EJ: We're launching with a one hour special on customer service. We did a national survey and asked people what store in Canada gives the worst customer service. We'll be naming the worst store in Canada, in terms of a chain.
We've got secret shoppers. So we go in with hidden cameras to the big chains and document stuff that I think is pretty incredible. We've all gone into store where you can't find a sales clerk and we capture stuff on video that's jaw dropping. It's funny but it's also frustrating of you're the customer.
We do all sort of exciting customer service experiments where we actually book a store on Queen street in Toronto and one of our associate producers poses as a sales clerk who give bad customer service, testing to see how polite people are: whether they speak up.
One of the questions on our national survey was, “when you get bad service what do you do about it?” The vast majority don't say anything because we're so polite. We watched what unfolded in the store and I think that'll be very entertaining for people to watch.
TH: I joined the show last year and we averaged almost a million viewers. For Friday night at 8pm that's astonishing.
Things are tough for Canadians. People have to leave their jobs in mid-life, looking for a way to make some money. Maybe there's a new opportunity that's presented to them or there may be a job placement program that they get involved in. That's all fertile ground for scammers and people trying to rip you off.
The market place has changed for a lot of Canadians so we find ourselves dealing with new and more sophisticated ways to rip you off. I think Canadians are looking to us more than ever because they find they can't get satisfaction from government agencies or consumer groups.
We get dozens of emails from all over the country asking us to help because we're their last hope. The fact that Canadians see us as a place they trust and can go to for help is really exciting. I feel very proud to work for a show like that. It's been going for 39 years now and yet it still resonates with Canadians.
EJ: I think that what makes Market Place unique is that we do investigative journalism and we also do advocacy journalism where we take on the story of the little guy. It sounds hokey but people are just so thrilled that there's a voice there that's trying to fight for them.
Today we're finding that corporations and governments are less accountable. They don't want to answer your questions or do interviews or they ask you to send them a question and they will email you a statement. So when they see Tom or me trying to get answers or a solution for frustrated people, or right a wrong, there's almost a gratefulness from our viewers. For us it's a privilege to be on the show but it's but that makes it really rewarding too.
tV: What has been the most challenging episode for you to do?
EJ: Easy. The cross-dressing, cancer curing, scientist who fled the country and lived in Budapest. We tracked him down there and got an interview. It's the one time in my career where I thought things could go sideways. He wasn't, in my opinion, all there.
There was a little bit of danger to him and when we showed up there was a gun on the coffee table. He just laughed at me and said, “that's for if things get out of hand.” I realized that here we were in Hungary and nobody knew where we were because he'd switched the addresses.
That was quite unnerving but more than that, it was quite outrageous that this guy was selling a device that it could cure people of cancer. We had interviewed Canadians who had relied on it including a woman who had died when she should have been getting conventional therapy. That was the most challenging for me.
TH: When I came to Market Place I'd been a sports reporter most of my career. I wanted to do the kind of journalism that changed, or fixed things for people. In doing these kinds of interviews with people that are extremely tense yet exhilarating, you do feel like you're there representing the audience.
When you confront people you can tell them that you've spoken to someone who wants to hear this. You really feel a sense of accomplishment.
tV: What's the story you personally want to uncover?
EJ: We pitch a lot of the stories that we do. About 50% of our ideas come from viewers themselves and then we have regular story meetings where people are doing research and tapping into the latest trends and consumer issues we should be aware of. If Tom or I have an idea we throw that into the mix.
I've pitched stories that don't go anywhere. You think that you have a germ of an idea but when you go digging you it doesn't actually play out. For every story that makes it to air there are far more that have been researched and go by the way-side.
Part of that is what gives us the confidence when we are doing a story: knowing the thing has been researched to the hilt and we've got the goods.
TH: This year I was doing a story and the company we were dealing with was ducking us. An outside public relations firm put pressure on this company to talk to us. Normally that doesn't happen but there was a larger corporate battle going on. We were good with that because we needed this interview. The attitude of the PR firm was, “you can avoid talking to them but they'll come find you.” And we do (laughs) and companies know that. We will look for people.
The show suffers because of its reputation because people don't want to talk to us anymore and it's hard to get interviews. You do have to track people down to get interviews but that's fun. That's some of the excitement of watching our show: there's kind of an edginess to what we do.
One of the greatest things about Market Place, and I'll use the analogy of the Rolling Stones, is that it's been around for 39 years. It's astonishing when you think of television in the 21st century that a show could be around for that long. The reason that it is, is because it's reinvented itself, like the Stones did. The Stones are rockers then they did disco, then they did reggae, now they're doing alternative music: they kept changing as things kept changing around them but the core values of what they stood for as musicians never changed. That's what this show has done too. It's morphed and it's still relevant to Canadians today.