The Powerful Women Behind CTV’s THE SOCIAL

CTV's THE SOCIAL
CTV's THE SOCIAL

You invite your closest girlfriends over for some coffee and great living room chit-chat. Throw in gorgeous lighting, fabulous clothes, and an audience to keep you on your toes as you discuss everything from religion and politics to fashion and cinema. Now envision that your invitees are five of Canada’s most beautiful, outspoken, and busy women you know. Welcome to CTV’s The Social, the #1 Canadian Daytime Talk Show. Each week, millions of viewers tune in to see Melissa Grelo, Marci Ien, Cynthia Loyst, Lainey Lui, and correspondent Jessica Allen lead fun, spirited discussions on topics that not only impact them, but everyone who is watching. Celebrities from Ryan Reynolds to Ice Cube have appeared as guests on the popular show, weighing in on the subject(s) du jour. Fans are encouraged to join the conversation on social media while watching these brilliant women voice their opinions and share their experiences. The women of The Social have been setting trends and changing the nature of discourse since the show premiered in 2013. As the Canadian Screen Award nominee for Best Talk Series enters its seventh season, its hosts hope to prove that you can look different, be different, have different beliefs and opinions, debate, and still love and respect each other.

Melissa Grelo
Melissa Grelo

Melissa Grelo’s world changed drastically when she became a mother five years ago and her sassy ‘mama bear’ persona is just one reason she has thrived as ‘the moderator’ of The Social.

Grelo found television later in life. She was teaching middle school when she left to get a Master’s degree in education. She somehow found her way into a broadcast journalism program at Seneca College instead and “never looked back.” A fortuitous internship led to an on-air job offer, just two days after she started. “It’s actually not a dissimilar skill set to teaching,” Grelo smiles, “You have to know your stuff, be well-read. You have to captivate an audience, be engaging, all of those things.” Grelo’s audience has widened to include many more than the twelve and thirteen-year-olds in her classroom. “Try being fun for them!” she laughs, “I guess I’ve always been performing in some way.”

Canadians fell in love with the vibrant TV personality when she co-hosted Toronto’s most-watched morning news program, CP24 Breakfast. She became the go-to for giving viewers front-row access to events like the Olympics®, The Oscars®, and the ever-popular Toronto Santa Claus Parade. Grelo has also been a correspondent for TSN, and offering insight for the Queen’s Plate horse race. Her love of animals is one reason she still dedicates time to organizations like the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) and helps lead horseback riding demonstrations for the Community Association for Riding for the Disabled. Her horseback riding skills come from her father, Frank Grelo, who is a Riding Master known around the world.

Among her influencers, Grelo cites Michelle Obama for her grace and elegance, Hillary Clinton for her trailblazing in politics, and J Lo, who still “rocks at 50!” However, her biggest role model is her mother who was an immigrant from the Philippines and supported her family back home. Her mother married a man outside her culture, supported his entrepreneurial dream and raised a family – while working a full-time job and running their family farm for over 40 years. Grelo Farms is a 40-acre boarding, training and breeding facility located in Caledon, Ontario. The farm is home to 30 horses and the first Lusitano breeding facility in Canada. Lusitano is among the oldest of the pure breeds in existence today. But don’t ask Grelo about the key to finding ‘balance’ in her own life, she prefers the term ‘compartmentalize’ instead. She explains, “It’s just learning to juggle several things at once. When I surrendered to this idea, I decided that it was quality not quantity that guides me through my career and my life as a mother. When I’m with my daughter, I focus on her, her needs, having fun, creating memories, letting structure slide and being as present as possible.”

“It’s just learning to juggle several things at once. When I surrendered to this idea, I decided that it was quality not quantity that guides me through my career and my life as a mother.”

It’s a lesson Grelo learned the hard way, and she credits her The Social co-hosts with helping to teach it. The group made a pact years ago to always have each others’ backs, no matter what challenges life throws at them. Grelo’s biggest challenge came when her daughter was about two years old. She had helped launch CTV’s Your Morning, was co-hosting The Social, and finding her way as a mom. Trying to keep the same frenetic pace she maintained before having a child, Grelo suffered an extreme anxiety attack on a flight to Calgary. “I passed out. I thought it was low blood pressure,” she recalls, “There were two doctors on the flight. They said, ‘nope, your blood pressure is actually perfectly normal.’ I’m like, ‘check it again – I know myself.” Her colleagues fulfilled their promise and rallied to help her, going on to explain, “I had to believe them when they said ‘you can still do it all, but you can break it up a little bit.’ They really made me believe that the sky wasn’t going to fall if I stopped working.” Grelo has learned to manage her anxiety and hopes her story will inspire others. Never shying away from hard work, Grelo still wants to “have it all” but knows there are limits. In order to keep her anxiety in check and perform as a wife, mother, and entertainer, Grelo swears by getting at least seven hours of sleep every night, as well as hitting the gym to work off some of her “anxious energy.”

A few years ago, Grelo and her friend Shayna Haddon launched marQ, a gender-neutral line of childrens’ clothes – forget stereotypical pinks and blues, these pieces are designed to expand children’s clothing options with a range of stereotype-free designs. Grelo is also working on a ‘personal passion project’ she hopes to pitch to pitch one day, but right now, she is most excited about The Social’s seventh season. “I love my job. I think our influence is starting to change the perception of what women are like and what we like to talk and debate about. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that I feel like I’m making a difference in someone’s life every day on the show.”

Marci Ien
Marci Ien

Marci Ien at 50, is considered one of Canada’s media elite, with a career that spans three decades. For thirteen years, Ien spent her mornings as news anchor and co-host of CTV’s popular morning broadcast, Canada AM. She has traveled as far as Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone for work, but relishes time spent at home, where she can school her kids in the art of Patti LaBelle and Luther Vandross, even though they’re currently obsessed with singer and rapper, Lizzo. “I’m old school,” she jokes. Five years ago, her alma mater, Ryerson University’s Radio and Television Arts (RTA) School of Media, co-named an award after her. The Marci Ien and Dwight Drummond Award celebrates students from marginalized communities who show potential in one of RTA’s programs. Although Ien has received many accolades over the years, this one is special, since you’d be hard pressed to find someone who gives more time to charities and mentoring at-risk youth.

“Lately, it’s all about legacy. Having a great television career is amazing, but I can’t leave my kids that. Maybe it’s a reputation, being a hard worker. But as far as something tangible? It’s about business and growing projects and legacy pieces.”

The daughter of West Indian immigrants, Ien grew up in Scarborough, where her father was a school principal and her mother, an accountant. Ien’s first TV job was actually behind the camera, writing news at Channel 11 in Hamilton. Since the station was a unionized shop, when layoffs happened, Ien was often the first to go. “I got laid off a lot,” she smiles. During one of her ‘downtimes’, her father encouraged her to try teacher’s college, something less ‘risky.’ She apprehensively went along with his idea and enrolled in the Teacher Apprentice Program at the University of Toronto. “I knew my heart wasn’t in it,” she says. About a year into the program, the news director at Ien’s old station called and offered her a political reporter job. She accepted the position and has never looked back.

Ien loves the fact that she gets to show viewers another side of herself on The Social. “People say, ‘we woke up to you for years! We thought we knew you, but we’re just getting to know you now!’” The newest member, joining the round table in 2017, of the popular daytime team, Ien admits she was the outsider coming in. Despite this she says, “I have never been in a situation where I have felt this loved and respected – by all of these women. And it’s not just the women and people you see. It’s behind the scenes – producers, editors, the floor manager, the talent coordinator. I was welcomed with open arms. They’re my best friends.”

Now a proud mother of two, Ien makes sure to check with her family before she gets personal on national television. When her daughter Blaize, now 15, was struggling in middle school, Ien asked if it was okay to share her story. “She felt alone. She would say: ‘I don’t look like anybody else, my hair’s different, my body’s different.’ She was going home by herself at lunch.” When addressing the topic of loneliness on the show, Ien asked her daughter if she could talk about her adolescent isolation. Blaize was more than happy to have her mother speak about it on national TV because she knew it would help others. “I was so proud of her because the hardest thing to do is to share hurt,” says Ien, “But that is something we do on our show, between Mel and Cyn and Lainey and Jess. Yes we laugh, but there are some painful things too. I think that’s what makes us real and that’s the best and brightest thing about our show.”

Ien recognizes that she has become a role model for women, especially minority women, and talks openly about being a black female in Canada. “Navigating this professional media landscape for the past twenty-five years. It’s a unique perspective because there aren’t a lot of us,” she says. Ien’s openness about racial issues has generated some criticism from viewers, but she also gets a lot of support. “It’s not even about the ‘thank you’s’ as much as it is about telling my truth, talking about who I am and what I stand for, and being able to illuminate that with a very big microphone that I think is making a difference.”

Having just celebrated a milestone birthday, Ien gets reflective. “Lately, it’s all about legacy. Having a great television career is amazing, but I can’t leave my kids that. Maybe it’s a reputation, being a hard worker. But as far as something tangible? It’s about business and growing projects and legacy pieces.” Ien hopes one of those ‘pieces’ involves producing, preferably documentaries. She has spent a lot of time in La Loche, Saskatchewan over the last three years. After the 2016 shootings, “that community was devastated. They’re like family now. I would love to tell that story.” She’d also like to learn more about her own. “I’ve got these Chinese roots, which I know is crazy, but that’s where my last name comes from. I’ve always wanted to go and explore my heritage.” Viewers often ask Ien if she’d ever run for political office. She’s flattered, but says the only ‘running’ she’d consider would be as an ambassador, advocating for children, women, and those who are vulnerable. Ien’s other project is a shoe company she owns with her friend of 20 years, Diane Lee Clemons. Ien Lee is Canada’s first female black-owned footwear line. After all, Ien’s going to need a great pair of 4-inch ‘Sahara heels’ or ‘Dash hi-top’ booties (named after her son) for all the trailblazing she has left to do.

Jess Allen
Jess Allen

Jess Allen laughs when she recalls her first stint covering the Toronto International Film Festival. Maclean’s Magazine’s editor-in-chief thought it would be fun to throw his gregarious assistant editor and writer, known for her wit and Bridget Jones-like ability to create fun in any situation, on the TIFF red carpet. The executive producers of The Social took notice and soon hired her to be a digital correspondent. “I think they thought, ‘this could be an interesting person to have on board,” she says. Allen has become such a fixture, she frequently guest hosts and has been dubbed “the unofficial scene stealer” of the popular daytime talk show. She admits the transition from print to television was daunting, but acknowledges, “it’s not every day someone says, ‘hey do you want to be on a TV show from the ground floor up? I was very happy with MacLean’s.”

Allen’s fearlessness is one reason she admires artists who take similar leaps of faith. “I’m inspired by people who got busy working on stuff they wanted to create and put it out there,” she says. She cites Broad City alums Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as influences. She’s also inspired by actress and Killing Eve creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “I’m sure they all had fear. But they plowed through it and made stuff they liked anyway.”

“I’m inspired by people who got busy working on stuff they wanted to create and put it out there…”

Born and raised in St. Thomas, Ontario, Allen studied art history at the University of Toronto, where she also earned herself a Master’s degree in the subject. A year in Florence, Italy followed. Back at home, Allen spent ten years working at an Italian restaurant, later writing about food and other passions during her years at Maclean’s. She even recruited her long-time partner Simon for a side venture into the world of blogging. Her “Foodie and the Beast” series is a hit. “You have to admit, it’s a pretty good title” she says proudly. And while Allen admits she’s not really a ‘foodie’, she jokes that Simon’s hearty appetite and infrequent showers make him the perfect ‘Beast’ – and readers can’t get enough.

When it was time to appear on The Social, Allen was stunned she was encouraged to just be herself. “I remember at a very early rehearsal of the show, I had to read from a teleprompter. That sounds super easy. I couldn’t do it. I messed up several times and I remember asking the producers, ‘do you guys want me to have some practice here?’” They didn’t. The producers said, “We don’t want you polished. Just do what you do,” she remembers. Allen says she never wore a lot of makeup, but once she became a regular at the TV table, she let the show’s makeup artists have carte blanche with her face. About a year ago, she felt confident enough to simply ask for some powder and blush as this was more “her.” Allen credits the other show hosts with helping her discover a new-found confidence. “The hosts? They’re okay,” she laughs, “Fine, they’re extraordinary!” She’s learned that “good television results from being more conversational with my friends on the show, less planned. That’s been a real boon, having the confidence to know we’re just up there having a conversation like we do outside the show, because we do spend a lot of time together. Those are the most robust conversations.”

Allen’s ability to laugh at the absurdity of all things that is life is one reason viewers find her so relatable. She hopes her stories, sometimes very embarrassing and personal ones, remind other women that, “at the end of the day, it’s going to be okay. The world is not going to come crashing down on you.” Once the work day ends, she checks her email and social media one last time and then sets the phone aside. She tries to find time to work on her personal essays and hosts events whenever she can. “Whether it’s an in depth conversation with an author, or hosting an architectural and design show. I find it really challenging, but also very satisfying.” Allen dreams of dabbling in scripted television, exclaims proudly that she’d love to share The Social couch with Keanu Reeves, and longs to pack a suitcase and travel more. But she’s not in any hurry. “Being a woman of a certain age in this industry, there is still this idea that you strike while the iron is hot,” she shares. “Sometimes I feel like there is this lingering, ‘what are you doing? Get your act together! But I’m also just enjoying life right now. It’s a busy life, but it’s a beautiful life.”

Lainey Lui
Lainey Lui

Elaine “Lainey” Lui has become Canada’s go-to ‘storyteller’ for all things celebrity and she’s unapologetic in her love of sharing what she’s heard through the grapevine. “It’s a form of communication. In the past, we gossiped about politicians. Now, we gossip about celebrities.” She’s convinced her mother made the introduction. ”She played mah-jong throughout her pregnancy and her life”, Lui says. “Around a mah-jong table, that’s what women do. They gossip. Men? They gossip. They talk about people, but what they are doing is talking about issues.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Lui’s dream of educating others in the art of gossip and gab began with two girlfriends. She started sending them regular updates on the comings and goings of pop stars and they would forward her emails to others. Next thing she knew, thousands started relying on her for their celeb news, hanging on every irreverent word. She turned her celebrity musings into a blog, Laineygossip.com, before blogs were even ‘a thing’, and it took off now with over 1.5 million readers checking it out monthly.

After graduating with a degree in French and History from the University of Western Ontario, Lui had been working at UBC as a fund-development officer, raising money for scholarships and academic programs from outside investors. She left to take care of her mother, who had a kidney transplant, and went on to work for Covenant House, fundraising for the homeless and at-risk youth served by the organization. She started blogging full-time and left Covenant House when ETALK offered her a regular position. “I was totally nervous,” Lui admits. “A lot of people start in their early 20’s. I was 32 when I started. I didn’t grow up in the business. I was completely green.” Initially, Lui’s entertainment segments for CTV were based out of Vancouver, where she lived. “My hits were at 10:00. I’d arrive at 9:40 and I’d throw up in the bathroom and then go and do the show,” she freely admits. Over the years, Lui has become more confident and comfortable with her on-air skills and her jittery, pre-show bathroom visits are a thing of the past. But the gossip maven says she still thrives on energy and chaos. “If you’re not nervous, it’s like you don’t care anymore,” she smiles. “I’m always nervous before the Oscars. I’m always nervous before we have a big show on The Social.” Nerve-calming tricks like meditation and yoga are not in Lui’s playbook. “I just kind of roll with it. I’m not one of those people who needs to ZEN out,” she laughs.

“They’ve taught me what it means to be a loyal friend. We are five different people and we don’t always agree. But we also know that we have each other.”

Inspired by her immigrant parents, Lui’s work ethic is unparalleled. She is particularly influenced by her mom, who still drops off homemade Chinese soup weekly. Not only does she co-host The Social and report for Etalk Lui is the source for gossip updates on other CTV shows, and is called upon regularly as a celebrity expert by outlets across the world, including USA Today, the LA Times, ITV, and CNN. Her first book, Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter to Do? debuted at #1 on the Globe & Mail bestseller list. The title? An homage to her mother. Lui says the key to balancing it all is time management. She sets alarm clocks to remind herself of daily deadlines and appointments, whether it’s a radio guest spot or a freelance writing gig. Some may argue she makes the most efficient multitasker seem like they’re slacking off. It also helps that her husband, Jacek, manages the business side of her website.

Lui may be the one keeping her co-hosts on The Social up to speed on celebrity culture, but they’ve taught her something as well. “They’ve taught me what it means to be a loyal friend. We are five different people and we don’t always agree. But we also know that we have each other.”

As The Social enters its seventh season, Lui is filled with gratitude. “It’s hard making Canadian television. Not a lot of Canadian shows get to a seventh season. Maybe I’m stepping out of line, but I’m really proud to be part of an ‘institution’. Can I say that? I feel like we are kind of a broadcast institution in Canada and it is a privilege to be a part of that.” The entertainment journalist is also getting her own Crave show that she says is “so my brand. It’s going to allow me to be geeky about entertainment and pop culture. I like to deep dive and get really scholarly and almost intellectualize pop culture.”

Cynthia Loyst
Cynthia Loyst

Raised in the Catholic education system, Cynthia Loyst started to recognize her purpose in high school when her older teenaged sister became unexpectedly pregnant. “I realized, this is the kind of thing that happens when you don’t talk to young people about sex,” As she watched her sister’s life change overnight, she decided, “that I wanted to help empower not only myself but also the women in my life – and since knowledge is power, I started there”. When the Barrie, Ontario native left her home at eighteen, she initially enrolled in the Film & Video department at York University. But the classes she took in Women’s and Gender studies are what left an indelible mark. That’s when Loyst began using her research to write a sex and relationship column and sharing advice with friends. They listened.

In 1999, she stumbled across a late night documentary series called SexTV. “It was a smart show that examined sexuality around the world in a respectful way – and I thought, I HAVE to work on this!” It didn’t take long for Loyst to work her way on to the production as an intern and then a full time employee. For years, she was content to work behind the scenes until the production she was working on was facing cancellation. An executive suggested she try her hand at hosting so, despite her initial reservations, she pitched a series about sexuality that she could both host and produce. “When the show was given the green light, then I faced the terrifying realization that I was going to have to be on-camera – which was absolutely terrifying for me.” But Loyst was determined. “I felt like for a long time, I was sitting on the sidelines in certain areas of my life. The process of learning to be comfortable in front of the camera was a reminder for me that sometimes you have to go through a certain amount of pain, in order to get to the pleasure.” Since then, she has had lots of pleasurable experiences, from receiving awards from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and Planned Parenthood – she also continues to take sex education courses.

Loyst was eight months pregnant when she auditioned for The Social. She was convinced that her future ‘bundle of joy’ would keep her from landing the hosting gig, simply through poor timing. She was wrong. Only 12 weeks after giving birth, she was backstage, part of a team birthing a brand new show, with breast pump in hand.

Today, she feels honoured to work alongside powerful women (both her co-hosts and her production team) who she admits inspire her every day “I have never worked with so many women – I had no idea how much pleasure it would bring me”.

Over the years, Loyst has carved out a niche revolving around women and pleasure – from sharing her empowered opinions as a relationship expert to creating a popular online destination called, FindYourPleasure.com which is dedicated to helping women to practicing the art of uncovering joy in all aspects of life. “I’m starting a pleasure revolution – I believe women need to start putting their own needs first, both in the boardroom and the bedroom.”

“To me, it’s not really about balance. It’s about riding the different waves and trusting that we need all of these different things in our lives to keep us afloat.”

Loyst is still amazed when her words have an impact on people who follow her, “The best feeling is when someone you wouldn’t expect reaches out to say my words connected with them. Recently it was a 75 year old woman who loved a discussion I did about how to talk to your kids about pornography!” Loyst credits her mother with being her first true mentor and role model, “She was a great example for me of how you can be a devoted working parent and partner and still make room for the many other things that fill you up.”

Balancing her roles as a mother and media influencer isn’t always easy and Loyst admits she has to resist the urge to feel guilty when her attention shifts to more than one thing at a time. “To me, it’s not really about balance. It’s about riding different waves and trusting that we need all these different things in our lives to keep us afloat.”

Her partner Jason provides a huge amount of support. “He works in this business so we speak the same language – I really value his opinion, he just wants to make sure I don’t get sucked into a vortex that isn’t me. I’m really a hippy at heart – it’s not that I don’t love beauty products and fashion – but in my heart I know that the things that truly give my life meaning aren’t things you can see in the mirror”. While viewers may occasionally disagree with her ideas, Loyst admits the hardest thing about this career is social media. “It’s this constant struggle between wanting to show lovely photos, but also being really authentic.” She realizes that other women and girls face the same struggles. Her advice to them is simple. “Find your niche and be great at it. Find a thing that you love to do first and then go and capture it. Remember that your mistakes and struggles can be your strengths.” She compares her own journey to a garden “Life is a process of planting seeds and seeing which ones grow.” She mentions ideas of a possible podcast and a book, “The seeds are slowly being planted. You’ll have to stay tuned to see what comes next!”