also as a demonstration
to politicians that the CBC had gotten the message.
its non-traditional approaches, Seven Days usually dealt
with mainstream concerns and issues, taking a slightly left-leaning
perspective on social issues. It might have challenged members of
the Canadian elite but it rarely went outside the frame of dominant
beliefs. It was often creative in the way that it visualized stories
originating in studio, considering the available technology; and,
it imaginatively took advantage of the recent breakthroughs in hand-held
cameras and portable sound recording in its filmed stories and documentaries.
Watson, Leiterman, and the Seven Days team often seemed to
achieve the goal of involving the viewer in the emotion and actuality
of television while innovating on and stretching the conventions
of TV journalism. It is also clear that the team was often seduced
by the power of television to embarrass guests or sensationalize
issues through manipulative set-ups like the KKK interview. The
series often entertained, perhaps more than it informed, foreshadowing
the current concern and debate over the line between news and entertainment.
While the program demonstrated ways to attract, provoke, and stimulate
a mass audience for current affairs, the conflict and ultimate sanction
that resulted made it difficult for television journalists to experiment
or take on controversial issues for several years after. In the
years since Seven Days aired it has taken on the mythic mantle
of "that was the way it was in the good old days" of Canadian TV
journalism. While much of that reputation is deserved, the series
also needs to be appreciated with a critical eye and ear.
LaPierre, John Drainie, Patrick Watson, Dinah Christie, Carol Simpson,
Patrick Watson, Douglas Leiterman, Bill Hogg, Reeves Haggan, Hugh
Gauntlett, Robert Hoyt, Ken Lefolii DIRECTOR David Rushkin
October 1964-May 1966 Sunday
Koch, Eric. Inside Seven Days: The Show That Shook The Nation.
Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall, 1986.
Knowlton. The Microphone Wars: A History Of Triumph And Betrayal
At The CBC. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1994.
Peers, Frank W. The Public Eye: Television And The Politics Of
Canadian Broadcasting, 1952-1968. Toronto: University of Toronto
Paul. Prime Time Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
Sandy. Here's Looking At Us. Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1986.
Programming in English; Watson,