When 22 Minutes began airing on CBC
Mary Walsh, Rick Mercer discussed the satirical program on Midday in 1993
The 1993 federal election was an auspicious time to launch a new CBC comedy program. So auspicious, in fact, that This Hour Has 22 Minutes has since become "the longest running comedy show on Canadian television," according to its Twitter bio.
The satirical news program, produced by Salter Street Films in Halifax, is still on the air in 2021 and is now in its 28th season.
At the time of its premiere, 22 Minutes, as it is now known, consisted of cast members Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey and Mary Walsh.
Jones and Walsh were both veterans of the Newfoundland sketch comedy troupe CODCO, which had also had a TV show that aired on CBC.
"Once a CODCO, always a CODCO," said Walsh, when she and Mercer were interviewed about This Hour Has 22 Minutes by host Lyn Whitham on CBC's Midday on Nov. 1, 1993.
But This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which drew its name from a groundbreaking CBC current affairs program from the 1960s called This Hour Has Seven Days, would be different.
"It's once a week, it's topical, it's shot in front of a live audience," Walsh went on, describing some of the differences between her former show and the new one.
She and her castmate, playwright Rick Mercer, were being interviewed in the Newsworld newsroom at CBC Halifax. Mercer was new to comedy ensembles but was already a familiar face to some CBC viewers.
According to the CBC catalog, he had previously appeared in a TV drama, done stand-up on Ralph Benmergui's late-night talk show, and given humorous commentaries for CBC's Midday.
For 'news junkies'
The 22 Minutes team had also been on hand with commentary and sketches for CBC's 1993 election night coverage with Peter Mansbridge and Pamela Wallin, giving Canadians a glimpse of their comedy.
"It's a show for news junkies. I always thought, if I ever got a television show, it would have to be a news show," said Mercer. "This is perfect for me. I love it."
A "former news producer" from CBC Halifax was advising the team how to make a convincing satiric newscast.
"Every week he goes, 'my career is over,'" said Mercer, putting his hand to his head in mock despair. ""Oh my god, what have I done?'"
A year after the debut, a TV columnist for the Globe and Mail hailed This Hour Has 22 Minutes as "innovative and subversive."
"Not since This Hour Has Seven Days was pulled off the air by nervous executives has there been such a deleriously funny blend of news, current affairs and comedy," wrote John Haslett Cuff on Oct. 19, 1994.
Mercer, Walsh and Thomey have since left the show, but, according to the 22 Minutes website, Jones remains — along with cast members Mark Critch, Trent McClellan, Aba Amuquandoh and Nadine Bhabha.