That time when Toronto TV was fit for aerobics

It’s that time of the year again when the gluttonous excess of making merry has to be atoned and gyms are brimming over with new puffy faces who probably won’t last a month. While Good Life memberships or Jillian Michaels and Skinny Bitch DVDs are the most common instruments for getting fit in the new year, there was time not all that long ago when local broadcasters were mad for fitness shows and created some amusing shows celebrating the art of getting fit.

In the sweaty wake of Jane Fonda’s Workout, the VHS juggernaut of 1982, Fitness and aerobic workouts became as crucially trend defining to the 1980s as a sockless Don Jonson, leg warmers and “Just say no”. Most famous and still fondly recalled three decades later was The 20 Minute Workout, a cheap as chips studio production from animation upstarts Nelvana, which aired on the still burgeoning Citytv and featured a bevy of spandex adorned beauties grooving with a pulsating electro soundtrack (later released on vinyl).

Only 2 seasons of 20 Minute Workout were produced- all 65 episodes were filmed at Magder Studios in Scarborough – however the series ran daily in syndication for years and developed a questionable cult following based mostly around “Aerobics Queen of the 80s,” Bess Motta, who led the workout in its first season and also co-starred as Linda Hamilton’s unlucky flat mate in the original Terminator (1984). While the show did wonders to raise the profile of regular aerobic activity, it was the mildly sleazy style in which the show was filmed and marketed that brought it so much infamy (one of the many unfounded rumours that plagued the show in the early days was that it’s camera crew shot pornographic films in between aerobic sets, although with promos like the one below it’s not hard to see why so many people were hoodwinked).

Although nothing matched the gargantuan popularity of 20 Minute Workout, there were many pretenders – The Fitness People, Fitness Break, Fit for Life and Toronto Today’s daily installment of Flexercize with the breathless Vyvyan Campbell.

One of the more bizarre workout series was CHCH 11’s Good Morning Workout which featured the host Pamela Callyer working out with her dog.

While the majority of shows were aimed squarely at young women, there were also fitness programs created at TVOntario aimed at both a much younger, and much older audience.

Around the same time, Participaction and the Province of Ontario were buying a lot of airtime to promote fitness and getting into shape with public service announcements like this:

It’s mildly amusing to look back on what worked but mostly didn’t in that decade as the initial rat race to monetize fitness kicked off and made so many people rich, especially 20 Minute Workout. It was the cash cow that built the house of Nelvana (although they would much rather acknowledge their vintage kid shows like Inspector Gadget and The Care Bears), and most likely gently ushered a generation of young boys into adulthood, but like so many other legendary Canadian TV series the legacy is mostly forgotten and unavailable, with only a handful of fuzzy bootleg DVDs and torrents floating around the darker corners of the internet. While the aerobic content is out-dated, those old episodes are a great time capsule of the fitness mad decade that was the 1980s.

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  1. I remember this show as a kid. Rather weird to read about it today. Back when I was 6, I had no idea what in the world it was lol!

  2. I was in my 20’s during the 80’s and 30 in ‘89 so all men know that if you’re in your 20’s, let’s just say you have endless energy for pounding out aerobics while watching those extremely hot and sexy women on the 20 minute workout. Endless. Pounding out aerobics. Hey, I was just minding my own business watching tv and all of a sudden a show comes on with insanely gorgeous sexy women wearing pantyhose and leotards. They owned me.

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