TORONTO – It’s always a wrench when a long-running series or a favourite TV star says goodbye. Viewers who grew up with David Letterman still miss him a year after his 33-year late night stint ended. Michael Strahan caused a kerfuffle last month after bolting from “Live with Kelly & Michael” after just four years. When “The Simpsons” finally go, two or three generations of fans will have a cow.
Now, after very little advance notice, “Canada AM” fades to black on Friday after a 43-year run on CTV.
On a personal level, “Canada AM” was an occasional opportunity for this TV writer to grab a little face time – as well as dozens of mugs – on a national network show. Once or twice a year I’d get invited to talk about the new TV season, starting way back with longtime host Norm Perry but also sitting opposite Sandie Rinaldo, Pamela Wallin, Tom Clark, Dan Matheson, Keith Morrison, Rod Black, Wei Chen, Valerie Pringle and Lisa LaFlamme.
In recent years, it was always fun visiting with co-hosts Beverly Thomson and Marci Ien as well as weather and sports anchor Jeff Hutcheson. I was scheduled to join them again this coming Monday. Some networks will do anything to keep me off the air.
Rumours that the show was near the end of its long run swirled for about a year. Industry watchers speculated the clock was ticking on “AM” ever since the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission began to ease requirements for Canadian content in daytime hours for over-the-air broadcasters.
CTV, however, has no intention of getting out of the morning-show business.
The plan, in the short term, is to simulcast live CTV News Channel programming into the 6 to 9 a.m. timeslot nationally. A new program for that timeslot is to be announced next week. The demise of “Canada AM,” therefore, is likely more of a re-branding than an ending, an entry into “Canada AM: The Next Generation.”
CTV clearly wants to wake up a morning brand that has been losing ground for years against ever-growing competition. City’s local “Breakfast Television” surged past “AM” decades ago in the ratings in key regions such as Toronto. Rival news brands, such as CBC News Network and even CNN, have also cut into “AM”‘s national appeal.
CTV has also seen newer daytime programs such as “The Marilyn Denis Show” and “The Social” surge past “AM” in the overnight ratings as well as build impressive followings on social media.
It also had to be easier to book guests into the broadcaster’s cool Queen Street West studios where “Marilyn Denis” and “The Social” originate, rather than the aging suburban bunker where “AM” is marooned. In this era where Toronto has been branded “The Six,” “AM” seemed six hours from anywhere.
Look for CTV to bring the new show downtown. Think of how vital the Rockefeller Plaza street level locale is to NBC’s “Today Show” and now imagine it in Queens or Long Island. NBC’s example suggests that for a national morning show to work, it helps to turn it into a tourist attraction. Expect CTV to follow that lead.
National morning shows are still an enormous profit centre for U.S. broadcasters. In Canada, it’s a smaller-and-trickier playing field where standing still means losing ground.
None of this may mean much for viewers who just liked to welcome each day with Beverly, Marci and Jeff. The reality, however, is that TV shows are like mugs – they don’t last forever.
– Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.