“Television explains one thing at a time very well, and complex thoughts not at all.”
Nigel Napier-Andrews, Sheridan College seminar
When I start looking back at my television career, I almost feel it was all so long ago that time must have passed me by. After starting in journalism, with side trips into advertising and public relations, I went to work at BBC TV in London in a very junior role. The joy of the place was that we were allowed to volunteer to work on major live studio dramas. Thus began my side career as a set decorator, working with Head of Design Bill McCrow, who’d had the same role at CBC in Toronto. Hanging around the best directors in the business taught me a huge amount. A short course for television directors taught me more, but I was not selected to go forward for lack of a university degree.
When the chance came up to take an assignment in Canada, still only in my early 20s, Bill was one of the ones who encouraged me to take it. I spent the next summer as a production manager for BBC at Expo in Montreal, liaising with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and organizing film crews for producers from UK. Someone at CBC must have been impressed, because when my assignment came to an end they offered me a staff job, and less than a year later, a television show to produce – Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date, a chat show broadcast live five days a week from the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel, then on Jarvis Street, across the road from the old CBC studios. I was offered lots of other short term directing assignments and learned on the job.
The career changing moment came when I was asked to re-do a pilot for a panel show, featuring the multi-talented Paul Soles. The fix-up was a success and This is the Law replaced the long running Front Page Challenge that summer. Our tongue-in-cheek show, now hosted by debonair Austin Willis, starring Paul as The Lawbreaker and character actor Bob Warner as The Cop, with Larry Solway, Hart Pomerantz, Bill Charlton and Susan Keller on the panel, picked up such good ratings in its 13-week summer run that we were immediately found a prime time spot and renewed to run for another 39 weeks, an unprecedented 52 weeks of continuous new shows, no repeats. The show ran for several years in prime time, with the best repeated each summer.
Not every production was a hit, and on many specials I was simply the director. On others I was the producer, director and writer. Occasionally, I even got in front of the camera, as you can see in The Peasant Shoot sketch written by Bill Casselman, who plays the dead peasant on the car hood.
Big successes were another panel show, Beyond Reason, a sort of What’s My Line with psychics, and The Bob McLean Show, another live daily chat show. One of the features of all these shows, was that they contained comedy sketches, mini-documentaries, reports and stories shot on film. From some of the best cinematographers in Canada, I learned even more about production. From the extraordinarily talented actors, I learned about their trade, and what they needed from a director.
When the producers of a proposed daily daytime drama came calling, I was ready for a meaty assignment. High Hopes, starring Bruce Gray, Jayne Eastwood and Gordon Thomson (who later went on to Dynasty fame) was shot at the CFTO studios and aired on CBC, and I was one of a rotation of directors. The episodes were rehearsed in the late afternoon, blocked early the next morning, dress rehearsed before lunch and shot in one continuous take (live-to-tape) after lunch. Then the director went home and the actors went on to rehearse with a different director.
Next came another interesting assignment: to help launch Canada’s first multilingual television station (call sign CFMT, now Omni), as Vice-President, Programming. This was year from hell getting a new station ready for air and fighting for programming that reflected the mandate against the advertising department who wanted us to run US repeats and right wing religious programs. Eventually we went to air in 22 languages, most of which I didn’t speak, and on miniscule budgets caused by another recession. I lasted nine months in the job and left with a sigh of relief, but having made hundreds of hours of shows in many languages, and taught the entire production staff how to produce and direct.
CBC was ready with a freelance assignment and I took it happily, as Executive Producer for a summer replacement show for Bob McLean. It was called Summer Festival and was broadcast live from all across Canada, from the Lobster Festival in PEI, to the Calgary Stampede and Klondike Days in Edmonton.
I seem to have forgotten entire series of music shows, although specials with Sylvia Tyson, Don McLean, Oscar Peterson and Platinum Blonde were memorable. On the side I taught production and video editing at Sheridan College. As an Executive Producer, I was now hiring producers and directors, but I still got to sit in the chair from time to time and call the shots. The big assignments coming in were award shows, such as the ACTRA Awards, which I helmed half a dozen times, and the first Gemini Awards, which were so big I had a co-EP, John Brunton of Insight Productions.
Burned out by broadcasting, I turned my attention to building a corporate video business. This was a very successful venture, which also allowed me to indulge in creating some fine sponsored documentaries. One of my biggest clients was Royal Bank of Canada, for whom I started a quarterly staff video magazine. Bi-lingual host Fran Vallée and I travelled across the land telling stories for and about the bank to employees. The show won awards, and I won a staff job in the Corporate Communications department. After a rocky start as a communications advisor, I found my way back into production and ended a nearly 15-year career as Director of Video and Event Production. Back on the freelance market, I enjoyed making behind the scenes videos on movie sets.
Ready for something new, I started having fun as the writer and host of my own television show. It was a local production, about getting out of the city, but was a whole new start for me. We made 14 episodes of Escapes with Nigel, spread over two seasons, now on YouTube. My next venture was writing and hosting a cooking series, called Market to Table. We visited some of Toronto’s top markets and found unusual and interesting foods, and guest chefs and I cooked them up in the kitchen and served them at the table. Fun guaranteed! In season 2, Chef Dan Frenette took on the hosting role and I returned behind the camera where I properly belong. Market to Table: The Cookbook accompanied the series.
Next, I began a long cherished desire to write screenplays for film. One script has been optioned, a second script has been filmed. Key to Love is set to start streaming on Canada’s Superchannel in 2023. A third script is now finished and looking for a home. New ideas are percolating.
More than five decades in communications and a raft of wonderful experiences, with many more to come.
Fascinating. what I have missed over 60 years !
Wow…I had no idea you were at CFMT! You must have known Dan Ianuzzi. And on an unrelated note…I love fishcakes!
It was interesting but not fun! The late Dan Ianuzzi was brutal to work for as anything that wasn’t Italian programming took second place.
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