Znaimer, Moses (1941- )
"The flow, not the show," said TV entrepreneur and guru Moses Znaimer. He knocked down the studio walls and let the public see what was happening inside. TV is an entertainment industry, he said, and followed the rules of the entertainment industry, producing stars out of unknowns and encouraging them to express individuality. Not the story but the people telling the story, even in news. In 1983 he was quoted describing Citytv Toronto reporters as recurring characters in a diary, a soap opera set in small-town Canada. "What we’ve got to do is apply the players to the daily drama." He was an establishment outsider who appeared to grow to enjoy that place and emphasized it with a ponytail, in his dress, behaviour, and his approach to the business and programming of television.
History will judge whether Moses was an intellectual icon or a canny businessman who of necessity learned to lower the costs of programming TV and dressed up his methods with a great line. He equipped his reporters with cameras, making them into videographers who shot the story, eliminating the need for separate photographers. Undeniably, he democratized TV by hiring a diverse staff frequently of non-experts. Then he made them into stars in the act. Undeniably, he brought some of the adventure of pioneer days back into what was becoming a mature and staid business. He created local urban TV as a hip medium. Undeniably, his ideas had a ripple effect in Canada and elsewhere.
He was born in Tajikistan in what was then the Soviet Union, his parents having met as they fled Hitler. The family arrived in Montreal in 1948 as refugees. He bought the family’s first TV set with his bar mitzvah money and fell in love with the medium. He earned a BA at McGill University and an MA at Harvard. He considered becoming a print journalist but turned rather to the newer medium of broadcasting where he could make a faster mark, joining the CBC in Toronto and becoming a radio producer and host then a TV producer, director and host. During that time he wrote and produced a series on the history of the Russian Revolution, narrated by Patrick Watson; was producer and co-host of the talk show Take 30 and appeared in The Way It Is. He parted ways with the CBC in 1969 over rejection of an experimental program, a sort of TV Cross-Country Checkup which he proposed as a replacement for The Way It Is.
In 1971 he was an analyst at Helix Investments, a venture capital company. Israel (Sruki) Switzer, chief engineer at Maclean Hunter’s new Toronto cable service, had come up with the idea of a TV station to be economically distributed, mainly by cable. Sruki’s journalist wife Phyllis put together a group of partners, including Moses. In 1972, they founded Citytv, the first local, urban TV station in North America and perhaps anywhere, its face represented by an ethnically diverse newsroom. To enlarge audience in the early years, Citytv screened weekend erotica, the "Baby Blue movies". Still, after two years, Citytv was almost broke and Moses sold part of the station. In 1977, Citytv was again in trouble and Moses sold 70 per cent to CHUM Limited. By 1979, Citytv had moved into the black. Moses sold his remaining share to CHUM in 1981 but continued as president and executive producer and later was made a vice-president of the parent company, CHUM Limited.
In 1984, Moses launched MuchMusic, the first of many niche channels. A French version, MusiquePlus, came two years later, MusiMax in 1997 and MuchMoreMusic in 1998; an arts channel, Bravo! in 1995, SPACE in 1997, an all-news channel, CablePulse24, in 1998, Canadian Learning Television in 1999, a celebrity channel, Star!, also in 1999, then in 2001 came FashionTelevision, BookTelevision, Law and Order and Sextv. In 1985, Moses created Tour of the Universe, a space flight simulation, in a theatre beneath Toronto’s CN Tower.
Moses came up with Speakers Corner, a camera kiosk on the street outside the station where viewers could make a statement and/or a spectacle of themselves. It was presented as a sort of electronic equivalent of the print media’s letters to the editor. He licensed his formats internationally, including in Argentina, Colombia, Finland, and Spain. He participated in the privatization of Alberta's public educational television service, ACCESS, of which he became chairman, and led the conversion of a number of community TV stations bought or built by CHUM into a new format styled on the Citytv model.
Moses retained his hosting roles on Citytv's syndicated television portrait series, The Originals; Bravo!'s Originals in Art and SPACE's Originals in Space. He produced a three-hour documentary on the image versus the printed word called TVTV: The Television Revolution, thereby starting a hot debate with academics and print supporters – most of the debate in print.
In TVTV he says: "There is as much honour in giving the public relief from the pressures of daily life as there is in arming the public with the information and philosophies needed to engage creatively in it." He summarized his theories of television production in 10 rules, gained, he said, from personal experience:
1. TV is the triumph of the image over the printed word.
2. The true nature of television is flow, not show; process, not conclusion.
3. As global television expands, the demand for local programming increases.
4. The best TV tells me what happened to me, today.
5. TV is as much about the people bringing you the story as the story itself.
6. In the past, TV's chief operating skill was political. In the future, it will have to be mastery of the craft itself.
7. Print created illiteracy. TV is democratic. Everybody gets it.
8. TV creates immediate consensus, subject to immediate change.
9. There never was a mass audience, except by compulsion.
10. Television is not a problem to be managed, but an instrument to be played.
Moses also acted in the movies Atlantic City and The Best Revenge and produced an experimental "living movie" called Tamara, which the audience followed by moving from room to room, choosing its own route through the plot. It played in Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, Mexico City, Rome, Warsaw, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters recognized him in 1998 with a Gold Ribbon, Canadian private broadcasting's highest award to an individual. Among his other honours were several recognizing him for promoting diversity and tolerance. He was given honorary degrees by at least two universities.
In September 2005, Moses was honoured as a recipient of one of the six Governor General's Performing Arts Awards given for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. Always reluctant to accept such awards, Moses told Canadian Press that he was willing to accept this one because: "I believe television is capable of art, and I've always strived to do it artfully".
Written by Jerry Fairbridge - December, 2002