Vintage Toronto locations in film get a lot of appreciation; in TV, not so much. Could it be that so many TV shows, like films, have used and abused our gritty city settings to front as New York, Chicago, Boston or anywhere else USA? Or is it, more likely, that no broadcasters air these programs anymore and outside of YouTube they have no televisual legacy? Either way, here are openings (a dying art in its self) to a few classic and/or forgotten TV shows which were not afraid to be loud and proud about where they were set.
NIGHT HEAT (CTV, 1985-89)
This sweaty, vigilante cops and robbers business was made on the cheap to sell to CBS for their late night detective slot. It plays like a creepy Toronto after-dark locations greatest hits, with a memorable theme song from Domenic Troiano (The James Gang, The Guess Who).
DEAR AUNT AGNES (TVOntario, 1986-1989)
A more idealized portrait of the city existed in Dear Aunt Agnes, a kind-hearted TVO production aimed at 8-14 year olds living in posh Toronto digs (the house seen in the opening is steps away from Rosedale subway station).
AIRWAVES (CBC, 1986-87)
CBC’s right on punt for the new wave crowd, with Molly Ringwald wannabe Ingrid Veninger sexing the city, ’80s style.
JUDGE (CBC, 1982-84)
Rumpole of the Bailey in Toronto, starring Tony Van Bridge as the pensive Judge whose only solace is walking his dog around the city.
HANGIN’ IN (CBC, 1981-87)
Mostly forgotten CBC sitcom about Toronto youth drop in centre boss, Lally Cadeau, with decidedly un-sitcomish plots involving abortion, suicide, homosexuality, racism and self-harm. Every episode was “A very special episode:” and with its killer intro you can see why people tuned in every week.
KING OF KENSINGTON (CBC, 1975-80)
Artful, classy, simple: that’s why he will always be the King.
STREET LEGAL (CBC, 1987-94)
Toronto’s glossy answer to L.A. Law had a new opening every season (of which there were 7!), but the first remains the best, if only for the final moments of punks running towards the camera framed by an iconic Yonge Street location.
TODAY’S SPECIAL (TVOntario, 1981-87)
With this magical opening sequence, the Lego world show, and their annual Christmas window display of Hasbro, Kenner and Coleco toys, ’80s kids could be forgiven for thinking that Simpsons Department store at Queen & Yonge was the epicentre of all cool things in the universe.
WOJECK (CBC, 1966-68)
CBC’s tough-as-leather police thriller from a turbulent time found crusading Toronto coroner Dr. Steve Wojeck (John “Delta House!” Vernon) eschewing bullets, bursting blood vessels over deranged criminals, neo-fascists in the Toronto police force, and every button pushing issue in between. The noir jazz stylings and spooky skyline (from when the Royal York Hotel ruled the roost) in the intro seal the deal: Wojeck was not for the faint of heart.
THE KIDS OF DEGRASSI STREET (CBC, 1979-86)
15 seconds that perfectly captures the happy sad/melancholy vibe of Toronto living in 1979 (see also: Rush). Degrassi Junior High may get all the props, but Kids was the original pathfinder and Toronto kids at the time were raised watching battered 16mm prints of these episodes on war horse projectors wheeled into the classroom, cementing life-long emotional attachments to the city.
Shamefully, only one series on this list is available to buy on DVD (Can you guess which?) and it’s from Boston’s WGBH video label. A quick glance at Zap2it reveals that none of these shows are currently airing, or have been aired, even as late night/early morning Can-con filler, in years. It would seem the majority of these Toronto based series are doomed to a future of obscurity, denying us the pleasure of fist pumping with Wojeck, nodding agreeably with Aunt Agnes, or golf clapping with Judge.
Written and compiled by Ed Conroy
Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.