You know you’ve entered the realm of Moses Znaimer when you catch sight of the sign at his Liberty Village base of operations: “ZoomerPlex.” Only Znaimer would shamelessly slap such a label on the Jefferson Avenue production complex. Given his current incarnation as champion of Baby Boomers, it’s not surprising that his shrine to the technology that shaped his target audience has been moved onto the premises.
“Since childhood,” a press release informs us, “Moses has been intellectually dedicated to the medium of TV and captivated by the beauty of the receivers themselves.” This dedication has manifested itself in numerous ways: the empire of channels (most of which now admittedly lack the flair, innovation, and bouts of preciousness of the Znaimer days) he built over the course of 30 years from the core of CityTV; the “Ten Commandments of Television According to Moses Znaimer” (hanging prominently in the “Z Commons”); and his large collection of vintage sets and television memorabilia.
The MZTV Museum of Television & Archive publicly debuted as a Royal Ontario Museum exhibit in 1995. Over its 20-year existence, the MZTV Museum has changed locations almost as frequently as viewers flip channels, leading to jokes at yesterday’s launch about its “re-re-reopening.” The content of the main exhibit hall will be familiar to anyone who visited MZTV’s earlier incarnations: the central cases contain thematic displays about the development of television technology—displays which, based on information contained in a 20-year-old booklet slipped into our press kit, are similar to ones from the original ROM presentation. Items lining the outer walls include the Felix the Cat doll used in RCA’s broadcasting tests during the late 1920s, Marilyn Monroe’s TV set, and the original Speakers Corner machine.
The majority of the displayed sets are shelved on the north wall. While everyone else huddled on the other side of the room to watch the speakers deliver their opening remarks in person, we watched them via the rows of screens. Moving from set to set created a sense of how viewers would have taken in live televised events decades ago. We watched Znaimer, for example, filtered through a tube, distorted as if he were being glimpsed through Coke-bottle glasses; Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale–High Park), on a porthole shaped screen, recalling her memory of watching the moon landing in 1969; and former Toronto poet laureate Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, delivering a benediction in living colour on a Clairtone.
A smaller, adjacent space is dedicated to temporary exhibitions, starting with Cinémathèque québécoise’s “Aspects of the Global Village: The Television Era in Canada 1950-2000.” Although it features a Marshall McLuhan area, the exhibit focuses primarily on the stylistic evolution of Canadian television. (The presentation left us wishing there were more headphones available to listen to the clips shown.)
It is tempting to snark about a museum devoted to television sets, especially one assembled by a man hailed as both visionary and egomaniac. But we live in a city where institutions celebrate ceramics, shoes, and sugar. There is no denying the imaginative design on display, and it is worth a visit for anyone interested in the physical history of pop culture. Each set—whether it’s a triangular work of art or a utilitarian box that sat in somebody’s basement—has its own character. Today’s flat screens may provide sharper images, but their character is far duller.
The MZTV Museum of Television & Archive, along with the rest of ZoomerPlex (64 Jefferson Avenue) is participating in Doors Open this weekend. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Photos by Jamie Bradburn, unless noted.