Switchback (TV series)

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Switchback was a Canadian television show for children, teens and young adults broadcast on CBC Television in the 1980s. It was produced regionally from Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, Halifax, Calgary and Toronto.

The first Switchback: Vancouver[edit]

Produced by Nijole Kuzmickas and originally hosted by Canadian folk musician Rick Scott, CBC Vancouver's Switchback was a weekly Sunday morning live broadcast that began in January 1981. The name "Switchback" referred to the program's original format, which invited young viewers to trade used toys, comic books, and other bric-a-brac. Viewers could either call in or write in with offers, which were written on a board on the studio set or later featured in a free classified-ad-style publication put together by the show and mailed out to viewers who requested it. This feature was dropped after the first season.

Photo of opening page of Switchback Market Newsletter

The show regularly featured phone-in contests and write-in raffles for prizes such as T-shirts, LPs and toys. An old cowboy cliff-hanger adventure serial was also featured weekly during the first season. The second season began with host Gordon White, soon replaced by Richard Newman (now a voice actor), who remained with the show for two and a half years.

A memorable show during Newman's tenure was the "dippy-dome" episode, which ran mock news flashes and backward footage of the inflation of the original B.C. Place Stadium roof. The episode unwittingly predicted, nearly a quarter-century before the fact, the dome's accidental deflation in 2007. Numerous hosting changes followed Newman's exit while the show struggled to recapture the rapport created by Scott and Newman. CBC Vancouver's desperation in this regard was evident: Producer and writer Phil Savath took over the program and hired a teenager, Andrew Cochrane, at that time attending Churchill Secondary School and performing with the Vancouver Theatresports League. Cochrane went on to host Switchback in Halifax while he was attending law school at Dalhousie University.

Regular sketch performers included improvisors Colin Mochrie, Richard Side, Ian Boothby, Jay Ono, Randy Schooley and Riel Hahn.

Switchback was notable also for being the first regular broadcaster of rock videos in British Columbia. In the days before MuchMusic and CBC's Good Rockin' Tonite, Switchback served as a Canadian MTV. (Early on, Bill Henderson, lead singer of Chilliwack, was guest host for one week. Later on, Terry David Mulligan's Good Rockin' Tonite successor, Stu Jeffries, became the host of the late-period Switchback.) In the early years of the show, guests included Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats in his pre-Band Aid/Live Aid incarnation. Through interviews and by broadcasting videos, Switchback also did much to promote local Vancouver rock musicians, notably the Payola$, Loverboy, Doug and the Slugs and Henderson's Chilliwack. There was also a character called 'SAL' ( Switchback's Ann Landers, who answered social questions asked by viewers, played by Lisa Kandt (nee Berven).

Winnipeg Switchback[edit]

The CBC Winnipeg version ran from 1983 until 1988. It was hosted by Winnipeg personality Laurie Mustard. It aired Sunday mornings at 9. There were numerous celebrity guests on the Winnipeg show over its five-year run, hosted by Mustard, including Adam West (Batman), Carrie Hamilton (the late daughter of Carol Burnett), and 80s hair band Quiet Riot. Carrie Hamilton really liked the set - she loved all of the props and toys. A few guests (not any of those named here) seemed to miss the point that it was a kids show, and rolled in Sunday morning quite hungover, or still rolling.

Another Winnipeg personality, Jim Ingebrigtsen, was a frequent guest star, but not as himself. He played 'Ole Yuleberg' at Christmas time and 'Peter Cottonsvensen' at Easter, and was always trying to get a Switchback bag from Mustard.

The show once even aired live on location from Disneyland in California, while a blizzard raged back in Winnipeg. One of the head producers for this trip (and for the show overall) was terminally ill by this point in the series, but he went along with a smile. Everyone who worked at that show will always remember Sean Sullivan.

Favourite segments from this show were the music videos, Batman and Heckle & Jeckle shorts, "Joke of the Week", and many contests where kids could call in and win Switchback T-shirts, buttons, and even the coveted Switchback bag.

The call-in number for the show was 949-0666 (quoted as "that number is 949-0666, in town, out of town dial 1-949-0666"). Laurie's trademark was to wear reflective sunglasses (which he lost at an airport in the last season), and wield a giant fly swatter. Little did the audience know that he wore the sunglasses so he wouldn't distract viewers while reading phone numbers and other cues from the cue cards off to the side of the cameras.

A cow once relieved itself during a live segment while it was off-camera in studio...the sealed room was suddenly filled with an intense odour, and all within had to subdue coughs and laughter until it could be cleaned up...all live to air. The poor woman being interviewed had been splattered, and was a very good sport as she suffered a soiled, pantyhosed leg during her live interview.

Winnipeg Switchback relocation: Regina[edit]

The Winnipeg edition was moved to Regina after the '87-'88 season to a new studio with new host Bill Wright, where it could be produced for less money. In Winnipeg over its five season run, it had originally run from 9 am to 10:30 am with no commercials, then after a few years commercials were added, and finally the show was shortened to a one-hour format, all to save money. The CBC cutbacks of the '80s were in full swing at this point. The window to Studio 41 where it was taped had even been emblazoned with a 'stop cutbacks' sticker by a sly employee.

Halifax Switchback[edit]

The Halifax version, produced by John Nowlan and Alice Porter, started in 1981 (second only to Vancouver) and was an immediate hit. There was so much response to the first show that phone lines throughout central Halifax were blown. The Halifax Switchback was produced at CBHT-TV in Halifax and shown by CBHT and by CBIT (CBC Sydney, Nova Scotia), CBCT (CBC Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island), and CBNT (CBC St. John's, Newfoundland), all of them CBC owned-and-operated stations, on Sunday mornings from 8:30 to 10 Atlantic Time. CHSJ, the CBC affiliate in New Brunswick, picked up Switchback for the 1982-1983 season, and from then on, Switchback was shown throughout Atlantic Canada. Viewership expanded further to include the Eastern Arctic.

Stan "the Man" Johnson, with his trusty dog Rufus, was the first host (he applied for the job in crayon), and Andrew Cochrane took over in the later years after CBC abruptly ended negotiations to renew Johnson's contract. Johnson went on to host Something Else on Maritimes Independent Television (MITV) in 1988.

The show pioneered music videos to its Atlantic Canada and Eastern Arctic audience and featured cliff-hanger adventure serials from Republic Pictures as well as episodes from Batman and The Munsters and a parade of live guests including Air Supply, Mark Messier, Stanton Friedman, and a stable of animals from the Ken-Jenn Petting Zoo. One notable moment featured a boxing kangaroo that delivered several jabs to Stan's head during the interview with the animal handler. He then retreated to the other side of his desk where he continued his interview. Halifax Switchback had a huge following of loyal Sunday morning fans. It was followed in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. on Sundays by reruns of Gunsmoke and Space: 1999. CBHT eventually dumped the series in favour of the British import, Coronation Street.

Calgary Switchback[edit]

The Calgary version was hosted by "Humble" Howard Glassman in '83 & '84. Then in 1985 the hosting duties were taken on by two local performers; Ian MacGillvray and Keith Sandulak. They attained an 82% in BBM ratings for Alberta and remained hosts for the next two years. The variety of guests ranged from Mötley Crüe to Robert Bateman. Interviews were light-hearted and comedic with both hosts performing as characters ranging from "Mike Rafone" to a pair of country brothers "Y.B. Normal and his brother Ab Normal" Regular skits would include "Stump the Artist" and impromptu interaction with audience members and Keith and Ian. Musical guests and sports heroes would participate in many skits and would add greatly to the morning's entertainment.

Toronto Switchback[edit]

The Toronto version was hosted by Shawn Thompson in 1986 and 1987 and also featured Howard Busgang and Images in Vogue lead singer Dale Martindale.