Catherine Sherriffs, who left her job as late-night anchor at CTV Montreal a year ago to go on maternity leave, is not coming back.
Sherriffs, who was given the anchor chair in 2011 after Debra Arbec left for CBC, was scheduled to return to work earlier in July. But her position was not waiting for her. Instead, the station felt that the system it put in place when she left, having Mutsumi Takahashi anchor the noon and 6pm newscasts and Paul Karwatsky anchor at 6pm and 11:30pm, was “working very well the way it is,” explained CTV Montreal General Manager Louis Douville.
“We offered her another project, something new that we wanted to start experimenting with, and she didn’t see that as a fit to her new life,” Douville explained. He wouldn’t go into detail about what that position entails, but I understand it was an anchor-like position with a web focus.
Apparently that idea didn’t sit well with her, either because of the hours, which meant she would be going through rush-hour traffic to and from her home in the Laurentians (she grew up in Morin Heights), or because of the apparent demotion, or both.
My attempts to contact Sherriffs for comment have not yet been met with a response (her Facebook profile is locked down and she hasn’t posted anything to Twitter). I’ll update this if I hear from her.
Though CTV Montreal management would disagree, it’s hard not to see this as a forced demotion (at the very least it’s a forced reassignment). And worse, one that seems to come as an indirect result of a maternity leave. It’s that leave that put Karwatsky in the late-night chair and led to the decision to keep him there.
Douville insists that the decision was made “in the last (few) months” and had not been planned before Sherriffs’s leave.
“We love Catherine. She’s a fantastic employee and a great journalist,” Douville said. And indeed, there’s little reason to believe that this decision was in any way related to her performance in the anchor chair. Rather, it allows the station to go from having four anchors to three and save money.
Sherriffs graduated from Concordia University’s journalism program in 2007, and got her start in radio, working at CJAD. She joined CTV Montreal in 2009 as a reporter before being promoted to late-night anchor.
Sherriffs isn’t the only person leaving CTV Montreal. The station let go of its human resources manager this week, and is looking to cut its workforce by 10 to 12 people (out of about 100 total employees) over the coming months, as I explain in this story in The Gazette.
This is how I imagine Elysia Bryan-Baynes celebrates everything.
Global Montreal has finally filled the seat that was vacated by Richard Dagenais when he moved to mornings in January: Reporter Elysia Bryan-Baynes is being upgraded to the anchor desk, it was announced on Wednesday morning. Her first day on air is June 3.
Bryan-Baynes, an avid comic-book reader, has been with Global Montreal since 2003, but this is her first permanent job at the station, station manager Karen Macdonald tells me.
“Elysia has literally been a freelancer here since 2003,” she said. “We’ve had lots and lots of babies and we’ve had lots and lots of mat leaves” that she’s been able to fill. Macdonald attributes the lack of openings both to the station’s tiny size since it drastically cut staff in 2007, and to its bizarrely low turnover rate. “People just don’t leave here,” she said. “So since 2007 since we had the cuts we haven’t had that many departures.”
The new morning show, which brought a handful of new jobs including two anchors, created an opportunity.
“Of all the candidates, her screen test was the best,” Macdonald said. “I think people will be intrigued and pleasantly surprised.”
Bryan-Baynes hasn’t done much anchoring, which Macdonald said was “because she’s had so much else to do” with reporting, including some filling in at the National Assembly. “She’s a really strong anchor, she has a lot of experience news-wise. It requires a lot of experience, because basically they’re by themselves a lot in the evening.”
For her part, Bryan-Baynes says she’s really excited about the new gig. “I’ve loved the work and the team since I arrived in 2003,” she tells me. “Global has always made me feel part of the family. Now its official. For now, I’m feeling excitement and great sense of responsibility. I’m sure many other emotions will hit me between now and when I start in June.”
Paola Samuel has been filling in on the late-night desk most nights since Dagenais’s move.
Global also announced to staff that Gloria Henriquez has officially been named associate producer of Morning News, a role she has been temporarily filling since the show began.
Karwatsky to take over late nights at CTV
Meanwhile at CTV, there’s also a change there to the late-night anchor desk. Catherine Sherriffs will be leaving on maternity leave this summer, and the station has decided to have Paul Karwatsky take over the late-night desk in addition to co-anchoring at 6 p.m., station manager Louis Douville told me. That means Mutsumi Takahashi will be doing the noon newscast solo.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sherriffs’s appointment is effective July 4, which, coincidentally or not, is the same day Arbec is scheduled to begin as the 5pm anchor at CBC.
“I’m really excited to still be reporting, it will be great to get out into the city,” Sherriffs says in the story CTV posted online. “But being an anchor is what I always dreamed about. Literally, always. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
Sherriffs, from Morin Heights, is a 2007 graduate of Concordia’s journalism program, and got her start on radio. She’s the niece of current CFQR newsman Murray Sherriffs.
The choice of Sherriffs is a bit (but not too much) out of left field. Either of weekend anchors Paul Karwatsky or Tarah Schwartz would have been an obvious choice. Or one of the veteran reporters. But not all of them were interested in a job that would see them lose their weeknights.
Sherriffs hasn’t been contributing to CTV long (in fact, she wasn’t even a permanent member of the staff), but her appointment reminds me of that of Andrew Chang at CBC, who was also a noticeably young (and tiny, and cute) pick but who has turned out to be a very good anchor.
Another pretty face
Of course, the first reaction from TV watchers, and the thing most of us are too polite to point out in public, is that Sherriffs is very pretty. The thought immediately enters one’s mind that she was picked for the job primarily for this reason.
Let’s be honest here: Looks do matter on TV. In a world where your boss will talk to you about your choice of tie, how you look is a big part of how you’re judged. I personally cringe at the thought of how random strangers would judge me if I ever got a regular job that saw my face (and fashion sense) on television.
Look around the dial and you see lots of pretty faces in TV news (not just on Sun News Network). There’s an element of self-selection in this – people (especially women) who are very pretty seem more likely to see themselves as television reporters, or have people suggest that to them. There’s a natural sociological force that brings pretty faces and on-camera TV jobs together. And there are decision-makers who, when presented with two candidates with equal skills and experience, will convince themselves that the prettier one actually has more skills or more experience.
We can say this is wrong, that people should be chosen for their mental qualifications and not their looks, but at the end of the day it’s ratings that matter, and ratings are driven by the viewers.
So, was Sherriffs chosen because she’s pretty? I can’t get into the head of the decision-makers at CTV, so there’s no way to know for sure what they thought consciously or unconsciously. My guess is that it was a minor factor in the decision. Sherriffs’s hosting experience comes from radio, where nobody really cares what you look like. And her work as a TV reporter gives no indication that she’s a dumb girl wandering the streets with a microphone. Pretty works, but it isn’t enough.
The real test will come next month, when she takes over the anchor chair and begins walking the fine line between being a serious news reader and being a warm, relatable human being that people are comfortable spending some time with before they go to bed.
It’ll probably be awkward at first, but give it a few months and she and their viewers will get used to each other.
I’ve never met Catherine Sherriffs, but from what I know about her through her colleagues and her work, I can tell you this: This is what she wants to do, and few people are as motivated as she is to succeed.