Watson has played a key role in the development of Canadian television,
starting as producer, then host, for many of the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation's (CBC) early, groundbreaking public affairs series.
In 1989 he was named the chair of the CBC Board of Directors. He
resigned in June of 1994. His career in Canadian broadcasting, with
several short detours into U.S. television has been recognized by
many for its innovative and substantive contribution to television
journalism. He currently holds two honorary degrees and is an Officer
of the Order of Canada for his journalistic efforts. At the same
time his career has been distinguished by well-publicized struggles
with CBC management and a number of Canadian politicians, both as
producer and board chair. Lending substance to his television journalism
has been his wide ranging interest in the arts and social affairs.
first broadcast experience was as a radio actor in 1943, in a continuing
CBC children's dramatic series called The Kootenay Kid. He
has maintained his interest in dramatic television production by
performing in several CBC dramas and by producing and performing
in his two dramatized series of fictional encounters with great
historical figures: Titans and Witness To Yesterday. In 1983
he wrote and acted a one-man stage version of the Old Testament's
The Book Of Job.
television received its bilingual launch on Saturday, 6 September
1952 in Montreal on CBFT, a CBC station in Montreal. Watson's involvement
with television started in those early years, first as a free lancer
in 1955, then as producer for Close-up, 1957-60, and then,
the national affairs series, Inquiry, 1960-64. Both shows
were noted for their hard-hitting, sometimes confrontational interviews
with the Canadian elite. The goal of Inquiry seemed to be to establish
exciting and stimulating public affairs television that would attract
a larger audience than a narrow, well-educated one. Watson's next
project, which attracted the largest Canadian audience for a public
affairs series in Canadian history, also proved to be the most controversial
series of its kind. This Hour Has Seven Days was the creation of
Watson and his co-producer from Close-up and Inquiry, Douglas Leiterman.
Broadcast before a live audience on Sunday nights from the fall
of 1964 to the spring of 1966, this public-affairs show became the
darling of over three million Canadians until its demise at the
hands of CBC management who could no longer withstand the criticism
from Parliament or the insubordination of the Seven Days'
team. Shows featured satire of politicians in song and skit mixed
with "bear pit" interviews, probing film documentaries, on-location
stake outs and street interviews--all dealing with current important,
but often ignored, social and political issues. Critics hailed it
for its freshness and probing investigations and condemned it for
its sometimes sensational and "yellow" journalism. Watson was the
co-producer for the first season of Seven Days, and became
the on-air co-host and interviewer in the second year in a move
that the CBC management thought would curb some of the more controversial
ideas and methods of the series. Watson and the extraordinary team
of producers and writers assembled for the series (many became influential
documentarists and producers through the 1960s and 1970s) became
even more innovative and "in-your-face" with their journalism, daring
the CBC management to take action. In a later interview Watson admitted
to the arrogance of those days, inciting his crew to "make people
a little bit angry, frustrate them . . . come socking out of the
screen." The management took the dare and cancelled the show to
the public outrage of many, some of it orchestrated by the Seven
Days' team to try and save the show. There was an avalanche
of calls and letters, public demonstrations, a parliamentary committee
hearing, and a special investigation by an appointee of the prime
minister--quite a response to the cancellation of a TV show. The
show has taken on mythic proportions in the history of television
journalism. It certainly pushed the boundaries of what was considered
appropriate journalism, predated the current concern over the fine
line between news and entertainment, and created a very chilly environment
for CBC producers of public affairs for many years.
of his highly visible contribution to Seven Days and the aftermath
to its cancellation, Watson was popularly touted for president of
the CBC. He let it be known that he was interested. He was not to
reach high administrative office in the CBC until 25 years later.
In the intervening years he turned his attention to a number of
creative projects in and out of television. In addition to those
already mentioned, he wrote, produced, hosted, and directed for
The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, The Watson Report, The Canadian
Establishment, Lawyers, and The Fifty First State (for
PBS Channel 13, New York), among others. In 1989, before being named
chair of the CBC, he created, produced and hosted the international
co-production television series of ten parts, The Struggle for
Democracy. It was the first documentary series ever to appear
simultaneously in French and English on the CBC's two main networks
with the same host. Researched in depth and reflecting the dominant
values of western democracy, this substantive and ambitious series
took the viewer across the world and into history, to the sites
of many experiments, successes and failures of the democratic effort.
In the years after Seven Days, Watson was frequently and
deservedly praised for his skills as a host and interviewer.
years as chair of the CBC board of directors were difficult ones
for him and the corporation. The CBC had to face many severe budget
cuts, subsequent layoffs and the closing of regional outlets. He
had to face a board becoming stacked with Tory appointees, several
of whom advocated the privatization of the CBC. Watson was expected
to both manage the board and lobby parliament. Though he toured
the country speaking up for public television he was seen by many
CBC staffers and some of the public as less than effective in his
efforts. In his last year the CBC was hit with a new controversy
over a public affairs series on the Canadian effort in World War
II, called The Valour and the Horror. This series challenged
many standard versions of World War II history by critically examining
the actions and the fallibility of military and political leaders.
While the series won awards and was praised by many, it was vilified
by veterans' groups and conservative politicians. After intense
pressure, including a Senate hearing controlled by the critics of
the program, the CBC issued an ombud's report, supported by statements
from the president of the CBC and the board, that essentially chastised
the show's producers for their research, methods of presentation,
and conclusions. As vhair of the board, Watson was criticized for
not speaking out publicly in support of the journalists and/or for
not resigning. Insiders, including the producers of the show, credit
Watson for moderating the board's and the president's response and
mediating the dispute with CBC management.
it seemed that Patrick Watson's career had circled back in on him.
He began by pushing the boundaries of TV public affairs, stretching
the limits of management tolerance, and establishing a precedent
for interpretative journalism that would eventually challenge his
own authority, role and accountability. Throughout he has remained
dedicated to the important role television can play in creating
an informed public. His influential career has both reflected and
addressed a number of the issues and tensions facing Canadian broadcasting
Photo courtesy of CBC/ Fred Phipps
WATSON. Born Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1929. Educated at University
of Toronto, B.A, M.A.; studied Linguistics at University of Michigan.
Married: 1) Beverly, (divorced, 1983); three children; 2) Caroline
Bamford. Joined CBC-TV, early 1950s; founder, Patrick Watson Enterprises,
1966; co-founder, Immedia Inc., 1967; helped pioneer CBS Cable Network
during 1970s; chair, CBC, 1989-94; first North American filmmaker
to film in the People's Republic of China. Officer of the Order
of Canada. Award at Bruxelles Festival, 1984; 12 Junos; two ACTRA
1957-63 Close-Up (co-producer)
1960-64 Inquiry (producer/director)
1964-66 This Hour Has Seven Days (executive producer/co-host)
1967 Search in the Deep (producer)
1967 The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau (producer)
1968 Science and Conscience (host)
1973-75 Witness to Yesterday (interviewer/writer)
1975-81 The Watson Report (interviewer)
1977 The Fifty-first State (editor/anchor)
1978 Flight: The Passionate Affair (host/writer)
The Canadian Establishment (host and contributing writer)
1981 The Chinese (host, narrator, and contributing writer)
1981-82 CBS Cable Service (host)
1981 Titans (interviewer/writer)
1985 Lawyers (host)
1988 The Struggle for Democracy (10 parts; writer/host/executive
Live, From Lincoln Center (host)
Bethune (actor), 1963; The 700 million (producer/director),
1964; The Terry Fox Story (actor), 1982; Countdown to
Looking Glass (actor), 1984; The Land That Devours Ships
The Kootenay Kid (actor)
Book of Job (writer/performer).
Andrew. "The Watson Report" (interview). Canadian Forum (Toronto,
Canada), June/July 1991.
Chairman Resigns Post." Montreal (Quebec, Canada) Gazette,
15 June 1994.
'Consultant' Watson Criticized Over Sale of Democracy Episode."
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 25 May 1990.
"The Future of the CBC" (interview). Policy Options (Montreal,
Quebec, Canada), January/February 1994.
Brian D. "Making 'Democracy'." Maclean's (Toronto, Canada),
16 Jan. 1989.
_______________. "A Televisionary." Maclean's (Toronto, Canada),
16 January 1989.
Eric. Inside Seven Days. Scarborough, Canada: Prentice-Hall,
"The New Men in Charge of the CBC." Globe and Mail (Toronto,
Canada), 27 September 1989.
Paul. When Television Was Young: Primetime Canada 1952-1967.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990. S
Sandy. Here's Looking at Us: A Personal History of Television
in Canada. Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1986.
"Watson's Sights Set on Democracy and the CBC." Globe and Mail
(Toronto, Canada), 24 December 1988.
Programming in English; This
Hour Has Seven Days