Reach For The Top

Reach For The Top (RFTT) was based on a successful US television program called G.E. College Bowl. The idea for a Canadian version was brought to CBC Canada by producer Richard St John and sold to CBC Vancouver in 1961. The first program of RFTT was broadcast that year and was hosted by West Coast free-lance broadcaster Terry Garner. The next year the program was picked up by CBC Edmonton and gradually spread across the country. By 1966, 23 stations in all 10 provinces were carrying it, with approximately 600 schools taking part. That year the first of the national playoffs was broadcast with Winnipeg quizmaster Bill Guest as host. Lorne Jenkin High in Barrhead, Alta, which offered a one-semester credit course based on the program, became the series' most successful competitors. The school represented Alberta in the national playoffs for 6 of the last 10 years of the program's life, winning the national finals twice.

Although initially a ratings winner, RFTT always generated controversy. Its proponents maintained that the program gave positive exposure to students who were academically proficient; but its opponents, such as Winnipeg writer Heather Robertson, suggested that RFTT"continues to ram home the most deadly kind of memory work." By 1983, CBC surveys indicated that RFTT had lost its teenage audience. Only 12% of the audience was 18 or under while more than half was 55 and over. When steps were instituted to cancel the program the CBC received 800 letters and petitions of protest, representing about 4000 people. After MP Bud Cullen rose in the House to urge the CBC to save this "all-Canadian young people's show," the program was reprieved, but only temporarily. CBC dropped RFTT in 1985. A French version of the program, Génies en Herbe, continued on Radio-Canada until 1997.