Cr6 (lost early internet show; 1997)
CR6 was the first ever Canadian show produced for the internet, made in 1997 by A.I. developer Chris McKinstry. Production started on late 1996, and the series was released in early 1997. By all accounts, production was a disaster, with Chris losing over $1 million, causing him to flee to Chile.
The show received moderate media coverage, even making it on CNN, with most news sources emphasizing the uniqueness of such a show on the Internet. Little is known about the plot, other than the fact that there were six characters, with one being an alcoholic former model named Anna Frobisher.
The show wasn't in full motion video, but rather a series of photographs (presumably with audio overdubs) and interactive objects that the viewer could click on to learn more about it. Chris McKinstry apparently sold the rights to the show back to the cast for one dollar after the .com website for CR6 failed to generate a profit.
Chris McKinstry was a brilliant but problematic early internet software developer who would often react explosively to those who criticized him.
For an internet user during the 1990s, his online footprint is surprisingly traceable. Almost everything about him that survives today come in the form of archived Google Group conversations ranging from the years of 1999 until 2006.
At the age of 17, he claimed that he was already rich thanks to inventing an anti-copy protection code that he apparently licensed out for use to multiple high-profile companies. Although these claims were disputed, Chris' website provides a news article from the April 9th, 1984 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press that seems to confirm he did at least develop and sell the program, though not his claims of making millions from it. 
Throughout the 1990s, he developed A.I. technology, and those who remember him now are mostly programmers who recall how important his work was. He was the head developer of Mindpixel, which to quote from Wikipedia "was a web-based collaborative artificial intelligence project which aimed to create a knowledgebase of millions of human validated true/false statements, or probabilistic propositions. It ran from 2000 to 2005." According to programmers in the field, this itself was a huge undertaking, and they credit Chris for being the pioneer for this kind of A.I. research.
In 1996, he created and produced the internet soap opera CR6, a venture which supposedly lost over $1 million and caused him to burn almost every bridge he had left in Canada and America. From all accounts, production was a disaster, with almost every single person who worked on the project alleging that they were never paid for their work. He eventually fled to Chile where he lived until his death.
Details are scarce on CR6 and are nearly impossible to come by online. For a while, it was unclear who was in the cast, the number of episodes, how far it got into production, or even the plot. A lot of the known information about the show comes from McKinstry himself, who would reveal details only to debunk what he saw as slanders to his name. McKinstry claimed that he was the only one who lost money, and when production was over and the website was a complete bust, he sold the rights to distribution and ownership of the show to the cast for one dollar.
The only plot outline online could be found in a front-page write-up on the show in the Winnipeg Free Press, which describes the show as taking place in "the fictional town of Mesmer's Cove where the six main characters meet at a funeral."
The show eventually slipped into complete obscurity, with no one referencing it online except for the cast and crew involved, most of them being anonymous.
In August 2021, Reddit user u/incorporatedprojects created a Reddit post on r/lostmedia detailing his rediscovery of the lost show and compiling all of the information known about it.
In the post, he said that he was watching an episode of Better Call Saul while browsing the Wikipedia page for season 3, episode 1: "Mabel." In it, an Air Force captain berates Jimmy McGill (Saul Goodman's real name) because he was tricked when Jimmy convinced him to film a commercial in front of a WWII-era plane.
This air force captain was played by Canadian television actor Brendan Fehr, and through clicking around on Wikipedia, decided to look at his filmography. He then noticed his page had this "weirdly worded" intro sentence: "His next film is the survival / adventure drama, Brotherhood (2019 film)." He thought that Brendan or his manager probably added that sentence just to bring awareness to his upcoming film and that it was probably added to the page around a couple of years back and no one thought to take it out yet. So, he went through the page's edit history, trying to find when it was added and by whom.
Eventually, incorporatedprojects got distracted and decided to go back to the page's earliest edit incarnation, which dated to September 17th, 2006. It contained the line "He was raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba where in 1997 he was cast in an early internet soap opera, CR6."
This is what caused incorporatedprojects to find out about CR6 and Chris McKinstry, as he could not find much about the show on a regular search engine such as Google, which compelled him to make the Reddit post in order to kickstart search efforts.
To quote the original post, "I think I've made quite a discovery because, if it's true that Brendan Fehr was in the show, then that means he probably still has a file containing, if not the whole show, at least some media associated with it (pictures, plot outlines, scripts, etc.)."
On August 19th, Reddit user u/Euphoric-Biscotti-69 commented underneath u/incorporatedprojects' first update post and shared that he had found the original website.
What remains of the website is barebones, with none of the links or images still existing, but the website is the closest thing to a primary source on CR6 since Chris McKinstry's original Google Groups posts.
The CR6.com website now redirects to a Chinese domain hosting site, indicating that the domain has since been bought.
A snapshot of the site dated April 12th, 1997 shows that while the show was a failure, they did have some substantial advertisement as it captures an advertisement for the 1997 Paramount film The Saint, showing that they did at least attract big names in the film industry and did not go fully unnoticed.
The website also featured some quotes about it from reputable news sources, showing that it did receive some decent media attention:
"Everyone looks great...quite watchable" - Uptown
"...while the technology side of this site rates high on the gee-whiz scale, the characters are what will keep you coming back for more every week." - Yahoo Canada
It also reveals that it was featured on CNN, an incident that is also corroborated by an actress on the show who claims to still have a VHS recording of the CNN segment.
According to the website snapshot, they had already released at least eight episodes, meaning that this show was definitely fully produced and aired.
Evidence and Leads
Other than Chris' own word of mouth, there are some other reputable sources for CR6's existence.
Chris McKinstry's Website
Chris McKinstry's personal website, which is still up surprisingly enough, has a lot of information about CR6. Underneath the "Press" section, he posted a lot of news articles and personal accounts from the show.
Although his claims may come off as boasting, his press coverage was quite extensive. Of course, he was covered as a high schooler with his anti-copy software, but even CR6 got some coverage. To quote McKinstry:
"Since 1984, I've done hundreds of interviews in Canada and around the world concerning my various computer projects and other computer or technology-related issues. I even made it to CNN on January 8th, 1997, with a 3-minute piece that ran all day that day on my now quite dead internet soap opera, CR6."
The first piece he showed off was a front cover story on CR6 in the Winnipeg Free Press. In an article from February 15th, 1997  titled "Net has to grow up, cybersoap creator says," Chris gave an interview with multiple ministers at the Manitoba Legislative Building concerning the state of the internet. He was quoted as saying "right now, all you hear about the internet is pornography... it is a child going through a phase where it is fascinated with feces and genitalia, but it will grow up."
On his website, Chris had this to say about that experience:
"In the end, it was a great experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything. After all, how often do you get to hold a press conference in a place like the Manitoba Legislative Building, with three Ministers, ALL the media in the city, AND be quoted saying "feces and genitalia" on the front page of the paper the next day?"
The article in the Winnipeg Free Press is also important for the search because it gives the only outline for a plot to be found so far. "[CR6] takes place in the fictional town of Mesmer's Cove where the six main characters meet at a funeral."
At the bottom of the page, Chris shares the only other photo known to exist from CR6. This time it was an ad for episode six, placed in the San Angelo Times. McKinstry mentioned one of the actors as former San Angelo football player Jeff Grays.
In 2013, actress Anita Dittmar posted to her WordPress Blog her recollection of being on CR6. She revealed that she was a lead on the show, that there were six main characters, and that she played an alcoholic former model named Anna Frobisher. She reminisced on Chris McKinstry, describing him as "a guy who you kind of had to meet to truly believe."
"I was totally type-cast as an alcoholic former-model and it didn’t last very long, but it was a cool way to spend a couple of months. It all happened before I had internet access or even an email address, so I really wish that I had archived some of the pictures! I DO have some VHS tapes from the media kit that shows a clip of us on CNN and footage of me coming out of a limo and signing autographs. See? I’m kind of a big deal."
According to her account, she wasn't able to archive the show due to her not having internet access, but she also reveals that it received moderate media coverage, making a nationwide appearance on CNN as mentioned in the 1997 snapshot of CR6.com.
Winnipeg Free Press Article by Peter Sherman
Also shared on Anita's blog was a newspaper clipping about the show that she kept over the years.
The article, from the January 31st, 1997 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, was written by Peter Sherman. Not only does it give the most detailed account on the show yet, it also depicts the only known on-set photograph from CR6.
It's revealed here that CR6 premiered on February 14th, 1997.
The article explains that the show was a series of photographs where audience interest would dictate which characters the show would focus on. The article quotes Chris:
"We can get instant feedback on what people want by monitoring the number of clicks a character is getting... We can bring up characters people are more interested in... If you miss the first few episodes, you can click back to the beginning, or if there is a murder weapon you can click on it to get more information."
This reveals that the show was going to have some level of interactivity, something that was only possible through the new internet medium.
Chris also revealed plans for the show to eventually incorporate full motion video, but considering the other accounts that the show failed disastrously, then it's safe to say that those plans did not go to fruition.
The article also reveals the names of three new people who worked on the show: Photographer Ian McCausland, actor Giuseppe De Natace, and creative director Brendon Sawatzky.
The 1997 Promotional Video
On August 22nd, u/Euphoric-boscotti-69 found a promotional video for CR6 on YouTube and shared it to the CR6 Search Party Discord server.
The video was uploaded on YouTube by user riviercityvidiocy on July 14th, 2011. At the time of its discovery, it had 250 views and only three comments. Titled "CR6 - Clickable Reality," the description reads: "promotional video for CR6. This 'Clickable Reality' ran for about six months in 1997."
This was made sometime in 1997, it was commissioned by Chris McKinstry himself and was produced by a company called Brown Commissions, which is now defunct. Every website and phone number that flashes on screen in the video no longer functions.
Through the video, the full cast is revealed, a lot of behind-the-scenes shots are shown, and it's all inter-spliced by an interview with Chris McKinstry. It's also the source for the official logo of the show, and additionally features multiple shots of the website while it was in action.
Chris also states that he believes there is a future with interactive T.V., that CR6 is darker than a normal soap opera, and that it's the first show on the internet that goes deep in content.
The show was led under the direction of Brendon Sawatzky. They apparently held a casting call and auditioned over 700 people for roles in the show, which lines up with an advertisement put on Clickable Systems, the production company's, website. According to all known evidence, this casting call took place on April 7th, 1997, but this puts the date of the alleged CNN segment's airing, April 8th, into questioning.
The Lost CNN Tape
According to her WordPress Blog, Anita Dittmar claims that she is still possessing (as of 2013) a VHS tape of CR6 being covered on CNN. Whether or not it would ever resurface is dependent on whether Anita or someone else with a recording would be willing to release it, and her account is corroborated by CR6's official website.
Chris McKinstry gave some details on the CNN broadcast: "I even made it to CNN on January 8th, 1997, with a 3-minute piece that ran all day that day on my now quite dead internet soap opera, CR6."
This revealed that the segment aired numerous times on January 8th, 1997. If this is true, then this could narrow down the search for ever recovering this segment.
Finding People From Production
The most accurate sources are most often the word of mouth from people who were involved. The same is true for CR6.
In doing research on the show, people from the CR6 Search Party discord server have made several attempts to reach out to people who were either involved with CR6, or knew Chris McKinstry personally.
Ian MacCausland is a professional, freelance photographer who worked as the head main photographer behind CR6.
The search party Discord found his Twitter account and got in contact with him. He said that he first met Chris McKinstry in high school when the CBC came to visit him about his programming software. He recalls a huge launch party at a bar with a limo driver that took them to and from, and also said that Chris was great at generating hype.
Then, without being asked, he posted the link to this Lost Media Wiki article on Facebook, where multiple people who worked on the show came out to share their experiences.
Toby McCrae replied:
"Chris conned me into being a co executive producer instead of taking a part as an actor. I worked with him at his house until it became frightening."
Chris McIvor saw the link and also saw the promotional video that Ian posted with it and said:
"Ohhh yeah… I edited that video."
In the end, Ian said that he does not believe he still has any photos from the show, however, he did strongly encourage the search team to try and get in touch with Brendon Sawatzky, the creative director behind the show.
There are at least six main characters on CR6, and all of the actors were revealed in the discovered promotional video.
|Carlee Michelle Benoit||Michelle Paddington||"Businesswoman and temptress extraordinaire. Always hatching a new scheme, she's not above stepping on some toes in her scramble to the top."|
|Anita Ackerman (born Dittmar)||Anna Frobisher||According to Dittmar, Frobisher was an alcoholic, former model. "A sophisticated woman who takes a backseat to no one."|
|Carlo Galante||Alberto Ashland||"Lover of women, style and mystery. So far, his smooth talking isn't going over well with the ladies."|
|Jeff Grays||Wayne Donaldson||To quote Chris, "One of the actors, Jeff Grays was a former professional football player from San Angelo, thus the coverage." A Texas West article features Jeff talking about the series production, and mentions his character, who is a lawyer. "Hasn't got much to hide -- just a big lug of a guy whose heart is as big as his muscles."|
|Karen Markham||Elisabeth Sands||"A devil-may-care, free-wheeling artist."|
|Robert Ryder||Victor Larson||"Is perhaps the strangest of all, a man with a shady past. He's also got a passion for mind games."|
Additionally, two other actors played minor roles on the show.
Brendan Fehr - The cast member who became the most notable. The only source for his involvement are edit revisions on his Wikipedia page.
Giuseppe De Natace - can be seen leaning over Anita Dittmar in the newspaper photo she shared.
Concerning crew members, there are also very few that are known.
Chris McKinstry - Producer
Ian McCausland - Photographer
Brendon Sawatzky - Creative Director
J.H. Moncrieff - Head Writer
(Additionally, Moncrieff says that she was the head of a four-person writing team and served as a spokesperson for the show)
Stanley Tony Mak - Operator
Toby McRae - Administration & Communication
According to reviews at the time, the show was incredibly innovative for its experiments in audience interactivity. It was also applauded for its in-depth characters, despite the gimmicky technological nature.
Uptown noted that "everyone looks great...quite watchable." While Yahoo Canada went into some detail: "...while the technology side of this site rates high on the gee-whiz scale, the characters are what will keep you coming back for more every week." Both of these reviews were featured on the CR6.com website.
The Winnipeg Free Press article spent more time focusing on the uniqueness of the show on the new internet format but stopped short of a full-on review.
People were less forgiving after the show's failure though, perhaps due to it being forgotten by everyone except those who were hypercritical against Chris McKinstry. In the Google Group archives, they were keen to remind Chris of the massive failure that was CR6, how it lost over $1 million dollars, and how it didn't make quite the wave that Chris hoped it would.
The show was a massive million-dollar failure within several months. Chris McKinstry claimed adamantly that he was the only one who lost money on the project, and that when all was said and done, he sold the rights of the show back to the cast for one dollar. Chris himself was sheepishly critical of the show as well. On his own website, he called it a "quite dead show," and he also gave some insight into how the whole production became undone.
"The whole thing came apart the way many music groups do; in-fighting. It finally got so bad that I withdrew from the project, selling the rights to all the intellectual property to the cast (They did NONE of the fighting)."
This seems to confirm a lot of the suspicions around the financial misdeeds with the show's production. It was alleged that McKinstry never paid the photographers for their work, never paid the limo drivers he ordered, and would inflate the hits for the CR6 website to defraud journalists and investors. Although it's important to remember, McKinstry responded to these allegations by claiming that he was the only one to ever lose money on the project.
As far as evidence is concerned, it seems like the actors were all compensated, as evident by Chris' fondness towards them in the above quote, "they did NONE of the fighting." Anita Dittmar herself also had a shared fondness for him: "I reconnected with Chris a couple of times after I moved to Toronto, but lost touch for several reasons." Whatever those reasons were, it seems to be between him and her.
The failure was not good for McKinstry's already flailing mental health. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder sometime in the early 1990s, and on top of his previous criminal record and standoff with the police, he decided to live the rest of his life in between both Antofagasta and Santiago, Chile.
In 2000, McKinstry joined the Mindpixel project, where he studied alongside another A.I. developer, Push Singh, to create an artificial intelligence resembling the human brain. It was an early step in neural-network technology, and according to Wired Magazine, was "one baby-step to the ultimate geek dream: uploading oneself into a machine," or uploading the human conscience to a computer.
Chris McKinstry's Death
He lived his final years in financial ruin, self-exiled in Chile, keeping a low profile. His bipolar disorder got ahead of him, evident in his online interactions with people as he would lash out at people who didn't really know how to deal with him. The tone of a lot of people talking to him back then showed they thought he was narcissistic, crazy, angry, and generally unpleasant. There were some people who recognized his genius and his innovations in the development of artificial intelligence, but they were few and far between and were often mocked as well by the online internet hoard. His life seemed to follow the classic troubled artist tropes; driven mad, obsessed with his work, and not appreciated during his time.
In 2006, his discussions online were getting more desperate with him referencing ending his own life more frequently, something that many people did not take seriously. They thought he was making pleas for attention and subsequently mocked him, constantly questioning his past and his former legal and financial troubles. On January 20th, 2006, he posted that he was going to end his own life, that he already overdosed on prescriptions and was currently waiting out his life in an internet cafe. Predictably, the other users could only make fun of him, saying that he was lying to get attention. When he went silent for a while, people started to worry, attempting to contact the Chilean embassy realizing that he probably was not kidding, until he returned a couple of hours later saying that his overdose attempt did not work, just for people to go back to mocking him.
Later, his final message, ridden with typos, would be sent:
"I overdosed in 1997 and spent weeks in intensive care on vitimim K because by blood woud not clot and I did sever liver damage, whichis why I do not drink now, if you must know. I am feeling really impared. And yes, time will tell what happens to me. I really have to get out of here. I cannot type. and want to vomit. Time to go hide."
The next day, he was found dead in his Chilean apartment with a bag over his head. He committed suicide, a plastic bag committed to a gas pipe, with some blood found beside his chair. The online record and discussion about him quickly died down, with his name drifting more and more into obscurity.
In the present day, he is sometimes recalled by programmers, but it seems that the further his death moves away, the more he fades away from the memory of the internet. Anita Dittmar had some kind words:
"I was cast in a crazy internet soap opera called CR6 by Chris McKinstry, a guy who you kind of had to meet to truly believe... I reconnected with Chris a couple of times after I moved to Toronto, but lost touch for several reasons. Hearing of his death hit me a lot harder than I ever thought it would."
A friend of his, Bob Mottram, wrote an obituary in his honor:
I was very saddened indeed to learn of the death of Chris McKinstry. A particularly tragic and seemingly pointless way to go for an otherwise intelligent man.
On August 24th, 2021, Lost Media Mike from the YouTube channel "All Things Lost" sent a mail, showing his interest on the case and the possibility of making a video on it:
"...This is really interesting! I might have to make a deepdive video on this. Thank you for bringing it to my attention..."
Next day (August 25th), YouTuber Blameitonjorge joined the Discord Search Party, also showing his interest:
"Hello, I’m catching myself up to speed with this mystery. Might make for an interesting topic."
On September 9th, 2021, the Mexican YouTuber Cáleon made the first video ever on the case; a 12 minutes 25 seconds long video titled "La triste historia de CR6 | El primer show de Internet que esta perdido" (translated to English: "The sad history of CR6 | The first Internet show that's currently lost").
On September 13th, 2021, YouTuber Blameitonjorge released a 51-minute video on the subject titled "The CR6 Rabbit Hole: A Lost 90's Internet Show". However, a considerable amount of the video is focused more on the Chris McKinstry "Dead or Alive?" conspiracy and whether or not he faked his death, citing posts allegedly made under his name written months after his death. This conspiracy has been rejected (which means the users prefer that it's not mentioned) by the search team on Discord.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Google Groups, Chris McKinstrym the show's creator. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Blog by Anita D., one of the show's cast members. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ Chris' account on becoming a millionaire. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ Archive of April 9th, 1984 edition of Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 23 Aug '21
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Chris McKinstry's personal website. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Wired article about Chris from 2000. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 u/incorporatedprojects Reddit post. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ Brendan Fehr's Wiki's first edit revision. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ Euphoric-Biscotti-69's original Reddit comment. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 10.2 CR6.com original website, via the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ Archive of February 15th, 1997 edition of Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 23 Aug '21
- ↑ Archive of January 31st, 1997 edition of Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 23 Aug '21
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 Newspaper Clipping shared by Anita D.. Retrieved 16 Aug '21
- ↑ Archived Ian MacCausland tweet on CR6. Retrieved 12 Sep '21
- ↑ Texas West article, with Jeff Grays talking about production. Retrieved on 10 Sep '21
- ↑ The allegations laid out against Chris' producing skills. Retrieved 21 Aug '21
- ↑ Archive of Insanity" snapshot from August 19th, 2002. Retrieved 23 Aug '21
- ↑ Chris McKinstry's online suicide. Retrieved 20 Aug '21
- ↑ Chris McKinstry's obituary by Bob Mottram. Retrieved 21 Aug '21
- ↑ Screenshot of Lost Media Mike's mail. Retrieved 24 Aug '21