POLITICS

Ontario movie fans rally to save 'Saturday Night at the Movies' from the axe

11/14/2012 10:50 EST | Updated 01/14/2013 05:12 EST
TORONTO - Ontario movie buffs want their Saturday Night back.

Fans are rallying to save the TV Ontario's "Saturday Night at the Movies," which is getting the axe as part of the publicly funded broadcaster's budget cuts.

Twitter was abuzz Wednesday with fans lamenting the demise of the nearly 40-year-old educational program, which stood apart from modern movie shows dominated by celebrity sound bites.

Cinephiles were urged to sign an online petition to stop the cancellation of the show. It's collected about 680 signatures since Tuesday.

"Save #SNAM" was the call to arms on social media, with fans pleading with TVO to preserve the program.

Jo-Anne Bishop of London entreated TVO not to kill the program that she grew up with and her children now watch as well.

"Elwy Yost will come to haunt you," tweeted Tom Perrone of Kettleby, referring to the beloved former host of the show.

"Saturday Night at the Movies is an institution! What's next TMZ on TVO?!"

Toronto Star film critic Peter Howell slammed TVO's "ill-considered decision" to kill the program.

"This would have broken Elwy Yost's heart," he tweeted. "Film lovers, rise!"

Fellow film critic Richard Crouse said Ontario is losing a cultural institution.

"It seems shameful to me that it's disappearing and that it's just sort of unceremoniously being stripped away," he said in a video chat posted on YouTube.

"If you ask anyone on the planet — well, Toronto, Ontario — what's the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of TVO, they're going to say, 'Saturday Night at the Movies.'"

Education Minister Laurel Broten said she's a fan of movies, but left little hope that the show will be saved.

"It is a decision that TVO has made and they apprised us of that decision," she said. "And that is the choice that they have made."

Yost, who hosted the show for 25 years, conducted interviews with classic film stars and the directors, composers and screenwriters behind the camera that would run between two commercial-free films.

"Elwy was everybody's movie grandpa," Crouse said.

Yost retired in 1999 and died last year at the age of 85.

TVO is also cutting 35 to 40 employees and two other programs as part of an effort to save $2 million, under pressure from the cash-strapped governing Liberals who are trying to eliminate a $14.4-billion deficit.

It said it will put more resources into "digital innovation in children's educational media" and current affairs and have fewer staff dedicated to traditional TV production.

Its total operating budget for the current fiscal year is $64 million, of which the Ministry of Education contributes $42 million, TVO said.

The additional $22 million comes from revenue it generates through donations and corporate sponsorships, among other things.

When "Saturday Night" first aired it broke new ground, but now entire TV networks and web services are dedicate to movies, said CEO Lisa de Wilde.

She wouldn't say how much it cost to produce "Saturday Night," but said there aren't many broadcasters who are doing in-house production anymore.

By cutting three in-house programs, TVO is reducing the size of the "whole production machinery," she said.

"We needed to find $2 million in savings, and we needed to be able to find funds to direct into what I call the next generation of legacies," she said.

TVO is "immensely and uniquely equipped to contribute to getting 21st century learning skills front-and-centre in education in Ontario," she added. "That's really the new legacy."

The current season of "Saturday Night at the Movies" is scheduled to be its last. Once it goes off the air, TVO will fill its time slot with documentaries, De Wilde said.

"Allan Gregg in Conversation" and "Big Ideas" will also end their runs in the spring. TVO said it plans to include some "Big Ideas" lectures as part of "The Agenda with Steve Paikin," its flagship current events program.