TORONTO - "Canada AM," CTV's flagship morning show that helped launch the broadcasting careers of Pamela Wallin, Valerie Pringle and Seamus O'Regan, shocked viewers Thursday by abruptly announcing it was ending its 43-year run, a decision observers said reflected a shifting media landscape.
Wallin, who worked on the show for about 10 years, said she wasn't totally surprised CTV was pulling the plug, noting: "the whole industry is in tumult."
And Lisa Taylor, assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism in Toronto, said that given the dramatic shifts in news consumption habits in the digital age, "it's surprising to see that it lasted as long as it did."
Billed as "Canada's most-watched national morning newsmagazine," "Canada AM" began airing in 1972, providing news and lifestyle headlines as well as interviews with stars and newsmakers.
Canadians who typically started their day with the show's anchors said they couldn't believe CTV would suddenly yank the show off the air.
"There was no warning," said Elaine Uskoski, a holistic health practitioner in Caledon, Ont. "I don't think that's fair to the fans."
"I'm just stunned," added Katia Ulysse Saint Vil, a political communications professional in Ottawa. "I would never think that the show would be ending just like that."
CTV declined a request for interviews to explain the move and said an announcement on a replacement show would come next week.
"As the television landscape continues to evolve, so too must our programming. We look forward to building upon the success of 'Canada AM' as we move forward," said Randy Lennox, president of entertainment production and broadcasting at Bell Media, in a statement.
"Canada AM" was recently drawing an average audience of about 234,000 viewers, according to Numeris, which was down two per cent from the previous year. But ratings were down 21 per cent in the key 25-to-54 demographic favoured by advertisers.
Wallin called the show's demise "the end of an era," noting "'Canada AM' was must-watch television" for many years, particularly for viewers with political interests.
"It was an amazing show and with very limited resources we did incredible things," she said, listing assignments in China and coverage of the Falklands War among her favourite stories. "For me personally, it was the experience of a lifetime."
Taylor said morning shows like "Canada AM" once had huge clout and "just as much as evening flagship shows totally set the agenda." But times changed.
"This show was borne of a time when we really did have to roll out of bed and turn on a TV to actually find out what had happened overnight, to find out what was going on," Taylor said.
"With the change in our consumption habits and with the advent of digital media, of course the whole game has changed."
The audience has also changed. The largely female demographic that morning shows like "Canada AM" had in their early days has changed with gender parity in the workforce. And the "Canada AM" model of television — with a full-production, sit-down set — is expensive and can look dated, Taylor added.
"When we look at the reduction in advertising dollars going to terrestrial television, we see perhaps shows like this simply aren't as profitable as they once were."
The show has been home to many of CTV's broadcasting greats, including Craig Oliver, Sandie Rinaldo, Tom Clark, Lisa LaFlamme and O'Regan.
"I really liked the way they reported the news," said Ulysse Saint Vil.
"One of the things I also liked about it is that, I think that in Canada, black people are not very well represented in the media and seeing Marci Ien was also one of the reasons why I was watching every morning."
Taylor would like to see CTV replace "Canada AM" with a morning news program that "totally breaks free of the existing models."
"I worry it would just be filler or a script show and nothing that will really create many jobs or keep many people employed in the business," she said.
In an emailed statement, Scott Henderson, vice-president of communications at Bell Media, said the new morning show "will result in incremental job opportunities at Bell Media."
CTV said co-hosts Beverly Thomson and Ien will continue to stay with Bell Media while Jeff Hutcheson will begin his previously announced retirement.
Thomson will move to CTV News Channel while Ien will develop new projects with Bell Media In-House Productions.
Friday's final "Canada AM" episode will be a tribute to both the program and its hosts.
Until a new show is announced and goes on the air, a simulcast of live CTV News Channel programming will run in the "Canada AM" timeslot, beginning Monday.