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Elwy Yost, former host of TVO's "Saturday Night at the Movies"

In 1975, a 36-year-old Margaret Atwood talks about her celebrity and confides that men have stopped blaming her for turning their wives into feminists.

In 1976, former Ontario premier John Robarts gives his calming analysis on the election of Quebec premier René Lévesque, saying, "I don't think Quebec will separate."

In 1980, film buff Elwy Yost chats with veteran director John Huston, who recalls actor Orson Welles feigning stage fright on the set of Moby-Dick and writer Truman Capote producing pages of a script from a hospital bed.

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In 1994, exasperated host Steve Paikin tussles with novelist Mordecai Richler over the question of Israel.

TVOntario opened its archives to the public yesterday, launching a website that includes more than 375 episodes from such fondly remembered shows as Saturday Night at the Movies, Studio 2 and Polka Dot Door. The educational broadcaster estimates it would take five days to watch all the material it has posted and plans to keep updating the site with more programs.

In making its archives available to the public for online streaming, TVO follows the lead of the National Film Board, which has more than 1,700 films and shorts available on its website and offers a popular iPhone app for viewing its content, and the CBC, which has thousands of radio and TV clips online, including footage of historic news events and interviews with politicians and entertainers.

With a smaller archive and a smaller budget, TVO is taking a curated approach, featuring playlists on topics such as Toronto or Canadian writers or Ontario premiers.

"The initial approach has been to dive in and find the jewels and bring them to the viewer," TVO chief executive officer Lisa de Wilde said. "People have access to so many sources of information. The value we can bring to the table is to provide it organized."

Like the NFB and the CBC, TVO makes the material available for streaming but not for download.

Putting public video archives online can be an expensive proposition: As well as the cost of digitizing old films and videos, the organizations have to clear all the rights to the material, paying residuals to writers, actors and composers whose work is included. The CBC website has to explain to visitors why they can't see old episodes of Mr. Dressup: The broadcaster has yet to clear the rights to that show.

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"The NFB created a helpful approach with the [actors and writers]guilds and styled it as a pilot project," de Wilde said. "TVO has piggybacked on that."

TVOntario, which generates a third of its $60-million budget itself, will pay about $30,000 in residuals for the first year of the project and will not be broadcasting any shows that were not produced in-house: Like the CBC's online archive, the TVO project concentrates on current affairs programming and will not include drama.

Making old TV dramas and comedies available online is a much tougher proposition because the broadcasters rarely produce these shows in-house and therefore don't control the rights to programs that often involved a host of creators and producers.

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About the Author

Kate Taylor is lead film critic at the Globe and Mail and a columnist in the arts section. More

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