CBC Program This Hour Has Seven Days Changed Face of Public Affairs TV
Inside Seven Days
Prentice-Hall, Newcastle, 1986, $19.95
Reviewed by Helen Carscallen
Any Canadian born before 1945 will likely remember This Hour
Has Seven Days, a CBC public affairs television program that
dominated the Canadian airwaves from October 1964 to May 1966. Eric
Koch, who was department administrator in the public affairs department
at the time, has written an entertaining and lucid account of the
rise and fall of a program that gave Hockey Night in Canada
a run for its money in audience appeal but which was pulled off
the air at the height of its success.
Sunday nights from 10 to 11 more than 3 million viewers were entertained,
shocked, titillated and amused by this program. It was devised and
produced by two successful young public affairs staffers. Douglas
Leiterman was an experienced newspaperman who had studied under
a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University during the early fifties
"when Senator Joe McCarthy was at the height of his terrifying
influence." He witnessed Edward R. Murrow put an end to McCarthy's
witch hunt on his television program See It Now through carefully
selected evidence. Investigative journalism was accepted practice.
Host and co-producer Patrick Watson was an English and linguistics
major who had become interested in the new language of television
through a free-lance assignment as host of a CBC-TV children's show.
I especially admire the clarity with which Koch outlines the political
and historical context. He avoids becoming mired in the legislative
and managerial details of the CBC's history, well documented in
Koch starts his drama in the heyday of Murrow, the popular use
of cinema verite, and candid camera techniques.
Leiterman and Watson in 1963 laid their plans for a new high velocity
television program. They drew up a manifesto to sell their program
to the managers. In it they described their determination to mount
a... show ranging over the complete spectrum of responsible journalism,
of such natural interest, such vitality and urgency, that it will
recapture public excitement in public affairs television and become
mandatory viewing for a large section of the population.
...tone will be energy, maturity, intelligence. The program will
be provocative, thoughtful... the all-seeing eye. It will view the
human spirit with dignity.
CBC president Alphonse Ouimet and his staff didn't foresee where
such objectives could lead. Apart from Ouimet they did not understand
the new language of television. Koch makes a very cogent statement
early in his analysis of the Seven days controversy:
They (management) thought it was the content of the program which
was upsetting to them. But it was the form.
As newspaper columnist Dennis Braithwait said in his Globe and
For how do you rationally control something which may make its
strongest point in the wink of an eye, with a jump-cut or with the
tone of voice, not the content of the words it is speaking.
I would have liked a more sophisticated discussion of the technological
revolution of the 50s and 60s. Leiterman's "ten-ton pencil"
(film equipment) which he used to report on events or interviews
was more like a large paint brush which highlighted and coloured
certain aspects of an interview, made others recede and involved
the viewer in feeling: Anger, sympathy, amusement, titillation.
This was often accomplished through adroitly juxtaposing contrasting
Out of many examples three stand out. Two Grand Dragons of the
Ku Klux Klan in an interview with Robert Hoyt claimed they were
very willing to enter discussions with Blacks about crime, discrimination
and poverty. But when a Southern Black clergyman was brought on
the Seven Days set without their prior knowledge, they refused to
shake hands with him. One Klansman was so upset at the prospect
that he walked off the set.
In another memorable program, then Justice Minister Guy Favreau
claimed in an interview that his (Liberal) government had done everything
possible to track Hal C. Banks, former head of the Seafarers' International
Union. Banks had jumped bail on a charge of assault. Confronted
with the revelation that a Toronto Star reporter had easily tracked
Banks down on his yacht in New York harbour, beads of sweat on Favreau's
brow were shown close-up.
Then there was the mother of Steven Truscott, a 14-year old accused
of the rape-murder of a classmate. She shed tears when pushed to
the brink by Roy Faibish's questions about her feelings for her
Music and lighting were used as counter-point, zooms and close-ups
highlighted fear, sadness and discomfort as the camera moved in
on the faces of the Grand Dragons, the beads of sweat, host Laurier
LaPierre's tears in watching Mrs. Truscott's tears. Management objected
to the emotion but was increasingly frustrated by its inability
to control the palpable feelings emerging form the screen. "Yellow
journalism," H.G.Walker, vice president and general manager
of English Network Broadcasting, called it.
Eric Koch writes of the build up of the Seven Days War. He provides
biographical sketches of the protagonists, the producers and their
superiors. In some instances these character sketches are superficial.
For instance Douglas Leiterman's religious affiliation (Christian
Scientist) is given too much weight as an influence on his journalistic
practises. Koch's description of President Alphonse Ouimet's background
as an engineer, his technical expertise and his diplomacy, however,
are given full and insightful treatment, serving to increase our
understanding of the imbroglio.
The programs which caused the most friction in the Seven Days War
are identified as benchmarks in a continuing drama which was as
interesting off screen as on.
From the vantage point of 1987 what Koch calls the "pristine
classicism of Ouimet's ethical code" seems naive. Ouimet had
said: "No program must consistently advocate social change.
The Corporation's job was to reflect public opinion, not to change
it." He failed to recognize the growing power of investigative
That the conflict did result in change is evident in the way in
which the current CBC program The Fifth Estate leads rather than
follows in digging up sensational news which frequently has important
implications for the viewing public. And Koch reminds us after he
left the CBC, Leiterman helped develop the CBS program 60 Minutes.
Just as Edward R. Murrow and Mike Wallace profoundly influenced
Seven Days, Eric Koch's book shows what a deep impact Seven Days
in turn had on the breadth and depth of public affairs programming
on this continent.
Helen Carscallen, social worker, broadcaster, teacher and actor,
made a study of This Hour Has Seven Days in the second year
of the program's life as part of her master's degree in Sociology.
This article originally appeared in Sources, the Tenth
anniversary issue, Summer 1987.
Goal for National Survival: 50% Canadian TV Content
Canadian Culture and the CBC
Broadcasting is Cultural National Defence
We Manipulated by TV?
Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting
Index of Book
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