Todd van der Heyden, who has been anchoring CTV Montreal’s noon and 6pm newscasts with Mutsumi Takahashi since 2008, will be leaving the station and moving to Toronto to accept a job as an anchor on CTV News Channel, CTV announced on Friday.
CTV Montreal has a story on its website, CTV News Channel has a press release, and Van der Heyden confirmed the news on Twitter. He also announced it to viewers at the end of Friday’s noon newscast (see video above).
His last newscast for CFCF will be Friday, Dec. 30. He starts anchoring CTV News Channel’s Express from 1-4pm weekdays with Amanda Blitz, starting Jan. 16.
You can read the abridged version of all this in the story I wrote for The Gazette. Or, for you TV fanatics, lots of detail and baseless speculation below.
While his move might be a surprise to some of his viewers, it’s not completely out of the blue. Van der Heyden has filled in as news anchor at Canada AM and on CTV News Channel, starting in 2007. He filled in for Seamus O’Regan as Canada AM’s cohost this summer, his most high-profile Toronto gig so far.
In fact, he worked a shift at CTV News Channel on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day last year, cancelling holiday plans with his family. That’s not something a big-city anchor does for the money.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that other opportunities might open up for him in Toronto, and that he would be interested in them if they did.
“This is something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while,” van der Heyden told me on the phone Friday, just after finishing the noon newscast. “I always kind of had my eye out on what was out there (but) I wasn’t going to go for anything. I wanted something that was going to be a challenge for me.”
“A couple of months ago there was word that they were going to be rejigging CTV News Channel. That kind of got me thinking. They approached me a couple of weeks ago and said ‘Is this something you’d be interested in?’ Everything really happened really quickly.”
CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane says the national people kept him in the loop about the offer. It was finalized this week with the agreement that van der Heyden would continue working in Montreal until Dec. 30 and he’d have a couple of weeks to get settled in Toronto before his first shift at News Channel. Though he starts Jan. 16, what if any preparatory work he has to do there is still up in the air.
He still hasn’t met his co-host yet, and wants the chance to take her out to dinner and get to know each other.
Van der Heyden said one of his first calls was to Takahashi, catching her just before she left on vacation to Japan. He said she was very encouraging.
Big fish vs. big pond
Though at first the idea of moving to Toronto and having a national audience might be considered a big leap forward career-wise, there’s a similar argument that it’s a move down – or at least in a lateral direction.
There’s the ratings, for one. CTV tells me the average afternoon audience (noon to 6pm weekdays) for News Channel is 43,000, and that’s up 35% from last year. CTV Montreal’s News at 6 has ratings in the area of 200,000 due to its market dominance.
There’s also the marketing. In Montreal, he’s the big fish in a small pond, second only to Mutsumi Takahashi in terms of prominence at the station (and hence in the market in general). At CTV News Channel, he’s a weekday afternoon co-host, well behind Lisa LaFlamme, Sandie Rinaldo, Dan Matheson and the rest.
The big thing that works in his favour in the move is that he can move up. In Montreal, you can’t really go higher than the evening news anchor. So you can either stay there, like Bill Haugland did, or you have to move to Ottawa or Toronto and build a national profile.
“Bottom line, I think it’s going to be a challenge for me, a kick in the ass,” van der Heyden said. “It’s an opportiunity for me to grow.”
“It’s a bit scary too, to be honest. I’ve been here for 12 years.”
A decade of Todd
Van der Heyden was first hired at CFCF in 2000 as a reporter. He notably covered the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks from New York for CFCF (back when it was called Pulse and had more control over its own operations and Todd apparently had a thing for flak jackets). In December 2001 he became a backup news anchor, then was the On Your Side consumer affairs reporter in October 2003, then weekend coanchor in 2005. He co-anchored the noon newscast starting in January 2007 and was given the top job with Takahashi in 2008 following the departure of Brian Britt. His full CTV bio is here.
When he was first hired, it was for two years, he said, but “they kept promoting me.”
Not surprising considering he looks and sounds like he came off some news anchor assembly line.
Van der Heyden also had personal reasons to make the move. His family moved out of the city after the 1995 referendum (most are now in Vancouver), and many of his friends moved away in the past decade, mostly to the greater Toronto area.
“Every five to six weeks I would head up there” to Toronto, he said, right after describing the city as undergoing changes for the cooler. “It’s less of a boring concrete jungle … there’s a bit of a cool vibe coming.”
Hard as it may be to believe, van der Heyden said he didn’t have many friends here until the past year or two who haven’t since moved out.
And one of the things he’s going to miss most is … his apartment.
He said he just moved into a place in Old Montreal in June, which he described as a great find at a good price. Now he’ll have to sublet that while he finds a place in Toronto, and I’m guessing it’s highly unlikely it’ll be that good a bargain.
I asked van der Heyden about leaving his legion of teenage fangirls (I imagine they exist).
“I don’t think I’m going to miss that,” he said, referring to seeing his face on billboards around the city. “It was never about that for me. I never got 100% comfortable with it.”
I don’t know how much I believe that. Not that I think he’s an attention hogger, just that it’s hard to see someone wanting to be successful in media and not have that be linked to some measure of fame.
But only van der Heyden knows for sure.
“A natural fit”
I got the chance to speak with CTV News President Wendy Freeman, who’s originally from Montreal (she mentioned that, as did the person who setup our interview).
“He is a natural fit for the network,” she said. “Todd really fits the bill.”
CTV News Channel is undergoing a renaissance, she explained. In an effort to gain some serious ground on CBC News Network, which leads the all-news networks by far in the ratings, they’re “investing in the channel,” hiring more staff and redoing graphics and sets (she hopes the new look will be in place early in the new year, by the time van der Heyden starts).
Because CTV likes to promote from within, van der Heyden was a prime candidate for a national anchor spot. Freeman said she doesn’t want him to change, and she wants to see the same well-respected anchor we’ve seen in Montreal in his new job in Toronto.
Freeman was adamant that she wasn’t stealing him away from Montreal.
“I would never say we’re stealing him. This is a win-win for everyone.”
As she and van der Heyden both point out, CTV News Channel is carried in Quebec. So anyone who wants to see him can just tune in from 1 to 4pm weekdays.
But it certainly won’t be the same for van der Heyden, who has to leave the family he’s developed on Papineau Ave., as well as the audience that tunes in every day at noon and every night at 6.
He said there have been “dozens of emails, plus Twitter and Facebook” messages just in the two and a half hours between the time the announcement was made and the time I talked to him. (Some, he said, were angry that they found out about it on Twitter.) He said when he was talking to me he was in the dark studio, alone, just to get away from all the craziness that developed at the office with the news he was leaving.
While he may not embrace celebrity, he values the relationship he’s built with his viewers, even though he only hears from them through social media or sees them at open houses.
“I’m kind of sad that way because people are very loyal and very discriminating viewers,” he said. “I’m going to miss these viewers.”
Who’s the new Todd?
Now, once again, Jed Kahane has a hiring decision ahead of him. (And he hasn’t even finished the last one, finding a Quebec City bureau chief.)
Kahane told me he’ll make a decision “in the coming weeks … I won’t say how many.” Though he seemed confident that a decision would be made, he said no decision has been made yet.
Of course, the speculation has already begun.
So fine, let’s speculate.
Paul Karwatsky is the most obvious candidate. He’s been co-anchor with Tarah Schwartz of the weekend newscasts since 2009. If we make only three common-sense assumptions, he becomes the only candidate, which almost turns this into a Paul-or-not-Paul scenario, as fair or unfair as that might be to him:
- They will hire a male co-anchor to sit with Takahashi (a move that can be described as both politically correct and sexist)
- They will hire internally, as it has tended to do in the past for major positions
- They will hire someone with significant anchoring experience
But Karwatsky is young. He’s only been at the station since 2005. Is that enough for them to take a pass for now?
If we eliminate our assumptions, we open up posibilities.
A female co-anchor. Why not? It’s unusual, but hardly impossible. Are we so stuck in the idea of the male-female anchor team that we can’t even consider this possibility?
Opening the job to women would bring up potential candidates like Tarah Schwartz, Debra Arbec (who left CTV for CBC in part because she didn’t see herself getting the 6pm anchor job anytime soon) or Jamie Orchard (who left CFCF for Global Quebec when it launched in 1997 and has been in various anchoring positions there ever since). There are also CTV Montreal reporters who serve as backup anchors: Caroline van Vlaardigen and Cindy Sherwin, both of whom would do well in the position.
A CTV Montreal reporter. I’ve heard the name Rob Lurie come up. But there aren’t too many male reporters at the station with anchoring experience who aren’t already anchors or haven’t, like Brian Britt or Herb Luft, already retired. Stéphane Giroux isn’t going to be the next anchor for obvious reasons. This group has plenty of good reporting skills, but no obviously good candidates for anchor, with the exception of van Vlaardigen and Sherwin as mentioned above.
They could take a chance and go young, like they did with late anchor Catherine Sherriffs and CBC did with Andrew Chang, but then why not just go for Karwatsky?
And as for Craig Silverman’s Draft Mosé Persico movement, well I don’t expect it’ll go anywhere. For one thing, it isn’t serious to begin with. Fortunately Persico is a good sport about his public persona, otherwise I’d feel bad about everyone making fun of him, even with his sometimes ridiculously fawning movie reviews.
Someone else. It’s possible there could be a candidate entirely out of left field. Andrew Peplowski, Richard Dagenais, Leslie Roberts or someone else who either hasn’t been at CFCF for years (Ben O’Hara-Byrne, former CFCF reporter and CTV’s bureau chief in Beijing, is another name mentioned) or has never been there at all.
I rate it highly unlikely that they would opt for anyone without a strong existing connection to Montreal, even in the unlikely scenario that they bring someone in from outside. Montreal viewers tend to be more picky about that kind of thing, and it shows on air when someone is unfamiliar with the quirks of anglophone life in Quebec.
But hey, I’ve been wrong before. What we do know is that unless there’s another surprise announcement coming before the end of the year, Van der Heyden’s replacement will be Takahashi’s fourth co-anchor at 6pm, after Haugland, Britt and van der Heyden.
CJAD show remains, for now
In addition to anchoring 10 one-hour newscasts a week, Van der Heyden hosts Viewpoints, a call-in show from noon to 1pm Saturdays on CJAD. Though it would get a bit complicated doing the show with him living in Toronto, he says he’d like to give it a try.
“I’d love to continue doing the show,” he told me.
CJAD Brand Manager Chris Bury also thinks it’s worth giving it a try. “Todd and I still have to work it out but we both want the show to continue,” he said.
There are various options available. He could host the show from the studios of CJAD’s sister station CFRB in Toronto. Van der Heyden also says he’d be willing to travel to Montreal on a regular basis, maybe once or twice a month, and do some shows live and prerecord others.
The logistics aren’t insurmountable. But will Todd van der Heyden still be a big name for CJAD in a few years when he’s not the big face on the billboards and in the CTV promo ads and hosting the newscast with its 200,000 viewers?
As one would expect, anglo media – at least the anglo media that doesn’t compete directly with CTV – gave coverage to van der Heyden’s move. In addition to the Gazette story, there’s one at CJAD and another at OpenFile.
UPDATE (Dec. 6): Van der Heyden has his first on-air chat with his new co-anchor Blitz on CTV News Channel on Monday.
UPDATE (Dec. 15): Karwatsky has been tapped as the interim co-anchor, starting in January, as the search for a permanent replacement begins. (Whether this means Karwatsky is a viable candidate I’ll leave to you to speculate.)
Takahashi, who was on vacation through the announcement, returns to respond as such: “Bill, Brian, Todd… All I can say, Steve, is that I’m obviously having trouble holding on to my men…”