Jack Knox: Two on the Upside, outside and on lighter side

Ed Bain and Jeff King are idiots. I mean that in a positive way. When they cheerfully goofball their way through the Upside on CHEK, it’s as though somebody gave Brent and Hank from Corner Gas their own segment on the TV news.

That’s appropriate, given their Saskatchewan connection. Bain and Jeff’s dad, Fred King, used to do comedy together on Regina’s CKRM radio in the late 1970s. “I think I took Jeff to a Riders game when he was 12,” Bain says.

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Then came the six years the younger King spent behind the scenes on Bain’s morning show on 100.3 The Q, back in the days of Langford Man and the Martha Stewart bits. So it’s no surprise that King, CHEK’s sports anchor, and Bain, its weatherman, enjoy a comedic chemistry on the Upside, in which the two of them pop up each night in unexpected corners of Victoria and the south Island, introducing viewers to their neighbours. “Delightfully dorky,” is how one viewer described the result.

What has been surprising is the reception. The Upside has become an unexpected, almost accidental, hit. “I’ve never received this much positive feedback on anything, ever,” Bain says.

The thing is, the segment was borne of necessity: With COVID-19 emptying workplaces, CHEK general manager Rob Germain needed a way to keep staff on air while getting them out of the building. Note that the first episode was aired from Mount Tolmie on St. Patrick’s Day, and King and Bain haven’t been back inside since.

Germain wanted something else, too: an antidote to the fear and stress as the pandemic settled upon us like a black cloud. So off the boys went, from Miniature World, to the Sidney Pier, to Bain’s backyard, to room 307 of the Surf Motel. (Although the latter was closed, the Dallas Road motel’s owners then fielded calls from viewers wanting to reserve the room.) By Thursday, the duo had done 50 straight nights from the road. Sports reporter Kevin Charach handles weekends. The other sports guy, Cole Sorenson, contributes, too. (Got to keep them busy with the rinks and stadiums dark.)

This is not to pump their tires. Rather, it’s to draw attention to the nerve they hit. “I think it’s the small-townness of it, the simplicity,” Bain says of the Upside’s appeal. They tapped into a need for connectivity, for a respite from worry.

They’re not the only ones to go down this road. John Krasinski’s online Some Good News found an eager audience early in the pandemic. At the same time, the Times Colonist read the room and made the conscious choice to make the front page more than a drum-beat recitation of the daily death report. The idea was not to ignore the grim news — there’s no shortage of that scattered throughout the paper — but to balance it with the kind of content that draws communities together, or at least coaxes frightened people from under the bed. To force upon readers a steady diet of doom and gloom, unleavened by the goodness among us, would be to only tell part of the story.

So, over the past couple of months you have seen a front page containing elements that wouldn’t normally be there, from Raeside cartoons, to a Silken Laumann essay on handling pandemic anxiety, to a succession of pieces on the Rapid Relief Fund. A spike in anti-Asian racism was countered by historian Tzu-I Chung’s commentary on the kindness and charity of the H.Y. Louie family.

The traditional crest in the front page masthead was temporarily replaced by a red heart. An internal memo from on high described that move as a “feel-good effort at a time when the community is crying out for hope and optimism.” It was the TC’s finance director who came up with a related idea, the printing of a full-page heart flag that readers could tape in their windows as a message of support for front-line workers. Symbols matter.

Inside the paper, the TC’s Taking Care of Business series, in which operators of small local companies describe their struggles, has been a window into real lives. Maybe it should have been called Taking Care of People. It has been a way to introduce neighbours to neighbours.

Sometimes there’s a serious need for what can be dismissed as light fare, the stuff that draws out our humanity and satisfies a hunger for connection in a time of enforced isolation. That’s not idiocy.


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