This past week, while promoting the TV on Film screenings I am hosting in Hamilton (next one is Wednesday), I made my first visit to the impressive new CHCH TV studios.
‘CH has been a true community hub for nearly 70 years. It first began broadcasting in 1954 and grew to become one of Canada’s most popular independent stations. I had the good fortune to guest many times over the years on CHCH’s Morning Live show (as well as on the old CH Live @ 5:30 show with Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly). Those visits all took place for me at the station’s downtown Hamilton studios on Jackson Street.
When I reached out to Morning Live about the 16mm film event, I was welcomed back by hosts Annette Hamm, Tim Bolen and producer Tansy Ko. I arrived early last Wednesday at the new studio at the new address, 4 Innovation Drive on the outskirts of Dundas, Ont.
The television business, like all media companies, has been in a state of revolution for several years, some of them challenging for the city of Hamilton. Kudos, therefore, to Channel Zero, the parent company of CHCH, for making this investment. They’ve built a well thought out, very cool millennial playpen of a modern, TV studio facility.
One thing I appreciated right away was the embrace of their near 70-year heritage throughout the building. Once welcomed through the front entrance, I was escorted past a table full of artifacts from the station’s past. Old news blazers, various awards, microphone toggles, even 2-inch videotape and 16mm film reels. The display had been set up the week the building opened in April of 2022. The reaction from visitors has been so positive, I was told, the items have been on display ever since.
Inside the office area, just outside an impressive new kitchen, is a feature that is impossible to miss: a floor-to-ceiling mural filled with photos from CHCH’s past glories. The station flourished as a production centre in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s thanks in large part to producer Riff Markowitz, who shot boomer classics such as Party Game and Hilarious House of Frightenstein at ‘CH. Later Steve Smith was a major tenant, especially during the many years the comedy series Red Green moved his Possum Lodge into the old Jackson Street studio.
The mural also salutes one of the channel’s pioneer talents, the late, great Bill Lawrence (below). His wonderful children’s series, Tiny Talent Time, ran for decades. There is even a place of honor on the wall for ‘CH’s original mascot, the wide-eyed Mr. 11.
The nods to the past are also evident in the green room, where front page stories from The Hamilton Spectator herald the arrival of ‘CH in ’54. There are also smaller, framed portraits of the cast of Party Game and larger posters of the Morning Live regulars, including weatherman Brian Wood and recently retired host Bob Cowan, who left ‘CH last September.
Enough about the past. The two new studios are 4K facilities offering 7000 square feet of fully digital broadcast space. Besides Morning Live, the studios are the new home of the CHCH Evening News at 6 and 11 p.m.
The wide, colourful and well-lit production areas are such a step up from the cramped carols reached via the world’s slowest elevator at the old place. Once inside the large new Morning Live Studio, the upgrade is even more impressive. Gone is the very ’80s green wall behind the anchors where a simulated set was electronically inserted. The new, large studio provides plenty of room for Wood to do the weather. The new giant, wrap-around couch for guests has not been ruined by years of marker scrawling from various autograph-happy visitors. Everything looks so much more orderly and grown up.
Bolen says working on Innovation Drive has been a dream. The in-between step from Jackson to temporary studio quarters, however, was more of a nightmare. CHCH was tossed out of the old facility in June of 2021 as work began, and continues, on a new condo high-rise promoted as “Television City.” Everyone at ‘CH spent nearly a year making due in a warehouse across the street from their new digs while construction sped along at No. 4 Innovation Drive.
The move had to have been worth the wait. Everything seems so well designed, right down to the large garage at the backend of the building where ‘CH’s fleet of news and service vehicles are located. Kudos again to Channel Zero for an impressive investment in a community that makes the most of its television touchstone.