ZNAIMER, MOSES

Canadian Media Producer/Executive

Moses Znaimer, an internationally known Canadian broadcaster and producer is the executive producer and president of Citytv, one of Canada's leading commercial media production organizations. There he guides program services such as Muchmusic, Bravo!, and MusiquePlus. Znaimer's work in forging a distinctive style of television within Canada and, more recently, internationally, identifies him as a clear auteur within television production and he can rightfully claim that he is the visionary of Canadian television. His early work in broadcasting was as a co-creator producer of the CBC national radio program, Cross-Country Check-up in the 1960s (a first in the world), and in television as a co-host and producer of the CBC afternoon talk show Take-Thirty with Adrienne Clarkson. After being denied the opportunity to remake the radio phone-in program into a national television program, Znaimer quit the CBC and launched into private broadcasting. With no VHF licenses available, Znaimer began Toronto's first UHF station, Channel 57, known as Citytv on a limited budget in offices on Queen Street in Toronto in 1972. The unique programming of Citytv has been Znaimer's central contribution to the world of broadcasting. The station originally created a sensation in the 1970s for its late-night soft-core porn movie stripping, Baby Blue Movies which served to shock Toronto. But, its inner-city focus, its celebration of a cosmopolitan ethnic diversity in its choice of personalities and reporters, its transformation of news into something that was decidedly less formal, more identifiably urban and generally more positive, and its programming mix of just news, movies and music all clearly made the station distinctive. Indeed, Znaimer and his small UHF station served as the real-life starting point for David Cronenberg's dystopic film Videodrome (1983).

Through the platform of Citytv, Znaimer has successfully produced a number of programs, many of which have gained national and international distribution. The New Music, (1978- ), designed as a Rolling Stone-style magazine of the air was widely sold within Canada and internationally. More recently, Znaimer has broadcast and distributed two fashion related programs, Fashion Television and Ooh-La-La again both nationally and internationally. Movie Television, an interview and news program about Hollywood in particular has also been well syndicated throughout Canada's independent stations. The success of Citytv under Znaimer's direction allowed the company that bought the station in 1981, CHUM limited, to launch Canada's first satellite to cable music specialty channel Muchmusic. What was clear about the look of Muchmusic was that it emulated Citytv. Its style was irreverent, its use of hand-held cameras at often canted angles was unending, its dependence on the liveness of television and its possibility for spontaneity and its transformation of the studio "backstage" into the foreground were signatures of Znaimer's work as executive producer.

Znaimer has contributed specific forms of television which celebrate the potential spontaneity of the medium. His Toronto ChumCity building (1987), the home of City, Muchmusic and Bravo! is described as the first studio-less television station. With complete cabling and wiring through 35 exposed "hydrants", any part of the building can be converted into an exhibition site for broadcast. Several conceptual approaches to television have been registered trademarks developed by Znaimer. The building itself is trademarked as the "Streetfront Studio-less Television Operating System" and is marketed internationally. The Vox populi box at the front of the building is trademarked "The Speaker's Corner" where anyone by dropping a dollar into the slot can speak on any issue and the message will be broadcast.

Recent ventures of Znaimer, both nationally and internationally, have met with more circumscribed success. His involvement with a 1992 bid to set up a similar inner-city style of television for Britain (along with Thames Television and Time-Warner) for the proposed Channel Five was in the end not accepted. His recent launch of another Specialty channel, Bravo!, which rebroadcasts past Canadian television programs and films has had limited appeal and financial viability. Znaimer was involved in setting up a third television network in New Zealand which once again built on his tried programming flow strategies developed at Citytv. His launch of a Spanish version of Muchmusic, Muchmusica in Buenos Aires Argentina in 1994 has gained access to over 1.5 million via cable and thousands of others via satellite in South America. The launch of Muchmusic into the United States cable market in 1994 has also produced access to a further 4 million viewers.

Znaimer's versatility within the arts has occasionally led to on-camera performances. He has been an on-and-off actor over the last two decades with film credits including Atlantic City (1980) and, more regularly, an on-air narrator/interviewer in a number of programs, most notably The Originals. His most recent large scale production for the CBC is a clear acknowledgment of his role in pioneering a unique style of television. A four-part series entitled TVTV: The Television Revolution(1995) was hosted and produced by Znaimer.

Znaimer's style of television represents a unique contribution to broadcasting. He has developed a localized style with up to 40 hours a week of local content that because of its connection to the particular urban landscape has gained a certain resonance and exportability to other urbanized cultures. In addition, Znaimer has emphasised the concept of the flow of television in various formats. Rather than a focus on narrative conclusion, Znaimer's programming style identifies how television can attempt to capture--however partially--the becoming aspect of contemporary life. He has been able to achieve this vision of interactive, urban, hip television through repeated financial success in Toronto, generally recognized as one of the most competitive television markets in North America. The apparent cost of his studio-less studio is roughly one quarter that of regular television stations. Portions of this style have been copied throughout North American television and to a lesser degree internationally.

-P. David Marshall

 


Moses Znaimer
Photo courtesy of Moses Znaimer/ Citytv

MOSES ZNAIMER. Born 1942 in Kulab, Tajikistan; family fled to Shanghai, arrived in Canada in 1948 and settled in Montréal. Educated at McGill University, Montreal, B.A. in philosophy and politics; Harvard University, M.A. in government. Joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as radio and TV producer/director/host of several shows from 1965 to 1969; vice president, T'ang Management Ltd. and Helix Investments; co-founder, president, chief executive office and executive officer, Citytv, 1972, Much Music, 1984, Musique Plus, 1986, and Bravo!, 1995.

TELEVISION SPECIAL

1995 TVTV: The Television Revolution

RADIO

Cross-Country Checkup (co-producer)

FURTHER READING

"Access Boys Ready for Opposition to Moses Znaimer's Access Network Deal with Alberta Government." Calgary (Canada) Herald, 12 March 1995.

"The Gospel According to Moses: the Bad Boy of Canadian Broadcasting." Maclean's (Toronto, Canada), 8 May 1995.

"Looking for Meaning in TV's 'Flow'." Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 3 May 1995.

"The Masque of Moses Znaimer's Medium--Drainie." Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 13 April 1995.

"Moses Disposes Formal Launch of Bravo!" Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 28 March 1995.

Robins, Max "Toronto's City-Tv to Export its Savvy." Variety (Los Angeles), 26 July 1993.

"Wholly Moses: Znaimer Takes on TV." Montreal (Quebec, Canada) Gazette, 7 April 1995.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English; Citytv; MuchMusic