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Patrick Watson and the art of the interview

The Story

Patrick Watson, producer and co-host of the landmark CBC Television newsmagazine This Hour Has Seven Days, began as a child actor on a CBC radio serial in 1943. But it was his incisive interviews on Seven Days that really caught the attention of Canadians. In this 1978 clip from CBC Television, Watson describes one such interview to fellow broadcaster Peter Gzowski.

Medium: Television
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: April 18, 1978
Guest: Patrick Watson
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 11:26

Did You know?

• The son of two teachers, Patrick Watson studied sociology and philosophy at the University of Toronto before settling on English. He was writing a textbook on English grammar and working towards a PhD in linguistics when, in 1955, he began freelancing for the CBC children's program Junior Magazine. After taking a production course, Watson decided to stay in television, working on Mr. Fixit before moving on to the current affairs programs Close-Up in 1957 and Inquiry in 1960.

• As a young man Watson became acquainted with the architect Buckminster Fuller. Watson was inspired by Fuller's geodesic dome design and in 1960 began to build one at his Ontario cottage.
• One day as Watson was climbing up to work on the dome, the ladder slipped out from under him, snapping his left leg. Gangrene set in and virtually the entire leg had to be amputated. Watson has used a prosthesis ever since.

• In 1963 Watson teamed up with producer Douglas Leiterman to create a new kind of current affairs show. Their goal was to produce a provocative, theatrical, satirical program that would be equally compelling to university professors and cleaning ladies. This Hour Has Seven Days debuted in October 1964 and was an immediate sensation. Watson co-hosted the controversial show in its second (and final) season. When Seven Days was cancelled, Watson left CBC to work on his own projects.

• "The popular mythology has it that the government killed [Seven Days]. Not so... The real reason for management's killing the program is that we - the production team - were unmanageable. If we had been willing to spend some time winning friends at head office, we probably could have kept it going, but having one of the biggest audiences of any program on Canadian television, we were just too cocky to bother." - Patrick Watson, Globe and Mail, July 5, 2001.

• Watson produced, wrote and hosted numerous documentaries and series for CBC and other networks throughout the 1970s and '80s. In 1989, after finishing the landmark 10-hour documentary series The Struggle for Democracy, Watson became chairman of the CBC Board of Directors. His efforts at remaking the CBC into a purely public broadcaster failed, and he resigned four and a half years later. He would later describe his tenure as chairman as "a dreadful time" and "a major failure."

• Besides his memoir, Watson has written books ranging from the novels Zero to Airtime (1974) and Alter Ego (1978) to the fable Wittgenstein and the Goshawk (2004).
• Watson also produced the three-volume series The Canadians: Biographies of a Nation beginning in 2000. The books were companions to a History Television series of the same name.
• In 1984 Watson wrote and performed a one-man stage play called The Book of Job.

• Watson's acting career didn't end with his teenage role in The Kootenay Kid. He also acted in the TV movies Bethune (1977) and The Terry Fox Story (1983), playing a chicken farmer named Peg Leg in the latter.
• Watson was also a licensed commercial pilot and pilot instructor.
• In his 40s Watson took up the piano, practising for two hours daily whenever possible.

• In 1973 Watson created the TV series Witness to Yesterday. On the show, Watson interviewed actors portraying influential historical figures such as Nefertiti, Galileo, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
• Watson revived the format for the series Titans (1981). Watson did double duty in one episode, interviewing himself portraying Alexander Graham Bell.
• Witness to Yesterday was reprised yet again for History Television in 1997.

• In the 1990s Watson resumed his broadcasting work as writer, director and narrator of Canadian Heritage Minutes. He indulged a lifelong love of sleight-of-hand by directing and writing The Conjuror, a stage performance featuring magician David Ben. In 2004 he released an autobiography, This Hour Has Seven Decades.


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