I REMEMBER
EDMONTON, 1975

hourglass set
              edmonton\
Peter Reynolds,  Eddie Keen, Larry Branter, CBC TV Edmonton studio


I was the Executive Producer of the CBC supper-time public affairs program in Edmonton.  It was a 30 minute program that followed the 6 p.m. local newscast.  At that time every major CBC centre had an Hourglass- type program and two of them, in Montreal and Winnipeg, had the same name. 

In those days there was a clear distinction between News and Public or Current Affairs -  a kind of rivalry between them, really.

hourglass
                        billboard
Billboard

I was sent to Edmonton from the London office of the CBC in England to try to boost the viewership of the supper-hour Public Affairs which I did with a heavy dose of controversial, cheeky programming inspired by in part by what I had experienced in "swinging" Britain of the 60s -- pioneering programs such as "That Was The Week That Was", with David Frost, Frost's groundbreaking interview shows, "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and the aggressive, colorful style of many British newspapers (presumably some of them illegally phone tapping celebrities)

edmonton
                        staff\
Hourglass staff. That's me with turtle neck shirt, grey hair and glasses next to Lorna Jackson,
 a researcher who went on to be a CBCvnational radio announcer.


Admiration for the "in your face" reporting style of  the CBC's cancelled series  "That Was The Week That Was" was also a big influence.  Another was the Merv Griffin Show in the USA where Griffin discuss serious topics, such as breast cancer and alcoholism, with celebrity guests. This mixture of serious with celebrity I particularly admired and and saw as a formula for success.
 
I believe the road to the higher ratings hungered for  by management lay in programing choices that shook up staid old Edmonton. A liberal, supportive management agreed. We were also helped by our distance  from the censoring titans in Toronto, who had no idea what was going on in far off Edmonton. 

Management had give me the unprecedented freedom to pretty well do what I wanted. Probably no CBC producer  ever enjoyed such freedom

When possible our stories were meant to provoke strong audience reaction.  Some it was admittedly frivolous and stepped over the "good taste" line but most were of a serious nature.

My proudest moment of serious journalism was when a mother came on the show to talk about the suicide of her teenage son, something that took her complete surprise.  She wanted parents to look out for signs she had missed. In those days, suicide was not much talked about on television, and generally speaking was "hushed up" by the family.  But this woman felt Hourglass was the kind of program to take on the subject.  And that is why I was proud of creating that sort of atmosphere.

Breast cancer was another semi-taboo topic.  Merv Griffith had celebrity guests talking about it, which inspired me to do the same in Edmonton.  Our interviews brought criticism and praise - and increased ratings!

We did a story critical of the doctors ( I can't remember the topic ) which resulted in a formal protest to the CBC's regional head, my boss-of-bosses in Edmonton.  "How dare Hourglass criticize the medical profession", was their message. What they didn't know is that the manager's daughter or wife (I can't remember the details) either died or was the victim of medical malpractice.  He was not one to be intimidated by doctors.

We also attracted the wrath of the Edmonton sports establishment, a powerful entity in a sports-mad city like Edmonton ( the Edmonton Oilers were still to come).  We had purchased an independently-produced film about the Brandon Wheat Kings hockey team coached or managd as I recall by the legendery Annis Stukas. The documentary was a close-up look at the team playing and practicing.  The practicing scenes in particular were violent and profanity-ridden.  The audio track was one "fuck" after another. I like to think of it as one of the country's first films to show honestly just  how violently the hockey experience really is for young men. The topic is commonplace now.

Prior to airing, we showed the film to
Ernie Afaganis, the supper hour's  sports host  a leading light in Edmonton's sports community and now a member of the CBC's Sports Hall of Fame. I remember Ernie liked the documentary but not the language and assumed we would "bleep" the foul words.   I said that would destroy the film's message because the words as much as the pictures told us what was going on.

We aired the documentary intact with the backing of my liberal bosses. Ernie told me his sports buddies were furious, as were many viewers, especially on hearing the word "fuck" said over and over.

We aired the audience reaction and followed it with an interview  about the origins of the word "fuck" with a University of Alberta linguistics professor.  At the end of the interview, Larry Branter, the host, said something like,"Isn't it interesting professor, that we have been able to talk about this word without actually using it?"  To which the professor replied, "You mean fuck".  This final exchange brought us more phone calls and letters of protest.

We also managed to twists the noses of the local or provincial RCMP which was accused of discriminating against Natives and other minorities. Our investigative report included people with complaints against the Mounties and other critics.We failed to get an interview with the Alberta Ombudsman who said he would never appear on a program that was critical of the RCMP.  Which was not entirely surprising since he was an ex Commissioner of the RCMP in Alberta.  Only Albertans of the time would see the irony in making a top police chief a human rights bose. I don't have a  video copy of this documentary but do have cartoons satirizing the RCMP by Edmonton Journal artist

The Alberta Report, a weekly magazine, reported regularly on the doings of Hourglass. It's founder and editor, Ted Byfield,  was a frequent contributor to the program as commentator and interviewer. His  ardent support of conservative causes showed we could be politically-balanced in our coverage of Edmonton and Alberta. Ted  came to the studio in  seedy-looking rumpled suits with white socks that stood out like beacons in the studio.

My stint in Edmonton ended with my insistence that if we  to interview contestants in the Miss Edmonton Nude competition they would have to appear nude on the show -- which they did, to the consternation of CBC managers and some members of the audience.

miss nude
                        edmonton
Miss Nude Edmonton contestants with host Larry Branter.  Women
wore clothes for this (Alberta Report) picture.

The story was widely reported in the Alberta press. Here's Edmonton Journal tv critic Jim Davis had to say about the Miss Nude Edmonton story.

Jim Davis

streaking
File photo of streaker (Wickipedia).

Looking back on those tumultuous times, we or I seemed to be preoccupied with nudity. Streaking in the nude was a world-wide phenomenon at the time.  People were taking off their clothes and running across locations such as a football field.  When it happened in Edmonton ( I think at a football game ) Hourglass aired the film, genitals and all.

But the main event was a mass striptease staged by male students at the University of Alberta.  I instructed the cameraman to film the students full-frontal and he did!
 
To introduce the streaking story and unbeknownst to me, the Hourglass staff talked a member of the studio crew to run across the studio in the nude, as a sort of live teaser to the streaker story.  That, I think, was the height of our insanity at Hourglass.

My stay in Edmonton ended abruptly over a control room argument with the switcher who was also the boyfriend of my production assistant.  In the midst of an argument between the assistant and myself as director he tried to intervene on her side.  I told him not to "interfere".  His response was "Here is how I interfere" and switched off the telecast.  The chief engineer quickly got us back on the air.   The cameras were frozen into their positions because they couldn't be switched and the program continued with a rather frozen look.

My response was to ask management to suspend the engineer.  They refused and a quite and returned to Toronto ( joining CTV's W5 shortly after).  You can read more about this tiff in the Alberta story below.


. eddie
                        keen


Eddie Keen
When I resigned from the Edmonton job this what Eddie Keen said of me. (enlarge to read)

eddie keen
                            lettersrc