CBC Digital Archives

This Hour has Seven Days: The last hurrah

In just two seasons between 1964 and 1966, This Hour has Seven Days staked its claim as the most defiant and controversial program in Canadian broadcasting history.~ Created by Douglas Leiterman and Patrick Watson, Seven Days launched a new era of public affairs television, actively taking on the role of the nation's ombudsman and interrogator. Some — including certain members of the CBC brass in Ottawa — called it "sensationalism," "arrogant" and a breach of journalistic neutrality. But Canadians loved it. Millions tuned in every Sunday night at 10 p.m. to watch the show everyone would be talking about the next day. The CBC Digital Archives presents nine complete episodes here, selected from the 50 programs made before the show was cancelled. Due to copyright issues, satirical sketches and songs that originally aired between news segments have been edited out.

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Can it really be the last episode of This Hour Has Seven Days? Over three million Canadians tune in weekly, but the future of the series is in doubt. Perhaps that explains the apocalyptic air to many of this week's items. A yogi predicts Canada will soon be a nuclear battlefield. Airline pilots fear that cheap flight insurance is fuelling a spate of sabotage. Marshall McLuhan predicts a bold new age and a former finance minister sounds the alarm for Canada's economic independence. Host Patrick Watson signs off with a tone of solemnity and throws to his co-host. "See you in 17 weeks," Laurier LaPierre quips, "well, maybe. Au revoir."
• This did turn out to be the final episode of Seven Days. Despite a storm of controversy throughout the summer, CBC executives fired Patrick Watson and Laurier LaPierre in the spring of 1966 and producer Douglas Leiterman that summer. Thousands protested the series' demise and a parliamentary committee rebuked the CBC for its heavy-handed and bureaucratic interference with the program. Even Prime Minister Pearson was forced to answer questions in the House of Commons on the matter. But according Eric Koch's book Inside Seven Days, a little blame should fall on all sides for this epic television collapse.

• The cancellation of Seven Days remains a complicated story. CBC management accused the program of violating journalistic ethics by straying from the "studious neutrality" demanded by CBC policy, and of pursuing sensational and "sleazy" story items using questionable tactics. Some citizens and columnists agreed, sighting segments like those on the birth control pill and a satirical sketch about the Pope as offensive. Formats like the "hot seat," which featured politicians facing two aggressive interviewers, and stories aimed at swaying opinion or the audience's emotions, like those about car safety and Steven Truscott, drew accusations of crusading or "yellow journalism." Host Laurier LaPierre especially miffed top network bosses, who saw his interviewing style as too emotional and argumentative and felt that his personal views "slanted" his presentation of stories. CBC executives in Ottawa had made their concerns known to the upper echelons of public affairs programming and to the producers at Seven Days, but it did little to change the nature of the show.

• For their part, the Seven Days team explicitly set out to challenge established practice. They wanted to make the most of the relatively new medium of television to create public affairs programming with broad appeal, and that would take on something of an ombudsman's role for the nation. And with nearly 3.3 million Canadians tuning in each week by the end -- an audience rivalled only by Hockey Night in Canada -- it was hard to argue with their success. Producers Douglas Leiterman and Patrick Watson set the mandate in their founding manifesto, declaring the show would be probing, vital, provocative and aimed at people not normally targeted for public affairs programming. Using dramatic lighting, quick edits, close-ups and roaming cameras, Seven Days added visual punch to a huge variety of current events features, punctuated with satirical sketches. It was television unlike anything that had been seen anywhere, besides perhaps the BBC's highly successful That Was The Week That Was. From the first program, Seven Days succeeded both in ratings and stirring controversy, but it also set a collision course with top CBC brass.

• After the first season of headline-grabbing episodes, peppered with interventions by management -- from pulling segments just before air to interference aimed at keeping LaPierre from conducting certain interviews -- both sides in the dispute dug in their heels. The results were calamitous. Before the halfway point of the second season, senior managers wanted either the show cancelled, the hosts fired, or both. In April 1966, Seven Days leaked the news that Watson and LaPierre would not be renewed to the Globe and Mail, highlighting the fact that senior management had circumvented the producers and made the decision directly, a move that contravened the agreed upon chain of command and nearly provoked a producers' strike. Despite widespread support cheering for the show to be renewed, the final broadcast of This Hour has Seven Days aired on May 8, 1966.

• In early 1960s, some suspicious airplane crashes in the U.S. were blamed on sabotage. Continental Airlines Flight 11, which crashed in Iowa on May 22, 1962, is considered the first commercial plane in the U.S. brought down by sabotage. FBI agents discovered that a passenger had purchased $150,000 US in flight insurance and then detonated a bomb in the rear lavatory of the plane. Some speculate that this incident inspired Arthur Hailey's bestselling novel Airport.

• Walter Gordon published A Choice for Canada in 1966, just seven months after he resigned from cabinet due to the election that yielded only a minority government for the Liberals. The book urged, among other things, that Canada's capital needs be met by debt financing rather than direct foreign investment (e.g. ownership) in industry, natural resources and other elements of the Canadian economy.

• To view part of the Marshall McLuhan interview on its own, please visit the CBC Digital Archives clip 'Oracle of the Electric Age.' For an overview of McLuhan's life and work, please visit our topic Marshall McLuhan, the Man and his Message

Medium: Television
Program: This Hour has Seven Days
Broadcast Date: May 8, 1966
Guest(s): James Barret, James Foy, Walter Gordon, Marshall McLuhan, George Pimm, Alfred Schmielewski
Announcer: Warren Davis
Host: Laurier LaPierre, Patrick Watson
Interviewer: Robert Fulford
Duration: 42:57

Last updated: June 17, 2013

Page consulted on September 17, 2014

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