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When Television was Young

When Television was Young: Primetime Canada, 1952-1967

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 637
  • Book Info
    When Television was Young
    Book Description:

    A decade after the first Canadian telecasts in September 1952, TV had conquered the country. Why was the little screen so enthusiastically welcomed by Canadians? Was television in its early years more innovative, less commerical, and more Canadian than current than current offerings? In this study of what is often called the 'golden age' of television, Paul Rutherford has set out to dispel some cherished myths and to resurrect the memory of a noble experiment in the making of Canadian culture.

    He focuses on three key aspects of the story. The first is the development of the national service, including the critical acclaim won by Radio-Canada, the struggles of the CBC's English service to provide mass entertainment that could compete with the Hollywood product, and the effective challenge of private television to the whole dream of public broadcasting.

    The second deals with the wealth of made-in-Canada programming available to please and inform vviewers - even commercials receive close attention. Altogether, Rutherford argues, Canadian programming reflected as well as enhanced the prevailing values and assumptions of the mainstream.

    The final focus is on McLuhan's Question: What happens to society when a new medium of communications enters the picture? Rutherford's findings cast doubt upon the common presumptions about the awesome power of television.

    Television in Canada, Rutherford concludes, amounts to a failed revolution. It never realized the ambbitions of its masters or the fears of its critics. Its course was shaped not only by the will of the government, the power of commerce, and the empire of Hollywood, but also by the desires and habits of the viewers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8333-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Graphics
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction: A Personal Journey
    (pp. 3-9)

    My family first got a television set in May 1958, in Calgary, when I was at the ripe old age of fourteen. That was a bit late, at least from my point of view. I’d been introduced to television back in England, by a kind neighbour who’d invited me over to watch children’s programs on her tiny set. Even then I felt miffed that we didn’t have our own TV, putting it down to the poverty of my parents. Much later, in Canada, I told them I was deprived, since more and more of the kids I knew had access...

  6. 1 Expectations
    (pp. 10-38)

    The coming of television wasn’t really a surprise. During the war journalists and admen throughout North America had predicted the happy event when celebrating what was often called the ‘world of tomorrow,’ an imminent millennium of abundance and comfort that science would create to enhance the lives of ordinary people. In September 1943, Creighton Peet entertained readers of Maclean’s with a wild story about a typical home of 1955-full of such wonders as ‘movable walls,’ an ‘electric-eye burglar alarm,’ a new ‘blanket-rolling device,’ a ‘facsimile newspaper printer,’ a dishwasher, a temperature-control unit, and, of course, a television set. A month...


    • 2 Enter CBC-TV
      (pp. 41-71)

      Such was the title of an ebullient speech by the CBC’S general manager, J. Alphonse Ouimet, delivered to the Montreal Rotary Club in October 1957. He was in an aggressive mood: he adopted an upbeat tone to answer queries about the supposedly high cost of CBC-TV, and he used the occasion to celebrate what had been achieved since television broadcasting began in Canada in September 1952. It amounted to a story of triumph, over doubt and over adversity. Much that he had to say was at least arguably correct - the launching of CBC-TV had been a remarkably successful endeavour....

    • 3 What’s on Tonight?
      (pp. 72-102)

      J.B. McGeachy had taken up the cudgel for the CBC at a time of crisis, the Montreal producers’ strike and the ‘Preview Commentary’ when an array of critics were condemning the Corporation for just about everything, including its philosophy of programming. McGeachy was responding to the people who thought that the Corporation ‘ought to provide only Bach, Ibsen, folk music and lectures on existentialism.’ His declaration merely summarized what the CBC had been preaching to Parliament, the press, and the public throughout the 1950s. Understandably the Coporation was dead-set against arguments that its service should be limited to minority programming...

    • 4 Enter CTV
      (pp. 103-146)

      These two aphorisms were forever on the lips of contemporaries inside and outside the television industry during the 1960s. Not that observers necessarily agreed with either. Rather these statements spoke to two of the chief concerns of television people of all kinds, namely profits and programming, as they struggled to come to grips with what was happening around them.³

      All of a sudden, the Canadian television system seemed in a state of upheaval because of the activities of a new regulatory authority, the Board of Broadcast Governors, (BBG), the boom of private TV sponsored by that agency, and above all...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • 5 Information for Everyone
      (pp. 149-187)

      Bernard Trotter was then the assistant supervisor of Talks and Public Affairs at CBC Toronto. His comments appeared in a most appropriate source,Food for Thought, the official journal of the Canadian Association for Adult Education. He was writing near the end of an experiment that had seen CBC-TV emerge as the chief distributor of learning in the country. The ideal of an educated citizenry had conditioned a whole form of prime time programming during the course of the 1950s. The prominence of this form on both the francophone and the anglophone networks had done much to set the CBC’S...

    • 6 Variety’s Heyday
      (pp. 188-226)

      Dr Leslie Bell, a well-known choir leader, was an early victim of the ratings:he’d left a CBC variety extravaganza called ‘Showtime,’ never to return to TV. Perhaps hisMaclean’sarticle ‘Why I’m out of TV’ did seem somewhat like sour grapes. Even so, it was a thoughtful explanation of what was wrong with television entertainment, and in particular with musical programming. TV was a rat-race, he noted, in which even such great stars as Arthur Godfrey and Milton Berle had to worry about their futures. Programmers were too caught up in the need to please sponsors and to pander to...

    • 7 In Gameland
      (pp. 227-264)

      One brand of made-in-Canada entertainment really worked. The public’s fascination with games, quizzes, and sports was probably greater in Canada than in the United States. Certainly the Canadian networks offered more of this fare in peak viewing times than did their American counterparts(see chart 7.1). One of the CBC’S first panel shows, ‘Fighting Words,’ a game of wit and words for highbrows, lasted throughout the 1950s. The less erudite ‘Front Page Challenge,’ born in the Summer ’57, would make new stars out of such regulars as Gordon Sinclair, Pierre Berton, and Fred Davis - and it would survive into the...

    • 8 Culture on the Small Screen
      (pp. 265-308)

      Recall that David Greene, a sometime actor on the English stage and on Broadway, was one of the first of Toronto’s drama producers. He believed that television could stimulate the imagination and the mind of the viewer, taking over the role of the live theatre. It was a charming, if naive dream. And it wasn’t unusual: there were moments when the CBC’S producers and programmers seemed to be seized by a quixotic urge to deny the logic of mass communications. Public television didn’t always try to serve the great audience. The two CBC networks persisted, at great cost and for...

    • 9 ‘And Now a Word from Our Sponsors’
      (pp. 309-347)

      If Culture had faltered on television by the early 1960s, Commerce had thrived. Even on the CBC, never mind the upstart CTV network and the new independent stations, there were commercials galore, especially in primetime, touting the virtues of a whole host of consumer goods. And these commercials seemed to have gained a stature equal to the rest of television’s offerings. Fowler I had officially accorded advertising a place on the schedule, along with information, interpretation, and entertainment. The law apparently agreed: that’s why, in March 1965, CKVR-TV Barrie won a case before magistrate’s court against the Board of Broadcast...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 10 Storytelling
      (pp. 348-397)

      Telling stories was what North American television did best of all. These stories came in the shape of sitcoms and westerns, crime and adventure shows, téléromans and soap operas, historical romances, mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, professional sagas, and the like. ‘The Plouffe Family’ was only unusual because it was made in Canada: this live drama was broadcast twice each week, first in French and then in English. So popular were its heroes, ‘Les Plouffes,’ that they became for a brief time the quint essential French-Canadian family in the eyes of a lot of viewers. The memory of this success lingered...

    • 11 Versions of Reality
      (pp. 398-443)

      Allan King wasn’t saying anything very new when he trumpeted the virtues of television journalism. Far from it. He was merely repeating a cliché that had become a bit tired by the end of the 1960s. All kinds of people, and not just McLuhanites, had ascribed to television magical powers to work a revolution in the public life of the country. They were wrong. There’s no doubt that television journalism fostered a lot of controversy, most especially in the halls of the CBC, largely because it did give voice to the so-called spirit of the 1960s. There’s no doubt that...

    • 12 On Viewing
      (pp. 444-482)

      On 12 January 1963The Financial Postprinted a line graph that recorded the ‘toilet flow’ registered by a Toronto pumping station during the course of a day. The water pressure dropped dramatically when a television program was interrupted or ended by commercials, and the peaks and valleys were particularly obvious during the prime time hours. The nation’s bathroom habits were being dictated by television’s offerings. The graph was merely further incidental proof of just how extensively the habit of viewing had penetrated into the routines of Canadian life.

      Boredom was one of those hidden but none the less real...

  9. Afterword: Understanding Television
    (pp. 483-496)

    All that remains is to place this study of Primetime Canada in a broader context: what happened elsewhere and what happened later.

    Allow me another brief foray into mythology, classical mythology this time. Cast your mind back to the pantheon of Roman gods. You’ll find there a lesser-known deity called Janus who was unique to the Italian peninsula, unlike so many of his compatriots. Even more unusual was his appearance: Janus was typically represented as a two-faced god (occasionally four-faced), one face on the front and another on the back of his head. This unique being, according to one story,...

  10. APPENDIX I: Forms and Genres
    (pp. 497-502)
  11. APPENDIX II: Viewing Analysis
    (pp. 503-514)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 515-598)
  13. Primary Sources
    (pp. 599-606)
  14. Index
    (pp. 607-637)