Return to tiff.’s home page

Canadian Film Encyclopedia

Shopping Cart

Patrick Watson

Director, Producer, Screenwriter, Actor
(b. December 29, 1929 Toronto, Ontario)

“Both Douglas Leiterman and I were close to obsessive about the image on the screen. That was the true content of the programme, as we saw it: what the audience saw and heard… Our preoccupation with the image, with constantly making the picture on the screen so compelling that you could not turn away, was our way of saying to the audience, ‘We know you’re really smart, but we have some stuff you haven’t seen, and we want to share it with you. And we promise not to waste your time.’” – Patrick Watson, 2004

An innovative producer, ubiquitous and insightful host and interviewer, and former Chairman of the CBC, Patrick Watson has played a pivotal role in the development of Canadian television over the course of his six decades in the business. His broadcasting career began at the age of fourteen as an actor in the CBC-Radio series The Kootenay Kid. In 1955, following a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Toronto and partial work towards a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Michigan, he overcame his “snobbish contempt” for the medium and joined CBC-Television as a freelance producer and on-air host. By 1957 he was on staff, producing current-affairs programmes such as Close-Up (1957-1960) and Inquiry (1960-1964).

A self-described egoist characterized by many as an irrepressible creative force, Watson had his left leg amputated above the knee at the age of thirty-one after falling off a ladder at the family cottage, yet went on to become a pilot and a skilled scuba diver. He has been involved with the Canadian disabled community throughout his career, serving as Honorary Chair of the Canadian Amputee Sports Association and Chairman Emeritus of the Canadian Abilities Foundation.

In 1964, he teamed with producer Douglas Leiterman to create the innovative, influential and controversial current affairs programme This Hour Has Seven Days (1964-1966), a radical and irreverent mix of interviews, skits and songs that was hugely popular, drawing a weekly audience of more than three million people, more than any Canadian public-affairs show before or since. The programme, which featured Watson as a host in its second season, was praised for its originality and in-depth investigations just as it was criticized for its occasional sensationalism and “yellow” journalism. Despite a massive public outcry, it was cancelled in May, 1966, due to pressure on the CBC from politicians and public figures.

Watson went on to become Vice President of Programming and chief news presenter at the CTV Ottawa affiliate CJOH from 1969 to 1970, then wrote, produced, directed and hosted The Undersea World of Jacques Costeau, The Watson Report, The Canadian Establishment, Witness to Yesterday and Lawyers, as well as The 51st State for PBS in New York. He hosted CBC-Television’s seminal business programme Venture when it was first launched in 1985, and created, produced and hosted the award-winning ten-part series The Struggle for Democracy (based on his book of the same name), which was produced in French and English and went on to air in more than forty countries. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees at the National Film Board from 1984 to 1987, and in 1989, after much lobbying, was named Chairman of the CBC, a position he held until 1994.

Watson has continued to act on occasion throughout his career. He wrote and performed in a one-man stage version of the Old Testament’s Book of Job in 1983, and also appeared in Bethune (1977), The Terry Fox Story (1983), Countdown to Looking Glass (1984), The Fourth Angel (2001) and Slings and Arrows (2003). He has also written a number of books, including an autobiography that was published in 2004.

Watson has won two Canadian Film Awards, two Emmy Awards, two Gemini Awards, including the Margaret Collier Award for lifetime achievement and outstanding contribution to Canadian television, and two ACTRA Awards, including the Gordon Sinclair Award for Broadcast Journalism. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981 and promoted to Companion in 2002. He holds four honourary doctorates, as well as the Canada 125 Medal and the Queen’s 50th Anniversary Jubilee Medal. He continues to work as a lecturer and advisor within the broadcast industry and currently serves as the commissioning editor for History Television.

Film and video work includes

Junior Magazine series, 1955 (host; TV)
Close-Up series, 1957-60 (co-producer; TV)
The Four Corners series, 1957 (host; TV)
Mr. Fix-It series, 1957 (producer; TV)
Inquiry series, 1960-64 (director; producer; TV)
One Step at a Time, 1964 (director; writer)
Steeltown, 1966 (narrator)
Search in the Deep series, 1967 (producer; TV)
The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau series, 1967 (producer; TV)
Population Explosion, 1968 (narrator)
Science and Conscience series, 1968 (host; TV)
Standing Buffalo, 1968 (narrator)
Danny and Nicky, 1969 (narrator)
The Way It Is series, 1969 (host; TV)
The Question of Television Violence, 1972 (writer; narrator)
Witness to Yesterday series, 1973-75 (writer; interviewer; TV)
The Watson Report series, 1975-81 (interviewer; TV)
Bethune, 1977 (actor; TV)
The 51st State series, 1977 (editor; host; TV)
The Vacant Lot, 1977 (narrator)
Flight: The Passionate Affair series, 1978 (writer; host; TV)
Why Men Rape, 1979 (narrator; host)
The Canadian Establishment series, 1980 (writer; host; TV)
CBS Cable Service series, 1981-82 (host; TV)
The Chinese series, 1981 (writer; narrator; host; TV)
Titans series, 1981 (writer; interviewer; TV)
Countdown to Looking Glass, 1984 (actor; TV)
The Land that Devours Ships, 1984 (co-narrator with Bill Mason; producer with Joseph MacInnis, Margaret Pettigrew)
Lawyers series, 1985 (host; TV)
The Struggle for Democracy series, 1988 (writer; executive producer; host; TV)
Penfield, 1991 (writer; producer with Marrin Canell)
Agnes MacPhail, Heritage Minute series, 1994 (producer; TV)
The Canadians series, 1998 (host; TV)
Beaverbrook - The Various Lives of Max Aitken, 2000 (narrator)
The Fourth Angel, 2001 (actor)
The Joke's On Us: 50 Years of CBC Satire, 2002 (appears as himself; TV)
Samuel Cunard: Bridging the Atlantic, 2002 (executive producer; TV)
Slings and Arrows series, 2003 (actor; TV, one episode)

Related Entries