[iDC] Media Circus

John Sobol soboltalk at gmail.com
Tue May 1 16:11:51 UTC 2012

Hello iDC'ers...are you still out there?

I am writing to share an archival document that may hold some historical interest for those who study and critique media. 

In 1974, Ontario's public broadcaster (OECA) launched a unique experiment in live broadcasting and media criticism. Media Circus was 90-minutes of live commercial-free analysis of 'what is on TV right  now', with the 'set' being the TV control room where the show itself was being produced.

Until recently it was believed that no recordings of this groundbreaking TV series existed, but recently a copy of the first episode came into my hands. I was particularly happy to see it because my father, Ken Sobol, was one of the creators and hosts of Media Circus. And I have now uploaded the first 30 minutes of that episode to YouTube, with more to come.

Here's the link to Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9t-CfbkyjU&
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qy25x5raQxM&
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1isWbBJoTo&

This episode of Media Circus aired on a Wednesday evening, but other episodes aired on Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, Friday night and on other days and times, so that every aspect of the TV schedule could be surveyed and critiqued.

The show included skits and guests, among whom were Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye at various times, watching and talking about 'what is on TV right now'. This episode features a discussion with the actor Tony Musante (who had recently starred in an excellent network detective show called Toma on ABC) and another with a HAM-TV operator (a kind of primitive fax machine) among other elements.

This is a remarkable glimpse into another televisual era, not only an era with just 12 channels, but also an era in which public broadcasters took bold risks and invested in genuinely radical media experiments, of which Media Circus stands out as a particularly notable example.

Because it was 'live TV' and no recordings have been in circulation since the series aired in 1974, Media Circus has been all but forgotten. I hope this video will help it to regain a measure of the attention and respect it deserves as one of the most fearless and critically sophisticated series ever aired on mainstream TV.

As Harris Kirshenbaum wrote in an early Canadian Film Development Corporation newsletter...

"...Among the best have been Media Circus, a totally experimental programme last season that ran three hours in its final form, and dealt with the ideas of television, its sociological effects, its capabilities and future, and its legalities. Where else on major market television could you see the host of one live programme having a telephone conversation with the host of a concurrent live show, and see them both on split screen?"

John Sobol


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