Whatever happened to Merella Fernandez?Jan 20th, 2009 | By Dominic Berry | Category: Entertainment
TORONTO. TUESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2009 (and kudos to whoever waved the Canadian flag last night, in front of the MSNBC booth, on the National Mall in Washington). [UPDATED : MONDAY, AUGUST 16, 2010 ; SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2011 : see below]. “Who cares about local media personalities in Toronto, Canada?” is a good question. And of course I agree that my own answer (“I do, because I live here”) will not cut any ice anywhere else - and in particular in Vancouver, say. The local Toronto media personality Merella Fernandez is so cute and multiculturally interesting, however, that I feel compelled to press on. My story is that I lost sight of her for almost a year. I have now discovered where she has been all that time. The plain truth is that this is just another senior moment in an aging brain. Yet I am also arguing that Ms. Fernandez and her one-time CP24 TV colleague Nalini Sharma say something about the fate of this astoundingly diverse city – and the various wider universes of which it is a part. Even my lame struggles to answer “Whatever happened to Mererlla Fernandez?” illuminate this larger proposition … and almost shed some flickering Canadian light on the great events in the USA today!
1. The golden age of Merella Fernandez (and Nalini Sharma) on CP24 …
The beginning of my story here goes back to the old days in Toronto – which in this case finally seems to mean sometime before early February 2008.
It was at this point, I have at last discovered, that the Toronto Star (among other places) announced: “Live at 5: Starting Monday, Citytv will begin its supper-hour newscast an hour early. CityNews at Five will air in two half-hour chunks, hosted at the top of the hour by Dwight Drummond and Merella Fernandez, and continuing at 5:30 with Mark Dailey and Kathryn Humphreys. The longstanding 6 o’clock broadcast will follow.”
In fact, I did not notice this announcement in the newspaper when it first appeared, not quite a year ago now. If I had, the perplexing personal question of what had happened to Merella Fernandez would not have perplexed me so much, and for so long.
All I knew was that for some considerable time before early February 2008 – a year maybe, two years, three years, who knows when you are as old as I am? – newscaster Merella and her “weatherbabe” colleague Nalini Sharma were creating a golden age for me on what used to be City TV’s Toronto sister (or is it brother?) station CP24.
2. What is (and/or used to be) CP24?
CP24, in case you don’t know (and City TV has some kind of parallel operation in Vancouver, I believe – and in Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg too – but I don’t know if all these places also have sister CP24 channels) is a kind of all-news TV station.
( I should say too that, as I delve into all these matters a little deeper, I suddenly realize that Citytv and CP24 are no longer directly related. This is a result of various comparatively recent media empire bloodlettings among CHUM, CTV, and Rogers, prompted in part by the Canadian broadcast regulatory regime. If you really want to know more here, you can get started by consulting “Rogers buys Citytv stations” and “CRTC Roundup: Rogers gets its own CP24.”)
Your screen when you watch CP24 is divided into several rectangles (or boxes if you like). The largest one has one version or another of the usual talking-head news report, complete with more ordinary commercials than any sensible person would want to watch.
Other smaller rectangles use text and graphics to give you the latest on the weather, current news headlines, financial markets, and sports. Then there are also intermittent boxes, showing photos of the traffic on various highways in the Greater Toronto Area.
I like CP24. It delivers the kind of local news I find interesting. And it is one of half a dozen channels I intermittently consult during the day. (The others include CBC Newsworld, CTV Newsnet, MSNBC in the US, CNN in the US, and, oh say, the History Channel, or something like that, perhaps the Canadian Business News Network too.)
In the golden age to which I am referring – in 2007, say, and who knows how much before – the talking head in the largest CP24 box was (often – not always but often) Merella Fernandez. And she would frequently call on the lovely Nalini Sharma, for special help with weather reports.
3. The multicultural magic of Merella and Nalini
It is my firm belief, I perhaps should add, that, other things equal, you might as well get your ordinary news from attractive women. (Though I can see that if you are a woman yourself, there can be a parallel case for getting your news from attractive men, and so forth.)
What really made the dynamic duo of Merella Fernanadez and Nalini Sharma on CP24 a golden age for me, however, was something a bit deeper than this. They made me feel that my Toronto, as it were – the city in which I have grown up and lived for so many decades even now – could be suitably updated for the new age of the bilingual and multicultural Canada that began to take hold when I was in my 20s say (all too long ago now alas), and yet still retain some ancient familiarity with the oldest city of my childhood and youth.
The city I grew up in, that is to say, was still quite white, and even Anglo-Saxon. Both Merella and Nalini have more or less Asian backgrounds – and Merella is quite dark: “blacker” even than the Barack Obama who is being inaugurated as the first “black” president of the USA today, on January 20, 2009.
Yet both Merella and Nalini grew up in Toronto, just as I did (though a number of decades later, of course). And, who knows: geography may actually be the creator of our most important identities. I could and still can recognize in each of them a wide variety of comforting marks of the same kinds of Toronto girls I grew up with earlier on.
I don’t know exactly what these marks are. They do have something to do with an exact tone of voice, and the way you make certain references. And many other things as well.
In any case, as an aging and more or less white Torontonian (except perhaps in the depths of the summer), I found it all quite reassuring. The city was changing but it was still staying the same … And that message, delivered daily in many different ways by two attractive younger women, was a comfort to an aging male city resident like me …
4. Merella’s sudden departure … in my aging mind …
The big problem was that, all of a sudden, early in 2008 – about a year ago now, I guess – Merella Fernandez suddenly disappeared from my TV screen, on CP24. Nalini Sharma was still there – and is to this day. (I saw her just yesterday, doing the weather for Ann Rohmer at lunch.)
I still like Nalini too. But somehow I liked her better when she was in the middle of some back-and-forth with Merella Fernandez.
They are two quite different kinds of girls. Merella, it seems to me in any case, is very down to earth. At one point she was even doing the CP24 car show, and doing it well, I thought – especially for a woman. Nalini, on the other hand, as her very name might suggest, is more like an exotic princess out of the Arabian nights. Merella somehow made Nalini seem more exotically interesting. And Nalini made Merella seem more reliably down to earth – the way someone who is entrusted with delivering the news ought to be.
All this may suggest as well that it wasn’t just Merella’s and Nalini s multicultural origins that gave my golden age with them together on TV its golden edge. I can hear someone from CP24 itself urging that the station still has a number of cute non-white girls on air – Pooja Handa, for instance, or Nneka Elliott. I have nothing at all against these girls. But they just don`t draw me into the news, the way Merella Fernandez does.
5. The Toronto girl from Goa, by way of Karachi … and Ottawa …
Now that I have finally figured out how Merella in fact just moved from CP24 to what some would even see as the higher place of City TV (or, as it officially now seems to be, Citytv?), I’ve also in the process learned a little more about her exact background:
“Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Merella and her five siblings came to Canada when she was one year old. On an earlier visit to Canada, her father had found it to be the place he wanted his young family to prosper … She grew up in Malvern and attended Pope John Paul II High School. She is a 1995 journalism graduate of Carleton University.”
Or, as another (now somewhat dated) source reports: “Merella Fernandez is a Canadian reporter and anchor for CityNews in Toronto. Born in Karachi on 4th January 1973 to Goan parents Eulogio and Maura, she is the youngest of six children. She moved to Canada with her family at the age of one. She is considered to be one of the greatest news reporters in Canada. She is a graduate of Carleton University’s Journalism program and began her career in television at CTV answering phone calls. She moved on to writing for CTV News and Canada AM before moving to City TV in 1998 where she began working as a writer. Currently she is working as a weekend anchor for CityNews and CablePulse 24.”
Finally, in the current most up-to-date listing of Citytv personalities: “Merella began her career in the CTV National newsroom in Toronto, answering phones and checking wire copy, before making the move to Citytv as a writer for the launch of CP24 . This is where she got her first shot at being on-air and she hasn’t looked back! She has covered visits by the Pope and Dalai Lama, the SARS outbreak and the release of Karla Homolka from prison. Now, as the Co-Anchor of CityNews at Five, viewers rely on Merella for their daily dose of news that matters – one hour sooner!”
6. Merella’s nemesis … the lovely Nalini Sharma from East York …
I have also of course learned somewhat more about Nalini Sharma in my research here. Probably the first thing to be noted is that there is another Nalini Sharma, who is apparently an actress in New York. She is almost as cute as the Nalini Sharma TV personality from Toronto – but definitely not the same person.
I must say too that, in reading the current Wikpiedia entry for Nalini Sharma from Toronto, I wonder a bit about the exact dating of the story I have woven above, about the golden age of Merella Fernandez and Nalini Sharma on CP24. (It may have lasted for a shorter period than I sometimes imagine? But I am quite sure that there was a period in the not too distant past when they were on CP24 together – and beyond that who really cares, no doubt?)
At any rate, here is what Wikpedia currently tells us about Ms. Sharma of Toronto: “Nalini Sharma is a TV personality. Previously she was seen on CityNews at 6 and CityNews Tonight (weekends), as well as on CP24. … She started her career at Citytv as a weather specialist on Breakfast Television. She has also covered stories for news broadcasts throughout her career … As of September 15th, 2008, she is no longer part of the Citytv Toronto news team. She has however been on CTV-owned CP24 as a weather specialist since October 2008 … She is a graduate of Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts Program.”
On various more personal notes: “Nalini Sharma, of Indo-Trinidadian descent, was born on March 16, 1971 in East York, Ontario (now a part of Toronto). She has lived in Toronto for most of her life.” But “in the early 1990s she worked as a newswriter at CFPL-TV in London, Ontario. She later moved back to Toronto and worked as a reporter for Broadcast News and various other media related jobs producing over 400 episodes of various shows before joining Breakfast Television in August 2003 … Sharma reports that she enjoys reading immensely, reading everything from cookbooks to travel journals to medical periodicals. She also has called herself a Great Cook’ and calls watching Bollywood movies her guilty pleasure’. Ms. Sharma is married with two children.”
7. Who listens to the news at 5 anyway … or is it really an anti-multicultural plot after all?
For quite some time after I noticed that Merella Fernandez and Nalini Sharma were no longer on CP24 together, it crossed my mind that Ms. Fernandez might somehow have just disappeared from Toronto television.
I noticed as well – or thought I did – that the general drift of her replacements on CP24 was more or less in the direction of more white-looking girls. And, Toronto being the kind of place it is nowadays, I couldn’t help wondering if Merella Fernandez’s departure had something to do with complaints from some quarters about how the CP24 news was starting to look a little too multicultural – or more exactly just too black?
(And remember: I can say things like this, because I am an older if not quite yet dead white male myself. Or at least I think I am. Like Stephen Colbert, I try not to notice the colour of my skin, or anyone else’s. But people do often enough remind me, in various ways, that it is essentially white, as such things are customarily judged nowadays in any case.)
I have now actually seen Ms. Fernandez on the Citytv News at 5 pm – just the other day, having finally traced her ultimate fate through complex Internet research. So from some points of view at least, I must surrender any progressive left-wing thoughts that she had been banished from the local media, as part of an anti-multicultural plot.
At the same time, I have had so much difficulty finding out just what did happen to Merella Fernandez, because I am virtually never in a position to watch a newscast at 5 PM. And, while CP24 appeals to me, the more ordinary Citytv channel never really has.
So, from my own narrow point of view, you might almost say, the ultimate impact of Ms. Fernandez’s disappearance from CP24 – and her replacement by at least some more white-looking girls – has had a kind of anti-multicultural bias. Much more importantly, I no longer feel as reassured and comforted about the fate of my native city, as I did in the golden age, when Merella Fernandez and Nalini Sharma together kept me in touch with the local scene.
8. “Rogers gets its own CP24″ … will that be the final answer to “Whatever happened to Merella Fernandez?”
As I mercifully approach the end of my somewhat excessively long meditation on the bilingual and multicultural Canada of today here, the deepest truth that begins to strike me flows from a December 13, 2008 article, which I stumbled across in my complex Internet research. It is entitled “CRTC Roundup: Rogers gets its own CP24.”
Some brief quotation may be in order: “The big news this month is that Rogers has been given permission to launch its own 24-hour-all-news channel in the Toronto area called CityNews … Now, you might think, doesn’t City already have a 24-hour all-news channel for the Toronto area? … “No, silly. CP24, the existing all-Toronto, all-news station, was owned by CHUM, which also owned City. But CHUM was acquired by CTV, which was forced to dump City as a result to satisfy the CRTC [Canadian Radio and Television Commission]…
“For some reason known only to the CRTC, that didn’t include CP24, even though it was heavily linked to CityTV. Rogers ended up buying City, and is now the one behind this new network … Even under CTV, CP24 is very much a City network. It even airs City News three times daily. Now, not only does CTV have to figure out how CP24 and CTV Newsnet are going to coexist, it has to deal with this new channel from Rogers which is no doubt going to take all the City content for itself.”
In the midst of all this, it suddenly strikes me as well: Maybe this is ultimately why Merella Fernandez moved to Citytv (or “CityTV”?)? She is finally going to emerge as the main news anchor of the new Rogers version of CP24 – under whatever name it is known. And then all Rogers needs to do is hire Nalini Sharma away from the current CTV version of CP24. And then my golden age in Toronto, Canada will start all over again.
Meanwhile, many congratulations to Barack Obama, who almost miraculously is becoming the 44th President of the United States of America today – showing perhaps that Canada is not the only part of North America with a more or less bilingual and multicultural future (????).
If Merella and Nalini ever do get back together again on Toronto TV, I for one will be quite interested in hearing just what they really think about that!
UPDATE MONDAY, AUGUST 16, 2010: It remains true that “I am virtually never in a position to watch a newscast at 5 PM. And, while CP24 appeals to me, the more ordinary Citytv channel never really has.” And this is my main excuse for only catching up now with the sad news that Merella Fernandez was among too many good people let go by Citytv in January 2010 — about a year after the too-long article above was first posted.
For at least a few further details see “Citytv drops Anne Mroczkowski, Laura Di Battista in dramatic cutbacks … Other notable Toronto on-air personalities let go include Pam Seatle (reporter, CityNews), Merella Fernandez (anchor, CityNews at Five) and Marianne Dimain (reporter, CityNews).”
The upshot of all this is that I am once again wondering “Whatever happened to Merella Fernandez?” I have some sense that she is still out there somewhere in the Toronto ether, still doing what she does so well, but I really don’t know any more than that.
Nalini Sharma, I do know, is still doing the weather on cp24 — which, as a kind of branch of the CTV network it seems, now has a new and I’m happy to say quite multicultural cast of on-air personalities. But if anyone who actually reads this does know even just a little more about exactly what Ms. Fernandez is up to right now, I hope they’ll tell us about it in the comments section below. DB.
UPDATE SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2011 (from the counterweights editors): For Mr. Berry’s very latest discoveries on this subject see “Merella Fernandez .. lost and found!“.