The one where I go watch CBC's The Hour being filmed

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on December 1st, 2005.

The audience applauds when George Stroumboulopoulos steps onto the floor of the CBC’s Vancouver studio. Stroumboulopoulos who began his career as a DJ on Kelowna radio has spent the past two years hosting Newsworld’s hip youth orientated newscast The Hour.  Every so often The Hour leaves its Toronto studio and travels across Canada, and for this taping it’s being filmed at the CBC Plaza in Vancouver.

After calling ahead for tickets a week ago and waiting in a line for about twenty minutes outside the CBC, I have taken my seat in the audience and am waiting for the show to begin. Stroumboulopoulos is talking with the crowd, answering questions from an audience that is an inversion from the typical CBC crowd in that there’s more alternative rock fans and less socialist grandmothers than normal.  Still having donned enough hemp clothing to choke a zebra, if they wanted to choke a zebra, the audience is eager to listen to tales of life as the voice of alternative rock on Much Music and the reasons why he left the nation’s music station. Stroumboulopoulos is happy enough to dish the dirt, pointing out that the final straw came when he was asked to host Fandemonium a television game show where each week fans of a particular band compete in sub-Fear Factor gross-out challenges in order to win prizes.  The show still runs on Much and is a low point for the studio.

Shortly after leaving Much Music Stroumboulopoulos was brought into the CBC fold, first by filming a segment for the CBC’s special series The Greatest Canadian on eventual winner Tommy Douglas the father of Medicare and then onto The Hour.  The Hour is The National for the Much Music set.  Informal it is a version of the news for people who aren’t going to have read that day’s Globe and Mail and might not be keeping a close eye on current events.  It is also the first successful show the CBC have been able to create for a youth demographic. 

Previous efforts have either been too relentlessly hip, the ill fated Play for instance felt more like a guide on how to be trendy than an information show, or so totally unhip that it’s hurt.  Stroumboulopoulos manages to strike a perfect balance, both being cool but not making you feel like he’s so much cooler than you that he’d be embarrassed to hang out with you.  He’s your friend, he’s my friend and he’s even your socialist grandmother’s friend.

With facial piercing and studded leather wristbands he is not your typical CBC presenter.  Yet he manages not to feel fake, and that’s the secret to his success and the success of The Hour.  Whatever the news viewers grow to trust that George is going to tell it like it is, that he would never try to pull the wool over their eyes.  It’s the way some people feel about Peter Mansbridge and The National, and it’s the way less and less we feel about other newscasts.  Regular viewers know that even though Stroumboulopoulos is opinionated he’s not going to play favorites, and Canadians of all political stripes send the show hate mail because everyone is fair game.

Despite the fact that it’s not a fake or parody news program in the same vein as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Hour does get compared to the American humour program frequently.  What both shows have managed to offer is a way into current events for young people, and in Stroumboulopoulos and Stewart anchors that young people not only trust but relate to.

The Hour is on Monday through Thursday 5 p.m., 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on CBC Newsworld and clips of the show are on it’s website at cbc.ca/thehour so you can watch it from your office cubicle.