Review: Only in Montreal is an entertaining window into the city’s life (but it needs a better timeslot)

Only in Montreal's cast: Matt Silver, Dimitrios Koussioulas and Tamy Emma Pepin

Only in Montreal’s cast: Matt Silver, Dimitrios Koussioulas and Tamy Emma Pepin

We’re seven episodes into the 30-episode first season of Only in Montreal, the weekly local lifestyle series that airs on City TV. That’s about a quarter of the way through, so it’s time for a review.

When it was first announced in April, I was surprised. This show wasn’t part of Rogers’s promise to the CRTC when it purchased CJNT from Channel Zero. Unlike its daily morning show and weekly sports show, this wasn’t part of the licence obligations, and it wasn’t necessary to meet a local programming quota.

As it turns out, the CRTC is a big part of the reason why this series was ordered, because of two recent decisions that set quotas on Rogers Media.

Boring regulatory stuff

Like its competitors CTV (Bell), Global (Shaw) and TVA (Quebecor), City is regulated as a group belonging to Rogers Media. This allows the conventional television stations and related specialty channels to share revenues and expenses. If the company wants to buy an drama series, for example, it can air it on conventional TV and specialty channels without having to figure out how to split the expense between the two services’ budgets (at least from a regulatory perspective).

When City’s licence was last renewed in 2011, it proposed that it use part of its required expenses for Canadian programming to boost the amount of local programming it airs on its stations. As a result, the CRTC imposed this condition of licence on the entire City TV network:

Rogers Media will be required to spend an additional 2.5% of its gross revenues on new incremental local programming in each of the first and second years of the licence term and 2% in the final year. A minimum of 80% of these expenditures must be made on programming produced outside of Toronto. The Commission will use the 2010-2011 broadcast year as the baseline for determining the incremental nature of these local expenditures. While the revenues of Rogers Media’s specialty services will be included in the calculation of the total local programming obligations, these local obligations will be borne entirely by its conventional television stations.

In other words, Rogers had to spend 2.5% of its gross revenues for City in 2011-12 on new local programming in addition to what it had in 2010-11. It had to do the same in 2012-13 and again with 2% of gross revenues in 2013-14.

In addition, 80% of that new local programming has to be outside of Toronto (the only station where City produces a local newscast). And 75% of that programming has to be done by independent producers.

When City acquired CJNT in 2012, that condition of licence was imposed on that station as well, making it part of the group.

The second requirement comes from that acquisition. The Quebec English-language Production Council asked that Rogers be forced to spend a certain amount of its national Canadian programming expenditures on English-language programs produced in Quebec. While the CRTC didn’t impose a condition of licence here, Rogers did say that it already spent 3% of its national Canadian programming budget on productions in Quebec, and that they would agree to maintaining this. The CRTC noted Rogers’s commitment to devote at least 3% of City TV’s expenditures on English-language programs produced by independent production companies in Quebec. “The Commission expects Rogers to abide by its commitment,” the decision notes.

Note that this commitment says nothing about local programming. It only requires that some programs be produced in Quebec.

But when you put these two together — a requirement to spend money on new local programming outside Toronto, and a commitment to spend money on independent English-language productions in Quebec — the reasoning behind Only in Montreal makes a lot more sense.

Anyway, enough CRTC nerddom. I’ve watched the episodes, so here’s my review.

The format

Rogers ordered 30 episodes of the half-hour series. We should know soon whether it’s renewed for a second season.

The show, which airs at 7pm Saturdays and then repeats at 11:30pm Saturdays and at noon on Sundays, is made up of three segments, about six minutes each, from its three hosts: Dimitrios Koussioulas, Tamy Emma Pepin and Matt Silver. Each of them goes out into the city and talks to someone doing something interesting. Each episode starts with the three of them saying “Only in Montreal does…”, accentuating the fact that these segments are about what makes Montreal unique.

The show is filmed well in advance of airing. In fact, the first season finished shooting in July, shortly after the first episode aired, and we still have almost half a year of episodes left to go. (Episode 4, which aired Aug. 3, was shot during a snowstorm in April.)

This gives more time for editing, but also means that the show is not timely at all. There’s no announcements of upcoming events, and no news. The segments are timeless profiles, which also means that this show can probably repeat for a while without changes, something that no doubt makes Rogers happy.

There was one case so far in which current events affected a story. Episode 5, which aired Aug. 10, featured a light-hearted segment from Koussioulas on breakfast vs. brunch. The breakfast part was shot at Cosmo’s in N.D.G., and talks about the restaurant and its history, including its founder Tony Koulakis. Unfortunately for the show, Koulakis was killed in June, between the time the episode was shot and when it aired. The segment didn’t change, but a slide dedicating the episode to Koulakis was added on at the end.

A map at Whalley-Abbey Media's office shows locations where Only in Montreal has shot stories

A map at Whalley-Abbey Media’s office shows locations where Only in Montreal has shot stories

The stories

Simple math: 30 episodes times three segments each episode means the crew had to find 90 stories to talk about, and film them all in a matter of a few months.

To give you an idea of what stories the series talks about, here are the ones it’s aired so far:

  • A sampling of food trucks during First Fridays at Olympic Stadium
  • Trying out vintage sunglasses with retailer Corey Shapiro
  • Interviews with Montreal roller derby athletes
  • Shopping for a tuxedo with Mr. Sign, Dave Arnold
  • Trying on jeans with Leroy Richardson at Jeans Jeans Jeans
  • Going restaurant-hopping during a Canadiens game with food blogger Na’eem Adam
  • Building a cigar-box guitar with Lenny P. Robert of Daddy Mojo Guitars
  • Shopping at the St-Michel flea market with musician Kid Koala
  • Shape-note singing at the Dépanneur Café
  • Delivering fresh shrimp to restaurants
  • Participating in a local Instagram photography challenge
  • Checking out the rotating beacon on top of Place Ville-Marie
  • Asking customers at Chez Vito whether ham or lamb is better for Easter dinner
  • Learning about the history of iconic Montreal street names with historian Farid Rener
  • Having breakfast and brunch with members of the Koulakis family
  • Visiting Jean-Talon market and learning about its history from author (and Gazette writer) Susan Semenak
  • Going to an arts and crafts fair with Mitz Takahashi (and learning about hipsters)
  • Eating at Schwartz’s with Gazette columnist and author Bill Brownstein
  • Beer tasting with Charles Bierbrier
  • Making espresso at three local shops
  • Sabring a champagne bottle with Hatim Chahid of La Champagnerie

For most segments, the idea is pretty simple: Find someone interesting, talk to them and then do something with them. It’s more like a six-minute documentary about a mini adventure than it is a long-form story told by a journalist. And that format works. Rather than be told facts over some B-roll, we’re shown the hosts doing an activity that is both entertaining and enriching.

A lot of these stories have been told before. We’ve heard about food trucks and Schwartz’s to death. CTV did a segment visiting the Place Ville-Marie beacon. But even for stories that have been done before, Only in Montreal looks at it in a different way. It’s more personal, more entertaining, less dry. It’s not necessarily better than a news report, but it is different.

And there’s some stuff that you learn here that you wouldn’t elsewhere. I didn’t know before watching Pepin’s segment that streets like St-Denis and Ste-Catherine are not named after actual saints.

There’s still a lot more of these segments to come, but so far they’ve been entertaining enough that I’m not too worried about them running dry.

The stories were generated by having the hosts each team up with a producer. They’re credited as “story researchers/coordinators”, but Bailey explained that they did everything from scout locations to holding boom microphones. The three are Ashley Duong, who worked with Pepin, Joanna Fox, who worked with Silver, and Sarah Hoida, who worked with Koussioulas.

The hosts

Scott Bailey of Whalley-Abbey Media, one of the executive producers of Only in Montreal, told me they auditioned about 12 candidates for the jobs of the three hosts of this show, after talking to, meeting or looking at more than 40. The result is three people who are not too familiar to Montreal TV viewers.

Bailey and his team chose well. All three hosts are entertaining, personable and very comfortable in front of the camera. They carry their stories well.

Tamy Emma Pepin, while shooting a story about preparing for an Indian wedding

Tamy Emma Pepin, while shooting a story about preparing for an Indian wedding

Tamy Emma Pepin has had various jobs in the Montreal media sphere. She started on a cycling show on TQS, after lying about her knowledge of the cycling scene. She was a social media ambassador for Tourism Montreal, which got her name out. She worked at Vox, Videotron’s community channel, doing an Internet column for Le Lab. “I guess the Quebecor people took notice,” she said, and she started contributing to the Journal de Montréal and TVA’s Salut Bonjour. Then she worked for a year as an editor at HuffPost Quebec. “After a year I felt I was missing the creativity part of my career,” she said.

She’s already on her next project, travelling to the U.K. for a series that’s being produced for Urbania magazine and the Évasion channel, where it will air in 2014.

After years of producers telling her to “f— off”, as she puts it, she enjoys that now people are coming to her with offers.

Pepin has an infectious laugh, and uses it a lot. “I have these bursts of laughter at the most inappropriate moments,” she tells me.

Bailey describes Pepin’s strengths well. Besides her varied experience and her social media skills, “she has this natural warmth that when she lights up it really lights up a screen and you want to spend time with her,” he said.

Matt Silver, shooting a segment at Chalet BBQ

Matt Silver, shooting a segment at Chalet BBQ

Matt Silver is a showman. He has a way of speaking to the camera that makes it unbelievable that this is his first real television job. He was part of the sketch comedy group Kidnapper Films, but most Montrealers are probably unfamiliar with him. Bailey knew him though: Bailey was Silver’s TA at Concordia.

His experience behind the camera worked in his favour here. “You knew coming in that Matt would be able to do the off-camera stuff as well as the on-camera stuff,” Bailey said. “He would have realistic expectations about what he could accomplish with his resources.”

Silver is naturally funny, and has a good vision of what he wants to do here.

“One of the things that Canadians haven’t totally figured out what to do is tell ourselves about our cities,” he said. “Even if you’re the most cynical person in the world, you couldn’t help realizing that this is a show created by people who are really in love with the city of Montreal. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life as a television viewer in Montreal.”

Dimitrios Koussioulas and his hair.

Dimitrios Koussioulas and his hair.

Dimitrios Koussioulas was an art dealer for five years, and then decided he didn’t like the scene and left it. A year ago, he started Parc Avenue Tonight, a super-low-budget Mile End talk show that was posted to YouTube. That was enough to get him a one-hour special on CBC and this show (both of whom premiered on the same day at the same time). In a matter of months, he went from being a complete unknown to being a big figure on the local TV scene.

“Dimitrios was a very intriguing candidate from Day 1,” Bailey said. “Dimitrios felt like a contemporary, like new. Like a talent that would connect with people. Dimitrios stood out as someone has opinions, but at the same time is respectful of others.”

Koussioulas is the kind of guy who will say random strange things during a discussion, almost like he enjoys throwing people off-balance. But he’s also very curious. He wants information. And he’ll ask questions, sometimes without regard to appropriateness, to get it out of you.

“It’s amazing,” Koussioulas said of the show. “As a Montrealer that always talks about Montreal, and now to have access to people and stories. I did a story about MIRA. Why did I do it? Pure selfish reasons. I always loved MIRA dogs. I’m too lazy to be responsible for a dog.”

“I always had preconceived conceptions about Montreal. This show gave me an opportunity to sift them out. Getting to revisit Montreal for myself is one of the best things. Being able to be a spokesperson for Montreal is the best.”

“I like that we’re talking to people. We’re glorifying regular people.”

And, like Silver, Koussioulas is funny. “On these shows, if you take yourself too seriously you’re setting yourself up to not have the audience respect you,” Bailey said.

The set

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media's offices in Westmount.

The Only in Montreal set at Whalley-Abbey Media’s offices in Westmount.

Each segment on Only in Montreal is introduced with a discussion between the three hosts. At first, it might seem unnecessary, but without these scenes we’d never see the three hosts together and there would be nothing to tie the segments together.

The set, which is a bedroom-sized room in the Whalley-Abbey offices, is simple, with a table, chairs and decorations on the wall. But since what’s filmed here is a short discussion with a lot of close-up shots, it doesn’t really need to be more than this.

The other side of the Only in Montreal studio is a shrine to Debbie Travis

The other side of the Only in Montreal studio is a shrine to Debbie Travis

I should note that the unseen fourth wall of this room is filled with clippings of Debbie Travis. Travis is a partner in Whalley-Abbey Media and it produces her shows (as well as those of chef Chuck Hughes).

The cinematography

Alexandre Boudreault with a camera shooting a segment for Tamy Emma Pepin

Alexandre Boudreault with a camera shooting a segment for Tamy Emma Pepin

Only in Montreal is well shot. Whalley-Abbey makes use of a pool of freelance videographers — director of photography is the official title, which is an accurate way of describing what they do — and they know what they’re doing. Seeing Alexandre Boudreault shooting a segment with Pepin, he was closer to a director than anything else. I’m not an expert in cinematography, but I know the visuals look good.

The editing

An editing suite at Whalley-Abbey Media

An editing suite at Whalley-Abbey Media

The thing that makes Only in Montreal stand out most is probably its editing. It’s really tight. It seems the shot changes every second or so. It’s not so fast as to be disorienting, but it’s not so slow as to lose your attention. It’s clear that a lot of care has been put into the editing process. That’s the advantage of having a show that doesn’t need to be turned around in a day.

Everything from the music to the visuals is designed to make the show flow and keep the story going. And while not every segment is a hit, every one does look like a mini documentary about some aspect of city life.

As Bailey and others explained, the show likes to show unscripted moments. If a host flubs a line or someone says something unplanned, they’ll go with that. It keeps the show looking natural and the hosts look a lot more authentic. (Montreal Connected could learn a bit from this style — adherence to scripts makes their hosts sound unnatural by comparison.)

Even something as simple as the video that runs with the closing credits — video taken from one of the three segments — is a lot more entertaining than you see with other shows.

The timeslot

For me, the worst thing about Only in Montreal is something entirely out of its producer’s control: When it airs.

7pm is a great time to show a local television show — on any day but Saturday. During the summer, few people are sitting indoors. And during the winter, everyone is tuned to RDS to watch the Canadiens. There’s nothing leading into this show, and it’s followed by a repeat of Montreal Connected. If this show has completely escaped people’s radars, this is part of the reason why.

The repeats aren’t much better. 11:30pm on Saturdays would be great if it didn’t collide with both Saturday Night Live and CTV’s late local newscast. And noon on Sundays is a TV wasteland unless you’re going after the people who watch political talk shows.

There are plenty of other, better places on City’s schedule to put this show. Surely it can forgo one of the many How I Met Your Mother or Modern Family repeats it airs between 6pm and 8pm weekdays. 7pm weekdays would be an ideal time to get people who couldn’t care less about celebrity gossip or George Stroumboulopoulos. Montreal Connected already takes this slot on Thursdays, and there are four other days of the week.

Even if the premiere stays on Saturdays, at least one of the repeats of the show should be during the week.

Other notes

  • The series producer of Only in Montreal is Omar Majeed. He’s a filmmaker who has done work for City TV in Toronto and happens to be married to Gazette Deputy Managing Editor Asmaa Malik.
  • Pepin and Koussioulas discovered after they were hired for this show that they lived in the same building in Mile End. Silver lives a few blocks away.
  • The last local lifestyle show in this city was Living Montreal, which aired on CBC until it was cancelled in 2009 due to budget cuts. CBC has promised to bring back local non-news programming, but hasn’t said yet what this will be.
  • Whalley-Abbey Media is at 1303 Greene Ave. in Westmount. So at least there’s still some broadcasting happening on that street, now that TSN 690, which was across the street, has moved to Papineau.

Only in Montreal airs Saturdays at 7pm and 11:30pm, and Sundays at noon, on City Montreal. Most of its segments are posted on City’s YouTube channel. You can read my Gazette story, published just before its premiere, here.

See also: Matt Silver interviewed on Breakfast Television

20 thoughts on “Review: Only in Montreal is an entertaining window into the city’s life (but it needs a better timeslot)

  1. Marc

    I’ve watched a few episodes, and it’s quite good. No idea what its budget is, but the production quality is very high.

    With the number of people acquiring PVRs only increasing, will timeslots matter less?

    Reply
  2. Jim P.

    Thanks Steve for the intro to this progrsm. A real gem of a show. Watched all the YouTube episodes. I enjoyed the interviews and all 3 hosts are genuinely interested in the subject. No fake Entertainment Tonight interviews. So far I have learned so much trivai about Montreal like the street named after saints and the lights atop PVM.
    I agree hey deserve more exposure. YouTube is ok for me but I will try to watch it on a Saturday night

    Steve did you do a cameo in 1 segment?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Um, referring to Place Ville-Marie as “Ville-Marie”? Way to fail as a Montrealer, Mr. Silver.

      Yes. That is clearly the most horrible thing anyone has ever done to our city. How he sleeps at night is beyond me.

      Reply
  3. Steve W

    Does Whalley-Abbey Media have pretty much full control of ‘Only in Montreal’ TV show(including final say on the hiring of the three hosts)? The hosts are paid by Whalley-Abbey(or City Montreal), & are not considered employees of City Montreal(maybe freelancers)?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Does Whalley-Abbey Media have pretty much full control of ‘Only in Montreal’ TV show(including final say on the hiring of the three hosts)?

      Whalley-Abbey was given a mandate by City to produce a local show about Montreal. So things like the number of episodes and their length were decided by City. But the details, including casting and subject matter, were decided by Whalley-Abbey.

      The hosts are paid by Whalley-Abbey

      That’s correct. The show is produced by Whalley-Abbey and everything from editing to closed captioning is organized and paid for by that company. City pays the production company for the series.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        It’s done this way so that CITY can avoid all the up front and continuing costs of producing the show, and let WAM absorb that cost. WAM already has the equipment and the studios and such to produce such a show, after all for those who don’t know it’s the company started by Debbie Travis and her production partner to put her show out on channels like HGTV, created many moons ago. They are not a small company, having produced all sorts of things from Chuck’s Day Off and Buy Me to the laughably horrible Property Shop show.

        What it means is that CITY’s entire commitment is basically to write a check, they can walk away from it if they want without much risk.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          It’s done this way so that CITY can avoid all the up front and continuing costs of producing the show, and let WAM absorb that cost.

          Actually it’s done this way because only productions by independent companies satisfy the CRTC quota. The CRTC tries to encourage broadcasters to hire independent producers to make their programs.

          They are not a small company, having produced all sorts of things from Chuck’s Day Off and Buy Me to the laughably horrible Property Shop show.

          I suppose it depends how you define “small”. The company produces the Debbie Travis and Chuck Hughes shows, but not much else. I certainly wouldn’t qualify it as a large production company.

          What it means is that CITY’s entire commitment is basically to write a check, they can walk away from it if they want without much risk.

          Well, except the financial risk that comes with writing that cheque. What other risks are there?

          Reply
          1. Steve W

            Outside of Chuck Hughes shows & its off-shoots(milking it’s only franchise now) & Only in Montreal, that’s about it for current production from Whalley-Abbey Media. That’s pretty small.

            Reply
          2. Dilbert

            “Well, except the financial risk that comes with writing that cheque. What other risks are there?”

            Well, if they decided to do it in house, it would the risk of equipment, facilities, etc. Writing a check and letting someone else take those risks is pretty good way to do things.

            “I suppose it depends how you define “small”. The company produces the Debbie Travis and Chuck Hughes shows, but not much else. I certainly wouldn’t qualify it as a large production company.”

            Well, I don’t think they are large to that point, but they are not a small company. What I mean is that they would have the equipment and facilities to produce such as show (and the experience to do it), and likely either in house staff or on call workers to shoot the stuff. They have pretty much Chuck’ed everything they can, and according to what I can see have knocked out over 400 episodes of various TV shows…

            “Actually it’s done this way because only productions by independent companies satisfy the CRTC quota.”

            I think that regardless of the way the CRTC looks at it, it’s a financially solid move by the company to avoid risks and hire “pros” with the knowledge and the skill set to knock it out without the up front expenses.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Well, if they decided to do it in house, it would the risk of equipment, facilities, etc.

              What equipment and facilities? Besides the intros, which are shot in a small studio, the entire show is shot on location. And City just built a brand new studio complete with control room in Montreal. They could easily produce this show with the equipment they have already, if equipment was the major investment here. But of course it’s not.

              I think that regardless of the way the CRTC looks at it, it’s a financially solid move by the company to avoid risks and hire “pros” with the knowledge and the skill set to knock it out without the up front expenses.

              There are also disadvantages to airing programming from independent producers. For one thing, they don’t own the show. They don’t profit from DVD sales or sales to other media.

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                “City just built a brand new studio complete with control room in Montreal. They could easily produce this show with the equipment they have already, if equipment was the major investment here. ”

                You are the one who argued that this equipment and setup likely wouldn’t be used for anything else, because 15 hours a week of live programming is already a lot.

                Which side of the fence are you on?

              2. Fagstein Post author

                You are the one who argued that this equipment and setup likely wouldn’t be used for anything else, because 15 hours a week of live programming is already a lot.

                I don’t recall that. And in any case because that doesn’t follow. For one thing, Montreal Connected is already making use of the studio space. And while 15 hours a week is a lot, that’s all before 9am. If you can bring in new people, I don’t see why the studio and equipment couldn’t be used for something else.

                But all of that is beside the point. The reason City hired an independent company to produce this show has nothing to do with cameras or editing suites.

  4. Paul Wong

    I have seen a few episodes (via PVR) and I enjoyed the show. It is very well filmed. In fact I have to say all three local shows on CITY MTL are very well produced shows. (BT, MTL Connected as well ) The only question is how long will they be able to keep up such a professional and slick TV shows. As I feel all three shows will not draw enough RATINGS to qualify the amount of $$$ pumped into the shows.. Their will come a time where I feel these shows will have to be scalled back in prdouction if ratings and AD $$ is not coming in. Regardless of their CRTC commitments
    I hope I am wrong as I find these shows are a postive contribution to english local TV in MTL with the exception of Local supper time news has been almost non existant.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The only question is how long will they be able to keep up such a professional and slick TV shows. As I feel all three shows will not draw enough RATINGS to qualify the amount of $$$ pumped into the shows.

      I don’t suspect Only in Montreal will last more than a season or two. The other shows I don’t see changing drastically in the short term. Maybe in five years they’ll scale back a bit on staff if the network is losing money. But the studio will still be there, the cameras and equipment will still be there, and I don’t really see Rogers hiring all these people if they plan to just fire them a few years down the road.

      Reply
  5. Tom

    Off topic a bit, and I have been away from MTL for a while, but how does Montreal end up with 4 English language TV stations and 2 French ones. I’m talking base stations – you know like 2,6,10,12.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      how does Montreal end up with 4 English language TV stations and 2 French ones. I’m talking base stations – you know like 2,6,10,12.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “base stations”, but if you mean over the air stations, Montreal has 10 of them — five French (Radio-Canada, TVA, V, Télé-Québec, Canal Savoir), four English (CTV, CBC, Global, City) and one multilingual station that will launch soon.

      Reply
  6. Dan

    Anyone have any idea if the CJNT transmitter reaches the West Island? I’m in Kirkland but I can’t catch it even though I have a very good 8 bay antenna about 30ft AGL. Anybody know where I can get the broadcast pattern of their transmitter? I really want to listen to them but so far no luck. Thanks. Dan.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Anyone have any idea if the CJNT transmitter reaches the West Island?

      That all depends on what kind of receiver you have. There’s nothing nearby on the same channel, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t if you had a good enough antenna.

      Anybody know where I can get the broadcast pattern of their transmitter?

      Industry Canada has a database you can look through, but good luck trying to understand it practically. In any case, unless you’re planning to move your home, it won’t make much of a difference. The antenna is near the peak of Mount Royal, so if your antenna is directional, point it there.

      Reply

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