Playback 2013 Canadian Film and TV Hall of Fame inductee: George Anthony

The Montreal-born writer and producer put his stamp on Canadian entertainment with a long career at the CBC, cheerleading the development of iconic TV series such as Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour has 22 Minutes, and features like Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.
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TV, film, newspapers and books: there’s hardly an arena in Canadian entertainment that Montreal-born writer and producer George Anthony hasn’t stepped into – or dominated.

His work at CBC television features prominently, notably as a producer on such hits as Royal Canadian Air Farce, Made in Canada and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Throughout, Anthony was driven by one simple philosophy: to put in front of Canadian audiences “the very best talent you can.”

“My job was to create a climate for them where they were safe to take risks and give us their very best work,” Anthony says. “I was thrilled by all those shows.”

So were Canadian audiences. Under his leadership, those programs have won more than 100 Gemini awards, along with the Prix Italia and numerous international Emmy Awards.

Anthony didn’t shy away from the camera himself. Following stints as a highly popular entertainment columnist and critic for the Toronto Sun, he spent five years hosting his own interview show on Global.

Anthony credits his parents for his venture into the entertainment industry. Owners of movie theatres in Montreal, they made it possible for the adolescent George to see films that were restricted to people 16 years of age and over.

“So as you can imagine I was quite popular with my friends because I was able to get them into the movies,” he recalls.

Those experiences would serve Anthony well later on, spearheading extraordinary films such as Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and Douglas Coupland’s Souvenir of Canada. The common denominator in the success of those films and his other work, he says, “is having affection and a respect for the audience.”  According to Gerald Lunz, producer of the Rick Mercer Report, those qualities underpin Anthony’s own approach to the arts.

“Respecting your audience… giving them what they want; it’s old school show biz and George has been a godsend to Rick and I for that.”

It was George Anthony who persuaded Lunz and Mercer to bring their brand of political satire to CBC TV. Anthony sees one of his roles as buffer between talent and management, a much needed skill when you’re handling shows as innovative and as willing to challenge convention as Canadian comedy.  And that’s precisely why Lunz has worked with Anthony from the get-go.

“He was my [most] honest relation with anyone in any network sphere,” Lunz says. “He was straight, there was no BS.”

With critically acclaimed biographies of film critic Brian Linehan and actor Gordon Pinsent under his belt, Anthony is now writing two books, one a collection of short fiction, the other a book of stories about Hollywood. His legacy? Well, most agree Anthony has a lot more to achieve before that chapter in his life can be fully written. For his part, Anthony prefers to think about what TV and film have given him, not what he’s given them.

“Making television is a tremendous privilege. It’s so wonderful to have people invite you into their homes. As for my legacy, I have three grandchildren – I figure that’s my legacy.”

Image: Dimo Safari