Every fall, a new season of George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight begins. And with each new season comes big changes -- name changes, time changes, studio changes, channel changes -- but no changes have been as radical as the ones introduced this fall.
The length of the show has been chopped in half, the studio has been completely redesigned, the time slot has been moved to primetime, the news segment is out and a new three-person comedy panel is in. Also, George now wears skinny jeans that are distractingly tight in the crotch region (not that I'm complaining).
Here's how George explains the new format: "We used to go to bed together. Now we're having dinner together -- and maybe just that."
Cutting the show to 30 minutes and moving it from 11 p.m. to primetime may be good for ratings but it's bad for those of us who liked the freedom late-night television gave George to be George. Gone from the primetime show are George's musings on religion, politics and the environment. George was always impartial but he was never neutral. You never knew what party he voted for but you always knew what issues he cared about. His show was often a platform for his activism (he's an ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme and he's traveled to the Arctic for a special on literacy, youth culture, and the loss of Inuit identity. He's been to Sudan with War Child Canada, and to Zambia for a World AIDS Day documentary. He sponsored the One Million Acts of Green challenge and he's a member of the David Suzuki Foundation's board of directors).
I miss the anti-religious, anti-consumerist and anti-authoritarian undertones of the old format. The only good thing about cutting the show in half is that it gives George less time to talk about hockey. I hate hockey.
But 30 minutes isn't enough time to let George do what he does best -- the long-form interview. George is a master of the long-form interview. He is sincere, interested, informed and intelligent. As a result, his subjects respect him. His interviews often feel more like conversations. He knows how to draw stories out of actors, directors, writers, musicians, athletes, activists and politicians. He's done the research and knows what he's talking about. He takes his time when asking a question. And, more importantly, he listens to what the other person is saying. He doesn't read scripted notes. He doesn't fawn. He isn't fake. He leans forward and draws people in with his natural charm and those big, brown liquidy eyes. He’s not just a good interviewer, he's an award-winning interviewer (as his collection of Geminis attests).
The CBC is making a big deal about moving the show to 7 p.m. But is this really a big deal? Do people still watch TV shows on television? I haven't watched TV shows on television since 2006. The beauty of watching George's show online is that I can watch it when it's convenient for me. So I can watch him when I eat breakfast or when I come home from work. Or I can just curl up on the couch and watch an entire week's worth of episodes back-to-back on Saturday afternoon. I suspect that most of his audience watches the show the same way, so why not keep it in the 11 p.m. timeslot?
Perhaps the move to primetime is a recognition by the CBC that George is one of its biggest stars. But what made him a star are all of the things you can't do in primetime. This is why Canadians like him. We sense he is genuine, deep and intelligent. If we want shallow and superficial, we'll watch CNN. The CBC is a public broadcaster. It should not be overly concerned about numbers and ratings and making money. Sure the CBC might get higher ratings by moving the show to primetime but at what cost? Is it worth getting more viewers if you have to sacrifice quality and depth? But there's no way to talk about this without talking about government funding and budget cuts and that's a post better left for another day.
As for the new set, I'm still getting used to it. It's too slick. Too bright. Too corporate. It's a beautifully designed set for a morning show. But not for George. The show's old set was always dark with lots of black. And I think this darkness contributed to the success of his interviews. It set a mood that helped people open up. The mood was serious and somber, a perfect setting for probing questions. The new studio doesn't match the mood that George tries to set in his interviews. It's too light, bright and airy. Of course, not all of George's interviews are serious. He's a funny guy and maybe he wants to inject more humour into the show. A lighter, brighter set better reflects this new direction.
The biggest change this season is the introduction of the three-person comedy panel. The panel takes up the last 10 minutes of each show and features two permanent panelists (comedian Ali Hassan and actress Naomi Snieckus) and one rotating guest panelist (filled by various celebrities but best when filled by the funny ones like Andrea Martin and Colin Mochrie). The panel riffs on random topics while George facilitates. Ali and Naomi are clever and funny. The panel is a good idea but it would be better to have it once a week rather than every night. Turning it into a weekly segment would keep it fresh and fun.
Anyway, I'm happy to see the show is still on the air. Nine seasons is an impressive run for a Canadian talk show. George just keeps getting better (and hotter) as he gets older. I just wish the CBC would recognize that George is one of their best interviewers and give him the time and space to do long interviews.
The new show is good. But I prefer the hour-long, late-night format.
|Me and George outside CBC headquarters in Toronto this summer|
Just for fun, here are a few of my previous posts about George Stroumboulopoulos:
We love George
George goes to America
Four hours with George Stroumboulopoulos
George Stroumboulopoulos: Canadian sex symbol
An hour with George Stroumboulopoulos