Witness to Yesterday

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Witness to Yesterday
Created byArthur Voronka
Written byArthur Voronka
Presented byPatrick Watson
Country of origin Canada
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons2
Producer(s)Tom Moore
Arthur Voronka
Production location(s)Montreal
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Look Hear Productions
Original networkGlobal
Original release8 January 1974 –
c. 1976 (original series)
Related showsTitans (1981-82)

Witness to Yesterday is a Canadian docudrama television series which featured staged interviews with historical personalities. It was first broadcast by Global Television Network in 1974, then produced by TVOntario to 1976. A 12-episode revival of the series was produced in 1998 for History Television.


Each episode featured a historical person as portrayed by a guest actor in conversation with host Patrick Watson who took the role of an interviewer.

Witness to Yesterday was among the first series to be broadcast by Global. Original episodes were broadcast on Global in a regular Tuesday 10:00 p.m. time slot from 8 January 1974 to 21 May 1974. The debut episode featured Brenda Donohue as Joan of Arc.


The series was produced in Montreal by Look Hear Productions, a division of the McConnell advertising company.[1]

Laurier Lapierre conducted research for the series. Scripts were written, but the filming often incorporated ad-lib dialogue. Each episode was produced for approximately $6000 with actors paid from $600 to $2500. Host Patrick Watson earned 15% of the international sales income plus his base $500 per episode.[2] Writers included Patrick Watson, Patrick Withrow and Doug Scott.

Global Television Network encountered financial difficulties in its initial months and cancelled most of its original Canadian programming by May 1974. Global owed Look Hear Productions $130,000 for producing 24 episodes of Witness to Yesterday. The last episode filmed prior to Global's cancellation featured Donald Sutherland as doctor Norman Bethune.[1] Global eventually paid 30% of its bill for the series as part of its financial settlement with creditors.[3]

CBC Television considered picking up the series but by then had booked other productions.[1] Witness to Yesterday was transferred to Toronto educational station CICA-TV (OECA) which planned the production of three new episodes for the 1974-75 season and another 13 for the 1975-76 season, in addition to rebroadcasting the initial 20 episodes.[4]


Global Television Network episodes (1974)[edit]

Global broadcast the series on a regular 10 p.m. Tuesday time slot.

No. Historical figure Starring Original air date Notes
1"Joan of Arc"Sandy Dennis8 January 1974 (1974-01-08)Pilot episode[2][5]
2"Sitting Bull"August Schellenberg15 January 1974 (1974-01-15)[6]
3"Queen Victoria"Kate Reid22 January 1974 (1974-01-22)[7]
4"René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle"Laurier LaPierre29 January 1974 (1974-01-29)[8]
5"Catherine the Great"Zoe Caldwell5 February 1974 (1974-02-05)[9]
6"Patrick J. Whelan"Patrick McFadden12 February 1974 (1974-02-12)[10]
7"Sarah Bernhardt"Denise Pelletier19 February 1974 (1974-02-19)[11]
8"Billy the Kid"Richard Dreyfuss26 February 1974 (1974-02-26)[12]
9"John A. Macdonald"Robert Christie5 March 1974 (1974-03-05)[13]
10"Nell Gwyn"Dawn Greenhalgh12 March 1974 (1974-03-12)[14]
11"Christopher Columbus"William Hutt19 March 1974 (1974-03-19)[15]
12"William Shakespeare"Barry Morse26 March 1974 (1974-03-26)[16]
13"Thomas Paine"Robert Vaughn2 April 1974 (1974-04-02)[17]
14"Walter Raleigh"Chris Wiggins9 April 1974 (1974-04-09)written by Doug Scott[18]
15"Socrates"Mavor Moore16 April 1974 (1974-04-16)[19]
16"Judas Iscariot"Donald Davis23 April 1974 (1974-04-23)[20]
17"Mata Hari"Maruska Stankova30 April 1974 (1974-04-30)[21]
18"Duke of Wellington"Christopher Plummer7 May 1974 (1974-05-07)[22]
19"Leonardo da Vinci"Patrick Watson14 May 1974 (1974-05-14)[23]
20"Rembrandt"Robert Markle21 May 1974 (1974-05-21)[24]

CICA/TVOntario episodes (1974-76)[edit]

Historical figure Starring
"Al Capone"Henry Ramer
"George Gershwin"Steve Allen
"Akhenaten"Allan Migicovsky
"Mohandas Gandhi"Louis Negin
"Earl of Durham"Colin Fox
"Emma Goldman"Marilyn Lightstone
"Lucrezia Borgia"Alexandra Bastedo
"Adolf Hitler"Robin Gammell
"Catherine de' Medici"Sydney Sturgess
"Norman Bethune"Donald Sutherland
"Mark Twain"Alex Trebek
"George Bernard Shaw"Barry Morse
"Grigori Rasputin"August Schellenberg
"Mary Todd Lincoln"Marian Waldman
"Cleopatra"Jayne Meadows


Witness to Yesterday was sold to broadcasters in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and on other Canadian stations.[2]

Blaik Kirby of The Globe and Mail deemed the premiere to be "flat and undramatic", noting that French-Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold should have been considered for the role of Joan of Arc over the less appropriate performance from American Sandy Dennis.[25] Later, Kirby gave the overall series a favourable review, noting that it "was in almost everyone's opinion, one of the very best of Global's Canadian programs, which were a worthy achievement even as a group."[1]

1998 revival[edit]

Witness to Yesterday
Directed byAlan Gough
Patrick Watson
Presented byPatrick Watson
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes12
Production location(s)Fredericton
Running time30 minutes
Original networkHistory
Original release24 March –
16 June 1998

New episodes of Witness to Yesterday were broadcast by History Television in 1998. Watson again hosted the series and was its primary writer with additional writing by Hugh Graham.[26] 12 episodes were completed of a 13-episode plan under a $700,000 budget.[27] Eight episodes were recorded in December 1997 at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. The remaining episodes were recorded in Toronto. Alan Gough directed this series revival with Watson.[28] New Brunswick company Cinefile and Toronto's The Film Works co-produced the series revival. Victor Solnicki and Barry Cameron were executive producers from Cinefile and The Film Works respectively. Its budget was supported by History Television, PBS which aired these episodes and a $168,500 credit from provincial agency Film NB.[29]

History Television episodes (1998)[edit]

No. Historical figure Starring Original air date Notes
1"Marie Antoinette"Cynthia Dale24 March 1998 (1998-03-24)[28]
2"Niccolò Machiavelli"David Calderisi31 March 1998 (1998-03-31)TBA
3"Marie Curie"TBA7 April 1998 (1998-04-07)TBA
4"Genghis Khan"Gordon Tootoosis14 April 1998 (1998-04-14)[29]
5"Amelia Earhart"Martha Burns21 April 1998 (1998-04-21)[28]
6"Tecumseh"Raoul Trujillo28 April 1998 (1998-04-28)[28]
7"Mary Pickford"Charmion King5 May 1998 (1998-05-05)[28]
8"Mary Ann Shadd"Sylvia Sweeney19 May 1998 (1998-05-19)[30]
9"Vladimir Lenin"Michael Ironside26 May 1998 (1998-05-26)[31]
10"William Stephenson"John Neville2 June 1998 (1998-06-02)[26]
11"Alexander the Great"Paul Gross9 June 1998 (1998-06-09)[26]
12"Sigmund Freud"TBA16 June 1998 (1998-06-16)TBA

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kirby, Blaik (24 May 1974). "Applause, Applause offers lots to look at". The Globe and Mail. p. 14.
  2. ^ a b c King, Paul (26 April 1974). "Patrick Watson lives it up..." Calgary Herald. p. TV Times 38–39. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  3. ^ Bawden, Jim (26 April 1998). "Watson Goes Back to Yesterday". Toronto Star.
  4. ^ Kirby, Blaik (19 September 1974). "Channel 19 takes over Witness". The Globe and Mail.
  5. ^ Penn, Frank (10 January 1974). "Joan of Arc grilled... again". Ottawa Citizen. p. 31. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  6. ^ "Daily television programs". Ottawa Citizen. 15 January 1974. p. 26. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  7. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 22 January 1974. p. 19. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  8. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 29 January 1974. p. 23. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  9. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 5 February 1974. p. 21. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  10. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 12 February 1974. p. 19. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  11. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 19 February 1974. p. 17. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 26 February 1974. p. 21. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  13. ^ "Tuesday evening". Windsor Star. 5 March 1974. p. 19. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 12 March 1974. p. 19. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  15. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 19 March 1974. p. 19. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  16. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 26 March 1974. p. 19. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  17. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 2 April 1974. p. 15. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  18. ^ "Tuesday evening". Windsor Star. 6 April 1974. p. TV Times. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  19. ^ "Tuesday evening". Windsor Star. 13 April 1974. p. TV Times. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  20. ^ "Tuesday evening". Windsor Star. 20 April 1974. p. TV Times. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  21. ^ "TV Times / Tuesday evening". Windsor Star. 27 April 1974. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  22. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 7 May 1974. p. 27. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  23. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 14 May 1974. p. 23. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  24. ^ "Television tonight". Windsor Star. 21 May 1974. p. 29. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  25. ^ Kirby, Blaik (9 January 1974). "Watson's Witness falls slightly flat". Globe and Mail. p. 14.
  26. ^ a b c Allemang, John (31 March 1998). "Yesterday's man returns to TV Fine Tuning". The Globe and Mail. p. C2.
  27. ^ "Agenda grows at MIPCOM '99". Playback. 4 October 1999. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  28. ^ a b c d e Cameron, Amy (21 March 1998). "Witness to Yesterday returns to the airwaves". Telegraph Journal. Saint John, New Brunswick.
  29. ^ a b Hoffman, Andy (12 January 1998). "Atlantic Scene: D'Entremont wins Japan prize and develops situation comedy". Playback. Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  30. ^ "Sylvia Sweeney: Filmographie". Mémoires d'un pays (in French). Retrieved 8 September 2012.
  31. ^ Malleck, Bonnie (26 May 1998). "Hasselhoff tops the bill as Nick Fury". The Hamilton Spectator. p. C7.

External links[edit]