CityPulse. The New Music. Baby Blue Movies. City Lights. Fashion Television. Speaker’s Corner. These programs are among the innovative shows that have aired on CityTV since it officially launched way up the dial 35 years ago this evening.
CityTV had a short gestation period after the CRTC approved its license in November 1971. Key figures in the station’s early ownership included president Edgar Cowan, vice-president Phyllis Switzer, lawyer Jerry Grafstein and managing director/former CBC personality Moses Znaimer. Switzer aimed for a schedule that reflected the city’s diversity, noting in a January 1972 interview with Broadcaster magazine that “this is a marvelous city, with great activities, but most people don’t realize it. They will when we are finished.” Many of these shows sounded like material later found on public-access cable. The oddest-sounding show from City’s first week was Guerrilla, described by Starweek as “irreverent opinions by a representative of the underground newspaper, wearing a gorilla suit.”
Another part of the programming plan involved more mature, sexy offerings than other broadcasters. Booked for opening night was Casanova, a controversial 1971 BBC mini-series written by Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective). The station’s first movie was the scandalous 1967 Swedish flick I Am Curious (Yellow).
The final major test came on September 23, with the broadcast of a telethon to support the Committee for an Independent Canada. Many local shows had episodes in the can ready for the station’s launch, one of which, according to the The Globe and Mail, led to divine blessings. A Hare Krishna group spent fifteen minutes chanting for the station’s welfare outside the original studios at 99 Queen Street East (the former home of the Electric Circus club) after the technical equipment failed during the production of their show.
CityTV faced stiff competition on opening night, as CBC repeated the final game of the Canada-Soviet hockey series from earlier in the day, featuring one of the most famous goals in hockey history. Here’s what viewers flipping over to 79 saw:
7:30: The City Show, a local news/public affairs show anchored by Warner Troyer, later an original co-host of The Fifth Estate.
8:00: Casanova, episode one
9:10: Local News Magazine
9:45: The Consumer Show
10:00: Mission: Impossible
11:00: A repeat of Casanova
The following day, The Toronto Star reported that the station’s twenty phone lines were swamped, mostly with complaints from antenna owners. As for the rest of the complaints:
A few calls were from people who could see more clearly than they wanted, considering the bedroom scenes that were there to look at in the British-made Casanova series. A harried operator kept explaining to the latter group that the station was programming for mature audiences…A lengthy announcement proceeded each run [of Casanova], noting that the program dealt heavily in sex and that anyone who didn’t like that should turn to another channel.
Ad source: Broadcaster, September 1972