Newfoundland television stations have produced and presented thousands of hours
of local music, comedy, drama and documentary. Those shows reached wide audiences
in the province and across Canada, and provided experience and employment to hundreds
of performers, writers, producers and technicians.
Much of the work was conceived and produced by "in-house" crews, and for many years
local television offered few opportunities to independent filmmakers. But in the last
decade CBC Television and the local NTV station have been more active in working with
outside producers. The emergence of several new Canadian TV networks has also helped
make television an important venue and source of funding for Newfoundland filmmakers.
Newfoundland television began when CJON started broadcasting in 1955. The Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation followed by opening outlets in Corner Brook (CBYT) in 1959
and St. John's (CBNT) in 1964. The stations provided local news and information and
programs from outside the province. They also tapped into the surrounding community
to televise drama, comedy, music, documentaries, quiz shows, talk shows, and children's
programs; everything from talent competitions to teenage dance parties.
The first drama filmed for Newfoundland television was an adaptation of Ted Russell's
The Holdin' Ground, broadcast by CJON in 1959. The station also recorded occasional
specials and documentaries, including a performance by Bob Hope at Argentia.
Ted Russell's play The Holdin' Ground was broadcast by CJON in 1959.
Reproduced by permission of Elizabeth Miller. From The Life and Times of Ted Russell,
The first local entertainment series to make a significant breakthrough with
audiences was the CBC's All Around The Circle, which ran from 1967 to 1979 and
helped make singers like John White and Joan Morrissey household names in the
province. Produced in St. John's, the show focused almost exclusively on
Newfoundland music and performers, reflecting a mandate that would guide
local CBC programming for decades to come.
In the 1970s and 1980s CBC production expanded rapidly to include many specials
and series featuring local music and comedy. Popular singers like Eddy Eastman and
Jacinta Cormier appeared frequently, as did countless other musicians, actors,
community groups and child performers. Several of Newfoundland's most popular
television and film personalities began their careers during this era. Greg Malone
and Mary Walsh wrote and performed in a six-part show called The Root Seller (1978).
Malone and Tommy Sexton were regulars on Wonderful Grand Band (also starring top
musicians like Sandy Morris and Ron Hynes), which created over 40 half- hour
episodes between 1980 and 1983.
Several episodes of Wonderful Grand Band aired nationally on CBC television,
as did Ryan's Fancy, a series that began in 1972 featuring the popular traditional
band of the same name. Besides taping segments of the show in the St. John's studio,
Ryan's Fancy took film crews to communities across Newfoundland and the Maritimes
to record traditional singers and musicians for guest appearances.
Memorable dramatic productions done by the CBC included As Loved Our Fathers
(1976), a play by Tom Cahill, Cornerstone Of Empire (1983), an award winning
drama about Sir Humphrey Gilbert's voyage to the island, and Pigeon Inlet
Chronicles, a series adapted from the folk tales of Ted Russell.
Pigeon Inlet Publicity Photo, ca. 1980.
Pigeon Inlet was a popular Newfoundland television program in the 1980s. (Back row l - r): Ted Hanley, Rosemary Dawson. (Front row l - r): Kevin Noble, Canon Earle.
Reproduced by permission of CBC Television, St. John's, Newfoundland.
NTV also increased its output during the 1970s and 1980s, producing
entertainment specials like Some Slick and The Bob Lambert Music Special
as well as the Sons Of Erin music series. The station also adapted popular
plays such as Hold Fast, Daddy What's A Train and the annual revues presented
by Rising Tide Theatre (which would later move to the CBC). Its documentary
work included the award-winning Dark Harvest (1991), a chronicle of the
sexual abuse scandal at the Mount Cashel orphanage that was carried
on the CTV national network.
Meanwhile, the CBC was compiling a large catalogue of documentary work.
Beginning in 1964, Land & Sea travelled all over Newfoundland and Labrador
to find stories about natural resources and the people who make their living
from them. New episodes were still being produced in 2000, making the Land &
Sea archive an invaluable history of the social, cultural and economic life
of the province. Another long-running series was current affairs program On
Camera. The CBC also produced many single-episode documentaries and short
run series. Some, such as the historical series Where Once They Stood,
The year 1986 marked a turning point for Newfoundland television as CODCO made its
debut. The CODCO comedy troupe had created several popular stage shows between
1973 and 1976. A decade later the television series reunited five members of
the troupe: Andy Jones, Cathy Jones, Greg Malone, Tommy Sexton and Mary Walsh.
After two years on regional television the show was added to the national CBC
schedule, where it spent five seasons. Though produced in Halifax, it retained
a distinctly Newfoundland flavour. CODCO won numerous awards, set new standards
for television comedy, helped redefine Canadian perceptions of Newfoundland and
won new respect for performers in the province.
With the exception of Tommy Sexton, who died in 1994, the members of CODCO
remain prominent in Canadian film and television. Walsh and Cathy Jones teamed
up with another pair of Newfoundlanders, Rick Mercer and Greg Thomey, to create
This Hour Has 22 Minutes, a newsmagazine satire that is currently among Canada's
most popular television series. Jones and Malone have both acted and directed.
Staff and budget cutbacks have slowed the pace of local CBC production since
the late 1980s. The music and variety tradition continued with All Of A Saturday
Night and Wicked Night Out, two series that focused on a new generation of
entertainers. Holiday programs and other specials also appeared and there were
several ambitious documentaries, including Ancient, Wild and Beautiful (1999),
a two-hour history of Newfoundland music. But the overall volume of production
was down considerably from previous decades.
With fewer internal resources, CBC Newfoundland began turning to outside
producers and directors more frequently. Co-productions with independent
filmmakers included several variety specials under the name Fresh Fish and
short dramas such as The Hall Trilogy (1992), a series of three one-act
plays adapted for television. More independently produced documentaries
NTV has also turned to more independently produced work, such as the children's
drama The Elf (1996) and Untold Story (1999), a film that combines dramatic and
documentary techniques to recreate the Newfoundland women's suffrage movement.
NTV continues to air a variety of local documentaries, educational programs and
Untold Story is a film that combines dramatic and documentary techniques to recreate the Newfoundland women's suffrage movement.
Reproduced by permission of Marian White.
Over the last ten years stories written and produced by Newfoundlanders have
made a greater claim on national TV audiences. The most successful television
film associated with the province may be The Boys of St. Vincent, a three-hour
drama carried by the CBC network in 1993. It tells the story of sexual abuse
at a church-run orphanage in St. John's and the investigation that uncovers
the crimes fifteen years later. Produced in Newfoundland and Québec, it was
one of the most successful Canadian television projects of the decade, winning
awards and critical acclaim in Canada and the U.S.
Newfoundland comedy has appeared regularly on the CBC national network.
Gullage's, a 13-part series revolving around the characters at a St. John's
taxi stand, was produced in 1996 and 1997. A ramshackle local rink is the
setting for Dooley Gardens, which aired in six episodes in 1999. Extraordinary
Visitor, John Doyle's feature film about John the Baptist's visit to the province,
was televised in 1998.
In 2000 work began on Random Passage, a miniseries based on the novels of
Newfoundland writer Bernice Morgan. It's a co-production between companies in
St. John's, Québec and Ireland and will be shown on the CBC network in eight
one-hour episodes in the fall of 2001. Random Passage has been called the
biggest dramatic production in the history of Canadian television.
The recent proliferation of new cable television stations means more national
venues for local filmmakers. Locally produced documentaries have appeared on
stations such as CBC Newsworld, Vision, and the Women's Television Network.
With a need for original programming and a commitment to spend money on it,
other specialty networks have bought into dramatic films. The Pasta King Of
The Caribbean (1998) by Sharon Cavanaugh was produced in association with
Bravo! Television. The Bingo Robbers (2000), directed by Lois Brown, was
made with help from The Movie Network agreed to broadcast it. The networks
have become such a prominent player in the film industry that there is no
longer a clear distinction between movies made for theatrical release and
those made for television.
©2000, Jamie Fitzpatrick