Peter Jennings of ABC, Morley Safer of CBS and Robert MacNeil of PBS are only a few of the Canadian-trained television news people who have become stars on U.S. networks.
But the well-worn path south to the big time didn’t beckon to one home-grown journalist who decided to stay on his side of the border.
Peter Mansbridge, the amiable 39-year-old weekend anchor for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., turned down a lucrative offer from CBS to be co-host with Kathleen Sullivan of the network’s new morning news show.
“What it boiled down to was a question of heart, as corny as that sounds,” said Mansbridge, who said he lost 20 pounds agonizing over the decision. “I could deliver the body to New York, not the heart. I just couldn’t leave.”
His rejection of a salary reported at close to $1 million a year was heralded by colleagues and even rival networks as a patriotic vote of confidence in a country obsessed about living in the shadow of its giant neighbor.
To keep Mansbridge, CBC-TV’s veteran nightly news anchor, Knowlton Nash, 60, volunteered to step down from the nine-year job that has made him an institution. It was the Canadian equivalent of Walter Cronkite stepping down in favor of Dan Rather.
In a rare display of emotion, Nash ended his Nov. 11 newscast by telling viewers, “I’ve felt it critical for Peter to stay with us, and I’m pleased to have played a role in persuading him to do so. If I may be really personal, Peter, thank you for staying.”
Mansbridge said Nash invited him to his Toronto apartment at midnight, offered him chocolate milk and sandwiches and then got down to brass tacks.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t want you to go. Here’s what I’m willing to do to keep you here,’ ” Mansbridge recalled. “It was like a movie.”
Executives at state-funded CBC said Nash didn’t even tell them about his plan, but they supported it.
After retreating from the commotion to a cottage in the Gatineau Hills of Quebec, Mansbridge praised CBS for understanding his dilemma.
“It almost became bigger than me,” he said.
“There is a perception, even by some of us, that we’re little-leaguers, and we just aren’t. We can play on the same field, and we do.”
Nash said the decision “sends an important message” to U.S. broadcasters who have traditionally poached on Canadian turf.
That process began in the 1960s when CBS News hired the Toronto-born Safer from the CBC and made him London correspondent. Safer is now part of the “60 Minutes” team.
Other Canadian TV journalists working for American networks include Jennings, ABC’s “World News Tonight” anchor; MacNeil, co-host of “The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour” on the Public Broadcasting Service; correspondents Peter Kent of NBC and Keith Morrison of KNBC in Los Angeles; Linda McLennan of WBVN in Chicago, and Don McNeill and Mark Phillips of CBS. Most had been at the CBC or rival CTV and Global television networks.
Mansbridge will take over CBC’s nightly news program “The National” on May 1, and Nash will concentrate on documentaries and an expanded Saturday news program.
Hundreds of viewers called Mansbridge to thank him for staying, while others sent flowers. The Global network commended him in an editorial.
“Here I am, a committed Canadian journalist being offered the top job in Canadian television journalism,” Mansbridge said. “How can you say no to that?”
Meanwhile in TV-land:
MARRIAGE IN MIAMI--The ballyhooed wedding of “Miami Vice” detective Sonny Crockett to a rock star played by real-life rocker Sheena Easton will be fleeting. The union, which began last Friday,is to last only a few episodes.
RIVERA ON ROMANCE--The subject of Geraldo Rivera’s fourth syndicated special, scheduled to air Tuesday, is “Modern Love.” The two-hour show will include segments on the marriage boom, scared singles, AIDS, telephone sex and sex in movies and on TV.
“MACGYVER” MAKES THE TEAM--Richard Dean Anderson, star of ABC’s “MacGyver,” has been named honorary captain of the U.S. ice hockey team for the 1988 Winter Games. Anderson, a Minnesota native, aspired to be a professional hockey player in his youth and skates with an amateur charity team.
“YEAR” DOESN’T END--It won’t have to be renamed “A Half-Year in the Life.” The NBC family drama “A Year in the Life” has gotten a full-season nod from NBC despite low ratings. SONNY AND CHER STILL A DRAW--The 1960s singing duo reunited for the first time in 10 years on “Late Night With David Letterman” recently and drew a 6.8 rating--the percentage of the 88.6 million TV households--according to Nielsens from the 15 biggest markets, the highest rating for the show since June.