For about two decades I covered the BC tv scene for TV Week (and occasionally The Hollywood Reporter, TV Guide and other publications). And I profiled almost every anchor on BC’s TV stations. When I saw the news this morning (May 15, 2023) about the charming, kind and iconic longtime anchor Deb Hope dying of early onset Alzheimer’s, I thought I’d see if I could find one of the interviews I did with her for TV Week…
This is about her return to the BCTV Noon News… and for historical context… This story covers BCTV pioneering a more casual newsroom approach that was borrowed by a spunky little American company called CNN and changed the way TV news happened.
This would be a draft before my editor worked her magic and, possibly, not my final draft. I can’t find a date anywhere on the file, but from the context and the references it looks like I wrote this in 1991/92.
For a proper and wonderfully done obituary, please check out this link from Global News.
It took Deborra Hope four years to return to the anchor desk of the BCTV Noon News Hour, and the day she got back they took the desk away.
As part of the overhaul of the Noon News Hour last September, BCTV decided to do away with the desk and have the anchor stand-up. “I was uncomfortable with it at first,” says Hope. “It was really frightening to have to hold the script in my hands.”
Noon News producer, George Browne (who took over the show last March), says that getting rid of the desk was part of the move to a more casual, viewer-friendly newscast. “By breaking down the old rules of television and news presentation you immediately create a new style,” says Browne, “And the new style is looser and easier to watch.”
“Loose” seems to be the operative word. The on air team consists of Hope; sportscaster, Barry Houlihan; business analyst, Michael Campbell; and weather forecaster, Jennifer Lo and their style is, well, casual.
Watching the Noon News Hour from the control room, the atmosphere seemed less like a newsroom than a morning radio show. Hope was even giving away free tickets to a Bryan Adams concert. And sitting in the BCTV boardroom with the on air team and Browne was a little like watching an updated version of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show. Houlihan does the Ted Baxter slapstick, Campbell and Lo deliver Murray and Rhoda’s sarcastic one-liners, Browne handles the dry Lou Grant humour and Hope is the calm at the centre of the storm.
Hope joined BCTV just over ten years ago. “I just got my watch,” she says. “December 7th, 1981.” She started out as a junior reporter and two years later began co-anchoring the Noon News Hour with Jim Hart. In 1987 she left to have a baby, then returned as a senior reporter until moving back to anchor last fall. Before joining BCTV, she worked for two major newspaper syndicates, Canadian Press and United Press, but Hope prefers TV.
“Television is a team medium, which makes it a lot more fun.” And the Noon News Hour is clearly a team show.
“What we’re going for (at the Noon News Hour) is a team,” says Browne. Another goal of the overhaul was “to become a little more interactive with the audience.”
In order to reach that goal, the Noon News initiated a series of segments devoted to answering viewer mail, including Que Pasa, a weekly section where Houlihan answers a sports related question with all the seriousness David Letterman reserves for responding to his viewer mail. Says Houlihan: “We laugh at ourselves and have a good time.”
Halloween was the perfect example. Although Hope was dressed in her regular anchor garb, everyone else showed up in costume.
“I was dressed country and western,” says Lo.
“I was a sleazy stock promoter,” says Campbell.
Says Hope: “After he’d done his piece I said, “I have just one more question for you, Michael,” and he said, “I know what it is and I’m busy.”
Houlihan dressed up as Elvis.
In her best Elvis impersonator voice, Hope recites some of Houlihan’s on air shtick from the Halloween show. “You heard of slot back, defensive back, running back, I’m a fat back.”
“And then he ordered pizza,” said Lo. “On the air.”
“People loved it,” said Hope.
For another show, Houlihan did a different impersonation. One viewer wrote in complaining that three of BCTV’s female newscasters (Hope, Lo and Pamela Martin) all had similar hair styles, so after showing pictures of the three women, the camera panned back to reveal Houlihan wearing a wig with a very familiar coif. “I looked strikingly similar,” says Houlihan.
“Not strikingly similar,” says Hope.
Says Browne: “Our idea was to try new and different things. It was also an effort to make show distinctive. We changed story presentation, the structure of the show, the line-up of the show, live sports was initiated and we gave Deb a radio mike and she walked around the newsroom. The old structure was just reading and introducing a story and then the story was presented. It was just like reading a newspaper. We wanted to be all things, the
news of the day, information and entertainment.”
Says Hope, “It’s a newscast and a magazine all in one.”
To launch the format change, Hope and George went to China to film a series of special features. “That has to be one of the more interesting things I’ve done,” says Hope. “We went on a cruise up the Yang Tse River, we also went to Shanghai, Bei Jing…”
But before she can say anymore about the trip, Campbell interrupts. “We have to hear about this every week,” he moans.
“That’s actually the hierarchy of BCTV. George and Deborra went to China — Barry, Jen and I went to Chinatown.”
Putting the jokes aside for just a moment, Campbell says that another strength of the Noon News Hour is the emphasis on feature stories, interviews and analysis. “Look at the popularity of talk radio. B.C. is an analysis province. You have to inform people and have really strong substance, which George makes sure that we do, but I think you can put it in a format that comes alive and breathes and lives and talks to the people directly and has some entertainment value.”
“And it doesn’t have to be hard and unfriendly either,” says Hope.
Says Browne, in what sounds like a serious tone of voice: “There’s a time to cry there’s, a time to laugh.”
“Oh George, you’re getting far too poetic,” complains Hope.
“That’s a sound bite George,” says Lo, “That’s gross.”
“Actually, that was a Byrds lyric,” says Campbell. “Change, change, there is a season, turn, turn.”
“I think the neat thing about the news is that it’s experimental,” says Lo. “It’s fly by the seat of your pants too.”
“Some things will work, some things won’t,” says Hope. “The viewers will let us know.”