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Canadian Screen Awards

 

On the verge of receiving a lifetime achievement award at this year’s CSAs, daytime icon Marilyn Denis chats with TV Week about the fondest memories from her storied career

As Marilyn Denis prepares to collect the 2024 Canadian Screen Awards Lifetime Achievement trophy, it has allowed the TV and radio icon to take a rare glimpse in the rearview mirror. “It’s interesting, spending some time on [her old news show] Cityline the other day, you see past episodes of when you were just a baby broadcaster starting out, and you think to yourself, ‘Oh, honey, I have so much to tell you,’” Denis said in a recent chat with TV Week.

Just what would she tell her younger self? “First of all, ‘This is a great gig. You’re not only going to do it once, but twice. And you’re going to have fun doing it.’ ” After a nearly four-decade career, she also realizes that it wasn’t just her moving through different eras, but generations of viewers were shepherded through life transitions thanks to her.

“That’s what we did on the show: We pushed you forward into some things that you probably didn’t want to risk doing,” she says. “We were saying, ‘It’s OK.’ ”

TV Week got to speak with Denis about her time on Cityline and iconic daytime talker The Marilyn Denis Show, and fondest takeaways from a dream career.

Canadian Screen Awards on CBC. Pictured: A young Marilyn Denis in university.
CTV

TV WEEK: How is “retirement” treating you? Did you even take a weekend off?

MARILYN DENIS: No, I didn’t because I am not retired. I just left the daytime television scene. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do television in the future. But Monday-through-Friday, daytime television, I’ve done all I want to do on that. And I have been treated very well on that platform for a long time.

And now doing morning radio in Toronto, you can benefit from your previous routine. Do you still get up at 3 a.m.?

Oh, yeah. I do. I get up at three, I’m at work for five o’clock. The show goes to about nine.

How do you do it? It’s like the schedule of an elite athlete.

I sure don’t look like one [laughs]. I do it because my first love is radio. It always has been. I’ve always wanted to do morning radio because you were the first one to get the newspaper delivered, you got to read all the stories and you got to comment on that, and of course, play great music. There is a discipline to it. There are days that I go, “I don’t want to get up tomorrow,” especially when it’s really snowing out here in Toronto. But once I’m in the radio station and put the headset on, I’m like, “This is where I want to be.”

Canadian Screen Awards on CBC. Pictured: Marilyn Denis on set of The Marilyn Denis Show.
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What do you remember about the early days of figuring out your place in the biz?

It all started back in Idaho, where I went to university. I was learning everything. They said, “So-and-so’s gone. Can you do the news?” “Can you answer the phones, because Kay’s away on vacation?” “Can you type up the Top 40 hits that we’re playing this weekend, and send it into radio and records?” You do a little bit of everything, and then you decide what you don’t like, and what you want to invest in a little bit more.

I also look back on Calgary as a wonderful time. I thought I was being very independent, but my parents lived in Calgary, and so there was something about knowing I could go home if I needed to. Also, they probably kept me from saying anything stupid on the air. You know what I mean? That was really my time where I was figuring myself out, post-university. Those are very formative years. Who are you? What do you want to achieve? There have been some falls and some foibles, but I learned a lot from them. Sometimes you get disappointed in people, or people don’t want you to succeed. That’s how you figure out life. I remember thinking to myself, “Not everyone’s in your corner,” and that was
a big lesson for me.

Canadian Screen Awards on CBC. Pictured: Marilyn Denis and staff on set of The Marilyn Denis Show.
CTV

How did you figure out your forte?

When I was doing radio shows by myself, I was like, “Meh,” but when I started co-hosting the CJAY morning show with Jim Ripley, I went, “Yeah, this is good!” When I started doing weather at noon and having fun with the anchors for television in Calgary, I thought, “Yeah, I really want this.” I wasn’t focusing on television at all but offers came my way to fill in for somebody. I’ll tell you, throughout the first ones, you’re really nervous, but I realized this is going to be fun. I didn’t think I had the talent 100 per cent, but I knew that as a DJ, if a record skips, I knew what to do. If a guest didn’t do what they needed to do because they were nervous, I knew how to fill the space.

It’s got to be very strange to have people now be so intimately familiar with you. What is your life like out in the wild?

People are so friendly. They’re really great. I was travelling with my husband, we were at the Rome airport, and two guys came up to me, separately, and said, “My wife misses you on TV.” And I thought, “Well, that’s just so kind.” In the States, nobody knows me, and that’s perfect because you have anonymity there, but when you least expect it, people come up to you. I feel very safe out there, when I’m out and about.

Canadian Screen Awards on CBC. Pictured: Marilyn Denis on set of The Marilyn Denis Show.
CTV

What is the most touching feedback that you’ve received?

“I watched the show with my grandmother, my mother, my sisters, my children.” It’s generational. “My mother learned how to speak English [through your show]” or “I didn’t know quite how to transition into adulthood.” More than anything, it was a family affair. People would go over and visit their grandmothers and they would start watching the show with them. When their family members moved on into heaven, many times I’ve had someone say, “My grandmother loved you so much, and I’m so glad that you’re still doing what you do, because it reminds me of my time spent with her.” That’s what I would say about both shows. We offered you a time to sit down and not worry about the world outside. That’s what I loved about it. And, I’ll tell you, at the airport, when the husbands were saying, “My wife really misses you,” I would say to them, “But do you miss me?” And they were like, “Yeah, I miss you too.” So, let’s face it, they were watching, too.

Canadian Screen Awards air Friday, May 31, on CBC

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