It was like CBC Celebrity Day or something. At least, that was how it felt as a crowd of us stood in line in the big hallway at the CBC Head Office building last week, waiting to be admitted to a live taping of The Hour.
We already knew we’d see George Stromboulopoulos, the show’s host. It was a bonus when he appeared in the hall as well, but what we didn’t expect was Natalie Brown, star of the comedy program, Sophie, to stroll by. Nor, soon after, an appearance by three stars from the other recent hit, Little Mosque on the Prairie. Sitara Hewitt (Rayyan Hamoudi), Carlo Rota (Yasir Hamoudi), and Zaib Shaikh (Amaar Rashid) happened along, and chatted with several people near the front of the line, giving out autographs and engaging in several impromptu photo shoots.
I remarked to someone in front of me, “This feels like Hollywood.”
But these other appearances were just icing on the cake. We were all really there to see George Stromboulopoulos and his guests.
And there’s where it went just a bit off the rails. Along with another musical guest (whose name I’ve forgotten), the main interviewee was to be American historian and activist, and author of A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn. Except that although we got to see him…he wasn’t actually there.
What we saw, after Stromboulopoulos’s usual initial chatter to begin the program, was a pre-taped interview on the set of The Hour, recorded on a different day in front of a different studio audience. And whoever the musical guest was, we didn’t even get to see a tape. Which is why I can’t remember his name.
Apparently, this sort of thing is not unheard of, especially at the beginning of a new season. Although, as our pal George said, “We try to make sure there’s at least one live guest for a taping.” The main reason it happens now is that the Toronto International Film Festival takes place at the beginning of September, and The Hour interviews as many celebrity attendees as they can. Then they have to slip these pre-taped interviews into shows as the month progresses.
So that’s what happened to us. But it made me feel at first like the studio audience was mere filler. We were pretty much there just to be taped clapping and cheering (as loudly as possible, the stage manager instructed), whenever George appeared.
But the one compensation was Stromboulopoulos himself. Since we didn’t see the second guest, even on tape, there was more time for George to chat with the audience. He seems very much to be as we see him on air: confident, funny, intelligent, and educated…it’s all there when the camera’s off, as much as when it’s on. So he, at least, was no disappointment.
Many of the questions were about music, understandably, given his earlier gig at MuchMusic. But eventually the range of topics widened, and we learned more about Stromboulopoulos, especially when he discovered several high school students on a field trip in the audience. He said he’s never intimidated by a guest, though his account of the interview with Bryan Adams – two alpha males facing off and neither giving an inch – was hilarious. But he had a piece of advice for learning how to be self-assured and comfortable with people: get a job as an usher or concession person at a theatre, where you deal with everyone from punk kids to 80-year old grandmothers.
He said it’s best to experience the world before really delving into a broadcasting career. And mentioned how, when he was still at MuchMusic, after 9/11 the only musician he interviewed who didn’t want sheer bloody revenge but had a balanced approach based in justice was one of the Backstreet Boys. “I couldn’t believe it. A Backstreet Boy?”
The set of The Hour is darkly shadowed, except for the brightly lit, dramatic stage, and this helped create a more intimate atmosphere between George and the audience. But it was he himself who fostered that intimacy, and he seemed to enjoy talking to us as much as he enjoys talking to his celebrity guests.
So I guess, for this taping, we were the guests he interviewed. Which made the experience very worthwhile after all.