TORONTO — Can four new hosts take the place of an anchor who led CBC’s “The National” for nearly 30 years?
It will take more than one newscast to properly judge, but CBC demonstrated Monday that its new team-approach to the nightly news at the very least looks different — and younger — than what rival broadcasters have to offer.
There’s no blaring theme song to open this new “National,” no showy, brightly coloured graphics off the top. Instead, three or four simple stills set the table for the day’s headlines. Viewers are then whisked to Toronto-based Ian Hanomansing and Adrienne Arsenault, Rosemary Barton in Ottawa and Andrew Chang in Vancouver. On opening night, they often appeared together onscreen in separate, hockey card-shaped rectangles, leaving barely enough room for all their poppies.
The four anchors smiled but never got too chummy, like on “The View.” They also didn’t shout over each other, like on the old “At Issue” panel.
There never seemed to be any need for all of them. Barton, on this night, did not grill an Ottawa party leader in studio. And Chang was the Ringo of the group, the one with little to do who could have been paid less.
The fact that they were “coming to you from three cities,” as was declared off the top, was not exactly a selling point.
It was Hanomansing, the senior member of the quartet, who got the news started on Monday.
A rock-steady veteran and spry improviser, he brought gravitas to the proceedings as viewers were told a police officer had been slain in Abbotsford, B.C.
A map locating the city would have been helpful. So would more information about exactly what happened. A suspect was hurt and taken to hospital. We eventually learned that he is in his sixties and from Alberta. Questions remained, however: did this story just happen? Is that why it seemed as if it was quickly thrust to the top of the news?
Things quickly pivoted to what was likely the original lead item: the aftermath of the mass shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Here, real resources were activated, with veteran news contributor Paul Hunter gathering some very raw, emotional testimonies.
In one shot, a grieving neighbour stood outside her house in her robe and said, “I don’t know why anybody would pick a small town like this and destroy the town.”
Keith Boag was brought in for a little editorializing. He pointed out that 14.5 million Americans now carry concealed weapons permits.
“The debate over gun control here is essentially over,” he told Hanomansing, “and the NRA won.”
A long commercial break then derailed the momentum. If the CBC really wants to distinguish itself from its rivals — and attract millennials who don’t watch network fare — it will eventually have to deliver commercial-free news hours.
After the break, Barton walked viewers through reports that a senior advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in tax-haven trouble. Details were summarized under a heading titled “The Brief.” Be even briefer, CBC, and cut the unnecessary headings.
Contributor Gillian Findlay was brought in to further discuss the report. By the time this segment ended, it was a little too obvious that Barton and Findlay taped it earlier.
In the last half hour, Arsenault moved front and centre with “The Ruins of Raqqa,” a daring, first-hand report from what was once described as the capital of ISIS.
“The wind still carries the stench of the dead,” reported Arsenault, who, guided by an armed escort, bravely walked into war-torn streets. She even got a little Barbara Walters with her Turkish protector, asking him at one point if he is married and lonely.
A segment on a musical tribute to Leonard Cohen followed before the four hosts saluted the sparse, blue-and-black Toronto set. In one corner is a stack of old cameras, microphones and other artifacts from “National” newscasts past, a towering tribute to CBC’s broadcasting heritage.
How far “The National” will extend into the future will depend on whether millennials will sit for an hour crammed with commercials — and whether their parents and grandparents will stick with this experiment long enough for four people to collectively find their feet.
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press