While we are waiting for Global to announce their new anchor and looking at CBC and wondering what they will do to first to fix a badly battered newscast and a new formula that is obviously not working as far as the viewing public is concerned, and second deal with the future of Peter Mansbridge, I want to take the time to discuss Lloyd Robertson and Lisa Laflamme.
I remember quite vividly the shock of Lloyd coming to join Harvey Kirk on the CTV anchor desk. At the time I was at CTV producing Canada AM. Harvey was the most popular newsman in Canada. He was a big lovable bear of a man who was most popular with his co-workers and contrary to what has been written in the past few days, still the star of CTV News in the minds of the public. Harvey didn’t work very hard at it, but when he was called upon he proved to be a very good writer and journalist. He sat in on Canada AM a few times when Norm Perry was on vacation and quickly endeared himself to my staff and the audience. He was actually a very good interviewer.
At the time Lloyd said he was leaving CBC because the union rules didn’t allow him to take part in the writing and producing of the news. He was only allowed to be an announcer. At CTV we were expecting Lloyd to come in pumped up for his opportunity to write and take a full part in the preparation of the broadcast.That never happened.
Lloyd wasn’t taking any chances, however. He was not going to play second fiddle to Harvey. He brought his own producer to run the show, Tim Kotcheff, and together they worked to minimize Harvey and maximize Lloyd.
Internally that created some small problems. It turned out that Lloyd really couldn’t write and he backed off doing that very quickly. The newsroom staff had far more respect for Harvey’s abilities than Lloyd’s. The boss, however, always favored Lloyd with the best assignments. It took a few years but Tim and Lloyd created a process to rid the staff of Harvey loyalists and of Harvey himself. The problem here being that CTV had by far the best newsroom staff in Canada at the time and over the years it has had to be trebled and quadrupled to accomplish the same amount of work that a brilliant pre-Lloyd newsroom could do.
But as it turned out Lloyd was not without an abundance of talent. With Harvey gone he made the news his own. Not with writing or journalism, but with star power and trustworthiness. Lloyd shone as an anchor. He had the ability to speak to everyone in the audience as individuals. People responded to him, in my opinion, because he was honest. What you saw on air was what you saw in person. He was a good man who enjoyed what he was doing and cared about the quality of his work and his show.
For his co-workers there was another talent that was only revealed when Lloyd began to host specials like elections, budgets and live events. He was masterful. He had the ability to control the feel and pace and content of events that were coming at him from all sides. In the parlance of TV news, he was the best “traffic cop” in the business. He had a prodigious memory for facts and he always did his homework. Perhaps most amazing was his ability to listen and talk at the same time. When I produced the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, Lloyd had both an ABC and a BBC feed beaming into his headset and further he had me interrupting him telling him where we were going next. He could listen to all three, actually hearing and repeating important information and never miss a beat talking to the audience. He was truly a savant.
Lloyd speaks to ordinary Canadians because he is deep down, after the seven figure salary, an ordinary Canadian. He’s a good family man. He is serious about his religious beliefs and he is not afraid to let his feelings and basic people instincts show. He will be a hard man to replace and he will be missed in the Canadian news business.
I never worked with Lisa Laflamme but I have admired her work for a long time. I remember when she was a local reporter in Kitchener and I was running CBC News in Toronto. On many, many occasions I asked the people around me who was this young local small town reporter who was producing pieces to equal most of the work being produced on CBC and CTV at the national level? A few years later I watched as began to do a lot of anchor work in Kitchener. She took to it naturally. She was comfortable behind the desk from day one and had the ability Lloyd had to talk to her audience like she was one of them.
When I went to Global to be news director I thought, wow, here’s an opportunity to hire Lisa away from CKCO. Unfortunately I had the dumbest and worst VP of news that I have ever had the misfortune to work for or even hear about. We needed a reporter who could fill in on the anchor desk on weekends and holidays. Lisa was doing a spectacular job in Kitchener so the fit seemed perfect. I went to Doug Bonar (ah, what an apt monicker) and told him I was going to offer the job to Lisa. He asked to see her audition tape. I showed it to him. He refused to allow me to hire her. Why? Did he not like her reporting skills? Truth be told, he wouldn’t know a good reporter from a can of cream soup. Did he not like her anchoring skills? He knew as much about anchors as he knew about astrophysics. No, I couldn’t hire Lisa Laflamme because Doug Bonar did not like her hair!
It worked out for the best for Lisa. I know she has the talent and ability to be a fine replacement for Lloyd Robertson. Her biggest problem will be that Lloyd is a mighty hard act to follow.