By Frank Moher
Daryl Duke, the Vancouver-born TV director and producer who died last Saturday, was the real deal. In an industry full off hypesters, especially in B.C., where there are 20 would-be producers for every dollar of financing available, Duke had sufficient credits that he didn’t need to tell you all about them: you already knew. He’d produced the classic CBC current-affairs show This Hour Has Seven Days. He’d produced The Steve Allan Show. He’d directed the 1983 mini-series The Thorn Birds, which, along with Roots, bookended the days of the massive TV saga. He’d also directed the 1978 Canadian film The Silent Partner, which was perhaps the only movie made with Canadian tax-boondoggle bucks — as they all were back then — that didn’t blow harder than Hurricane Katrina.
The interesting, nay inspiring thing about Duke was that, even as his career was at its peak, he continued to run CKVU-TV, the Vancouver indie station he’d founded in 1976. The man knew where he was from, and always came home. And continued to make a contribution to it. Long after he could have escaped the political infighting that sometimes makes the Canadian TV industry feel like a very small sauna full of obstreperous fat guys, Duke was in there, swinging: defending the CBC against the depredations of Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives, then, later, attacking it for centralizing its operations in Toronto. (“The local outlet of the CBC,” he told the Vancouver business magazine Equity, “might as well be nothing more than a fax machine and an 800 number.”)
I suspect what really bothered Duke about the CBC by the late 1990s was that it had been taken over by B-listers — people who were in charge not because of their talents but because of their political connections and/or where they lived. The amateurs had taken over the asylum. Most people of Duke’s standing would have shrugged and walked away, but he didn’t have it in him not to give a shit. Good man. Great career. The country just got a bit smaller.