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Marilyn Denis on shifting focus

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Marilyn Denis brings out the best in her guests, her staff and her audience.

It’s another high-energy day on CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show Canada’s most-watched daytime lifestyle series. Denis is interviewing her first guest, actor Milo Ventimiglia of CTV’s highly rated drama This is Us. The program is also covering health and fitness that day, as Denis interviews an expert promoting health in the workplace: Ergonomic chairs, exercises, healthy lunches. Next, a fitness trainer demonstrates bodyweight exercises you can do at your desk. Denis gives it a try and keeps up. She is fit. Then back to another celebrity interview. English actress Natascha McElhone is in-studio talking about CTV’s critically acclaimed, political conspiracy thriller Designated Survivor, which is filmed in Toronto and stars Kiefer Sutherland.

Through it all, Denis shifts her focus from guest to studio audience to camera. She is quick, interested, funny. She has been up since 3:30 a.m., preparing for her early morning radio show as co-host of Roger & Marilyn  on Toronto’s no. 1 ranked radio station 104.5 CHUM FM.  

Denis is one of Canada’s most engaging media personalities. She regularly interviews A-list celebrities from the latest hit movies, music and TV shows, as well as renowned lifestyle experts in health and fitness, fashion, food, décorand life in general.

A couple of hours after The Marilyn Denis Show , we are talking on the phone. She puts me at ease—one of Marilyn’s gifts. She lives a healthy life, but it is an acquired taste. “I had a protein shake for lunch, but I wanted a burger,” she says.

On both her radio and television shows she manages to entertain listeners and viewers. “I love to have fun—that’s probably why I’m not in the news business,” she says. Indeed, she loves to play games on her show, quizzing guests and audience members, always keeping a light touch.

Her professional life revolves around the people on her shows: the guests in front of the camera, the audience in the studio and at home, and finally the staff behind the scenes.

“I want people to be who they are,” Denis says. “It is not a power thingjust a job that I do. I learn from the audience every day. When guests come on my show they can be nervousincluding the famous ones.” The goal of her entire team is to make guests feel at home as soon as they walk in. “When the interview is over, you feel like you had a good ride and it went fast. It is our job to make you feel comfortableto get the best out of our guests. It’s the same with the audience in the studio and viewers at home.”


Marilyn’s love for broadcasting goes way back. When she went to bed at night she would put the transistor radio underneath her pillow to listen to radio stations from far away. Born in Edmonton, she grew up in Pittsburgh where her father worked as a chemical engineer and continued his educational trajectory. She always liked to perform, in the school play or entertaining her parents and sisters.

Dinner time at the Denis family table was a scene. Marilyn’s father, surrounded by his wife and four daughters, would try to hold court and navigate throughout all of the estrogen thrown in his direction. My poor father!” says Denis. “He was straight and analytic, while my mother was very funny.”  It was noisy and hard to get a word in edgewise, so sometimes Marilyn (the third child out of four) had her own conversations amid the hubbub. “Often I would just make conversation in my head. I learned to do my thing and I was ok if they weren’t paying attention to me. I feel it made me a better listener and taught me when and how to jump in, which plays a big role in what I do today.”


Denis has been into fitness for a while. She knew her body was changing after she had a child, Adam, who is now 28 and a successful broadcaster in his own right. “I realized I needed energy to keep doing the things I do and I wanted to be around for my kiddo,” she says. “I knew I had to tone up, sleep better and most importantly feel better.”

She tried aerobics and step classes, but didn’t like either. Then she hired a personal trainer. She now works out three or four times a week, which includes Pilates. “Working with a trainer helps keep me in check. I feel like I am better one on one to ensure I am doing the correct exercises to get the best resultsplus I have to be accountable to somebody,” she says. Denis upped her game recently, committing to a higher level of fitness and meal plan, which helps keeps her weight in check.

What about those early mornings, I ask? “Anyone who does shiftwork has to get up at a certain time,” says Denis. “It’s like being a soldier. Everything is very time-sensitive, or there’s no show.”

Getting a good night’s sleep is high priority. Accompanied by a glass of warm lemon water, she is usually in bed early for her early morning wakeup call.


Her fast-paced job is perfect for someone as compulsively curious as Denis. From Diane Keaton to Dr. Oz and Jamie Oliver, she interviews a parade of celebrities and lifestyle experts, including the star power of the big and small screens.

She learns something from all of her guests. Sometimes she gets to know people well, especially repeat guests. “One thing I’ve learned is no life is perfect,” she says. “People think that others have everything going for them, but that’s not true. They’re just living their life.”

She is aware we can get in the trap of thinking everyone else seems to be doing well. “Again, not true. I’ve learned that if you’re living your best life, you’re doing OK,” she says.

As per frequent guest Dr. Oz, Denis has learned about fads he has debunked with help from his staff, who keep up on the latest health trends. From food to fitness and fashion, she has also learned from experts on her own program including trainers who revealed she’d been doing sit-ups the wrong way and shared tips such as every workout should include 30 minutes of high, power exercise. She also learned it’s okay to have a fourth meal every day and that navy is the new black.


“I love the creative process behind parentingnurturing and encouraging creativity in kids is so important,” she says. “When Adam was little he had lots of Lego and toy bricks. His ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ went from the bookcase to the sofa. I left that up for months. And what he called ‘the Coliseum’how could I take that down?”

She thought it was important for him to learn to ski. “I wanted him to be able to go skiing if the opportunity presented itself when he was older. I skied poorly, but it was important for him to learn.”

She feels it’s important that kids get outside and away from technology, although she understands it’s difficult with every new generation. “I feel kids need to be reminded to look up from their smartphones and computer screens, even in the car. To be able to look out the window and talk to your family—that’s how memories are made. I learned a lot while driving my son and his friends around when he was younger.”

She acknowledges the mixed benefits of technology. Through social media, she is linking up with friends from high school, some she hasn’t seen for decades. “It’s great! The problem is, if I use technology all the time, I become less vocally communicative,” she says. “You don’t want to lose the tonality that you can’t provide in a message like you can in a phone conversation. The downside of social media is negative, mean-spirited comments. I don’t mind criticism, as long as it is done in a healthy way.”


Denis is known for supporting a host of causes, especially medical ones. Her father died of colorectal cancer and her mother had complications from it. “My sister Miriam had breast cancer for seven years and died in her 30s,” she says. That is why Marilyn supports the Princess Margaret Hospitalone of the top cancer research centres in the world. “We need all kinds of cancer research. This is part of the legacy of my sister and my parents. We need better options for people. Sitting back and waiting won’t do anything to solve the problem.”


Denis goes on longer vacation in the summer when there is a stretch of time off. Otherwise, she takes what she calls “little escapes”smaller trips every now and then. Recent trips include a getaway in Vancouver, ziplining in Whistler, and taking a few days in Tofino to relax. She saw the mansions on Rhode Island and went to Italy to visit Debbie Travis at her retreat for women. She also travels to Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as Calgary a few times a year to visit her uncle.

Denis has a lot on the go. “It’s just the job that I do,” she says. “I like to be busy but dislike the concept of being busy as a badge of honour. I like to take the time to reflect. I try to do that every morning. Just putting 10 minutes aside in your day to help you navigate through any concernsit helps clear your mind and makes for a better day.”

She thinks the popular concept of work-life balance is overstated. “Things might be going okay at home or at work, but not necessarily both,” she says. “There’s no point in looking for balance. I just look for maintenance. Only I can maintain myself and stay healthy.”

She pauses. “A good day without drama is gold to me! An uninterrupted night’s sleep is even better, because you have the clarity to take on a new day.”

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More Inspiration: You might also enjoy this inspiring story of a young Canadian woman sports journalist!

Author: David Holt. David is the associate publisher for Optimyz Magazine and writes on creativity, self-development, strategy and society.


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