Debra Arbec, Catherine Sherriffs debut without a hitch

Debra Arbec (left) on CBC at 5, and Catherine Sherriffs on CTV at 11:30

Monday was a pretty big day for local TV watchers, with new faces debuting on CBC and CTV newscasts.

Debra Arbec, who left CFCF in May for an evening anchor position at CBMT, saying she wanted a shot at a supper-hour newscast, finally got her first night on air after her contractual obligation to CTV ended on July 1. She co-anchors with Andrew Chang from 5pm to 6:30pm, replacing Jennifer Hall, who has moved back to southern Ontario.

CTV, meanwhile, gave Arbec’s old job of 11:30pm weekday anchor to Catherine Sherriffs, who wasn’t even part of the permanent reporting staff at the time. Sherriffs’s first shift as a television anchor was Monday night.

Both Arbec and Sherriffs were flawless on their first nights, and got lots of praise from their bosses.

Smooth transition for Arbec

“It could not have gone smoother,” said CBC Montreal News Director Mary-Jo Barr, who has been working with Arbec for three weeks. “I was so excited to see the team on air,” she said. “It felt like Christmas morning.”

Arbec agreed that things went very smoothly, even when the first news report she introduced failed to play and she had to give her first we’re-having-technical-difficulties speech.

Asked what the biggest transition issue was, Arbec pointed to technology. CBC uses Avid video editing software, and Arbec had to learn to edit, something she didn’t do at CTV. And in HD, to boot. She and Chang edit the international news roundup themselves.

Arbec also said the change in the schedule took some getting used to. “My body clock has been used to late nights for so long,” she said. Now she has a day job and can spend evenings at home with her husband, Brian Wilde.

Chang, incidentally, also will have a more daytime schedule. It was decided to pull him off the late-night newscast (which runs 10 minutes from 10:55 to 11:05pm) so he could concentrate exclusively on the supper-hour show. Instead of coming in at 3pm and having only two hours to familiarize himself with the show, he can come in and shape it from the beginning. “The show was always a bit of a surprise to him,” Barr said. The move was done by rearranging existing staff, avoiding the need to increase the show’s budget by hiring another person.

Reporter Amanda Margison has been given the late-night host job, which includes some lineup editing and monitoring breaking news during the 5pm newscast.

Arbec heaped praise on her coworkers, including co-host Chang, who she said has been “such a godsend for technology for me.” She’s had a chance to meet the new team (she likened it to moving to a new school) and how to pronounce their names (try saying “Anna Asimakopoulos” without hesitating) and said they were all “really supportive and understanding” about her move there.

Aside from anchoring and preparing the newscast, Arbec will also be introducing a weekly segment called Montrealer of the Week, profiling people who make a difference in the community but aren’t otherwise recognized. Similar in style to the My Montreal series she did at CTV, but focusing on individuals instead of ethnic groups. They will air Fridays, with the first one this coming Friday.

You can watch the 6-6:30pm portion of Arbec’s first newscast here. It includes and end-of-show welcome from Chang, in which Arbec notes how fast the hour and a half went. CBC also has Arbec’s bio on its website.

UPDATE (Sept. 26): The Gazette’s Brendan Kelly profiles Arbec as an advance to a half-hour special Secrets of Montreal, which she hosts.







Sherriffs’s nerves fade quickly

A few hours later at CFCF, it was Sherriffs’s turn behind the desk. A smaller desk, as she was thrown the curveball of having her first day also be the first day of a new temporary set while they build a brand new studio.

“She went into that position a little cold,” said CTV Montreal News Director Jed Kahane. “It’s not a hermetically sealed studio. There’s a lot of distraction. I thought it was great that she was able to do it under those circumstances.”

For Sherriffs herself, it was a bit intimidating doing her first shift as a television news anchor. Other than some time with Todd van der Heyden on Crescent St. during the Formula One broadcasts, she hasn’t had any experience behind the desk. She got some voice coaching (standard for new anchors, Kahane said), but nothing beat the pressure of being live on air by yourself.

“I was more nervous when I came in at the beginning of the shift,” Sherriffs said. By showtime, she realized there was no going back now, and with every segment the nerves became more manageable.

The nervousness showed a bit on air, particularly in more light-hearted segments when she didn’t seem entirely natural. By Tuesday night, it seemed much less apparent and she looked a lot more comfortable in her new role. (Well, as comfortable as you can be with bright lights shining on you, a camera in your face and thousands of people watching you live.)

Like Arbec, Sherriffs credited her crew for helping her get through it. “The crew was amazing,” she said, offering her lots of support.

And in case you were curious, Arbec did watch Sherriffs’s first show, even though it was on what is now a competitor’s channel. She said Sherriffs did a fine job and she wishes her well.

You can read Sherriffs’s CTV bio here.

A new studio at CFCF

CTV and RDS are really excited about upgraded studios that are being constructed on the ground floor of their building at Papineau St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. But before CTV can move in to the new set in September, it has to vacate its old one. Sunday’s 11:30pm newscast with Paul Karwatsky was the last in the old studio (he’s very proud of that). Starting Monday at noon, the newscasts were being done on a temporary set constructed in the CTV Montreal newsroom.

The temporary set has its issues. For one thing, there’s only one chair behind the anchor desk. Kahane says the plan is to only have one anchor at a time (summer vacations mean the newscasts that normally have two anchors won’t again until September). But it still causes some interesting situations, particularly when they have to switch between news and sports anchor. Currently, one of the two stands when they chat with each other during transitions, which is a bit awkward.

The other thing is that the newsroom is a pretty active place. There was a bit of noise in the audio from the anchor desk on the first night, and people working in the newsroom during a broadcast have to be careful what they yell or what they do when they’re in the camera’s view.

The set added a bit of awkwardness to the introductions, because the establishing shot of the studio can’t be done anymore. Since that’s where the booming voiceover introducing the anchors comes in, that’s gone too. Now, the newscast goes straight from the opening theme to a closeup shot of the anchor. It’s a bit of a jarring transition for someone used to the way the newscast works.

Kahane said most of the work in setting up the temporary studio came in fixing the lighting. There was a camera in the newsroom before that reporters could use to report breaking news and the late anchor would use to say what’s coming up at 11:30, but to do an entire newscast from there, the background needed to be a bit better than the drab and – by television standards – dark cubicles of a newsroom.

Still, the production has a kind of out-of-the-basement feel to it. It looks fine technically, but it doesn’t feel as comfortable.

Kahane said the summer was a good time to do this (it’s kind of a lull in the news industry, and TV ratings are generally down as people head out and do things with their lives). And the move into a new expansive studio (with windows!) will be worth it.

The new studio will be “HD-ready”, meaning the infrastructure will be suitable for HD broadcast, but there are no concrete plans yet to convert the newscast to high definition. CTV has prioritized its specialty channels, which are currently being transitioned. And Montreal hasn’t been made a high priority because of the lack of competitive pressure.

Kahane also said the temporary set will be used as the in-the-newsroom live reporter feed once the new studio is in place, and its look will fit in with the look of the new studio.

You can watch the report CTV did here for some visuals of the building of the new set and the temporary one.

And what of their old set? Part of it is being used in the temporary studio, but the big desk and other elements have been donated to Concordia University’s journalism department, where it’s being used in their studio to teach students to become TV anchors themselves.

12 thoughts on “Debra Arbec, Catherine Sherriffs debut without a hitch

  1. AlexH

    I am sort of surprised that they allowed the hallway off to the viewers left side) be visible. It doesn’t look like it would have taken much to block it off. It really does look pretty much dime store at this point, but hey, Bell only made a billion plus dollars last year, it isn’t like they can afford anything better.

    As for anchor roulette, I would say the real answer comes when the next ratings book comes out. If the CBC news continues to expand it’s viewership, it will be a good indication that moving Arbec over was a good idea. I think she has the right personality to fit in well with the CBC crew.

    As for Sherriffs, I think she needs to drop about 50% down the makeup scale, she looks way over done and trying too hard, and the American Anchor hairstyle is rather cliche. I find it incredibly hard to take anyone with that look too seriously.

    1. Kevin

      The way the building is designed, they can’t block off the hallway unless they move 4 filing cabinets, several desks, and a structural pillar or two.
      They did block off the view into a cubicle though.

    2. Vahan

      I feel that we are very lucky with the newscasters we have in the Montreal English market. I have the highest respect for the intelligence of the people before the cameras and the new crop coming in seems very ready to pick up the baton and run with it. The over make-up(ness) of Catherine is most probably a way of her making her mark and it will probably be toned down once she finds her legs. We are a million miles away from the American style of journalism. I do see it creeping in, in the other provinces with the City crew in Toronto and the new Sun news station being pushed on us. It is worrisome and I hope we don’t have polarized cable news networks much like in the U.S with ugly yelling going on, on either side. I may be extremely naive, but I have always seen all the newscasters in the past as neutral, politically. For example, during the last federal election CTV had Pamela Wallin on as one of the “experts”, she is now of course a conservative senator, and she was waving that flag high and proud, almost to the point of over zealousness at the victory of her party, but I never saw that from her while she was on the air. I hope to never see that from any anchors and I truly hope Sun TV, with the help of the new government, doesn’t bring that style of news to Canada. We truly have fair and balanced of both views.

      1. AlexH

        Well, sort of two different problems here.

        Pamela Wallin is just the latest in a long series of media people who have crossed over to politics (and they often end up coming back to the media). She’s a homer now, waving the flag for the home team. That CTV didn’t realize she would do it or didn’t decide to shut her down and move her off the set is their own mistake, I guess.

        For local news, there are some real problems. The english market is way too small (we are on par with, what, Halifax?). We have media concentration and Bell in cost cutting mode (the billion of profits they made last year are not enough, dammit!), so we get more and more hiring of lesser experienced people. while a few lifers occupy the big chairs and pretty much make it impossible to move up.

        I sort of wonder if the arrival of Sherriffs in the anchor chair wasn’t one of those things that set Kai Nagata off. No particular comment on her on air style or abilities, but it would seem that she is hired because of a look, a style more than anything of substance. Like it or not, I feel like I am getting my news from a recent cegep grad, and that doesn’t inspire confidence. But hey, she has anchor hair and anchor makeup and anchor clothes, so she must know exactly what she is talking about, right?

  2. Bill

    I don’t usually watch the 6pm news but I’ve started tuning into CBC as I quite like Arbec. Easy on the eye and professional.

    My only knock on the CBC news is 90 minutes! As GOB would say “COME ON!”

    1. Fagstein Post author

      My only knock on the CBC news is 90 minutes! As GOB would say “COME ON!”

      It is long and repetitive, but that’s by design. They don’t expect people to stick around for the full 90 minutes, but usually a 30 or 60-minute block.

  3. Michel

    So as for CTV’s new studio, I’ll be able to watch Todd and Mits do the news if I’m walking down Papineau/René Levesque?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      So as for CTV’s new studio, I’ll be able to watch Todd and Mits do the news if I’m walking down Papineau/René Levesque?

      Yes. I don’t know if they’re going to go all Today Show with it, but the idea is that windows will be a big part of the set.

      1. Just Me

        Will viewers be able to see out of the window? If they can, what happens if someone decides to take a pee on the window during a news broadcast (or if I decide, just for fun, to go to the window and make obscene gestures during a broadcast – of course, I would never do that…).

  4. silhouette

    Arbec and Chang edits the newscasts? I always thought someone else handled those things…..newcast editors?…..or broadcast editors?, etc

    “She and Chang edit the international news roundup themselves.”

    Curious…..why only international news?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Normally in a TV newsroom, there are specialized editors who edit things together (the show openings, that tease the stories coming up, require quite a bit of editing work, for example). As I understand the CBC’s in particular, the journalists are a bit more hands-on with editing their stories.

      International news is mostly a roundup of briefs done with the anchor voicing over video from news agencies. Because there are no reporters on these stories, the scripts are done by the anchors themselves, and they edit the video to fit. National stories tend to be packaged reports from CBC, and local stories are done by the local reporters, though they too can be briefed.

  5. Isa

    I love Debra she is the complete package smart professional easy on the eyes,involved with the community
    too bad CTV let her go ….sorry but Sherriffs put me to sleep…cant watch her for more than 3 min.


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