Morning maven Marilyn Denis wraps decades-long daytime TV tenure
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, June 8, 2023 4:46PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 8, 2023 4:46PM EDT
TORONTO - Daytime mainstay Marilyn Denis makes her final appearance as host of the “Marilyn Denis Show” on Friday, capping a decades-long run as one of Canada's most enduring television personalities.
It's the end of an era for many who tuned in regularly to catch the seasoned broadcaster's breezy celebrity interviews and home decor tips for roughly 12 years with CTV and nearly 20 years before that on Citytv's “Cityline.”
Tears spilled suddenly as Patricia Ballantyne testified to her longtime fandom while standing with dozens of mostly female audience members waiting to enter a recent taping at CTV's Queen Street studio in Toronto.
“I love Marilyn Denis. I've been wanting to be on her show forever,” said the 58-year-old, her voice wavering.
“I record it, every day I watch it. She's just so lovely. Funny. She makes you laugh and feel good when you feel bad or you're having a bad day.”
Nearby, self-described superfan Josie Jager oscillated between tears and laughter as she tried to articulate her ardour. Like many, she recounted the highlights of Denis' broadcast career in tandem with her own personal milestones, noting she first got to know Denis on the radio.
“And then when she moved to TV, and (when I was) home with my kids - my daughter's 25, my son is 28 - I would come home from dropping them off and have a coffee and it was like having a friend for coffee,” says Jager, standing in line with her daughter.
“You hear a voice and you think, `Oh, yeah, somebody's here.' You weren't alone.”
Denis announced the end of her show mid-April, and her final shows have featured a cavalcade of highlights, special guests and audience surprises. As her last episode approached, a reflective Denis - best known for her perennially perky, snappy delivery - admitted to a flood of emotions.
“One day I'm crying, the next day I'm holding it back,” Denis said after a taping last week with real estate guru and guest co-host Scott McGillivray.
“It's very emotional. But I'm always thinking about what the audience is thinking. And I don't want to be a mess because there's a show to conduct.”
Although she's looking forward to more time with friends and family, the 64-year-old will continue to co-host her weekday morning radio slot on Toronto's CHUM 104.5, which she's held since 1986. She will also continue her podcast series “Marilyn Denis Does a Podcast.”
A strong work ethic has been a constant driver since early days including five years in Calgary, she said, recounting her jump to the Toronto FM station to form the venerable “Roger, Rick and Marilyn” trio with Roger Ashby and Rick Hodge in 1986 as a formative time.
“I was brought up by men, and they were about: This is how we do it and this is what we expect from you and this is the format. Follow the format or follow the sun,” she said, noting there weren't many female jockeys when she began her radio career in 1976.
“But at the same time they said, 'But we still want you to be you. You have to figure that out. We can't tell you how to do that.'â€¦ That is a dance that you have to learn how to do but then when you know that they have your back, then (things) open.”
Denis broadened her reach with a TV audience in 1989 as host of the syndicated daytime talk show “Cityline” on Citytv and A-Channel, carving out a niche with lifestyle and fashion advice while becoming one of Toronto's most recognizable celebrities.
“It was about reaching out to women who are stay-at-home or they're on mat leave, and trying to focus on what they were going through and then also their identity,” she said, recalling a time at Citytv when babies were welcomed as part of the audience.
“That's still our audience, however, the audience has changed in that it's the grandmother, and mother, and the daughter - they all come to the show,” she said of her CTV followup, which ran 13 seasons.
She said the work has been fulfilling and fun, and kept her learning and growing as a broadcaster. But juggling the early morning radio gig with TV duties while raising her son Adam Wylde - now 35 - took a toll at times.
“I had bad days. There were some days that weren't good or Adam got sick and whatever, but I loved what I did,” she said.
“You got to get into work. You got to show up, right? (Sometimes) I didn't feel good. I drove myself to a hospital, one day - I go, `I'm not feeling very good.' I had a bad flu! But those are the things that happen.”
Final episodes of her eponymous series revisited favourite guests including Sir Elton John, Lionel Richie, Sally Field and Harry Connick Jr., and aired affectionate tributes from famous fans including twin “Property Brothers” Drew and Jonathan Scott, movie star Dan Aykroyd and Canadian-born Shaun Suisham, former NFL kicker for Denis's beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Thursday, CTV announced it had ordered a new one-hour talk-show lifestyle series “The Good Stuff with Mary Berg,” to be led by the cookbook author and taped in front of a live studio audience. It did not say if the show would take over Denis's time slot.
Denis said she'll miss her crew and audience, extending that to the in-studio fans, remote pandemic-era viewers and at-home devotees. She expressed surprise to learn some audience members were in tears as they waited to enter the studio to bid farewell.
“They're happy to be here, which makes me happy,” she said.
“I love this show. I'm very proud of this show. This show is rocking right now. And what a great way to wrap it up in a bow.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.