The legacy of Denis McGrath

So much has and will be posted about the Denis McGrath-sized hole left in the world after his death last night. A small part of his legacy is that without him, TV, eh? would likely not exist. In an alternate, Denis-less universe, one we’re struggling to imagine now, I most likely would never have thought about the issues that led me to create it, and even if I had, it would have ended with a whimper not long after its experimental launch.

The origin story of this website is that while covering television and movies online I became fascinated with the way TV is made, with so much control in the hands of the writer rather than the director. I started following TV writer blogs, including Denis’s influential Dead Things on Sticks, to learn more about the process. That lively comments section is where I met the online Canadian TV community and began to realize … there’s an online Canadian TV community?

Obviously I knew  Canadian shows existed but from Denis’s posts I realized there were a whole lot I’d never heard of, despite writing about TV. I wrote an article lamenting that fact, wishing for an online resource like a TVTattle or Futon Critic, and an anonymous commenter asked me why I didn’t start such a site myself — a question I immediately dismissed. I had no skin in this game. Just Denis’s voice in my head about the struggles of the Canadian TV industry.

I went to the Banff TV Festival to cover a David Shore (House) master class, among others, and while there I sat in a town hall discussion about how Canadian TV should appeal more to international audiences. I wondered why networks weren’t more concerned with letting me know about these shows first. Through it all Denis was a sounding board and a huge influence in my understanding of the issues at play, and he encouraged my attempts to write about them from the audience perspective.

That was when I quietly put up a bare-bones site and started posting stories and media releases about Canadian shows. I let a few people know, including Denis. I’m grateful to many but his support meant everything. He championed the idea from the first, and through his influence helped make it and me feel part of that Canadian TV online community almost immediately. What started as a whim suddenly felt valuable, because he saw value in it.

Through the years the TV, eh? charity auctions benefited enormously from his contributions, his bids, and his promotion. He harassed industry folks to donate and his followers to bid, helping raise thousands of dollars for Kids Help Phone. He was a tireless promoter of the fundraising campaign that helped relaunch the site after I’d closed it down a couple years ago. I don’t think anyone escaped his haranguing to contribute what they could.

We ranted at the crazy industry together and drove each other crazy at times. But he was always supportive and generous with the site and with me. We dated for a time, years ago, but long after that he continued to offer support and advice. Some of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me came from him. He valued some core things about me that others have occasionally tried to make me feel badly about, and I keep his voice in my head at those times. He had a big voice and a bigger heart, and he leaves an enormous legacy.

I wish everyone and every cause could have a champion like Denis McGrath. I wish for his wife, family, friends and colleagues some comfort that a Canadian TV community he helped create is grieving with them.


14 thoughts on “The legacy of Denis McGrath”

  1. This is what I posted on Facebook this morning.

    Denis McGrath was a passionate advocate for Canadian culture, homegrown TV, and particularly Canadian writers. He did this in big ways, like speaking to powerful government commissions and in small ways, like showing up to your Fringe show, or buying and reading your self published book. He was an accomplished writer on many shows and performed the rare feat of moving from dramas to comedies and back again. I didn’t know him well personally, but I did delight in the fact that he was one of those guys who could, and often did, speak well on any topic- often to people of power like the CRTC and big Canadian broadcasters. He was both Canadian and American and relished the history and good things about both cultures and critiqued the short comings of both as well. And as mature and thoughtful he was in his writing, I also delighted in his Facebook posts about his beloved Blue Jays, where you could always see this grown man become an 8 year old boy- beside himself with joy when catching a ball in the stands. My condolences to his family and friends. He will be missed.

  2. Great post Diane.

    I think many of us have ‘my life would be different without Denis’ stories. He was very supportive of me when I started blogging with my own blog but particularly here with the Wonk Report, and when life got busy and I slowed down he often harangued me to get back at it. It meant a lot to me that someone of his #CdnTV blogging stature wanted me to keep doing it.

    Denis made me laugh. He said things many of us were afraid to say. And you never doubted that it came from a place of sincerity.

    My deep sympathies to his family and friends. We grieve with you.

  3. Denis not only put a hand to Canadian culture, he gave it a quite a shove in the right direction… and at a time it was needed the most. For a great many people, he did the same at a personal level as well.

    Bravo to your life work DMc. Bravo.

    1. Try to be human for a second. I’m not a journalist and unless his family discloses publicly my position is it’s none of your business.

      1. Well said.
        Thank you Denis for sharing your talents with us. Your mark has truly been made. To those who had the privilege to know or work with, along with his family…hugs going out to you today. Sleep sweet Denis. We will not forget.

  4. Denis was among the first “real” writers to stop and give me the time of day when I was but a baby writer. He’d sit and listen and converse and be generous with his time, considering, well, who the heck was I? He had a big voice and a big heart – and sometimes a big opinion that didn’t mesh with your own, but there’s not a person who’d met him who could say, honestly, that he didn’t care.

    And that was his thing, really. He cared. A lot.

    He cared about stories and the people that wanted to tell them, and especially so if you were a Canadian trying to tell Canadian stories in this country (of all places). He fought for us and informed us and made us feel passionately about politics and about this industry. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that. If there’s any fitting legacy, I hope that it’s found in the spark, the passion that he first ignited (or re-ignited) within us; that we fight to make sure that The Best Idea Wins and that Canada becomes a place where our stories have value.

    RIP Denis, thank you for caring about us.

  5. I went to grade school with a kid named Denis McGrath. I didn’t know him personally (he was a few years older), but he had a larger than life personality that shined throughout the school. Everyone knew Denis.

    Many many years later, I found myself standing in a movie line behind him. I started a conversation with him and was shocked that he actually recognized ME. We joked about the old days at Humber Valley, and when his friends arrived, he immediately pulled me into his crew and treated me like we were lifelong buddies. After that day, I never saw or heard from Denis again, but since he was involved in the arts and media, I would hear his name from time to time.

    Today I learned that Denis passed away.

    I can’t consider myself his friend, but that one random moment of kindness and friendship many years ago stuck with me to this day. Always treat everyone with respect and kindness. You never know when one seemingly insignificant moment in time will leave a positive lasting impression. I’m glad to have met Denis, with my only regret that I didn’t have the chance to really know him.

    RIP Denis. May all the great memories see your friends and family through this difficult time.

  6. I worked with Denis on season one of X Company. He would often e-mail specific questions about the buildings at Camp-X or the training that was going on there. He was very particular about getting everything right. When I would see him in person he would always make a point of saying to me, thank you for your contribution to Canada’s heritage.

  7. You nailed it with your first line. There is indeed now a Denis-sized hole in the world. Just nailed it.

  8. What the world thinks of us after we’re gone is important but it’s not everything.
    At least Denis can rest easy knowing he was a genuinely good man with a wonderful legacy.

  9. In 1989, I remember him as the John Candy of RTA at Ryerson. Great guy who always had the time to talk and support you. He was obviously a star to us very early and loved working in Ryerson’s Riot comedy productions every year. I remember our huge class production one year was based upon Denis’s school script from the previous year about the antics of media students craftily competing with each other’s group on a television production project, “Lying, Cheating and Stealing”. It was an early work of his obviously, but a lot of fun for a student to make work.
    Such a shame about Denis – too soon.

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