It was the cutting-edge vision of the extraordinary Moses Znaimer, founder of Toronto’s ground-breaking Citytv, who first inspired my television career. I’d been working at Chum radio as a ‘good news girl’ in 1978, the year that radio giant bought Citytv. There was a desire to ‘cross-promote’ some of the radio station’s personalities on television, so I was sent downtown to see how I might be able to contribute to the TV operation. At first, I was invited to visit the news department. Ivan Fecan, the news director at the time, sent me out with a cameraman to do an ‘audition tape.’ I had no idea what the heck I was doing, but evidently they liked what they saw on tape, and before I knew it, I was invited to make television.
As enigmatic and difficult as Moses was to work for, his brilliant, trail-blazing vision and distinct philosophy about the art and craft of the medium helped shape my own ideals. We spent a lot of time in his office, discussing TV philosophy and the merits of this burgeoning medium. Moses made me realize that even though I felt I’d somehow ‘sold out’ as an actress (the true ‘artistic’ career I initially wanted to pursue), television could afford me the opportunity to evolve my own personal character, develop my improvisational skills, and have, in a sense, a constant ‘starring role’ in my own true story.
He often talked of life as a living movie, and so for many of us in those early, pioneering days of Citytv, the now popular concept of reality TV was commonplace. We were encouraged to capture reality as it unfolded, to shun contrived situations, to get rid of tripods and multi-person crews. On The New Music – the first show I began hosting in 1979 with J.D. Roberts (now John Roberts of CBS News), and produced by the wildly talented John Martin – we’d roll tape before the rock star even opened the hotel room door. More often than not, we’d follow the lead of the subjects we were interviewing, never imposing any pre-conceived notions as to how things should go. It was an era of swish pans, quick zooms, and flying by the seat of our pants: this was true guerilla television, and we were making up the rules as we went along.
I found that particular freewheeling spirit to be utterly exhilarating. It kept me on my toes, and fuelled my creative fires. This mind set is something that’s second nature to me now, and whichever situation I find myself in, as long as I’ve got a TV camera with me, I feel deliciously empowered and quite fearless.
Perhaps it’s precisely that chutzpah that’s enabled me to not only survive, but thrive in this industry for the past 26 years. Actually, it was my late great father, a holocaust survivor, who always told me, ‘Don’t be afraid. And never give up.’ Moses seemed to be echoing that precious message as he steered me through the unpredictable TV seas in those early years. But, as if to play devil’s advocate, he was often a hideous thorn in my side too, constantly testing my tenacity, challenging me, and making me jump through hoops to prove I was worthy of my coveted job. I realize now that Moses’ frequent insidious behavior towards me was actually a blessing in disguise – an inadvertent lesson in the kind of passion you have to have, and strive to maintain, in order to keep on going and re-inventing yourself in this tough and tumultuous business.