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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Good Night, Lloyd"

Howard Bernstein's terrific blog, Medium Close Up is on to something: namely that CTV's longtime anchor, Lloyd Robertson will announce his retirement right after the Olympics.

In Canada, this is big news. Robertson is a national media fixture who does what anchors do best - just show up and be the visual embodiment of reliability and continuity. Robertson once hosted the CBC's nightly newscast, The National from 1970 to 1976. He quit to join CTV, because of union restrictions at the CBC which precluded him from being anything more than an announcer, which meant only be allowed to read other peoples' copy.

Thirty four years is a long time to be a newscaster, but CTV understood something that other networks didn't - consistency counts.  Robertson's longevity, combined with the CBC's nervous impatience with change has made CTV "the most watched newscast in Canada," according to the press releases.

The point spreads and handicapping of Robertson's successor have already begun: the CBC's Peter Mansbridge is also getting close to retirement. As a CBC lifer, he is unlikely to either make the jump or be considered. CBC has also been smart in giving Mansbridge other outlets for his journalism, so boredom can't be a factor. Global's Kevin Newman is younger and has frequently been mentioned as the heir apparent to both. CTV also has a talented stable of secondary hosts who could all be considered as competent possibilities.

But the nightly news habit is waning and broadcasters are faced with difficult, even impossible dilemmas when an anchor retires.

First the audiences are inherently conservative in that they don't embrace change as much as TV insiders think they do. Viewers tune in to be reassured as much as to be informed. And woe betide the network that doesn't understand that.

Radio is even more conservative. In 2005, NPR's longtime morning program host Bob Edwards was brusquely removed in a fit of management pique from "Morning Edition" after 21 years on the air. Audiences (and the stations that depend on raising money around Bob's dulcets) were duly and appropriate outraged. As ombudsman at the time, I received more than 35,000 emails of complaint - second only to the number of aggrieved missives I got over NPR's Middle East coverage...

CTV has two options: One, it could anoint another version of Robertson - cool, familiar and Canadian. Or two, it could invent something different that attempts to combine the best of conservative viewing habits with the emerging new technology and radical social media that now increasingly displaces television.

I'm hoping for the latter; I won't be too disappointed with the former.

Late addition: Robertson officially denies he is retiring.

1 comment:

  1. I wondered if something wasn't quite right when Brian Williams and Lloyd kept talking over each other during the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics. Bother being first class broadcast professionals, I wondered what had happened back stage. I hope Lloyd was/is given star treatment when he travels. He claims not to want it, but enjoys it when it happens - I've seen the delight when I've picked him up at airports for stories [Moscow, Ottawa]. Kevin Newman's move from Winnipeg to Ottawa was always seen, I think, as getting him closer to Toronto and the Canwest problems would seem to add to his availability.
    But who would blame Lloyd? Some thirty years working nights? He has a voice, which a good friend from the marketing world once told me, would make millions if you could bottle it. If our Lloyd does retire I, for one, wish him well and God speed.