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Watching the Watchdog: The Zoomer Has Nothing to Lose

Watching the Watchdog: The Zoomer Has Nothing to Lose
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Tim Knight writes the regular media column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

Program: Premiere of The Zoomer, Vision TV

Subject: Radical Longevity

Date: Monday, October 7, 2013

Executive Producer:Moses Znaimer

Producer & Co-Host:Denise Donlon

Hosts: Denise Donlon, Conrad Black

Guests: Adam Leith Gollner, Dr. Michael Fossel, Libby Znaimer, Ronnie Hawkins, Susan Eng

Moses Znaimer and Denise Donlon should be ashamed.

Moses is one of Canada's great broadcasters. He's a genuine pioneer who founded twenty popular Canadian TV channels and stations including the radical Citytv and MuchMusic. He's a member of the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame, is head of ZoomerMedia and holds the Order of Ontario.

Denise, with the Order of Canada, outranks even Moses. She's been host and producer of a multitude of TV and radio programs, was executive director of CBC Radio's English-language services, is a member of the Canadian Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and was named one of Canada's Top 100 Powerful Women.

These two are about as big as you can get in Canada's broadcasting world. So when they combine forces to make a program called The Zoomer on Vision TV everyone expects something extraordinary.

But wait, there's more.

They persuade Conrad Black (Baron Black of Crossharbour who has his own Order of Canada, is a Privy Councilor and Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great) to join the show as co-host with Denise.

What can go wrong? With producers and hosts of this eminence, The Zoomer will be revolutionary, groundbreaking TV. This century's answer to the great CBC current affairs program of the last century, This Hour Has Seven Days.

It isn't.

Instead, The Zoomer is amateurish, badly hosted, badly produced, badly directed and badly edited.

Denise has too bright a forced smile and is obviously over-excited by her nearness to the Baron sitting right there next to her. She looks as if she learned her hosting skills as an intern on Rogers cable TV.

As for the Baron, he overwhelms the set, the cameras, his co-host, their guests and the studio itself. When anyone else is talking he just sits there, a great brooding Buddha, watching the goings-on with mild amusement. His slight smile says -- quite rightly -- that the show's wasting precious minutes when he's not saying something on camera.

He's magnificent, just being there. The only real tension in the hour is waiting for the Great Man to speak and wondering why he isn't speaking all the time.

This is not to say that the Baron says anything of any great import during the hour. He has only one good line and it's obviously rehearsed. It's to guest Ronnie Hawkins, the Canadian rockabilly musician (who also holds the Order of Canada):

"Ronnie, we've known each other a great many years, including some horrifyingly liquefied evenings that would not have extended our life expectancy."

Anyway, Denise asks the guests a few innocuous questions so they can give their views on "radical longevity." Everyone agrees that even if scientists now say it's possible, they personally don't want to live to a hundred and twenty.

Molly Johnson sings Long Wave Goodbye which is about throwing out her lover.

Then, after half an hour, the brooding Baron finally gets to do his thing. It involves interviewing former prime Minister Brian Mulroney but it isn't an interview at all. It's what we call a puff-piece.

Not a single good, tough, probing question in the lot.

Here are the Baron's questions to Mulroney, in toto:

"What do you think of the controversy over the charter of values in Quebec?"

"It is a place where the notwithstanding clause could be invoked, isn't it?"

"Moving in to more specific political matters, would you comment on ... you've crossed swords often with Pierre Trudeau ... I hope you're not uncomfortable saying something about your professional evaluation of Justin Trudeau as a party leader."

"Let me ask you about Thomas Mulcair who is after all the leader of the opposition at the moment. Can he hold that position? It seems on its face to be aberrant status for the NDP but what's your call on that?"

"Do you think it was an astute move politically ... and again not getting into your own preferences as to what should be done ... but was it an astute move for Justin Trudeau to propose the legalization of marijuana?"

The Baron then segues into his favourite rant -- the manifold and manifest injustices within the U.S. justice system (It was this same system that convicted him on three counts of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. After which he spent 42 months in an American prison).

He sits there on a couch in his Bridle Path mansion, surrounded by books, miniature ships in glass cases and an antique globe, and reads his script from a teleprompter with neither pause nor change of emotion.

He starts: "The United States which calls itself the land of the free has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as other advanced democratic countries such as Canada, Australia, Britain, France Germany and Japan."

He ends: "The U.S. is not now a society of just laws and Canada should not have an extradition treaty with it."

He's said it all before and, no doubt, he'll say it all again.

Maybe in some slightly different form, next week on The Zoomer.

I hope not.

Instead, may I suggest that the Baron get some coaching on how to interview (so there's some edge, some weight, some challenge to his questions) and how to perform on camera (so he's the primary source of the information and the script disappears)?

I'm told he's a quick learner so four or five days of intense training should make him reasonably good at both.

As for the show, Moses should drop Denise as co-anchor and move her back behind the scenes where she belongs.

And he should get to work on a re-design of everything in the show.

And give the Baron the whole hour.

It could be magnificent.

Or it could be bloody awful.

But The Zoomer has absolutely nothing to lose.

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