Special Report on Production in Vancouver: The brave new world of VTV

When Vancouver Television anchors Aamer Haleem and Ted Schredd take their seats on the oversized toast- and bacon-styled sofas on the set of the inaugural Vancouver Live morning show Sept. 22, it’s quite possible they’ll also be wearing hard hats and steel-toed boots. Same with Vicki Gabereau when she launches her national chat show, or any of the 140-odd sales, editorial, administration, promotions, technical and production people working in-house on launch day.

Construction of the five-storey studio and office complex in the old library building at Burrard and Robson Streets has been delayed by city heritage hearings (because of the satellite dishes on the roof) and a city-worker strike that has impeded building permits and inspections.

But the show must go on, says Bob McLaughlin, vtv’s vp of in-house production. Scheduling has been so tight that a week before launch day, sets weren’t even begun. Dry runs of news shows only began a couple of days in advance. Leading-edge digital equipment like plasma screens never before used in broadcasting were hardly out of their boxes let alone tested just before vtv went live.

‘We’re working with technology no one has worked with before and it’s overwhelming,’ says McLaughlin. ‘We’re nervous and we’ll make mistakes. But that’s all part of live, local broadcasting.’

vtv’s newsroom looks like the bridge of some space-going vessel. Huge walls of monitors and an anchor station that can pivot to a new position every broadcast highlight the set.

Regular, weekday anchors Monica Deol (MuchMusic) and Paul Mennier (atv) lead a news team of 25 full-time staffers who will work downtown and in six bureaus: Victoria, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Port Coquitlam, Surrey and Richmond. Rooftop cameras are placed throughout the city and microwave trucks are on the road.

Decentralizing the newsroom means there will be a greater emphasis on the community aspects of Vancouver relative to the other stations, says McLaughlin. Multilingual reporters will delve into the many Vancouver cultures with a new level of authenticity and accuracy, he adds.

‘We have journalists who are finding stories that the mainstream media are not looking for,’ says McLaughlin. In addition, current affairs will dedicate segments of newscasts to arts and culture in the Vancouver area.

Some of those arts stories will be generated from vtv itself. In its promise to the crtc, vtv and Baton promised to invest $28 million over the next seven years to license b.c.-made production.

Already the vtv kitty has had an effect as vp of independent production Wayne Sterloff tries to fill the fall slate.

Locally made programs include the 26-episode Pacific Profiles by Troika Pictures, 13 one-hour documentaries such as Green Dreams by Corky Productions about the environmental war in the woods and Sitting on the Story by producer Pat Barker about the benches scattered around Vancouver, and variety programming such as Live from Mars (a Yaletown nightclub) by Friday Communications.

Word is still out on whether the pilot for Eyes of a Cowboy – about a time-traveling Stetson-wearer – will be picked up as a series. Sterloff says he’s very encouraged by producer Peter Graham’s project shot in b.c.’s interior and has given it a prominent position by airing it during launch week.

On the sales side, vtv will be a mainstream station that will skew young.

‘The station will have an appeal to a younger demographic,’ says Dennis Hendricks, general sales manager, ‘but we’re not targeting only a younger market.’ He says the station will cater to an 18- to 54-year-old demographic with shows like Melrose Place skewing the 18- to 49-year-old audience and Law & Order skewing the 25-54 age group.

Hendricks says sales are up to 15% above budgets for the fall. ‘The market was definitely ready for us,’ he says. ‘We’ve had a strong response from both Vancouver and Toronto markets.’

Advertising and promotions manager Bernee Boulton says the public awareness strategy is similar to a radio station’s promotion strategy: merchandise, giveaways, on-air promotions, contests, sponsorships. So-called V-Teams will drive trucks to community events and participate as well as promote.

‘We want to break off the screen and into the street,’ says Boulton. ‘Yes, we’re a television station, but we’re also part of the community.’

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NFB75Anniversary

NFB75Anniversary - Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley with Claude Joli-Coeur (NFB Acting Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson)