16 months after being hired as the first man in charge of City TV’s new station in Montreal, Bob Babinski is leaving. He announced the news on Twitter on Saturday:
So proud of the shows we built @City_tv Montreal, but time for me to move on. Resignation in effect June13. Love my staff and contributors.
— Bob Babinski (@BobBabinski) June 7, 2014
I spoke with him shortly after that post, and you can read his reasons in this story, which should appear in Monday’s Gazette.
The decision was announced to staff at the station on Friday, just after the broadcast of Breakfast Television. This was by design, Babinski told me, “to have the least impact on staff.”
Babinski said it was “a difficult day yesterday.”
While he said he’d been thinking about it for a while, as one does for decisions like his, he called his bosses to make it official earlier this week, the same week those bosses were busy with Rogers’s upfront presentations, giving advertisers a taste of what is to come for the fall season.
I talked with Babinski on Tuesday at the Montreal satellite event for the upfront, and he said nothing about wanting to leave. He explained that he didn’t want word to leak out before making the announcement to his staff. That announcement, which shocked everyone, was made in the presence of Jordan Schwartz, Rogers Media’s VP of in-house production and Babinski’s boss, who is visiting to help tweak the morning show a bit. (The first minor tweaks to the format should be apparent on Monday’s show.)
Schwartz tweeted this somewhat cryptic message just before midnight on Friday night:
thank you @BTMontreal. You are an incredible team.
— JordanSchwartz (@1JordanSchwartz) June 7, 2014
And this more direct one on Saturday:
— JordanSchwartz (@1JordanSchwartz) June 7, 2014
Schwartz told me later that he was sad to see Babinski go, but “in my head I always expected this day. I didn’t know if he’d want to stay for the day-to-day-to-day.”
There was the thought of whether there was something Rogers could do to make Babinski happier in his position, Schwartz said, but “I heard it in his voice that it was the right call.”
Schwartz said “I thought that he was a gentleman in the timing that he picked,” because it’s at the beginning of summer and gives them time to find someone new before the fall.
Manuel Fonseca, the managing producer of local programming at City Vancouver, takes over as interim executive producer in Montreal until they find a permanent replacement. Schwartz didn’t want to put a timeline on that, but said he’ll look for someone “as soon as possible.”
“I need a change”
So why is Babinski leaving? Simply put, “I need a change,” he said, emphasizing that the decision was entirely his and to the disappointment of his superiors.
Babinski said the first year and a half was about hiring new talent, setting up a TV station from scratch, and developing a new show. As we enter the second seasons of Montreal Connected and Breakfast Television, his job is becoming more administrative, doing things like coordinating content from the network. “While that’s extremely important, that stuff is less close to my heart,” he said.
So, in the middle of summer, he’s leaving and will go back to being a freelancer.
He won’t be entirely disconnected from Rogers, he said. Without giving too many details, he said he will be working with the company to produce programming related to hockey, as Rogers begins finding ways to recoup that $5.2-billion investment in NHL rights over 12 years. It will definitely be an off-air role, though. The former CBC sportscaster says his on-air days are behind him.
Babinski also told me he plans to go back to pursuing his “basic passion” of training others to be better broadcasters. He wants to expand the stuff he’s been doing there and apply it to other industries, helping corporate executives become better public speakers, for example. Again, not too many details because he doesn’t want to tip his hand before it’s all figured out.
He remains in his job until Friday, June 13. He’ll be spending his last week doing his job as usual, and preparing files for a transition to a new boss.
Babinski was hired in January 2013 by Scott Moore, who at the time was Rogers’s president of broadcast. Before Babinski’s hiring, Moore told me he wanted someone local for the job. The two knew each other because they had worked together previously at CBC Sports. Babinski was a sportscaster in Montreal until 2000, when CBC tried its dreadful “Canada Now” experiment. He left, and went on to freelance, producing Hockey Day in Canada content for CBC, and teaching broadcasting at Concordia University. (I was a student of his a decade ago for a class.) Moore is now managing Sportsnet and the NHL deal for Rogers, so the two will be working together again, though perhaps not so directly.
But while Babinski had a lot of experience producing television, managing a television station as something new for him. He said at the time that he was excited about the idea of building something like this from scratch.
Looking back, he’s happy how it turned out. “I’m extremely proud of the programming that we were able to build,” he said, and of the opportunity to build a TV station from the ground up and convince people like Alexandre Despatie to join. “I’ve never seen someone improve like he has in an on-air capacity,” Babinski said of the world champion competitive diver turned broadcaster.
He had good things to say about all six on-air personalities and how much they’ve grown over the past year. He said they’d become friends, and it was sad to leave them.
Schwartz echoed that, saying he was impressed by how close the team had become, and that he didn’t think Babinski had realized until Friday how much of an impact he had on the people there, both in front of and behind the camera.
Local TV ratings for the spring came out last month, and Babinski said on Tuesday that BT’s were disappointing and headed in the wrong direction, and he could only speculate as to why. He hinted that once the Montreal English market moves to an automated electronic meter system instead of a written diary-based system this fall, the numbers will be more accurate.
Schwartz was on the same page there as well. He said it’s a “blind comparison” because we can’t compare the ratings year-to-year. He also wasn’t too confident in the diary-based ratings system and is eager to see the Portable People Meter system introduced in the fall, which can give out overnight ratings and much more accurate numbers.
For Montreal Connected, the ratings were also disappointing, showing only 500 viewers in the latest BBM report. If that’s a true figure, it likely has more to do with lack of promotion and an unsexy 6:30pm Thursday timeslot (opposite the sports segment of CTV Montreal’s newscast) than anything else. And with NHL coming to City, there’s opportunity to fix that, by say having the show air Saturdays before the game. Decisions on changes haven’t been made yet.
Babinski is the second person out the door suddenly at City Montreal since it started airing local programming a year ago. In March, Rogers let go of Alyson Lozoff, the Sportsnet reporter in Montreal and co-host of weekly sports show Montreal Connected (and the only local on-air person at City Montreal whose hiring predates the station’s creation). Babinski and former co-host Wilder Weir told me they felt bad for Lozoff. The decision to let her go was made in Toronto. Her position remains unfilled.
Thanks from staff
In addition to Schwartz, Babinski’s announcement prompted tweets of support from BT and Montreal Connected personalities:
— Laura Casella (@La_Casella) June 7, 2014
Incredibly sad that @BobBabinski is leaving us at City Montreal. Terrific leader, brilliant vision, respected boss. And friend forever!
— Elias Makos (@eliasmakos) June 7, 2014
Huge thank you to my boss, mentor & friend @BobBabinski on his new endeavours. He gave me a chance & helped me get where I am today. Cheers!
— Kelly Greig (@KellyGreig) June 7, 2014
I have so much respect and admiration for @BobBabinski. Great boss, great teacher and amazing person. He'll be missed by all.
— Sean Coleman (@ColemanMTL) June 7, 2014
Here’s what Schwartz sent to in-house staff on Friday:
I’m writing to inform you that, Bob Babinski, Executive Producer & Local Content Manager for City Montreal has decided to leave Rogers to return to talent performance training and freelance producing.
From day one with the Montreal team, Bob has proven himself to be a passionate and driven team leader. He was instrumental in launching Breakfast Television and Montreal Connected, and played a key role in casting a solid and dynamic team of talent in front of the camera and behind the scenes. We are lucky to have had his expertise and experience during our start up phase.
Bob’s last day with us is Friday, June 13. Please join me in thanking Bob for his contributions to City Montreal, and in wishing him success with his future endeavors.
In the interim, Manuel Fonesca will oversee all in-house production at City Montreal in addition to Breakfast Television Vancouver. In the interim Jeffery Feldman and Genevieve Skelton will support Manuel by managing the day-to-day operations of Breakfast Television in Montreal. And, George Athans will continue to manage and oversee Montreal Connected.
Thank you in advance for your support during this transition. I know the spirit of this team will continue to drive the excellence of the shows.
Vice President, In-House Productions