TODAY: Canada AM celebrates 40 years

Looking good: Twelve former Canada AM co-hosts join today’s trio

Got up crazy early this morning to attend a salute to one of Canada’s longest-running TV traditions–Canada AM.
The series marks 40 years on the air this month. There must have been something in the water that fall of 1972: not only did Canada AM launch, with Percy Saltzman and Dennis McIntosh as hosts, but City-tv launched in Toronto, The Beachcombers began its long run on CBC and so did Marketplace–still on the air and thriving (Tonight at 8: an investigation into tainted meat. Yum.). Other shows that launched that year south of the border: M*A*S*H, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show and The Waltons.
CTV was a much different place in ’72. A collection of five regional stations, it was nowhere near the media giant it is today.
Yet being a fly on the wall at CTV’s bash this morning seemed a throw back to that other era. TV is such a blur, constantly evolving, so it is heartening to pause every now and then and and take stock. The business always comes down to people, and there was a room full of interesting and familiar folks today at the Temple.
I spoke with retired CTV News boss Robert Hurst at the after party and he told me his first gig was at Canada AM. He was a kid hired straight out of J-school at Western to write copy for the fledgling morning show. Craig Oliver was the first producer and gave Hurst the job, launching a 38-year career that took Hurst right to the top.

Burton Cummings rocked the Temple Friday

Friday’s celebratory broadcast took place at the Masonic Temple. Beverly Thomson, Jeff Hutcheson and Marci Ien hosted from the main stage in the Toronto landmark, with 12 former co-hosts and anchors called up to share memories.
I was starting my career as a typist at TV Guide when I first got the call to appear as a TV-know-it-all guest on Canada AM. It was back when Norm Perry was the man man at the desk, a post he held for 15 years. Perry really put the show on the map. He couldn’t be at today’s gathering (he’s in Florida), but sent a clip. The man still look like he can kick ass in the morning.
Those that did make today’s reunion were Thalia Assuras, Rod Black, Wei Chen, Rena Heer, Lisa LaFlamme, Wally Macht, Dan Matheson, Craig Oliver, Seamus O’Regan, Valerie Pringle, Sandie Rinaldo, Pamela Wallin and Nancy Wilson.
It was heartening to see so many of those familiar faces all together in one room. As Hutcheson said to me later, a few were meeting each other for the first time.
During one commercial break, Thomson joked, “Is it just me, or do all the former hosts look younger and healthier than we do?”
Pringle was in fine form, razzing her old pal Matheson and repeating co-host Carole Taylor’s famous line, “Who do I have to sleep with to get off this show?”

Host with the moist: Before…

Canada AM did not have a powerhouse beginning. It struggled those first couple of years, until Perry grounded it and help it find its feet.
Almost everybody on the panel had a doozy of a story. LaFlamme recalled how her second day on the job was that Tuesday of 9/11. Rinaldo went into labour one morning right on the show. (Her daughter Amanda, fittingly, is a CTV publicist.) Black, who gutted the morning routine out for two years, said it was nevertheless the best job in the world because you got to interview “Teri Clark, Wendel Clark and Joe Clark.”
The audience on the floor of the Temple was comprised of producers, editors and other friends of the show over its 40 year run. Afterwards there was a cake shaped like a TV set with the three current hosts all done up in icing. Hutcheson was a little shocked later to see his head was the first to go. “You want a piece of me?” he kept asking.

…and after.

The special guest Friday at the end of the show was Burton Cummings, interviewed dozens of times over the years by the CTV morning show. Cummings gamely put his throat through three tunes at the early hour, belting out his solo ballad I’m Scared as well as a personal favourite that brought me back to my days as a busboy working the Blockhouse at Ontario Place in 1974, Clap for the Wolfman. Cummings nimbly accompanied himself on the keyboard and even did an uncanny impersonation of Wolfman Jack, the iconic DJ showcased on the original track.
Cummings noted how he too was celebrating an anniversary–50 years in showbiz. Now when he sings No Sugar Tonight, he means it!
The many clips from the past on Friday’s show demonstrates the value of archiving and preserving Canada’s TV heritage–a goal near and dear to my own heart as will be noted here in a future post or two.

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