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How The Social Stays Relevant—And A Ratings Smash

How The Social Stays Relevant—And A Ratings Smash – Nouvelle mise à jour 2023

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A portrait of four women—the hosts of CTV's The Social—with their arms around each other

The women of The Social, from left: Melissa Grelo, Lainey Lui, Jess Allen and Cynthia Loyst. (Photo: Luis Mora. Melissa Grelo: Makeup, Lucas Drigues. Hair, Caitlin Cullimore. Lainey Lui: Makeup, Shaby Dassi. Hair, Caitlin Cullimore. Jess Allen: Makeup, Kelsey Bonifacio. Hair, Keisha Williams. Cynthia Loyst: Makeup, Kelsey Bonifacio. Hair, Keisha Williams. Wardrobe Stylist, Nicole Contador. Wardrobe Assistant, Maya Malkin.)

In early 2019, Simu Liu appeared as a guest host on The Social, the daily talk show that is absolutely not Canada’s version of The View, but we’ll get to that. This was Liu back in his Kim’s Convenience era, before he was a Marvel superhero or a Time 100 cover star or a guy whose chiselled abs have left zero doubt about whether Asian dudes can be sexy. Unfair sexual stereotypes was the topic being debated that day. Liu said that as an Asian man, he had thoughts, and when the audience laughed, he called them out—on live TV!—for exemplifying exactly the kind of casual racism he was trying to highlight. The moment went viral and then Liu went mega-viral a couple years later when Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings had the biggest Labour Day box office opening in the history of movies. His star status, at this point, eclipsed the need for Canadian media appearances, but he has returned to chat with the women of The Social—co-hosts Melissa Grelo, Cynthia Loyst and Lainey Lui and correspondent Jess Allen—twice in the last two years. “The thing I’m most proud of is not the guests we’re able to book,” says Lui, the show’s acerbic pop culture connoisseur. “It’s the guests who come back.” That list ranges from Justin Trudeau to Ryan Reynolds to Jann Arden, who enjoyed her appearances so much that she became a recurring guest co-host. “I’ve been in the public eye for a long time,” Arden says, “but I’ve never talked about the best ways to hold in a fart on an elevator.”

This fall, The Social entered its 10th season, no small feat for any talk show but particularly on Canadian airwaves, where eyeballs are scarce and media budgets are ever shrinking. Dini Petty, Vicki Gabereau, Strombo, Ed the Sock: The landscape is littered with personalities who burned bright, then burnt out. What has Canada’s top-rated lifestyle program done differently?

“I think the show knows how to handle topics in a way that will appeal to their audience,” says Supriya Dwivedi, a Canadian media and politics pundit who has appeared on The Social to talk about NAFTA negotiations and taste-test mustard-flavoured Oreos. The co-hosts, she says, aren’t easy archetypes. “They all bring their own personalities and opinions, but it’s never like, ‘Oh, she’s the feisty one, and she’s the sarcastic one.’” As a result, they’ve built up credibility and kinship with their audience—weekdays from 1 to 2 p.m., but also on social media, where the show has an active afterlife. Online participation was baked into The Social’s original concept: your standard panel chat series, except that the co-hosts respond to online commentary on the fly. “So much of social media has become so toxic these days,” says Dwivedi. “I think it’s impressive that they have managed to maintain a productive dialogue and keep their audience engaged.”

On any given day, discussions range from dating drama to reality TV to political lightning rods. In recent years, it can feel like the focus has become more serious—a reflection of the way the world has changed, rather than a shifting agenda or ratings strategy, according to Laura Scarfo, the show’s executive producer. Keep in mind, Donald Trump was still hosting The Apprentice when The Social premiered in September 2013. “The idea was always that we would talk about the same things you would talk about at a great dinner party, and I think those subjects have changed,” says Loyst, the panel’s sex and relationships expert. The Simu Liu story speaks to an excellent celebrity guest retention rate, sure, but it’s also a good example of what The Social does best: finding fresh and accessible entry points into important cultural conversations.

A photo of a woman with long black hair in a cream long-sleeved knit mini dress sitting in a director's chair

Lainey Lui (Photo, Luis Mora)

It’s a Tuesday in mid-August, and the topic around the morning meeting table is Madonna, who is turning 64 that day. Every weekday the co-hosts and producers meet to figure out what to talk about on the broadcast. It’s a dry run, but the hosts still bring it—alley-ooping off one another’s comments like NBA All-Stars. Madonna’s birthday will be marked with a panel discussion of her most iconic style moments, but the conversation also veers into the way she gets slammed for having the audacity to age in public. “If you’re wondering whether misogyny is alive and well . . . ” Grelo deadpans, her comments feeling especially loaded on this particular morning—the day after Lisa LaFlamme went public with her unceremonious sacking from CTV.

Media . . . CanCon . . .  gender bias . . . grey hair. It’s the kind of story the co-hosts would normally dive into, but seemingly complicated somewhat by the fact that The Social airs on LaFlamme’s now former network, Bell Media. In the end, the team found a diplomatic middle ground, noting LaFlamme’s departure off the top of the show. “Before we begin, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge our esteemed colleague Lisa LaFlamme,” said Grelo, looking directly into the camera. “Even though she is no longer with this network, it is important for us to express our admiration and our deep respect. She has blazed the trail for so many, especially for women in our industry.” Cue Lui: “And now from one trailblazer to another, how about Jennifer Lopez . . . ”

Rumour has it that LaFlamme actually tested for The Social more than 10 years ago, when CTV decided to develop a women’s panel show. Similar concepts were scoring big numbers in the U.S.—The View, The Talk, The Chew—so a Canadian iteration was a no-brainer. Finding the right combination of co-hosts was crucial; the hunt also reportedly included Jessi Cruickshank (then popular on The Hills After Show) and Aliya Jasmine Sovani (1 Girl, 5 Gays). In the end, the first group to test together—Grelo, Loyst, Lui and Traci Melchor, who left the show in 2017—won out, following a spirited discussion on labiaplasty. “Their chemistry was just so obvious,” says Michelle Crespi, The Social’s original executive producer, who now also oversees a variety of unscripted programming at Bell. It’s an origin story that will sound familiar to fans of The View: The first group to try out for Barbara Walters’ brainchild was also the final four. Still, the tendency to conflate the two shows grates on The Social’s stars and producers for a few reasons.

For starters, isn’t it so Canadian to compare ourselves to popular culture south of the border? Also, while the shows share a similar conceit, broadly speaking (intelligent, engaging women discuss the issues of the day), there are some key differences. On The View, Whoopi Goldberg covers pop culture like she can barely deign to lower herself. On The Social, Lui tears into the same material like it was her PhD thesis. (Which is not far off. She once gave a TED Talk on how the belittling of gossip is a form of gender discrimination.) The Social doesn’t get bogged down in the baggage of what “smart” women want to talk about. In the segment marking Madonna’s birthday, Grelo explained how the Material Girl was a feminist awakening for her tweenage self. “People like Madonna were saying that you can have fashion and you can have a serious message, and both things can hold water,” Grelo says, echoing what is more or less the show’s manifesto.

(Photo: Luis Mora)

Melissa Grelo (Photo: Luis Mora)

Another key difference: The View has always been at its best with a strong conservative voice to combat the otherwise left-leaning panel. Ratings soared with the Trump-era addition of Meghan McCain, who was unrestrained in her anti-abortion, pro-gun rhetoric. Through the media grapevine, I have heard that The Social has explored the possibility of bringing in a similar outlier, but the hosts, at least, don’t think that it’s necessary. “I think there are certain issues that we are no longer debating in this country,” Loyst says. She points to the fact that both Lui and Allen—who has frequently filled in as co-host following Marci Ien’s 2020 departure—have talked about their own abortions on air. “That was such a powerful moment. I don’t think we then say, ‘Okay, now it’s time for a debate.’” Lui thinks one of the reasons the co-hosts are often lumped together politically is because they are women of colour (Lui and Grelo, as well as former co-hosts Ien and Melchor). “People may make assumptions about our politics, but I don’t even know how some of the other co-hosts vote,” she says. I tell her that this strains credibility, but she insists my line of questioning reflects an American (and white-centric) sensibility. “I don’t think we label ourselves in the same way in Canada. I’m not saying we represent every voice in the country,” she says. But if the point is diversity, “Why aren’t people asking why we don’t have a host who wasn’t raised in Canada? An Indigenous host? Another Asian host who is not Chinese? I think those are better questions.”

A photo of a woman with long black hair, in a rust-coloured long sleeveless dress, sitting in a director's chair

Cynthia Loyst (Photo: Luis Mora)

Rather than left versus right, differences of opinion on the panel often highlight the fact that there is no such thing as a “feminist” perspective. Lui is forever going on about her hair. In a segment about the pros and cons of being a young grandparent, both Grelo and Loyst admitted that—having become parents later in life—they wouldn’t mind if their own kids opted to start a family before focusing on career. Lui and Allen, both child-free, often bring attention to the specific pressures and prejudices experienced by women who choose not to have kids. Loyst rarely misses a chance to emphasize the ways that the patriarchy has demonized female pleasure.

Decisions around what does (and doesn’t) get covered is something the team takes seriously, along with how certain topics are handled. “If you look at the way we talked about red carpet fashion in the first few seasons [compared to] today, you would see a difference,” Crespi says. Less snark, more awareness of body positivity and cultural appropriation. There is often debate over whether to lead the show with celebrity gossip or social justice: giving the audience what it wants versus leading the conversation.

When it comes to handling hot potatoes, the last few years have been a crash course. In 2019, the panel weighed in on Don Cherry’s comments about poppies and “you people that come here.” Allen talked about her experience with hockey culture as a teen, describing a group that “tended to be white boys who weren’t, let’s say, very nice. They were not generally thoughtful. They were often bullies.” If Cherry’s comments prompted an uproar, Allen’s led to full-on pandemonium, particularly after parents of players killed in the 2018 Humboldt bus crash joined the chorus, calling on CTV to #FireJessAllen. The hashtag trended for days, and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Corp. received so many complaints about the incident that it stopped accepting them. “It’s funny,” Allen says, “because there was a segment where I supported Martin Scorsese in his view that superhero franchises were ruining movies and I remember being so terrified that the Marvel universe was going to come for me.” Two days (and an incalculable level of internet vitriol) later, Allen apologized on Twitter as part of CTV’s damage-control strategy. It was a challenging time, but a ratings victory. So-called #hockeygate is among the most watched clips on The Social’s YouTube channel—though not as popular as a segment featuring the cast of Frozen or an interview with Tessa Virtue, which hold the top two slots.

A photo of a woman with pulled back brown hair, in glasses, wearing a black dress with puffy sleeves

Jess Allen (Photo: Luis Mora)

Another much-talked-about segment had the co-hosts weighing in on Jessica Mulroney after she was called out for threatening the livelihood of Black influencer Sasha Exeter at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The story made global headlines, owing to Mulroney’s connection to Meghan Markle, but for The Social, it hit even closer to home: Mulroney’s wedding show I Do Redo aired on CTV, and her husband Ben was, at the time, anchor of CTV’s Your Morning and Etalk. It was an awkward conflict of interest, but not one the panel was willing to kowtow to. “We felt it was a timely discussion to have,” says Crespi. For weeks, the panel had been talking about race in front of the camera: the murder of George Floyd, the BLM protests, the nature of white fragility. Episodes like the one where CTV personality Tyrone Edwards shared the frustration he was feeling as a Black man (“I’m not muting how I feel anymore. I’m sick and tired of having to be the only one that feels the rage”) helped an at-home audience connect with a global conversation.

The Social did not emerge from this reckoning unscathed. In June 2020, Lui was called out on Twitter for old posts on her gossip blog that featured racist, sexist and homophobic slang. Around the same time, the show itself was called out by one of its former producers, who noted there was not a single Black person working behind-the-scenes at that time, and also that her calls to cover topics relating to race on The Social had often been dismissed. Crespi says the former producer’s criticism was an opportunity to reflect: “We acknowledge that we have work to do and recognize the importance and power of representation… at all levels.” (The show says it has since hired “a producer from a diverse background.”)

Ultimately, the culture wars have been good for business: The Social won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Talk Program or Series for the first time in 2020. And despite technical challenges that arose from broadcasting from home during the pandemic, it has held onto its number one rating. “It’s definitely not something we aim for,” says Scarfo of those moments when the show becomes Twitter bait. Lui’s critics saw her callout as the ultimate “gotcha” moment: a member of the liberal media hung up by her own hand. But for the show, it was a chance to embody the kind of accountability it had been talking about. Lui apologized without reservation and then took questions from her co-hosts about why the posts still existed on her site (“taking them down would be self-absolution”). The meta of the moment was not lost on Lui: “We’re called The Social and what we always say is, ‘If you’re talking about it, we’re talking about it . . . ’” She jokes that it “wasn’t the most fun” episode, but that it was important for her to confront these demons head-on. “I appreciated the opportunity to talk about change,” she says.

It is this ability to react to and reflect on the moment that she and her co-hosts see as The Social’s legacy. “We have learned a lot in the last nine years, but I don’t like it when people say we’ve ‘found our footing,’” Lui says. “I think we’re always changing, always learning. I don’t even know if I’ve found my footing. I think that’s the point.”

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Nous sommes un petit groupe de passionnés qui écrivons des articles dentaires depuis quelques années. Nous croyons qu’une bonne santé bucco-dentaire est la clé d’une vie heureuse et saine. Notre objectif est de fournir des informations précises et à jour sur tous les aspects de la dentisterie afin que nos lecteurs puissent prendre des décisions éclairées concernant leur santé bucco-dentaire.
Nous savons que le choix d’un dentiste ou d’un traitement dentaire peut être écrasant, mais nous espérons que nos articles contribueront à rendre le processus un peu plus facile.
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