Many will see it as oh-so-emblematic of the times: Toronto's historic Masonic Temple yesterday began its new renovation and "rebranding" as the home of MTV Canada.
Of course the landmark building has long been the home for CTV studios and, particularly when the site was known as the Rockpile and simply the Concert Hall, hosted legendary rock concerts by Led Zeppelin and others. More recently, Mike Bullard's talk show used the building, as did the Rolling Stones as a rehearsal space.
Now CTV has hung a three-metre by four-metre MTV sign outside, trying to do what CHUM did for the old Methodist Church administration building and printing plant on Toronto's Queen Street West. CTV is turning the temple into a pop-culture hub. The building will host Canadian MTV's flagship show, MTV Live. It will be a weeknight program, shot with a studio audience and based on the same format as TalkTV's The Chatroom.
Once the new Canadian MTV launches in the coming months (CTV is coy about saying exactly when), the cable channel will be quite different than what most people associate with the original American MTV, which has increasingly moved away from music videos toward reality shows and other original programming.
The Canadianized MTV will put an emphasis on talk and lifestyle shows with no music videos at all, more like a redesigned version of CTV's TalkTV cable channel. CTV said yesterday that the program MTV Live will include "interviews, debates, surprise guests and roving reporters," discussing everything from politics and the environment to entertainment, sex and social issues. It will continue with The Chatroom's pan-media flavour, inviting viewers to contribute to the program in person, by phone, e-mail, text messaging, Internet blogs and presumably whatever other messaging device is invented between now and when the show eventually begins airing. One insider could only hint that it would be some time this year.
MTV in Canada isn't positioning itself as a competitor to MuchMusic. With its roster of talk shows, "we are going to be something very different," said MTV senior vice-president and general manager Brad Schwartz.
Instead, the aim is to use the valuable MTV brand to relaunch TalkTV. Since the rebranded channel will use the same broadcast license CTV currently has for TalkTV, it is bound by a 68-per-cent Canadian content requirement and an emphasis on talk-show programming.
For all the talk of getting the Masonic Temple MTV ready with new state-of-the-art studios, CTV still promises that many of the architectural details of the temple will remain intact. These include an original spiral staircase and raising the stage to its original height. The idea won't be to suddenly open the interior to the sidewalk by replacing the stone walls with, say, glass walls, as CHUM has done with its Queen Street building, Schwartz said.The renovation is being led by the design firm 3rd Uncle, which revitalized the dilapidated Drake Hotel into one of Toronto's hippest nightspots.