aired on the anglophone network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
for two seasons (1966 and 1968), Wojeck was a magnificent
aberration: a popular, homegrown dramatic series made for the pleasure
of English-Canadian viewers. Early on, francophone producers in
Montreal had developed a particular genre of social melodrama, known
as tÚlÚromans, that did captivate the imagination of French-Canadian
viewers. Not so their anglophone counterparts. The record of domestic
dramatic series in English Canada had been short and dismal, a collection
of failures or at best partial successes, usually modeled on American
hits but lacking either the inspiration or the funding necessary
to succeed. Audiences much preferred watching the originals, the
stories Hollywood had made--until Wojeck arrived. Early in
its first season, Wojeck was purportedly attracting more
viewers than many American imports, and it received even higher
ratings when rebroadcast in the summer of 1967.
of the success of Wojeck rested upon its visual style. It
was the first time the CBC had produced a filmed dramatic series
for its national audience. Executive producer Ronald Weyman drew
upon his experience at the National Film Board to deliver stories
which had the look of authenticity. This was especially true in
the first season when each episode was in black and white, and scenes
were sometimes shot with a hand-held camera, giving the productions
a gritty, realistic quality that at times suggested the news documentary.
The look of authenticity was less apparent in the second season,
when the series was in color.
however, had as much to do with the subject, the script, and above
all the acting. Wojeck created stories around a big city coroner
and his quest for justice. The character and setting were novel
twists on the very popular 1960s American genre of work-place dramas
that focused on the exploits of such professionals as lawyers, doctors,
and even teachers or social workers. The notion of a crusading coroner
would become much more familiar to North American audiences because
of the hit U.S. Quincy, of course, which began its long run
on NBC in 1976. But at the time, Wojeck was an original,
possibly inspired by the much-publicized exploits of an actual coroner
of the city of Toronto.
The show did nonetheless conform to the formula of such American
hits as Ben Casey (1961-66) or Mr. Novak (1963-65).
All of the episodes (written in the first season by Philip Hersch)
centered on the seamy side of life: racism, ageism, discrimination
(one program dealt with male prostitution and homosexuality), and
other species of injustice. Often the "heavy" was society itself
whose indifference or intolerance had bred evil. Wojeck was
a kind of "edutainment," since viewers were supposed to absorb some
sort of moral lesson about the country's social ills while enjoying
their hour of diversion. The first show, an outstanding episode
entitled "The Last Man in the World," looked at why an Indian committed
suicide in the big city, exposing "Canada's shame,"--its mistreatment
of its native peoples.
featured a strong male lead, Dr. Steve Wojeck, superbly played by
John Vernon, who was backed up by a "team" that included his wife
(the understanding helpmate), an assistant (efficient but unobtrusive),
and a sometimes reluctant crown attorney (the well-meaning bureaucrat).
Wojeck was emphatically masculine: big and rough, aggressive, short-tempered,
and domineering. These qualities were most apparent when he dealt
with the police and other authorities. He was easily moved to anger
and to moral outbursts, but was much more understanding when he
dealt with society's outcasts. Wojeck
was the engaged liberal: an advocate for the powerless committed
to reforming the practices of the system so that it ensured justice
for all. Like his Hollywood counterparts, Wojeck embodied the 1960s
myth of the professional as hero who would turn his talents and
skills to making our sadly flawed world a better place.
had no real successors. Weyman and others did produce a number
of forgettable dramas in the next few years, but none could match
the appeal of the imports. Ironically the very success of Wojeck
had spelled trouble for CBC's drama department. John Vernon
was lured away to Hollywood, where he came to specialize in playing
villains. Indeed, Weyman later claimed that much of the talent which
had contributed to the appeal of Wojeck was drawn away to
the greener pastures down south. The memory of that brief, glorious
moment was sufficient to justify replaying some of the episodes
of Wojeck on the CBC network over twenty years later.
Steve Wojek ........................................John Vernon
Marty Wojeck......................................... Patricia
Crown Attorney Bateman .............................Ted Follows
HISTORY 20 Episodes
September 1966-November 1966
January 1968-March 1968................. Tuesday 9:00-10:00
Miller, Mary Jane. Turn Up The Contrast: CBC Television Drama
Since 1952. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press/CBC
Rutherford, Paul. When Television Was Young: Primetime Canada
1952-1967. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.
Morris. Jolts: The TV Wasteland and the Canadian Oasis. Toronto:
James Lorimer, 1985.
Programming in English; Weyman,