For the first time, Tamara Taggart opens up about her unexpected departure from CTV, its life-changing impact and what's next
Picture a neatly trimmed house on a tree-lined street with a white picket fence and a profusion of flowers in the garden. This would describe the home of Tamara Taggart, and it is brimming with life, containing as it does a family of nine, including Tamara and her musician husband Dave Genn of the band 54-40, three young children—Beckett, 11, Zoë, nine, and Poppy, eight—two dogs, including a rambunctious Airedale terrier named George and a wary-looking “Mexican rescue,” as well as two utterly disinterested cats.
Taggart offers a firm handshake, looking casual and relaxed, as though if she wasn’t doing an interview with TV Week she’d be working in the garden. “It feels like every day’s a Saturday,” she’d said in an earlier email.
After introductions, we retire to a cozy little deck overlooking the backyard gardens to chat, with Taggart opening up about her and Mike Killeen being unexpectedly fired from their anchor jobs at CTV Vancouver News. She’s going to tell us about the day it happened, the aftermath and the way it has impacted her life and those she loves.
She’s candid with her answers, but also circumspect. She had an open-ended contract with her former employer and after she was let go, rumours circulated about a lawsuit; she put those rumours to rest by revealing she has “reached an agreement” with the network, and that’s all we’ll say about that.
TV Week: Your dismissal caught the rest of us by surprise. Was that the case with you?
Tamara Taggart: Yes.
TVW: How did it happen?
Taggart: It was just a typical Monday morning. I came into work and put my stuff down. Mike was there, he sat across from me. I had been bringing my lunch for four weeks but before that we’d always gone to lunch together. I said, “Do you want to go to lunch today?” and he’s like, “Yeah!” So then I logged on to my computer and within seconds I got an email from my boss [news director Les Staff] that said, “Do you have a minute? Can I see you?”
TVW: So you go to his office and...
Taggart: I was told it was my last day at CTV, that my day was ending right there.
TVW: How did you react?
Taggart: I didn’t know what I’d done. I thought I must have done something horrible. Then we had to go upstairs to a boardroom where human resources was waiting and I just kept thinking, did I do something, did I say something, did I tweet out something offensive? Which are all things that I knew I hadn’t done because I’m just not like that. Then I thought, did I accept something for free that I wasn’t supposed to? Because you’re not allowed to do that either, but I also knew I hadn’t done that. So I didn’t know what I had done. But it turned out I hadn’t done anything. I asked a lot of questions and didn’t get any answers and then I went down to my desk and while I was there trying to hold it together while throwing a couple of things in my purse, Mike asked, “Where have you been?” I said, “I’ll see you over at Joey’s [restaurant].” And he said, “Oh, I just got called to the boardroom.” And I said, “I’ll see you over there,” and I walked out. He knew.
TVW: They didn’t give you any explanation?
Taggart: I kept asking but they didn’t answer me; they just said what ended up in the press release.
TVW: In retrospect, were there any red flags before that, things you might have missed that would indicate something like this might happen?
Taggart: No, nothing. Our ratings were good.
TVW: Let’s talk about ageism. Do you think it was a factor?
Taggart: It depends on how you define ageism. Is it because I look old, is it because they think I’m old, or is it because my salary was larger?
TVW: Is ageism an issue in media in general?
Taggart: Definitely. But I don’t think it has anything to do with looks anymore. It’s not, “There’s an older woman getting wrinkly, let’s get a younger one.” I think it comes down to money. Companies don’t want to lose money; they’re looking at the bottom line. They don’t want expensive people and expensive people are the ones that have been there the longest, the ones that have worked the hardest.
TVW: Obviously, you wouldn’t wish something like this on anybody, especially a good friend like Mike Killeen, but did it make it easier to go through it with him?
Taggart: Yes, 100 percent, totally. If it had been just me, or just him, it would have been a very, very different experience. Did it make it easier, yes. Did it make it better, no, because it was awful. But we’re lucky we had each other.
TVW: For many of us, our identities are interwoven with our work. Did you feel being let go was an assault on your identity, on your sense of who you are?
Taggart: No. I am not defined by my job. I am much more than that. I was lucky I had a job I loved that allowed me to have a voice, and I chose to use that voice to help others who did not have one, but I don’t think I’ve lost that. I don’t define myself by going on television and anchoring the news, so I don’t feel I have lost my identity at all.
TVW: Are you interested in getting back in the game on some level?
Taggart: I don’t think you should ever say, “I’ll never do that again,” but I won’t be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen. I’m not out pounding the pavement looking for another news anchor job. I’m not even asking if there’s fill-in work. I don’t want to do that. I had a great job. It was a wonderful experience that ended horribly, but I’m not desperate to fill that void.
TVW: There was quite a reaction
to the firing in social media. Were you surprised by it all?
Taggart: The outpouring of love from people I didn’t even know overwhelmed me, and it still does; I’m still getting messages from people I’ve never met.
TVW: Endings can also lead to
new beginnings. Do you see this as an opportunity to take a new direction in life?
Taggart: Lots of people have said that to me, and I believe that now after four months. I feel like I’ve come a long way in those months. I was so sad for three of them; really, really sad. I’ve never felt angry, and I don’t think I ever will, and I know people say there are different stages and all that, but mine was just extreme sadness. I’m not sad about the loss of the job; it’s just a job and everybody who works in media knows that no one is safe. I think most people thought that I was, but I never thought that.
But I still have sadness, although it comes from the way it was done. These were people that I was close with. And there was no goodbye party for Mike and I, there was nothing. It was pretty cold, and that’s hard to get over. But I try to look at the glass as half-full, and for me I’ve spent the last four months with my kids, and it’s been amazing. They’re loving it. It’s like it’s always been like this for us. I got to go to sports day this year, and I’m doing all the things I couldn’t have done before unless I’d taken a vacation day, and that has been amazing. So now I’m looking at this as an opportunity. It’s exciting. I can figure out more of who I am, and what I want to do, and I get to decide. I was there for almost 21 years, and 21 years ago I was a much different person; I have a lot of work and life experience and confidence, so we’ll see what happens.
TVW: You’ve had cancer and spoken about the experience. You have a son with Down syndrome, and you’ve spoken about that, including giving what is widely regarded as an enlightening and inspiring TED Talk on what it’s like to have a child with Down syndrome. Could you perhaps work in some kind of advocacy capacity?
Taggart: I’ll always be an advocate. That’s important to me, but we can all be advocates. It’s pretty straightforward. You just need to be empathetic. So I like that, and I’ll always be that, but will that be my job? I have no idea, but I do like to speak, and I do like to empower people.
TVW: You recently tweeted out a strongly worded condemnation about the lead pipe still being used in the waterworks of B.C. schools, which is a disgrace, to be sure. There was
some speculation that you might be considering a run for public office. Are you considering running for school board or any other public office?
Taggart: I’m not considering it right now. I have so many other things I want to do right now!
TVW: Has all this impacted your relationship with your husband?
Taggart: No, but we’ve been having a lot more discussions about loyalty. I’m a very loyal person.
TVW: What about your children? Has it impacted your relationship with them?
Taggart: I don’t think it has for them, but it has for me. They know what happened with my job, and it was really interesting watching them process it, and then adapt to it. But for me, I’ve had to grapple with some guilt because I’m experiencing things that I should have been experiencing these past 10 years—Beckett just turned 11—and I did miss out on a lot, as every working parent does. We all try and balance it. I know it can’t stay the way it is now forever because I will start working again eventually, but it sure is nice now. For me, it magnified that working-parent guilt and the struggle to find a balance.
TVW: So now that “every day’s a Saturday,” how are you filling your time?
Taggart: I’ve been seeing my friends a lot. And that’s something that also suffered during my career. There were so many people I hadn’t seen in so long, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to see people, for lunch or dinner. We’ve spent a lot of time sitting on this deck talking. I’ve been doing a lot of catching up. I’d also like to do more reading; I have so many books in my pile that it’s not even funny.
TVW: If a young woman were to come to you now and say she was desperate to get into broadcasting, what advice would you give?
Taggart: I would say go for it, but don’t expect that you will be sitting at a news desk at 6 p.m. because I don’t know if that will be the future. It’s extremely competitive and when you get one of those jobs it’s like winning the lottery. And that competitiveness does not go away, ever. Journalism is a vital part of our community. We need journalism, no doubt about it, but how we consume that journalism is changing drastically. Maybe it’s good I got out when I did. Television is changing. The way people consume news is very different than when I was a kid, or even 15 years ago. People are listening to podcasts and getting their news from Twitter or Facebook. They aren’t necessarily sitting down and watching it on television.
TVW: Final thoughts?
Taggart: I always thought I knew what was important, but I lost sight of that. [Sometimes] you get jolted back into reality; your perspective is put in place. When I had cancer I became hyper-aware of how precious this all is, but over time it sort of fades. When this happened I thought, it’s not life-threatening. It put things in perspective, but in a different way. I’ve thought about what loyalty means, what real friendships are, how work is important but it’s not life; and it was for me for a lot of years. But I don’t regret any of it because I am where I am today and I’m happy with who I am and what I’ve achieved. And I don’t think it’s over. I think there’s a lot to come. I don’t know what that will be, but I’m excited about it.
Originally published in TV Week.