Every Saturday morning Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.
The night’s journey could begin one of three ways. On this evening, it starts at Yorkdale subway station, where you take in the illuminated beauty of Michael Hayden’s Arc en Ciel before boarding a train to head downtown. You stroll along the streets, eventually winding up on Yonge Street. Passing on buying a slice from any of the pizza joints south of Gerrard, you soak up the neon lights of record store giants A&A and Sam the Record Man. Another night, you take a similar journey from the comfort of a car, passing several of the same sights and ponder as you listen to the jazzy background music if you should check out that early Coen Brothers movie playing at the Rio.
All of this without ever leaving the comfort of your living room couch.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, an audience of shift workers, insomniacs, and those still running on the fumes of a night of heavy partying were mesmerized by a trio of programs repeatedly aired by Global to provide something more interesting than static. Viewed now, these shows—Night Ride, Night Moves, and Night Walk—provide an approximation of what it was like to wander around the city two decades ago.
The idea originated with Global Production Vice-President Michael Spivak, who wanted an alternative to running a coloured bar test pattern (fascinating as they may be to certain parts of the populace) after regular programming wound down around 3:30 a.m. His idea: using a steadicam, a film crew would document a nighttime drive through Toronto. Once the footage was edited, a jazzy score would be added to create a relaxing mood. The first program, Night Ride, reached the air in 1986 and did not take long to elicit audience feedback. In an interview with the Star, Spivak noted that many calls he received were along the lines of “Thank you for that beautiful ride. Where can I buy the music?”
An album would have benefited Spivak financially, as he composed the program’s music. Among the musicians utilized for the series were Joe Sealy, Rick Wilkins, and Sharon Lee Williams. Diehard addicts of the show could be marked by how well they knew the lyrics to “Oh Yes There Will Be Love.”
In a comment left on a Spacing Toronto post about these programs, director Bill Elliott recalled the production process:
Every scene we shot just developed as we approached it. The locations were pre-scouted, as we needed as much available light as we could find. The camera was an older Sony with a Saticon tube rather than the chip cameras of today. The saticon tube always left a kind of comet trail behind the light source as the camera moved past it.
While watching these clips, take note of what has and hasn’t changed in the neighbourhoods Elliott and steadicam operator David Crone documented, from deep downtown to Yonge and Eglinton.
Creating a modern version to document the Toronto of today wouldn’t be difficult or expensive. With Global’s current financial difficulties, could this be an ideal time for the premise to make a comeback for a new generation of viewers in the wee small hours?
Additional material from the November 28, 1987 edition of the Toronto Star.