Comparative review: Global Montreal’s Morning News vs. City Montreal’s Breakfast Television

Breakfast Television cast, from left: Joanne Vrakas, Alexandre Despatie, Catherine Verdon-Diamond, Elias Makos, Wilder Weir and Laura Casella

Breakfast Television cast, from left: Joanne Vrakas, Alexandre Despatie, Catherine Verdon-Diamond, Elias Makos, Wilder Weir and Laura Casella

Tuesday, Jan. 28, marks the first anniversary of Global Montreal’s Morning News, the first of two local English-language TV morning shows that launched in Montreal in 2013. The second, City Montreal’s Breakfast Television, launched on Aug. 26. And though we could just be happy that there are two morning shows serving this community now instead of zero, it’s hard not to think of a battle between the two, even if they both have a long hill to climb to reach the level of Canada AM.

Comparing Morning News and BT comes with two main caveats: Morning News launched seven months before BT, and benefits from being on an established station in this market, while Breakfast Television has a much larger staff and far more resources. Neither of these factors are beyond the control of those stations’ owners (Shaw Media and Rogers Media), so neither I nor viewers should mitigate our reviews based on those facts, but they should be kept in mind if you’re evaluating anyone’s individual performance.

That said, here’s how the shows stack up on key elements:


The Breakfast Television studio is 2800 square feet

The Breakfast Television studio is 2800 square feet

There really isn’t much contest here. Breakfast Television enjoys a brand new 2,800-square-foot set with multiple elements including a giant video wall and a couch. Morning News uses the same virtual set as the evening newscast, and the green screen causes all sorts of problems, from restricting the colours of clothing that guests can wear to disrupting the chroma-key effect when anything is too reflective or casts too much of a shadow.

Having a green-screen set has its advantages, but it doesn’t really look like Global is taking advantage of those. Their virtual set doesn’t change, except to follow the movements of the cameras, or if they want to insert a virtual giant screen to show weather graphics. If there’s any upside to the Global method besides cost, it’s not being taken advantage of.

Style isn’t always more important than substance, but BT definitely looks better. And size isn’t everything, but Global’s studio can sometimes feel cramped (particularly during musical performances) while City’s always looks spacious.

Production quality

If there’s one place where having three times the staff makes a big difference, it’s in production. Morning News has three people in its control room, while BT has seven. Morning News has studio cameras that are robotically controlled, while BT has humans behind them. BT has an audio technician in his own room to monitor audio levels. Morning News doesn’t.

In Global’s defence, the severe technical issues it faced in its first weeks on the air haven’t been nearly as bad since. The show works, and isn’t nearly as cringe-inducing, but BT has those small touches that make the difference between something that looks like a low-budget community TV program and a professional show designed for a mass audience.


I’m not a good judge of talent. Whether one host is more engaging than another, I don’t really know. Only when it gets really awkward do I see a problem. But here are some thoughts on the on-air personalities of these two shows.

Breakfast Television

Breakfast Television hosts Alexandre Despatie and Joanne Vrakas

Breakfast Television hosts Alexandre Despatie and Joanne Vrakas

Joanne Vrakas is a natural in front of the camera. She’s had enough jobs in TV and radio that live broadcasting doesn’t faze her. She’s quick-witted, warm and personable, and always seems to be in a good mood. She works well as a news anchor or as an Oprah-style interviewer. Her energetic style might not rub everyone the right way (literally, she’s quite touchy-feely), but it works for a morning show.

Alexandre Despatie seemed like an odd choice when I first heard it. Yeah, he’s done some broadcasting, but mostly in ways related to his career as a diver. He doesn’t have the same experience as other broadcasters, and this risked being a major hindrance. Was this just going to be a hobby for him? Something to keep him occupied until he finds bigger things to do? Well, as it turns out, he’s not bad at this. He never seems lost or confused or nervous. He’s not as comfortable in front of the camera as Vrakas, and it feels as though he’s relying on the script a bit often, but he doesn’t seem out of place. He’s definitely exceeded expectations.

Catherine Verdon-Diamond

Catherine Verdon-Diamond

Catherine Verdon-Diamond was an administrative assistant at CBC when her boss said she should be in front of the camera. That seems a no-brainer in hindsight. “CVD”, as she’s referred to on-air, is, like Vrakas, very energetic and comfortable in front of the camera, so much so that she’ll occasionally start singing. She never misses a beat in delivering her weather and traffic reports, nor does she ever seem like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. A solid hire.

Wilder Weir

Wilder Weir

Wilder Weir, the “Live Eye” host, is in a position that is designed to put him in adventurous or perhaps embarrassing situations, and he’s clearly game. I don’t know if he’s fully comfortable in the role yet, but and he can be a bit stiff at times during his interviews, but he does the job well and he looks more and more like he’s really having fun. Considering his segments are very brief, about 2 minutes each, you can’t expect him to do much more with them than he does.

Elias Makos

Elias Makos

Elias Makos has experience explaining things on television, so his new role doesn’t put him in a new position. And he’s familiar with technology enough that he can talk about Microsoft, Facebook, Reddit or iPhones until his lips turn blue. He seems to be one of the few people in television who can work those giant touch screens without making it seem awkward. His other job, commenting sports with Despatie, doesn’t seem nearly as informative, but more on that below.

Laura Casella

Laura Casella is a news reporter, having earned her chops at CJAD. And other than trying too hard to look the part (trenchcoat and all), her job hasn’t really changed here. Her reports are professional and informative (as informative as a story can be when you’re putting it together before sunrise), and she’s prepared to stand outside in all sorts of horrible weather conditions as necessary.

Morning News

Camille and Richard

Camille Ross is warm, inviting and eager to please. Her experience is as a TV reporter, and it shows. She’s in her element conducting interviews, and knows her stuff.

Richard Dagenais is someone I have a hard time trying to figure out. One broadcaster described him as someone who turns on like a light switch or a juke box. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. He seems very excited, especially for a guy his age, and he too often relies on crutches, like giving us the time (which is already on screen).

Jessica Laventure

Jessica Laventure is, with due respect to her colleagues, the one who steals the spotlight on this show. She clearly loves what she does and her happiness never seems at all faked. Her experience working at MétéoMédia means she knows her way around a weather map, and her charisma in front of the camera means they can send her anywhere and she can make it entertaining.


If there’s one place where Global can count on an advantage, it’s news. City Montreal doesn’t really have a news department. It doesn’t have an evening or late-night newscast. All its news is contained in the morning show. On top of that, Global has a national network of newsrooms and a national newscast. City’s only real news resources are in Toronto.

Global’s Morning News has the benefit of being able to run packages from the previous day’s newscast, and it will run one or two, along with some briefs announced by Ross. The only big downside is that there’s no one chasing breaking news. There’s no roving reporter who can report live from the scene of an event that happened overnight.

Breakfast Television has one of those roving reporters with Casella. But her usefulness is limited to that one story. She has to find a remote location to report from, whether or not there’s a breaking news story there. And when you’re reporting at 6am, it’s kind of hit-and-miss whether there’s anything interesting enough to even warrant going out there. Casella’s work is combined with Levon Sevunts, who handles news behind the scenes. They can create an acceptable, if brief, newscast, but it seems incomplete. Local stories are either insufficiently covered or missing entirely. National stories often aren’t covered unless they have something they can use from City Toronto. And while they have some international stories at their disposal, they seem to take too much space when there’s so little local news being covered by comparison.

BT tries to make up for this a bit by following its newscast with Vrakas showing a couple of stories from local papers’ websites. (It’s always the francophone media, strangely, never The Gazette, CBC or CJAD.)

Global gets the edge here for actually presenting more local news to the viewer, but that’s mitigated by City’s advantage in being able to better cover breaking news.


No complaints here. Verdon-Diamond and Laventure are both very charismatic and know what they’re doing. Weather forecasts don’t really vary enough to be able to draw significant differences between the two. Laventure’s experience with MétéoMédia might give her a slight edge on the information front, but both will give you the basics fine.


Breakfast Television traffic drive times

Breakfast Television traffic drive times

Global and City do take different approaches to traffic reports. At BT, traffic reporting duties fall to Verdon-Diamond, who combines them with her weather reports. And she does a fine job of getting the basic traffic info out there. The “estimated drive time” charts, as seen above, are also worthy of note for providing useful information to drivers.

At Global, traffic is kind of outsourced to a radio traffic reporter. At first, it was The Beat’s morning traffic reporter Natasha Hall who would provide the updates. Eventually it went to Debbi Marsellos, who also contributes to The Beat. In any case, the report is delivered over the phone (we never actually see Marsellos) to some automated maps of traffic movement. The result is a report that probably has more information (radio traffic reporters have made a science of cramming as much detail into their precious seconds as possible), but doesn’t quite look as nice.


Logically, you would think sports highlights would be an important part of a morning show. After all, if you’re up at 6am, chances are you didn’t stay up to watch the previous night’s action and want to get a good idea of what happened.

Unfortunately I find neither show does a really good job at their sports segments. Morning News doesn’t really have a dedicated sports segment. If the Canadiens, Alouettes or Impact played the night before, there will be a brief recounting of highlights, but that’s it.

For BT, the sports segment either features Despatie and Makos on the couch talking a bit about sports, or near the end of the show has a national Sportsnet package that has little local flavour. The Despatie/Makos chats aren’t so much giving news about sports as they are water-cooler-style chats about sports. I’m not crazy about that format. I don’t really care what Despatie or Makos thinks of the Canadiens game. I want to know what happened. A more formal highlights package would, I think, work a lot better here. If you’re going to talk about the game instead of saying what happened in it, give me some thoughtful analysis or opinions from an expert.


On Morning News, entertainment news is presented almost as filler at times when they don’t have anything else to talk about. Which is fine by me.

Breakfast Television has segments devoted to entertainment once an hour after the newscast. Early in the show it’s delivered by Despatie, who basically just reads off a script. Later, it’s a package put together by Toronto. Both lack local flavour, particularly since Quebec’s entertainment scene is so different from the rest of Canada.

Another disappointment on both sides here.


Both shows provide a range of interviews on a variety of subjects, and have competent interviewers. Where the shows differ is on more of a technical level than anything else. BT’s larger set means it can have exercise segments, or cooking segments, or fashion segments, making use of the studio space. Global can do these things, but space and technical issues limit their usefulness.

On location

A year after launching, Global is still trying to find ways of getting Jessica Laventure out of the studio. A West Island “satellite” is still being worked on, a way to keep Laventure closer to where much of the audience lives. When she is out on location, though, Laventure has some really good segments. And the playfulness of cameraman Yannick Gadbois adds to the fun.

At BT, because the roles of remote host and weather presenter are separated, Wilder Weir can focus more on setting up good segments. He’s out doing something every day, and it’s almost always interesting.


The latest ratings report shows both shows have about the same audience. There’s some interpretation that goes into that, and we’ll see in May if BT’s numbers are really on as much of a rise as its staff thinks they are. Whether they’ll be able to put a dent in Canada AM’s audience will depend a bit on marketing (which both stations could do much better) and a bit on whether Montreal anglophone audiences really want a local voice in the morning.


As I note in the introduction, Global’s Morning News had the head start, but City’s Breakfast Television has far more resources. The latter is more than likely going to win this battle over time.

It doesn’t matter too much in the end, though, as far as the shows’ survival is concerned. Both of these shows are on the air to satisfy obligations to the CRTC. Morning News is funded for five years, after which it will probably eventually disappear again unless something radical happens (though five years is a long time in broadcasting). Breakfast Television will remain on the air so long as City wants to keep operating a station in Montreal. Though whether its staffing level will remain the same over time is hard to predict.

First impressions

For the record, the first few minutes of Global Montreal’s Morning News, a year ago, and of Breakfast Television on Aug. 26:

The Montreal Morning Show Drinking Game

(I am not responsible for the consequences of overdrinking by playing this game.)

When watching Global’s Morning News, drink whenever:

  • There’s an awkward silence during a handoff
  • Richard Dagenais gives the time
  • Global cameraman Yannick Gadbois appears on camera
  • Camille Ross mentions what day of the week it is
  • Richard Dagenais reminds us or is reminded that he’s a Senators fan
  • A reflection or shadow results in shimmering of the chroma key

When watching City’s Breakfast Television, drink whenever:

  • Someone says “You’re watching Breakfast Television only on City”
  • Someone says “standing by”
  • Catherine Verdon-Diamond sings
  • Joanne Vrakas touches someone on the arm
  • Someone gives an exaggerated compliment to a co-host
  • The show goes to commercial with a camera pointed toward a breakfast food sponsor

Further reading

Breakfast Television was written up in Broadcaster magazine, which provides some details on it from a technical perspective.

9 thoughts on “Comparative review: Global Montreal’s Morning News vs. City Montreal’s Breakfast Television

  1. a

    Is it just me or is the whole may/december thing going on with Camille and Richard just a bit odd…..I know there’s a precedent with Regis and Kelly but Richard is no Regis Philbin……

  2. Dilbert

    City will always suffer the lack of a real news room, and Global will always suffer the lack of a real studio. Unless one or the other decide to do something about it, then these programs have likely already reached their equilibrium and are unlikely to move much from the current situation.

    Which will happen first? Will City finally cave in and decide that the Montreal station needs at least a token news presence, or will Global decide that they actually need to have a little space and perhaps the staff to actually put things on the air from Montreal? It would require each of them to break the basic rules that they have created for themselves, but faced with their own obvious shortcomings, will they have any other real choice?

    (oh, and while this happens, Bixi went broke and the STM reduced services… but that ain’t news!)

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Which will happen first? Will City finally cave in and decide that the Montreal station needs at least a token news presence, or will Global decide that they actually need to have a little space and perhaps the staff to actually put things on the air from Montreal?

      I doubt either of these things will happen unless there’s some dramatic shift in the business model of local television.

  3. JV

    Morning viewers for english television breakfast shows are simply not interested. Quebecers watch american wake-up shows like Good Morning America & Today Show. In French Salut Bonjour has a huge audience. After breaking down the numbers in detail out of Toronto, Global has about 2400 viewers in the morning while BT has under 800 viewers based on PPM numbers out of Toronto. But both stations need to keep carrying these shows because of CRTC license requirements. It’s sad that the anglo population does not support english morning tv, the total opposite in southern Ontario markets like Toronto.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      BT has under 800 viewers based on PPM numbers out of Toronto.

      Which are pretty useless when evaluating a Montreal morning show. In Montreal, BT has 2400 viewers on average, according to the latest BBM diary report.

  4. Robert Dupont

    I watched Global for a bit in the summer but the green screen was really frustrating for me. I liked Camille Ross. Jessica Laventure is amazing!!! Get her on camera more. Richard Dagenais- ehhh – it feels artificial when he’s on camera. Quality news reporting in the morning was nice but the lack of production value really undermines what’s otherwise a pretty solid show. I’ve liked Jamie Orchard and their 6pm newscasts so I’m rooting for the morning show to get some more resources.

    I switched to Breakfast Television in the fall. Joanne Vrakas and Alex Despatie make a strong duo – even if Vrakas overpowers Despatie pretty regularly. Laura Casella and Elias Makos are great at their jobs. Catherine Vernon Diamond’s energy lifts up her segments. Wilder Weir is probably the weakest link of the bunch – I find he comes across as unprepared and sorta scatter-brained.

    I agree with your final prediction but I don’t know how long that time table is. CITY has done a terrible job promoting their station. If I mention something I saw on the program, most people ask “When did CITY come to Montreal?” They need billboards or “come meet CITY!” events. (Clearly I don’t work in marketing with those suggestions LOL! But you get my drift)

    The sports show has young exciting faces and they buried it late at night to compete against Sportscenter. I enjoy the program so I wonder if they’ll try more to cross-promote with Breakfast Television? Or are breakfast tv people not going to watch local shows late at night? All this makes me wonder if CITY built a station in Montreal just to get the NHL rights because the lack of promotion feels like that to me.

    Thanks – BD

  5. Peter

    Also, it should be noted, that all remotes on BT Mtl are in HD, while Global’s are SD, stretched to fill the screen.

  6. Bryan Wolofsky

    I like them both. I channel switch constantly between both these stations, Morning Joe to get my US politics fix, and CHOM (and of course now that Ted’s back on the air, I will try to listen to him and Java, but gosh I HATE country music!)
    Yes, the morning shows can be a but repetitive but they often have interesting people on and its the only way to get any idea of what’s happening in Montreal in the mornings (in addition to reading the Gazette, which I also do daily). So cheers to both morning shows. I don’t see the differences you do Steve and I have certainly never broken it down like you have, I just watch to see what’s going on in my city and who is interesting that they’re interviewing. I’m a fan of both.

  7. ClearChannel

    I watch Global in the morning and will jump to CBS and NBC then back again. CITY hasn’t really attracted me yet. Forget CTV, they only have Canada AM not Montreal AM. They have their priorities mixed up. The local newscast should take precedence over the national. People heading out to work in the morning want the news and weather for their particular area. CBS and NBC have their local newscasts taking priority over their national newscasts.


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