Having recently recorded the pilot for a new talk show, which I am honoured to host, the process brought me back to my early twenties, when I had the pleasure of hosting a television talent show in Peel Region.
The show, ‘Cowboy Pete’s Talent Time’, found me in a studio, dressed from head to toe in cowboy garb, surrounded by a few dozen kids, and around a hundred noisy parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
The beginnings were a bit rough. We shot the pilot, which was very successful, and we had six children, with various degrees of talent on the show. There was one problem; the entire studio audience consisted of no more than twenty guests. The applause track was pretty sad, so the producers went back to the drawing board. The creators decided to tape an entire month of episodes (4), in one day, in an effort to fill the studio with a larger audience.
Saturday morning of the first taping arrived, and I was quite nervous. It had been decided, the show would be taped without interruption or cuts, similar to a live episode, as if it was going out over the air. I arrived early, donned my boots, silk shirt, kerchief and hat, and sat in a makeup room for half an hour. I was handed a script with introductions, and tried memorizing them, in an effort to avoid looking foolish on camera.
When I stepped into the studio, I was stunned, as were the producers. No one had done the math and four shows, meant 24 kids, but more importantly, it also meant 48 parents, about 30 grandparents and another 25 or so interested relatives. Of course, the studio only had seating for about 60.
Our audio folks were pulling their hair out, as parents brought reel to reel tapes, vinyl record albums and a few cassettes (a brand new medium). One even brought an eight track tape (now I feel really old).
The floor director gave us a 30 minute cue and I was introduced to the first group of children. To say the entire experience was memorable, would be an understatement. One young fellow dropped his accordion. While another hit himself in the face with his violin bow. The dancers were cute, and the faces of the parents beamed with joy.
Somehow, we managed to get through the first episode, and after a thirty minute break, we did it all again… and again… and again. To my surprise it looked quite good on television, and we shot every Saturday, for five months, creating 85 episodes. With reruns, the show ran just short of two years but was cancelled, as we had exhausted all the talent in Peel Region. As for Cowboy Pete, at $52 per episode, I had to seek a more fruitful avenue of income.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, published author, award winning photographer and keynote speaker. Watch his new show ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show’ on YouTube.