This Hour Has Seven Days
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|This Hour Has Seven Days|
|Country of origin||Canada|
|No. of episodes||50|
|Running time||60 min|
|Original network||CBC Television|
|Original release||October 4, 1964– May 8, 1966|
This Hour Has Seven Days is a controversial CBC Television newsmagazine which ran from 1964 to 1966. The show, inspired by the BBC-TV and NBC-TV satire series That Was the Week That Was, was created by Patrick Watson and Douglas Leiterman as an avenue for a more stimulating and boundary-pushing brand of television journalism. CBC executives believed the show went beyond the limits of journalistic ethics and cancelled the show, leading to allegations of political interference. Many elements of this show inspired the tabloid talk show genre in later decades.
The show debuted on October 4, 1964 (replacing the Cliff Solway-produced series Background) with hosts John Drainie, Laurier LaPierre and Carole Simpson (not to be confused with the now-retired ABC weekend news anchor of the same name). Simpson was soon replaced by Dinah Christie, and Watson himself replaced Drainie in the show's second season when Drainie (who died in 1966) was too ill to continue with the series.
The show used a one-hour newsmagazine format which combined satirical songs (performed by Simpson or Christie) and sketches with hard news interviews, reports and documentaries. Personalities associated with the show as reporters, interviewers or documentarians included Beryl Fox, Donald Brittain, Allan King, Warner Troyer, Jack Webster, Larry Zolf and future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Once each month, Seven Days was replaced by Document (1964–66), a single-item documentary series, also produced by Leiterman and Watson. One documentary commissioned by Document, Fox's Vietnam War film The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam, winner of Film of the Year at the Canadian Film Awards, became one of the most famous documentary films ever produced about the war, with editing by Don Haig. Earlier the creative team of Fox and Haig, along with cameramen Richard Leiterman, John Foster and Grahame Woods, had gone to Mississippi to cover the Mississippi Summer Project following the deaths of the three civil rights workers in August 1964. The result, known as Summer in Mississippi, won a Canadian Film Award for Best TV Information and was shown on Seven Days.
One of the most dramatic techniques was to ambush politicians and other figures at their homes or on their way to work and ask them difficult questions. Many leading figures were very poor at these unrehearsed interviews. The show was also instrumental in news coverage of the Munsinger Affair, a 1966 sex scandal involving former federal Minister of Defence Pierre Sévigny. When Zolf showed up on Sévigny's doorstep in pursuit of the story, Sévigny whacked Zolf on the head with his cane.
Among other controversies inspired by the show, LaPierre was once shown wiping away tears on the air after a filmed interview pertaining to the Steven Truscott case, a report on the Miss Canada pageant was criticized as journalistic "poaching" because the rival CTV Television Network had exclusive coverage rights to the event, and an interview with members of the Ku Klux Klan was deliberately engineered to provoke an on-air reaction when a black civil rights activist was brought in, unannounced, to join the interview partway through.
Concerned about the show's approach to the news, the CBC fired hosts Watson and LaPierre in April 1966, just before the end of the TV season; Lapierre's tears following the Truscott report, betraying a purported bias in his reporting, were cited as the pretext for the firing. This resulted in a public outcry for weeks as viewers organized demonstrations, wrote letters and made angry phone calls, CBC staff threatened to resign, newspaper editorials fulminated about political interference in the decision, and politicians demanded a parliamentary inquiry.
A parliamentary committee hearing was convened, and Prime Minister Lester Pearson appointed Vancouver Sun publisher Stuart Keate as a special investigator. CBC president Alphonse Ouimet told the committee that CBC management had been battling the show's producers for two years, and that the show had consistently ignored CBC policies.
Following two weeks of mediation, Keate said it was clear that there had been "mistakes made on both sides" and recommended that the CBC board of directors do a better job of explaining to the public its decision to fire Watson and LaPierre. CBC directors immediately reaffirmed the firing of Watson and LaPierre, while admitting that the way they were fired had been a mistake.
The dispute heated up again in July, leading producer Douglas Leiterman to halt work on a new season of programs. Leiterman said he was told by CBC that his contract for the show would only be renewed if he signed a pledge to behave himself, and that he believed that Bud Walker—the CBC vice-president who had fired Watson and LaPierre—had been given a promotion to oversee all CBC English programming. The CBC denied that Walker had been promoted, fired Leiterman and cancelled the show.
In the initial aftermath of its cancellation, Canadian journalists were often intimidated by the prospect of taking on controversial issues. However, the show inspired the Canadian sketch comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which took both its name and a comedic variation on Seven Days-style ambush interviews from the earlier show. Shortly after Seven Days ended the rival CTV Television Network launched W5, a similar program, which continues to air in the 2010s (Watson contributed to this series on occasion).
Watson continued to produce programming for the CBC, including the 1988 documentary series The Struggle for Democracy. He also produces and narrates The Heritage Minutes, which are made for the Historica Foundation and given to all broadcasters who want them (receiving some 50,000 showings per year across Canada). In 1989, he was named chairman of the CBC, a position he held until 1994.
LaPierre, who also continued to produce CBC programming and authored a number of books on Canadian history, was named to the Senate in 2001. He died in Ottawa in December 2012.
Christie continued to work as a singer and comedic actress.
In 2014, the October 24, 1965 episode of the series was screened at the Canadian International Television Festival in Toronto. This episode featured the Ku Klux Klan segment noted above, as well as an invitation to political party leaders to appear on the show as part of the 1965 election campaign, a report on the shooting death of a policeman in Sudbury, an election "poll" of homeless men, interviews with Bob Guccione and Orson Welles, a feature profile on boxer George Chuvalo, and a comedic sketch mocking Prime Minister Lester Pearson and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's negotiations to have the Canadian government purchase military aircraft from the United Kingdom.
In 2001, the CBC reaired a number of old episodes of This Hour as a summer series.
This innovative series of documentaries, employing both direct cinema and traditional documentary techniques, was designed by Leiterman and Watson as a monthly replacement for This Hour Has Seven Days. Key examples include:
- The Chief (Leiterman and Beryl Fox)
- Youth: In Search of Morality (Fox)
- The Cathode Colours Them Human (Cecile Burwash Watson)
- Strike: Men against Computers (Larry Zolf)
- The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam (Fox)
- At the Moment of Impact: Flight 831 (Jim Carney)
- Running away Backwards (Allan King)
- Gallagher, Danny (September 10, 2009). "He was there when the CBC introduced TV to Canadians". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
- Allan Fotheringham, Birds of a Feather: The Press and the Politicians (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1989).
- "Amid CBC turmoil, ‘This Hour Has Seven Days’ stands out as Golden Age". Victoria Times-Colonist, November 27, 2014.
- "CBC brass, '7 Days' fought running battle 2 years, Ouimet says," Michael Best, Toronto Star, May 6, 1966, p.1
- "Explain your firings, Keate urges CBC" Martin Goodman, Toronto Star, May 27, 1966, p.1
- "Producers talk of strike again as CBC stands firm on firings," Toronto Star, May 28, 1966, p.1
- "Leiterman suspends work on '7 Days'," Toronto Star, July 6, 1966, p.1
- "Leiterman fired, Watson, Haggan quit," Roy Shields, Toronto Star, July 8, 1966, p.1
- MasterWorks recipient (video clip)
- Morris, Peter (1984). The Film Companion. Toronto: Irwin Publishing. pp. 88–89. ISBN 0 7725 1505 0.