1 9 7 5 – Current (Canada)
60 minute episodes
In an attempt to mirror the huge success of the US series 60 Minutes, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) inaugurated its weekly current affairs show, The Fifth Estate (styled “the fifth estate”), in September 1975 (the “fifth estate” referred to the role of electronic broadcasting in society following the “four estates” of the clergy, nobility, the legislature, and print journalism).
At the outset, the series’ stated format and mandate was to be a weekly hour of “innovative and inquisitive personal journalism”. As such, the show adapted the American style of segmenting individual stories, introduced and narrated, and – from time to time – produced by one of the hosts.
Dubbed a magazine-type show, The Fifth Estate typically had three such segments per show. Although based on American forms of public affairs shows, The Fifth Estate maintained a distinct link with Canada’s tradition of documentary filmmaking, with subject matters serving to educate Canadians about their own nation, its distinctive geography, cultures, languages, and social problems.
The Fifth Estate also saw its role as a watchdog of government and public policy, and the hosts were usually drawn from the ranks of Canada’s metropolitan daily newspapers. Similarly, hosts like Hana Gartner used the series as a stepping-stone to prestigious anchor positions with the network’s flagship newscast, The National.
From time to time, The Fifth Estate‘s aggressive and topical stance raised the ire of individuals in question.
In September 1993, for example, the show made front-page news when an entrepreneur unsuccessfully petitioned a Canadian court to place an injunction banning the broadcast of the primetime show.
At the international level, The Fifth Estate’s documentary segment “To Sell a War,” originally broadcast in December 1992, received widespread attention and acclaim for its detailing, in no uncertain terms, the Citizen’s for a Free Kuwait misinformation campaign in the months leading up to the Gulf War.
In 1993 “To Sell a War” was awarded the International Emmy for Best Documentary, one of the dozens of awards won by the show and its journalists.
In the same decade, other notable stories included coverage of the life of Ty Conn, a criminal who was first profiled on the show in 1994, when his life served as a case study in a story about the consequences of child abuse.
After that story aired, Fifth Estate journalist Linden Maclntyre and producer Theresa Burke maintained a friendly relationship with Conn, and soon after he escaped from the maximum security Kingston Penitentiary in 1999, he called them.
While on the telephone with Burke, 32-year-old Conn fatally shot himself. The events became the subject of another story on The Fifth Estate, and MacIntyre and Burke co-authored a book about Conn’s life and death – Who Killed Ty Conn?
MacIntyre also arranged for Conn’s funeral and gave a eulogy at the service.
Anna Maria Tremonti