‘Pride in the province’: Focus Saskatchewan celebrates 10 seasons on the air

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Focus Saskatchewan celebrates 10 seasons
WATCH: Focus Saskatchewan's current and former hosts reflect on their time in the position as the show prepares for its season 10 finale – May 30, 2021

Focus Saskatchewan is capping off 10 years of storytelling in the province with its season finale this weekend.

The award-winning, weekly half-hour current affairs program will mark its 270th episode on Saturday, paying tribute to its current and former hosts.

Focus Saskatchewan was originally pitched as a political affairs show heading into the 2011 provincial election.

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“We didn’t just want it to be people sitting around the table talking. We wanted to get a little more creative than that,” said original host Tom Vernon.

Once the election wrapped in the fall, the show’s focus quickly shifted to telling stories of Saskatchewan people.

Vernon would record the host segments in the community rather than a studio. That meant being outside in all types of Saskatchewan weather reciting a script from memory.

Click to play video: 'The Happy Nun'
The Happy Nun

“When you’re out in the cold and you don’t have a prompter, you get pretty good at adlibbing, and you try to keep it straight,” Vernon said.

In 2013, Raquel Fletcher took over as host.

She says she took the politically-slanted show and added an arts and cultural component to it.

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“As Saskatchewanians, we overlook our artistic talents,” Fletcher said.

“There are tons of people doing really creative things in the province so that is what I tried to add as my touch to the show.”

From arts and culture to true crime, Focus Saskatchewan has covered more than 900 stories in the last decade.

“That’s the beauty of Focus Saskatchewan. You can do so many different things, whether it’s certain themed shows or quirky, unique features that really tell the story of Saskatchewan,” said former host Marney Blunt.

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Still searching: The disappearance of Mekayla Bali

Hosts have travelled as far north as La Loche and as far south as Coronach to highlight unique stories from 122 communities across the province.

“I certainly learned that there are stories worth telling everywhere, whether we were going down to Estevan or Cabri or wherever it was,” said former host Blake Lough.

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“You just have to go out and look and talk to people.”

‘The magician that no one ever sees’

Videographer and editor Derek Putz, affectionately known as Putzy, has been working at Global Regina since October 2009.

Two years into his career, the idea of Focus Saskatchewan was pitched to him and Vernon.

Videographer and editor Derek Putz gets a close-up of animals at Salthaven West Wildlife Sanctuary. Marney Blunt / Global News

“I couldn’t imagine launching that show with anybody else,” Vernon said.

“The fact that he’s still there 10 years later shows he’s integral; he’s integral to that station; he’s integral to that show; he’s integral to media in Saskatchewan.”

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Saskatchewan searches for hidden tyndall

It was a lot of late nights for Putz and Vernon, wracking their brains on how to build a brand new show from scratch. With only four weeks to put the plan into place, both spent hours watching Dateline, 48 Hours and other current affair programs to get inspiration.

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Once the show launched, their roles quickly fell into place. Putz, who has a journalism degree from the University of Regina, became the brains behind the camera and, often times, his creativity, passion and editorial judgement influenced the stories.

“He is the magician that no one ever sees,” Fletcher said.

That’s still the case 10 years later.

Putz has formed partnerships with all six hosts as he helped them transition from reporters to current affairs anchors, while still maintaining the feel of Focus.

“You become this partnership almost like husband and wife. It was the first time that I understood what marriage was,” Fletcher said.

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“Focus is Derek’s baby.”

Despite the 10 years of turnover, Putz has remained the one constant. All hosts agree, the show wouldn’t be on the air if it weren’t for him.

Putz gets behind the scenes of an aircraft while filming a feature for Focus Saskatchewan. Marney Blunt / Global News

“The reason people keep tuning back in is because the quality of the show has remained the same and the journalistic standards have remained the same,” former host Whitney Stinson said.

“That’s largely due to that producer and creative editor behind the scenes and that’s Derek.”

Despite never openly going on camera, Putz has made a number of appearances in Focus features. When you see hands typing on keyboards, texting on cellphones or a person in the shadows, more often than not, that’s Putz — or his wife — recreating visuals to help tell the stories.

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Swift Current monument honours hockey players killed in 1986

Putz declined a number of interview requests for this story, stating he is much more comfortable staying behind the camera and away from the mic.

It’s a humble attitude for someone who’s helped Focus Saskatchewan win 14 prairie region RTDNA awards, eight national RTDNA awards and three Edward Murrow awards.

‘Pride in the province’

Like everything else, Focus Saskatchewan wasn’t unscathed by the pandemic. Public health orders coupled with the uncertainty halted production from March 2020 to January 2021.

“There was just really no way of getting into people’s homes or out into the community to tell those important Saskatchewan stories,” said current host Allison Bamford.

As news and production adapted to pandemic times, so did Focus Saskatchewan. Eventually, the show came back from hiatus and used Zoom interviews to tell many of the stories.

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“Instead of face to face, those one-on-one interviews were through a screen, but we were still able to bring you those stories, those characters and those voices into your home every weekend,” Bamford said.

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Regina couple travels to 140 communities during pandemic down time

Focus Saskatchewan has always strived to highlight the character of the province. It’s those unique, quirky stories that Bamford says are needed now more than ever during a pandemic.

Pandemic or not, Vernon points to “pride in the province” as the fuel for viewers to tune in week after week for the last 10 years.

“It’s an amazing place, there are amazing stories, there are a million stories to tell in that province and I think that really resonates,” Vernon said.

“That’s why this show is still going and still putting on tremendous stories of the people in that province and people will always tune in to that.”

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The season 10 finale of Focus Saskatchewan airs Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

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The image of an outlaw

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