Debra Arbec leaves CTV to co-host CBC newscast

Debra Arbec waves goodbye to fans on her last trip on the CTV St. Patrick's Day float

News went out to CTV Montreal staffers early Wednesday morning that evening news anchor Debra Arbec has been poached by CBC Montreal to co-anchor its 5pm newscast, replacing the departing Jennifer Hall as Andrew Chang’s co-anchor.

Hall is leaving for personal reasons, returning with her family to southern Ontario.

“It’s been an amazing ride at CTV,” Arbec told me on the phone today, describing the job at CBC as “a great opportunity.” She says her contract there begins July 1 (though she suspects she’ll get that first day off).

Though this is hardly the first change of stations for a local TV newscaster (CTV recently picked Kai Nagata from CBC to fill its Quebec City bureau, weatherman Frank Cavallaro was hired by CBC after his contract at CTV expired, and Global’s evening news anchor Jamie Orchard worked for CTV before she got the bigger job at the smaller station many years ago). But it’s a bit odd to see someone of Arbec’s profile quitting the highest-rated station in the city to go to the No. 2.

For Arbec, who said she’s “not really a numbers person,” the issue was more her placement on the schedule than her placement on the dial. “It’s obvious that a supper-hour show wasn’t in the cards at CTV. Mutsumi (Takahashi) is very much loved in Montreal and will be for a very long time,” she said, with no apparent hard feelings for the city’s most veteran English-language TV news anchor.

Arbec has been hosting CFCF’s 11:30pm newscast since 2003. Though it’s 35 minutes long, only about 15 of that is news, which is a very small amount of daily airtime. CBMT’s supper-hour newscast, meanwhile, is 90 minutes from 5pm to 6:30pm (even if it is a bit repetitive).

Still, ratings are an issue, and Arbec said she knows “a challenge will be to continue to grow CBC’s numbers,” which have just about doubled since the expanded newscast started but are still not even in the same ballpark as CFCF.

“I didn’t make the decision lightly,” Arbec said. She’s been working there for 13 years, and “I love the people there.”

That would obviously include Brian Wilde, who she met at CTV and has been married to for five years. She said it would be different not working together at the same station (they worked the late newscast together last week, which she said was fun), but she doesn’t expect any major changes in their personal lives, except for the fact that she can now spend her late evenings at home.

Before joining CFCF in December 1997, Arbec worked a few years at The Weather Network (Frank Cavallaro and Tarah Schwartz also have TWN on their resumés) and before that she was at CJAD, according to the CTV biography that will probably disappear eventually. In addition to hosting the 11:30pm newscast, she did “My Montreal” segments on the city’s cultural communities. She also had an election notebook on the 6pm newscast during the most recent campaign.

Jed Kahane, the news director at CTV Montreal, said it was too early to say what the station plans to do now, or whether there will be a job posting to replace her. Paul Karwatsky will be doing the 11:30pm newscast for the rest of the week, and Kahane said other regulars who substitute for Arbec will probably also fill in while they take their time figuring out a permanent replacement.

Though he spoke in a monotonous voice – not angry, but not terribly excited either – Kahane said the split was amicable, that Arbec did a “fantastic job” at the station and that they wished her well.

Don’t expect to see much talk of her on air, though. Situations like this usually call for a big media splash from the poaching station, but not a peep from the victim. Arbec has already been pulled off the air – her last show was Tuesday night.

Neither side would comment on what negotiations, if any, were made to keep Arbec at CTV.

CBC Montreal news director Mary-Jo Barr called it a “seamless” process, and said her station was “very fortunate” that Arbec’s desire for an opportunity at 6pm coincided with Hall’s departure.

“Jennifer’s departure left us with big shoes to fill,” Barr said. “Everything came together at the right time.”

From CBC’s side, the move makes sense. The biggest challenge for Hall was that she had little connection to the city when she was hired. Arbec was born here, raised here, educated here and worked here, and her experience at CTV not only gives her the ideal skill set to take this job, but CBC can hope for a modest following who might switch with her. (It’s unclear that Cavallaro brought any significant numbers to CBMT, so I wouldn’t expect too much impact in the ratings department just from this.)

Barr said she was “looking foremost for a really strong anchor,” but that Arbec’s knowledge of the city and the trust she has built with viewers are definite assets. She said the two have known each other for a long time.

Chang, who’s going to be co-anchoring with Arbec, said he was “excited and sad” about the news. Sad because Hall’s departure means he’s “not just losing a co-anchor (but) losing a friend” – but excited because he’s looking forward to Arbec, who he described as “rock solid.”

No big changes are planned for CBC Montreal to coincide with the new anchor, though Barr said she is considering having both anchors focus just on the supper-hour newscast and bringing in a third anchor to do the 10-minute late night newscast at 10:55pm currently hosted by Chang. Having to stay late means Chang’s shift starts in the afternoon, leaving him little time to shape the 5pm newscast.

It’s too early to say what kind of marketing push will be made to let the population know of Arbec’s hiring, Barr said, though “we hope we can make a bit of a splash.”

At the very least, they’re going to need new fridge magnets:

With Jennifer Hall departing, these things are collectors' items ... or just surplus.

UPDATE: Arbec has changed her Twitter handle from DebraArbecCTV to DebraArbecCBC for obvious reasons. She posted a couple of tweets letting her followers know about her move.

Meanwhile, fans on Twitter are expressing their shock and wishing her well, including fellow TV journalists Stéphane Giroux and Kai Nagata of CTV, Global’s Mike Le Couteur and CBC’s Michel Godbout and Andrew Chang.

UPDATE (May 12): A story from CBC Montreal and a brief in The Gazette.

In Twitter photos, Stéphane Giroux captures Arbec making off with the supermarket checkout counter divider with her face on it, while Arpon Basu captures her almost-baron barren desk at CTV.

Arbec was interviewed by Mike Finnerty on CBC Daybreak Thursday morning. She told Finnerty that while she had no complaints about her treatment at CTV, “I just felt that I was not able to grow any longer,” she said, pointing to the fact that there wasn’t any hope of her getting a supper-hour show at CTV and that her contract there had expired.

UPDATE (June 22): CBC has posted a promo video:

37 thoughts on “Debra Arbec leaves CTV to co-host CBC newscast

  1. Richard

    Oh no! and yay!

    good for her. I always thought that she deserved better than her 15 minutes per night.

    And I had no idea she was married to Brian Wilde; their joking last week makes more sense now!

  2. denis

    I think it’s a good move for Arbec. The CBC newscast is a far better program than CTV. Plus she only did the late news at CTV. Since Cavallero moved to CBC, i have switched over and i have been there ever since. Arbec, Chang & Cavallero will make a great team.

  3. Ephraim

    Pour Arbec. We’ll never see her again…. hardly anyone watches the CBC broadcast, ask Yvan Huneault.

  4. angelo

    Good for her. I watch CBC, i get my news weather and sports first at 5pm, no need to wait for 6pm and CTV.

  5. Beeper

    Wow, good eye at the plate Steve…didn’t see this coming. Nobody watches CBC so don’t really care about that angle.. who gets the anchor opening at CF? I guess Karwatsky or Schwartz gets her gig and somebody gets that weekend opening. I think Aphrodite Salas would be good (doubt she’d take it tho) maybe Cindy Sherwin has seniority, CVV perhaps?… Derek Conlon? He’s already mostly stuck at the office and anchoring is a desk job, not as much fun as running around town doing reports. Brian Wilde would be excellent but I’m sure he wouldn’t do it. Karwatsky is very charismatic, glad we might see more of him.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Keep in mind that this is a late-night job, and probably wouldn’t appeal to anyone with kids or who wants a social life. I’m sure they won’t have too much trouble filling the position, but it won’t just be a question of who has seniority.

      Not many people at CTV Montreal were interested in moving to Quebec City for the bureau chief job there, which is part of the reason why they hired Kai Nagata from CBC.

  6. wkh

    I hate to bring gender into this, but women balancing a traditional role (wife and mother) with a not so traditional role (career worker) often have different priorities. So whereas a single childfree person might be more interested in being on the Big Station, someone else may wish to balance family life more. Also to consider, while saying “I work at Big Station” is great, who cares if you’re on at 1130pm? Being on at 5pm can arguably give her far more exposure. And in a market like Montreal, we can’t be the only family who watches CBC at 5 and Telejournal at 6?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      And in a market like Montreal, we can’t be the only family who watches CBC at 5 and Telejournal at 6?

      I don’t suspect there are that many people who are in that boat, particularly since TVA also has a 5pm newscast. But I think there are plenty of people who for scheduling reasons prefer to watch local news at 5pm instead of 6, and that a lot of CBC’s ratings bump is for this reason.

      The other thing to consider is that Arbec will now have a higher profile. When CBC markets its station and its newscast, her picture will be up there with Chang’s (and probably Cavallaro’s) in the newspaper ads and fridge magnets, while Todd van der Heyden and Mutsumi Takahashi dominate CTV’s marketing push.

  7. Shawn

    This is a great career move for Arbec, going from late night to prime time, even to a smaller station, is a step up. She will get the air time she deserves. There is too much talent at CFCF for her to move up anytime soon.
    With Andrew Chang the CBC newscast has been much improved and watchable for the first time since Yvan Huneault left.

  8. Anonymous

    Debra is not a mother, so that’s not a consideration. What does matter is that CTV really neglects it’s late show, which is basically a tired retread of what was already on at 6 and sometimes 12!
    I am getting very impressed with MJ. Since she left CTV herself, she’s snagged Frank, now Debra too, got rid of the annoying PJ Stock and Godbout, and created a newscast thats way better than th hosers at Global. All she needs is some Mtl based entertainment…
    My bet is that noone at CFCF wants to step into Debra ‘s shoes so they will go outside.

  9. Math-jerk

    Great move, I’m sure it comes with a pay raise as well. Overall CBC is news is now better. Their broadcast is in proper HD and they have Kristin Falcao and Joanne Vrakas.

  10. AlexH

    CBC is slowly building itself back up, adding Arbec is a step in the right direction, I think. That brings a familiar face to the news, especially important when the main competitor has that much of the market cornered. While it still isn’t a home run, this is certainly another solid base hit for the CBC team, advancing the runners already on the field and perhaps putting them in scoring position.

    I would also suggest that CTV must have become a bit of a painful place to work at times, especially on that late newscast. When I do watch it (not very often anymore) it reads like “everyone went home at 6”, and unless there has been a truly major story worthy of calling a reporter out for, there is nothing “new” in the newscast. I also think that Arbec clearly saw herself trapped, with the “second best anchor job” at CTV and little or no chance of making it to the main show in the forseeable future.

  11. Brian Daly

    Note to Anonymous:

    CBC Montreal does have entertainment – courtesy of the ever-classy Anna Asikmakopulos!!

    1. Rockandroller

      maybe the reason people think there is no entertainment is that she is not as high profile as CTV’s Christine Long..!!

  12. inthebiz

    Wow are we talking about the same Debra Arbec? While she may be a wonderful person I`ve always found her wooden and awkward…..mediocre at best. There`s a reason why she`s trapped at 11.30.

  13. Apple IIGS

    (Ed: This comment has been edited to delete a personal attack. If you’re going to trash-talk someone, at least have the guts to put your name to it.)

    Does anyone else, besides me, see this as further erosion of CFCF-12? Perhaps Debra Arbec is just a small bit, but considering what remains, even a little means a lot.

    This long-time Montreal TV channel has lost all it identity, and I do mean ALL of it. Original produced shows? gone. Control over what programming is aired? gone. Local telethons and fund raisers? gone. It’s unique station ID and jingles? gone. Did you know the **ONLY** different between CTV-Montreal and CTV-Toronto is the time slot for Dr. Phil and and Dr. Oz are swapped? Otherwise it is an identical clone of all other CTV stations.

    Even the local news lost its uniqueness. Long gone is Pulse News, or its own musical introduction and themes. It’s now just CTV News, like all the other stations across Canada. So what makes it unique? Just the anchors that have been around for years, like Debra Arbec, and now they’re either retiring or leaving for better pastures. In the past year alone there’s been a long list of long time anchors leaving CFCF-12…

    Quite sad that the only thing left of CFCF-12 is the local news, and now that’s starting to quickly fade away too. :(

      1. irene

        Every station looks and sounds the same because their individualism and identity have been bought out by big companies who are trying to mould them into boring, boring, boring. I watched CTV (CFCF 12) from almost the very beginning…and after each buy-out, things changed and it is no longer about our own communities, it is more about the global community. The same thing is happening to radio, but its easier to find local radio that really caters to the community rather than the big monster take-overs.

  14. Apple IIGS

    Sadly, you’re probably right.

    The only thing is (excluding perhaps CJOH-8 in Ottawa) CFCF-12 is one of the oldest stations with richest and longest histories. Seeing it lobotomized to what it is now is rather sad. Compare it with say Global Montreal which has only been around since 1997, or V (nee TQS) which sign-on only a decade earlier. Seeing those stations lose their identity isn’t much to shed a tear over.

    Unless you count news, there is no such thing as local TV anymore. As a matter of fact all these stations are merely re-broadcasters of US programming…for the most part.

    Incidentally, my above comment that was deleted had to do with one particular reporter on CFCF-12 who I personally find is inarticulate. I didn’t consider saying so was offense or a personal attack, and I’m sorry if it was taken that way. I just said speaking clearly, distinctly and articulately in a pleasant manner is paramount to ANY reporter. It has nothing to do with what kind of person they are.

  15. Marvin from Park Ex

    I’m wondering if this will have an effect on ratings for CTV – will this help CBC compete for the top? And what about Global – does anyone think they will soon make a move to help their ratings?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’m wondering if this will have an effect on ratings for CTV – will this help CBC compete for the top?

      It might help them a bit, but not enough to compete. Even after recent gains, CTV Montreal’s newscast outdraws CBC’s by five to one. No anchor change is going to make up for that on its own. CTV wasn’t too worried about Frank Cavallaro switching over, and they’re not too worried about Debra Arbec either.

      The thing that’s causing CBC’s ratings to go up is their decision to start the newscast at 5pm instead of 6, so they have that 5-6 hour to themselves. But getting even within range of CTV is a long-term dream at best.

      And what about Global – does anyone think they will soon make a move to help their ratings?

      Probably not for their newscast. They run on a skeleton news staff and the technical work is all done out of the city. Global’s newscast is no threat to either of its competitors so long as the budget it’s allocated from its owner is so pathetically small.

      That said, Shaw’s purchase of the Global network came with a promise to fund new programming, including a new Montreal-based morning show to debut sometime in 2012. Since there are no Montreal-based English morning shows (CTV cancelled its morning newscast in 2009, and Global canned This Morning Live in 2008), they would have that market all to themselves.

      1. Marvin from Park Ex

        Which Global TV personality would best benefit from a change of scenery? I feel badly they have to work under horrid conditions. Anyone???

  16. Stephanie

    Are you sure Jamie Orchard was at CTV? As I recall in she did the weather for CBC Montreal’s old supper hour show Newswatch in 1995. I thought she moved to Global from there.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Are you sure Jamie Orchard was at CTV? As I recall in she did the weather for CBC Montreal’s old supper hour show Newswatch in 1995. I thought she moved to Global from there.

      She was at CBC in 1994, but moved to CFCF in 1995, where she was the entertainment reporter. She then moved to Global when it launched in 1997.

  17. Just Me

    Debra Arbec’s replacement is Catherine Sherriffs. Was Sherriffs hired because she’s a major news person who knows the news and has the qualifications to do a nightly newscast, or was she hired because she’s a major babe?

  18. Pingback: A new Sherriffs in town – Fagstein

  19. Lyon

    It’s really sad to hear Jennifer Hall leaving CBC news at 5:30. She is a very warm host, love to see her in TV, and very nicely pairing with Andrew Chang. Debra Arbec, on the other hand, is solid, but warm, no so much. Tarah Schwartz is a better choice, believe CBC has tried. Miss Jennifer Hall already.

  20. Judy

    Who did you interview for Takahashi? I think she is boring boring boring, She is depressing to say the least.
    time for a change…..

  21. Pingback: Debra Arbec, Catherine Sherriffs debut without a hitch – Fagstein

  22. Nadine Griffiths

    Any idea where Dave Bronstetter is? Just heard Sonali Karnick on CBC/All in a Weekend! Isn’t she a sports reporter who recently moved to Toronto?
    I seem to recall she was off to a great position in Toronto.

  23. Nadine Griffiths

    It is apparent now that Dave Bronstetter is quite ill. So very sad. CBC is reluctant to release any information on his condition. There are so many different rumours about Dave. It would seem best to give some information. Also it must be difficult for Sonali Karnick filling in for him after she just moved to Toronto! It is so obvious that she is not comfortable in hosting the show. She really does belong in Sports. I do hope CBC is taking care of mortgage/rent payments for her in Toronto! A pity that they couldn’t find a replacement for Dave in Montreal, unfair that Sonali, just beginning a new, exciting job was yanked away so quickly.


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