The headline on John Doyle’s television column in this morning’s Globe and Mail sums it up perfectly: “Cuts to CITY an evisceration of an icon.” This week’s hacking of the news division and jettisoning of several long-time on-air faces confirms the dragged-out decline of what was one of Toronto’s most diverse and energetic newsrooms. Since the CityPulse brand was introduced in 1977, viewers had adjusted themselves to opinionated reporters, on-air talent with names that weren’t Anglicized, the introduction of terms like “videographer,” and a style that, while overly sensationalistic at times, presented a lively portrait of Toronto. It seems harder to imagine the remnants of CITY’s news living up to the philosophy put forward by producer Paul Osborn back in 1984: “We are extroverted; we like to reach out into the community. What affects the average guy in the street, what is going on in his backyard, affects us.”
Sources: The Toronto Star, January 30, 1979 (left), February 21, 1979 (right).
Prior to CityPulse’s debut on September 12, 1977, CITY-TV’s news programming had been a mixed bag. There was The City Show, which was gradually whittled down from a two-and-a-half-hour public affairs program in 1972 to an hour-long “confrontation interview” show hosted by Morton Shulman weeknights at 6. Despite Moses Znaimer’s later claims to the contrary, one factor that may have spurred the creation of CityPulse was steady prodding by the CRTC to beef up the station’s news coverage so that the station would provide “in the heart of prime time a genuine alternative to other Toronto stations,” and dump some of the non-domestic programming that filled the schedule. CityPulse was slotted from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. weeknights, replacing the remnants of The City Show and reruns of Get Smart.
Tapped to anchor the new show was Gord Martineau, who had bounced around the dial that year. He started 1977 as the late night anchor for CFTO, then spent a month anchoring two nightly newscasts for CFCF in Montreal before returning to Toronto for what the Star termed “heavy personal reasons.” His return to Toronto may have been helped by the purchase of 45% of CITY by CFCF owner Multiple Access, who sent several members of its Montreal news division to develop CITY’s news department. Appearing with Martineau on the early editions of CityPulse were weathergirl/consumer affairs reporter Dini Petty, former Toronto alderman turned City Hall reporter Colin Vaughan, entertainment editor Brian Linehan, sports reporters Peter Gross and Dave Reynolds, and political debaters Shulman and Stephen Lewis, who was nearing the end of his stint as provincial NDP leader.
By the fall of 1978, CITY brass was confident enough to launch an edition of CityPulse at 10 p.m., initially anchored by Bill Cameron. The later newscast was designed to be faster-paced than the suppertime edition based on sensational happenings around Toronto. According to editor Bert Cannings, “We’ll be looking for the penny-ante crime on the street and fires and that sort of thing, instead of just doing a pale copy of the early-evening news.” Rather than just report blazes like the old-running joke about Buffalo TV stations and fires in Cheektowaga, Cannings looked for “the human side of fire stories, like the kids standing outside barefoot in the snow at night in winter. We’ll ham it up something awful, but it will be legitimate news.”
Capturing the human side of local disasters and other city happenings also helped offset the budget constraints the news division worked under. To commentators like the Globe and Mail’s Donn Downey, this made for dull, unprofessional newscasts. He found that CityPulse at 10’s coverage of Toronto was full of “boring head-on-head interviews between reporter and newsmaker that run on too long” and was marred by a habit of covering “non-events” like groundbreakings. Downey’s other gripes stemmed from CITY’s reliance on outside sources for stories from Ottawa and around the world, which missed the point about how the station wanted to be a local voice, not just to fill the void left in that time slot by the networks (Global had just moved its newscast from 10 to 11 to compete head-on with CBC and CTV).
By the mid-1980s, CityPulse expanded to include a weekend edition, where Anne Mroczkowski began her anchoring career. She joined the station in 1978 as a writer and soon became a reporter. After a year on weekends, she joined Martineau to host the 10 p.m. newscast in 1984. In an interview with the Globe and Mail that year, she noted was happy to be able to continue reporting at the same time: “There’s a kind of energy you get when you’re outside, and a lot of feedback from the public. You get a sense of how you’re doing, what people are thinking—they let you know, And anchoring is a different discipline; doing it full-time would be a fairly insular experience. I like to think that I can pop out into the street when it’s warranted.”
Ultimately it was the bean counters who initiated the decline of CITY’s news team, as moves by its corporate parents to make the CITY brand a major player nationwide led to flashier presentation and a creeping generic feeling that diminished the station’s heart. In the face of the cuts, the tongue-in-cheek attitude shown by CITY for years might have produced a slogan along the lines of “from the heart of cutback land, this is CITY-TV, nowhere.”
Additional material from the September 8, 1977, September 28, 1978, February 11, 1984, and October 27, 1984 editions of the Globe and Mail; the July 26, 1977 and September 8, 1977 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 8, 1977 edition of the Toronto Sun.