The man of The Hour 

I wish I could claim lofty intentions in my deliberate efforts to catch CBC Newsworld’s newest current affairs program, The Hour, which debuted Monday.

My enthusiasm was not purely for the broadening of my global perspective but fuelled by a longstanding crush on the program’s host, George Stroumboulopoulos. Smart as a whip, articulate and punk rock to the core, the ex-MuchMusic host is every thinking, sarcastic rocker chick’s fantasy. I’ve been smitten ever since I first saw him add a characteristic snide aside to the pop-culture pablum he was hired to spew for the teenage wasteland tuning in and dropping out. In the midst of a sea of plastic, George was the anchor of authenticity. As the years tick by I lose more and more patience for the insipidity purveyed by our nation’s music station – the ride-pimping and the Newlywed Nick and Jessicas and the vacuous VJs like recently departed airhead Amanda Walsh. George was the rock. The one thing that made MuchMusic worth watching. My viewership hung on his thread.

Easy-listening music fans got a taste of George during last fall’s Greatest Canadian program on CBC TV. The whipsmart upstart with the nose-ring talked Saskatchewan politician Tommy Douglas, the father of Canada’s health care system, into first place in the voting public’s hearts, beating out a deep field that contained Sir John A, PET and Gretzky. There’s no doubt, Douglas is a worthy winner, but really, how much of it was George? He could have convinced me to vote for a Celine Dion bobble-head figurine.

CBC brass obviously took note of the hip young man that had fallen into their laps, because now here he is doin’ the news.

Our nation’s public broadcaster is renowned for news. Those of us who have grown up here tend to take it for granted. But spend one night channel surfing through your insomnia and really watching CNN or any of the other American news channels for a spell. You’ll end up sitting on the floor of the shower hugging your knees to your chest and trying to wash it all off. No wonder smart Americans go to Jon Stewart for the straight story. Sweet satire eases the pain.

Up in the Great White North we trust in Peter Mansbridge, respected and beyond reproach, but still your parents’ anchor – bald, buttoned down, and measured, a thoughtful journalist whose mastery of his craft has sanctified the nightly news.

What would rock ’n’ roll George have up the sleeve of his black rock tee, I had to wonder. Would he be all grown up, buttoned down and behind a desk? Unless he’s actually a cyborg created in a covert CBC editing lab, Peter Mansbridge won’t be doing the news forever. Was George going to fall in line and groom for anchordom?

The Hour answered a resounding "no."

Looking much like he did on Much, clad in jeans, black shirt, hair scruffy, nose defiantly still pierced, George introduced himself and his program with a straight up quote from the film Network: "I’m all out of bullshit."

Bishop Mansbridge was featured briefly, live from Sri Lanka, and gave the novitiate his blessing. His eminence actually seemed to make George a little nervous, a live, on-air reminder that you’re not in Kansas anymore. But once Mansbridge had faded away, George was ready to be himself. Not wanting to bet too much on the new kid, the CBC had invested very little in The Hour’s set. Discount IKEA and a fish bowl about sums it up.

The topic list jumped from contemplative reflection on religion by a correspondent in tsunami-ravaged India, to extreme weather, to the hockey lockout, to the difference between Canadian and American beer. Interspersed throughout were mini commentaries/rants, kitschy lists and features like "the 16 th Minute" – a nod to Andy Warhol’s famous fame notion – to name those past their expiry. The debut winner/loser: Donald Trump.

But most significant was The Hour’s underlying sentiment addressing distrust of conventional media approaches. The hockey lockout story found Eric Lindros looking the quintessential hoser in a toque and sweatpants skating around at an outdoor rink. In all the talk of owners vs. players association George’s take was that the mainstream media has lost sight of the fact that the players are simply missing the game.

Even the weather story was not so cut and dry, examining whether conventional news outlets have sensationalized weather coverage to the point of being "the new war."

For a generation that has grown up suspecting the mainstream broadcast news is not so much what’s actually going on, but what we’re being fed by the powers that be, George’s role as broadcaster/media critic is welcome. But the pop-rocks pacing and pop-culture snippets are too Much at times. Refreshing as it is to see something other than our parents’ news, we don’t necessarily want to see our 13-year-old cousin’s news either, no matter how hot the host is.


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