Patrick Watson, CC, television producer and host, filmmaker, author, actor (born 23 December 1929 in Toronto, ON; died 4 July 2022). Patrick Watson is perhaps best known as a creator, producer and co-host of CBC TV’s popular and influential current affairs program This Hour Has Seven Days (1964–66). He was a noted journalist and filmmaker and the creative director and principal writer of the original Heritage Minutes. He also served as chairman of the CBC during its controversial restructuring in the early 1990s. Watson was named an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1981. He was promoted to Companion in 2001.
After receiving an MA from the University of Toronto, Watson abandoned his plans for an academic career. He instead worked for the CBC in various capacities and joined the production staff of Close-Up in 1957. From 1960 to 1964, he produced the weekly Inquiry from Ottawa.
This Hour Has Seven Days
Conceived and produced by Douglas Leiterman and Patrick Watson, the current affairs program This Hour Has Seven Days (1964–66) firmly established Watson’s status as national celebrity. Co-hosted by Watson, John Drainie and Laurier LaPierre, the show achieved unprecedented popularity through its combination of serious topical and satirical elements, fast-moving pace, and occasionally unorthodox and innovative subject matter. The show was directed deliberately at a mass audience and borrowed many of its techniques from light entertainment. At the same time, it presented nine hour-long documentary films of considerable depth and substance, such as Beryl Fox's The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam (1965). (See Vietnam War.)
From the beginning, CBC management raised questions about journalistic procedures, which were judged to be crusading and sensationalist. The tensions came to a climax in April 1966 over a controversial episode on the Stephen Truscott Case. It led to a major crisis which was defused on May 1 when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson appointed Stuart Keate, publisher of the Vancouver Sun, to study the conflict and make recommendations. Negotiations for the continuation of the program for the next season collapsed in July 1966 when Reeves Haggan, head of CBC public affairs, resigned. The CBC later called This Hour Has Seven Days “the most defiant and controversial program in Canadian broadcasting history.”
Journalist and Filmmaker
Watson also served as host, writer, and producer on a large number of documentary films and TV programs, including Allan King’s landmark documentary Warrendale (1967); Witness to Yesterday (1973–75); The Watson Report (1975–81); The Fifty First Estate (1977) on WNET Channel 13, New York; Flight: The Passionate Affair (1978); The Canadian Establishment (1980); Titans (1981) on CITY-TV; Live, From Lincoln Centre (1983–86); and Venture (1985).
In 1989, Watson was made chairman of the CBC, with Gérard Veilleux, a former secretary of the federal treasury board, as president and chief executive officer. In late 1990, Watson attracted a storm of controversy when, in an effort to get the corporation’s budget under control, 1,100 jobs were eliminated and several stations were closed. Watson shepherded the CBC through the initial phases of its giant restructuring program. He resigned as chairman in 1994.
In 1988, Watson was appointed creative director and principal writer of the CRB Foundation's Heritage Minutes project. Comprising more than 60 one-minute movies depicting moments from Canada's past, the Heritage Minutes were designed to capture attention in the manner of an advertisement. Similar in length to commercials yet structured as dramatic narratives, the Heritage Minutes have been broadcast widely across the country and have become a part of Canadian culture.
In 1999, Watson was named creative director, media projects, of Historica, the foundation that took over the Heritage Project (Heritage Minutes) from the CRB Foundation. He was also commissioning editor, documentaries, for History Television, as well as a program development consultant to AAC Fact.
Watson’s published works include the psychological thriller Alter Ego (1978); The Struggle for Democracy (1988), which was later produced as a 10-part TV series; and the three-volume print edition of his History Television series, The Canadians: Biographies of a Nation (2004).
Disability Rights Advocate
In 1960, Watson’s left leg was amputated above the knee due to injuries sustained by falling off a ladder. Never one to be slowed down, he became an avid scuba diver and a licensed pilot. He was active in the disability community in Canada throughout his life, serving as honorary chair of the Canadian Amputee Sports Association and chairman emeritus of the Canadian Abilities Foundation. (See also Disability Rights Movement in Canada.)
Watson was named an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1981. He was promoted to Companion in 2001. He also received Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Mount Allison University (2002) and the University of Toronto (2004).