Cohen the quizmaster

With 35 years' experience in the broadcast business, including early work with American game show pioneers Dan Enright and Jack Barry and as a producer or director on 20 game or quiz shows, Sidney M. Cohen was the logical choice to...

With 35 years’ experience in the broadcast business, including early work with American game show pioneers Dan Enright and Jack Barry and as a producer or director on 20 game or quiz shows, Sidney M. Cohen was the logical choice to create and produce the new Canadian quiz show TimeChase for History Television.

But as Cohen explains, convincing the new specialty to accept and green light his project was not without its difficulties.

‘I went in with a full-blown pitch ­ with bells and prizes ­ that I had worked on for about six months. I really did a nice presentation for them,’ says Cohen.

The panel he pitched to included History Television president Phyllis Yaffe, vp programming Norm Bolen and director, program development and acquisitions Sydney Suissa, and Alliance Broadcasting consultant Arthur Weinthal.

‘I impressed three of the four people,’ recalls Cohen, ‘but Phyllis Yaffe came in and said, ‘I don’t think so.’ ‘

Fortunately for Cohen, the panel liked and respected his work enough to ask him to come back in a week with another proposal. Dejected and discouraged after putting so much work into his original pitch, Cohen explained the situation to his son Jay over coffee at their favorite local restaurant.

Twenty-two-year-old Jay, who had grown up watching his father create, produce and direct shows such as The Mad Dash, the most popular Canadian daytime network game show ever, started making suggestions and changes to his father.

‘I said, ‘Holy shit, you’re right,’ ‘ says Cohen Sr. ‘We typed it up that day and sent a two-page fax to Norm Bolen.’

Bolen called back within hours saying, ‘That’s the show,’ making Jay a coproducer and co-creator of TimeChase.

Cohen says TimeChase promises to be a ‘smart’ quiz show focusing on events in Canadian and world history, with Jeopardy as the most obvious model. Sheldon Turcott will host. Three contestants will compete by answering questions from historical decades spanning the beginning of history to the present day. In the Double or Nothing Round, the players will put their points on the line as they risk what they’ve earned to try and pull ahead in the game.

Cohen’s experiences are wider than just the world of game and quiz shows. He helped create the cbc noon-hour production Midday and worked on the show for four years before moving over to ctv’s Canada am as executive producer. Cohen was also instrumental in helping Newsworld in its early stages, serving as a director and consultant helping train current affairs directors.