CBC Radio launched its redesigned flagship daily arts show Q on Monday with a broadcast that played to the strengths of its new host, rapper Shad, allowing him to be as much a ringleader as an interviewer. More than half a dozen guests cycled across the stage of the Glenn Gould Theatre during a special live two-hour show produced in front of more than 300 audience members.
Musicians Tanya Tagaq, Bahamas and Chilly Gonzales joined Shad, along with poet Shane Koyczan, pop culture gadfly Elvira Kurt and the regular Q sports panel, while news anchor Peter Mansbridge stopped in for a playful turn reading the Q News.
Some quick takeaways:
1) Meet the new Q, (pretty much) same as the Old Q
The opening essay is gone along with the notorious host – and the upper-case Q is now being branded with a lower-case q (though we're not sure how that works for a radio show) – but the same talented team of Q producers are still in charge, and they know what works. Shad's first broadcast leaned heavily on live music performances, which smartly allowed the host himself to take a secondary role. The regular Q sports panel and Elvira Kurt gave loyal listeners the touchstones they needed to realize the show isn't going to change that much.
2) Relax, Canada, Q is still proudly Canadian
During the latter Jian Ghomeshi years, critics complained that the show was too enamoured of celebrity, especially the American kind. So it was a canny move for producers to stock the first broadcast with an almost all-Canadian lineup. Marc Maron, the popular U.S. comedian-turned-podcaster who has the sort of online following that Q would love to have, was the sole Yankee in the inaugural show. (There will be plenty of Americans later this week.)
3) Peter Mansbridge is no Brian Williams, and maybe that's not a bad thing
Before he was suspended earlier this year for fabricating war stories, charismatic NBC chief anchor Brian Williams used to turn up on Jimmy Fallon's late-night show to "slow jam" the news. When CBC announced that Shad had gotten the nod as the new Q host in February, chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, calling himself "P Manny," recorded a stiff tongue-in-cheek rap to welcome him. On Monday, Mansbridge turned up at the Glenn Gould Theatre – to raucous applause from the in-studio audience – as a surprise guest to perform the Q News. Reading a bit about William Shatner's announcement that he would write a book about his old friend Leonard Nimoy, who passed away in February, Mr. Mansbridge quipped: "Nothing says 'I miss you' more than profiting off a friend's death." He quickly added: "Just kidding."
4) Shad knows he has plenty to learn
Before the broadcast began, Shad told the live audience that he was humbled by the opportunity CBC had given him. "I'm actually moved that somebody would think I'm worthy of this chair," he said, then added with a smile: "Not everyone thinks that."
He proved adept at juggling the guests, but he knows he is not the most inquisitive interviewer, so he began his interview with Marc Maron asking for guidance. "You ask really personal questions. How do you get away with it?" Mr. Maron explained that he believes good interviews should leave the subject feeling uncomfortable. That's good advice for Shad, who too frequently wants to put his guests at ease. Mr. Maron also observed that Shad didn't seem as personally needy. "You don't seem like the guy who needs to wedge in. You seem pretty attentive already," he said. Then, he suggested: "It's great to lay back, but you're gonna have to get in here sometimes."
5) Boy, will he ever
When Elvira Kurt appeared for her regular pop culture Hall of Shame segment – a holdover from the old Q – she steamrolled right over Shad and would have kept on going if she hadn't needed to pause briefly for oxygen. She and Mr. Ghomeshi used to have a prickly chemistry, and she seemed overly desperate to spark up something similar with Shad. He'll need to step up a bit with her, but they'll both need to give it some time to develop naturally.
6) Can you swear on the new Q?
After a thunderous performance with Toronto's Element Choir that seemed to shake the foundations of the Glenn Gould Theatre, the Polaris-winning singer Tanya Tagaq joined Shad for a brief onstage chat.
Asked about the facial expressions she makes while singing, Ms. Tagaq admitted that nasty online comments had prevented her until recently from watching her own videos online. When she finally did so, she said, she was astonished to see herself, writhing and grimacing. "It's like – Oh, shit, that's intense!" she blurted out. After the singer quickly apologized for swearing, Shad reassured her: "It's totally fine," he said.
Then, looking around, he realized it might not actually be totally fine with his corporate minders and CBC's broadcast standards. "I mean, I don't know if it's totally fine. But it's totally fine with me."