Everything about Featured, eh?

TV, eh? Rewind: Shirley

By Dexter Brown

Rewind takes a look back at controversy after controversy and the historic achievements of CTV’s talk show Shirley.

ShirleyShirley (CTV, 1989-1995) was a unique talk show considering the array of guests during its six season run. It featured psychics and non-celebrities like Elvis Presley Jr., while simultaneously attracting big name guests like Celine Dion and Jean Chretien. Often the show would have panels of six to 12 people answering audience questions.

It was an episode of that format that drew controversy. A guest of the March 30, 1994 show brought that particular episode to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. He complained it was biased in favour of euthanasia. Additionally the guest complained that he was told there was going to be four guests sharing the hour-long broadcast when in actuality there was nine. Furthermore, he was told by host Shirley Solomon herself not to mention that the show was taped and originating from Canada, as Americans were led to believe it was a program coming live from New York (although an NDP politician was a guest). This controversy may be one of the reasons for the show’s demise shortly after, even though the network and the CBSC found no fault with the episode in question.

Also worth noting is that in 1990 the show previously drew controversy and made headlines in the Toronto Star for rejecting a guest who was supposed to speak about the current economic climate because he wasn’t white. In December of that year the Star later quoted CTV as saying that the producer at fault was no longer with the network.

Despite the show’s controversy, Solomon did a fairly good job as host and looked confident and in control of her interviews. The graphics and set seemed firmly set in the 90s which in retrospect might seem cheesy but I’m sure at the time was just convention. Her studio was fairly large and distinctive considering that this was a Canadian television production. With all that behind her, you couldn’t be faulted for thinking that she was like Canada’s Oprah during the show’s run.

That may have helped sell the show in America. Those with a fairly good memory, however, would remember that in February of 1993, Shirley made headlines in newspapers across the country when it was learned that ABC had picked up the show and had planned to air it for a year. The show was supposed to start its ABC run on April 12, 1993 and to take the 11 am slot on the ABC network even though it was airing in the afternoon on CTV. But Shirley never did make it on ABC, as many affiliates resented airing the show. They felt there were far stronger talk show host who were already known to most Americans available in syndication, according to the Canadian Press. Despite not running the show, the network was reported to have had to pay CTV for the 200 episodes it was expected to run. Shirley was the first Canadian talk show sold to a US market, but that may have also brought its demise.

When Shirley finally made it to the US through syndication, Solomon grew uncomfortable as she now felt it was necessary to compete with the sensationalistic, raunchy and over-the-top talk shows that were growing to be hugely popular in America at the time. It was a catch-22 as Shirley also then grew to be at a size where it needed the audience and the exposure of the American market to stay afloat.

Solomon eventually turned away from her show after six seasons because she found it hard to compete with the sleazy talk shows of the time — which included the likes of the American sensations Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones — according to The Kingston Whig-Standard. She noted the episodes featuring men who were turned on by wearing diapers and another which featured naked people.

But the show also tackled serious political social issues like that of the Quebec referendum and free trade. CTV wanted to pull the show because they found it hard for Shirley to keep audiences interested and to tackle new issues, even though the show pulled in a decent audience of over 300,000 Canadians in its final season on the air.

Shirley was replaced by Homestyle, a show giving home improvement tips, according to the Hamilton Spectator.

Today, CTV’s current daytime talk show offering is The Marilyn Denis Show, a similar yet different beast than Shirley. Upon watching you could instantly tell it was a show aimed at the same demographic, but The Marilyn Denis Show is a much more modern, polished program. Its set feels more like a home, as opposed to Shirley’s which felt like a traditional 90s talk show set. The graphics are brighter, airier, cleaner, lighter and obviously more modern considering it was made about 20 years later.

The Marilyn Denis Show is divided into segments, each usually focusing on home decor, food, films, lifestyle or another on a celebrity of CTV or other Bell Media shows stopping by for cross promotion action. This bucked the one issue for a whole hour trend that Shirley had so often. As The Marilyn Denis Show was done in segments it would tease often for ones to come. This is something I assume was learned since Shirley as a tactic to keep viewers watching the show.

Marilyn is rather professional, as was Shirley Solomon, but she also often tries her best to be fun and quirky. A common example would be the seemingly endless clever ways she gets the audience to abruptly stop applauding when she walks onto the stage. If that’s too much to handle, beware, the guests of The Marilyn Denis Show are often as quirky as Marilyn is herself.

It seems CTV has learned a lot since Shirley, though The Marilyn Denis Show has not been sold overseas. The Marilyn Denis Show is considered live-to-tape, though it airs in various timeslots on CTV and CTV Two stations. The Marilyn Denis Show doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be American or try to be a large television spectacle as Shirley may have. It seems just comfortable reflecting the lives of Canadian women, catering directly to that market and not trying to be too big for itself. It didn’t seem to touch the crassness of Jerry Springer and the like and was rather fresh, fluffy and focused, in that regard. I felt that the grab bag of topics in The Marilyn Denis Show made it a bit difficult to go through — then again, I don’t think I quite fit their demographic.

Watch Celine Dion on Shirley in 1993 on YouTube.


Rewind: Radio Active

By Dexter Brown:

Fellow prisoners, welcome back to the wacky world of Upper Redwood High, as Rewind takes a look back at Radio Active.

Teen sitcoms are all the rage these days. Between Nickelodeon’s iCarly and Victorious and Disney’s ANT Farm and Shake It Up!, kids can’t seem to get enough. Homegrown stations YTV and Family Channel are also producing their own, including the likes of How To Be Indie, Mr. Young and Debra!, most of which have been sold overseas.

While the market may currently seem lucrative, it hasn’t always been that way. Teen sitcoms on networks such as YTV and Nickelodeon were rarities just a few years ago. They were often lost among a sea of absurdist cartoons like Angry Beavers and Animaniacs. Canadian kids networks concocted the likes of Angela Anaconda and Stickin’ Around for the 90s absurdist cartoon era.

While the 90s were dominated by cartoons, Nickelodeon did find success with Clarissa Explains It All and YTV later found similar success in Radio Active (1998-2001), a show about a bunch of students who run a high school radio station, which was also named Radio Active.

Radio Active was based on the 1995-2001 Canal Famille (now Vrak.TV) show Radio Enfer and it also aired on Nickelodeon. Both shows were early examples of the teen sitcom renaissance which soon came into full force shortly after the shows’ runs.

Radio Active‘s humour holds up fairly well and with only a few dated posters and an old Macintosh really holding back as a relic of the 90s. The show follows a group of high school students who had to maintain a C average to keep the radio station alive, so they would often try to help each other study and grew to be a tight knit group of friends. They were a rather quirky bunch and their antics throughout the show’s run included using the school radio system to help a fellow student pass an oral exam and broadcasting gossip over the radio.

As with many Canadian shows of the time, some elements felt a bit unpolished. In the pilot you could see the end of a set wall and a bit of what looks like a camera or light on screen. It also had only a handful of sets and lacked extras such as other students and teachers to the point where you might start to wonder if the stars of the show were the only ones in a really, really small school.

Despite that the characters felt well rounded and distinguishable. Kevin was a bit of an egotist and brought most of the physical comedy to the series. He was ball of energy and not all that smart. Morgan was down to earth and had a bit of a sarcastic vein in her. Sarah, Morgan’s younger sister, often came in rolling in on roller skates, squeaky and was rather quiet annoying. Tanya was a sweet and naive bookworm. Eaton was money hungry but boring. And spiky haired George was a weirdo, often calculating some sort of odd conspiracy theory. As the series went on Kevin and Eaton were replaced by Blair a buff, popular but dimwitted athlete and Roger a lanky smart guy.

Even while watching the show in its original run I felt there was a great age disparity between the actors. In the TV world, actors in their early to late 20s often portray high school students. In fact Vanessa Lengies, the actress who played Sarah, still plays a high school student on Glee.

While the kids of Radio Active didn’t feel as if they mere caricatures, the school staff fell more into that pitfall. Mr. Noseworthy was the one who usually fit into whatever teacher role the plot needed and was genuinely a nice guy who often went on with stories from his youth. Ms. Atoll on the other hand was simply a ruthless authority figure.

With the similar theme of high school broadcasting, Radio Active could be compared to the some what similar current teen sitcom, What’s Up, Warthogs!. While Radio Active followed the zany world of high school radio, What’s Up, Warthogs! follows the antics of a high school TV news show. Considering that this was a sitcom, the Warthog’s news show plays out more like Weekend Update than your typical evening newscast. As Canadian television production has gotten arguably better since the late 90s, it could be said that it has rubbed off on What’s Up, Warthogs!. The show has more believable sets than Radio Active and the production value seems miles better. The same can’t be said in the writing department; the jokes feel more set up. The overall humour of the series seems a bit different than Radio Active choosing to go more for silly and absurd things.

The situations  in What’s Up Warthogs! don’t feel exclusive to a school environment as did most of the ones in Radio Active. In fact you might wonder if these kids have class at all. For example, the episode of What’s Up, Warthogs! I caught involved opening a time capsule and a character attempting to travel back to the past. It’s a scenario that feels like it could be applied to virtually any mainstream sitcom, in one way or another.

See how What’s Up, Warthogs! stands up to Radio Active by catching up with Radio Active or discovering it for the first time yourself with YouTube.