Definintely Not The Opera (DNTO) is a magazine show on CBC Radio 1 that comes out every Saturday. It’s one of my most treasured Canadian cultural institutions. Originally named Brand X, it was first broadcast in 1994 and later renamed to Definitely Not The Opera to signify that it ran opposite Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC Radio 2.
Host Sook-Yin Lee is a former MuchMusic VJ who took over DNTO in 2002. She’s also an accomplished actor, musician and filmmaker. Known for pushing her own limits (and, as a result, ours), Lee was involved in a controvery in 2003 when she acted in the film Shortbus which showed her having unsimulated sex. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation threatened to fire her in response, but a number of international media personalities supported her strongly and the CBC backed down.
DNTO is unusual in the current media landscape. A salon-style magazine program resolutely aimed at Generation X, it entertains and informs not by commenting on current affairs or the entertainment industry, nor by decorating itself with celebrity interviews. Instead, DNTO picks a topic (for example, “What do you believe in?” or “What didn’t you learn in school today?”) and provides 2 hours of thoughtful and intelligent analysis, narrative, humour and commentary.
The ‘talking heads’ are an eclectic mix of (mostly local, Canadian) artists, writers, scientists and other cultural producers. The style is a Sook-Yin Lee-led conversation, interspersed with incidental music. Quite unlike a more traditionally oriented interviewer, Lee asserts her opinions strongly in most segments – each episode has a story to tell and a point to make, and ‘getting out of the way’ doesn’t really support that objective.
Stories, in fact, are what DNTO is all about. Stories from when we were kids, stories about love and sex, stories about memorable embarassing moments, about accomplishments and failures, about the intrigue of the world. Stories about life.
Lee, in a way, is the show: many of DNTO’s most memorable stories are from her own life. She has a strong sense of wonder, an awareness of the magic of ordinary events, and is entirely fearless of disclosing too much (or at least that’s what we allow ourselves to believe). She professes that she’s “private” and a “prude” (her Chinese background, perhaps), yet we have weekly evidence of her need to share her most private experiences on air.
DNTO is very Canadian. The spirit of Trudeau’s children permeates every moment of programming. Cultural differences are acknowledged and respected, shared school experiences celebrated. The Canadian melting pot is discovered and surfaced in the ordinary events of everyday life. Somehow, DNTO manages to be wildly entertaining in its ordinariness; more so than, say, many of NPR‘s magazine shows which are oriented around cultural events (books, films, music releases) and their associated producers.
DNTO is available as a weekly podcast from the DNTO website.