Sandra Faire, who died at home in Toronto on Feb. 27, produced television that people wanted to watch. From So You Think You Can Dance Canada, to television specials with singers Anne Murray, Rita McNeil, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bryan Adams. Ms. Faire produced variety and comedy programs for more than four decades for CBC, CTV and her own production company.
“Whatever Sandra touched was ratings gold. Her shows were always at the top of the ratings,” said Trina McQueen, who was a senior executive with CBC and CTV, and president of the Discovery Channel among other things.
One of the four TV specials with Ms. Murray that Ms. Faire produced for CBC, Anne Murray’s Family Christmas, holds the record as Canada’s highest-rated variety special. It had a “43 share,” meaning that 43 per cent of the country’s TV audience was watching.
“She looked at the ratings every day. Not just for my shows but for ABC, NBC and CBS, she was a ratings junkie. Ratings and Sudoku were her two hobbies. She’d do that day and night,” said her husband, Ivan Fecan, a producer and broadcast executive who formerly served as president of the CTV Television Network and CTVglobemedia.
Ms. Faire was known as a hard-working television producer who would not hesitate to reshoot things when needed. Most of the performers who worked with her appreciated that, since it was their faces and voices on the screen, whereas only Ms. Faire’s name appeared in the credits.
“We would be working all night. That’s what I mean about Sandra Faire. We would do takes until she got what she wanted,” Ms. Murray said. “She and I were the same in that we were perfectionists.”
Although almost all of her working life was in Toronto, she knew that the programs she made could not be Toronto-centric if she wanted to appeal to a wider audience. There was a touch of Canadian nationalism in her approach, too.
“When she produced So You Think You Can Dance Canada, she took an American format and turned it into true Canadian content, and a huge ratings success. I admired how she brought in Quebec and francophone artists and judges; you don’t often see that in English Canada,” Ms. McQueen said.
During its four-year run on CTV, So You Think You Can Dance Canada recorded 1.1-million viewers a season and won two Gemini awards, one for best host, the other for best variety program.
Sandra Allard was born in Edmonton. Her father, Jim Allard, was a broadcaster and her mother, Alice Tonstad, was a homemaker. (She took the name Faire at the time of her first marriage, which ended in divorce.) Sandra went to Carleton University for a while but left when she landed a job at CJOH in Ottawa. Later she moved to CFTO in Toronto, and then the local CBC station in Toronto where she worked as the entertainment producer.
One of her early successes was The Joyce Davidson Show, which she produced for CFTO in 1977-78. It was an afternoon talk show featuring Joyce Davidson, who was one of the hosts of the pioneering CBC Television program Tabloid. The CBC can be a political quagmire; Ms. Faire rose above it.
“She was passionate about her work and insisted on the best resources for her artists and crews. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. CBC management was terrified of her,” Ms. McQueen said.
In 1997 Ms. Faire went out on her own with her production company, Sandra Faire & Associates, which produced programming mainly for CTV and The Comedy Network. Many of the productions run on American television as well as in Canada.
The company’s productions include Comedy Now!, Comedy Inc., The Holmes Show and So You Think You Can Dance Canada, as well as television specials for musicians such as k.d. lang, Ms. MacNeil, Mr. Adams, Ms. Sainte-Marie, Corey Hart, the Rankin Family, Amanda Marshall and Ms. Murray. The company also produced the feature film My Own Private Oshawa, according to its website.
When Ms. Faire started in the business, she was a woman in the man’s world of television variety programming. She helped change that.
“Sandra was a trailblazer in that she was the first woman to do many things. She changed the lives of a lot of young people she worked with. She expected excellence of them, and they appreciated it,” said Susanne Boyce, the former president of creative, content and channels for CTV. “She was a gorgeous force, and not just in television.”
Ms. Faire was attentive to even the smallest details of her productions. On So You Think You Can Dance Canada, she hired six hair stylists to engineer and maintain the contestants’ coiffures.
“She inspired you with her drive to get things right,” says Sandy Bloos, who was “Key Hair” in charge of the six hair stylists. “She was a strong woman, but very kind. Everyone loved working with her.”
Though many artistic people aren't good with the business side of television, Ms. Faire was.
“Sandra was a very smart woman: She was an artist, she ran her own business very successfully and she really knew what a bottom line was,” Mr. Fecan says. “She understood business, and she understood how to be a producer. She could spot a con a mile away if someone was trying to sell her a piece of junk”.
When Ms. Faire and Mr. Fecan became successful, they spent their time and money sponsoring artistic causes and people, as well the Toronto General Hospital and York University. Ms. Faire, who took dance lessons as a child, had a passion for ballet. She was a member of the board of the National Ballet of Canada, and was as involved as she could be when producing a television program.
She sponsored promising young dancers such as Elena Lobsanova, who rose from the corps de ballet to be a principal dancer. Ms. Faire also created the Producer’s Circle, a fund to commission new works from the top choreographers around the world.
“Sandra’s generosity and leadership sparked a remarkable creative journey for the National Ballet of Canada,” said Karen Kain, the company’s artistic director.
“Sandra and Ivan personally sponsored Romeo and Juliet in 2011. This led to a major tour to London, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.”
The couple were close in everything they did, including their work and their philanthropy.
“Sandra and Ivan were a real love story. They were guest lecturers in one of my MBA classes at the Schulich School of Business. They were illuminating about the business as well as funny, and they had a great rapport,” Ms. McQueen says. “They left holding hands, and that’s what impressed the students most, how two people with high-pressure, exhausting jobs could have that relationship.”
Ms. Faire leaves her husband of 37 years, Mr. Fecan; her daughter, Heather (Faire) Burnett; and two grandchildren.