THIS HOUR HAS SEVEN DAYS

Canadian Public Affairs Series

This 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

Watson 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 school.

The 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.

Clearly 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.

A 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.

The 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

The 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.

Despite 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.

-William O. Gilsdorf

HOSTS

Laurier LaPierre, John Drainie, Patrick Watson, Dinah Christie, Carol Simpson, and others

PRODUCERS Patrick Watson, Douglas Leiterman, Bill Hogg, Reeves Haggan, Hugh Gauntlett, Robert Hoyt, Ken Lefolii DIRECTOR David Rushkin

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBC
October 1964-May 1966                   Sunday 10:00-11:00

FURTHER READING

Koch, Eric. Inside Seven Days: The Show That Shook The Nation. Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

Nash, 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 Press, 1979.

Rutherford, Paul. Prime Time Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Stewart, Sandy. Here's Looking At Us. Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1986.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English; Watson, Patrick