I first met Rick Mercer 24 years ago. I had a very cool assignment from TV Guide; go to Halifax, spend a week with the cast and crew of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and find out how they go from newspaper headlines to a sketch comedy series in five days.
Mercer was a young lad at the time, maybe my son Dan’s age now, but already emerging as the straw that stirs the 22 Minute drink.
I’ve been following his career ever since and was kinda ready for the call when his long-time publicist, David McCaughna, offered an exclusive: Mercer’s announcement that he is ending The Rick Mercer Report.
You can read that story here at this feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.
The 15th and final season begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBC, 7:30 p.m., as Mercer proudly declares, in Newfoundland and Labrador.
We met down by CBC in Toronto for an hour-long chat late last week. Mercer told me that long ago TV Guide cover, blurbed, “Who are these funny guys?” is one of the few professional mementos he’s brought with him to a cabin he and executive producer Gerald Lunz are building in Newfoundland.
Landing that cover, says Mercer, “was one of the most mind-blowing moments of my life.”
Mercer swears he’s packing in the Report simply because he feels it is time. Fifteen years is like 50 on television.
He has no agenda, he swears, and for the first time in 25 years, no job waiting as he walks away from what he agrees is the greatest job in the country. He’s certainly not leaving to host The National, or Hockey Night in Canada. A firm believer in “dance with the one who brought ya,” he doesn’t rule out another gig at CBC. I suspect, however, that the chance to spend more time on The Rock is near and dear to Mercer’s heart as he edges closer to 50.
He has few regrets, but one thing Mercer wishes he had done more of on The Mercer Report was shoot in the Canadian Arctic.
“It’s challenging,” he says. Equipment (and crew members) can freeze up, and there’s always the risk of being grounded and not making it back in time to shoot the studio segments. Then there is arranging less scheduled connecting flights. “During a standard production week it’s a long way to go,” he points out.
It was also not a priority for executives at CBC at the time.
“You gotta do segments where the people are,” Mercer was told.
“I’m going to Nunavut,” Mercer replied. “One of our very, very, very first episodes was in Nunavut and ekalwit just when they were a relatively new territory at the time,” he recalls. “It meant a lot to me because when I was at This hour has 22 Minutes, while I loved that as I got more and more into traveling I wanted to get more into the north but the Arctic wasn’t on the table. When I got my own show and I was ultimately in control of our own destiny that’s one of the first places we went.
“I’ve been really lucky,” says Mercer. “I’ve been to Mumbai, I’ve been to Somolia, Hong Kong… but the greatest culture shock any Canadian will ever experience—almost on the earth – is the Arctic. It’s as big, certainly as going to Mumbai, and it’s in your own country, which is astonishing.”
So big, and so far north, Mercer adds, that, on the trip he made to Cambridge Bay by the Arctic Ocean this season, “the satellite dishes are all pointed down.”
They’ll point, for one last season, at The Rick Mercer Report.