TV, eh? | What's up in Canadian television
TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

Damon Vignale’s The Murders brings Jessica Lucas back to Canadian TV

Damon Vignale has been a writer and producer on some of the most ambitious and exciting television series on Canadian television. Blackstone, 19-2, Motive, Ghost Wars and The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco … he’s worked on all of them.

Now Vignale is back with a television project all his own: The Murders. Set in Vancouver, the eight-part thrill ride—bowing Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv—stars Jessica Lucas as Kate Jameson, a rookie homicide detective whose mistake on Day 1 leads to tragedy. Aside from alienating herself from at least one co-worker, Kate and her partner, Det. Mike Huntley (Lochlan Munro), are chasing a killer who uses music in a deadly way. Along for the ride are Dylan Bruce as Detective Nolan Wells, Terry Chen as Staff Sergeant Bill Chen and Luvia Petersen as Detective Meg Harris.

We spoke to Damon Vignale about The Murders‘ origin story and where it goes from Week 1.

I love the fact that The Murders doesn’t shy away from showing the Vancouver skyline. I love the storytelling. 
Damon Vignale: Thank you. Yeah, it’s very exciting to be shooting a crime drama in Vancouver. I was always a big fan of Da Vinci’s Inquest. Motive was definitely a show that has been a highlight of my career and it’s shot in Vancouver. So when I was developing a crime drama and Muse came on board, them being a Montreal company, I thought, ‘OK, I guess we’re going to be shooting on the east coast,’ and they essentially asked, ‘Well, where do you want to shoot it?’ Of course that was a no-brainer. I just said in Vancouver and they really supported that. My original pilot was always based in Vancouver, it was just great that an eastern production company wanted to kind of stick with the original vision, so that’s great.

Take me back to the beginning. The Murders is based on an idea by you. Is this been something that you’ve been thinking about for a while? Tell me the origin story.
DV: Often when you’re going out for writing gigs, most producers don’t want to read shows that you’ve written on, they want to read original material. They want to know, ‘Hey, what’s your voice?’ I hadn’t had anything written for a while because I’d been really lucky going from show to show. I had a little time off after Motive and I actually had just watched Marcella. I was really inspired by that and wanted to write something with a female lead and I liked the idea of a serial killer.

At the time, I was really interested, separately, in the song ‘Long Black Veil,’ a song that has been recorded by over a hundred artists, and it fell into a genre called murder ballads. I’ve been researching murder ballads and what they are and how they came out of folk music. Before that, the early settlers that came to America would bring these crime stories and they’re all a part of what eventually became the genre of murder ballads, and ‘Long Black Veil’ fit into that. So the idea kind of grew out of that song. What if the detectives came across a murder and the victim’s life tied directly to an old murder ballad? That seemed interesting to me. That’s really kind of what the seed of where I started exploring. There is one case in the show that kind of bookends the season. But each episode in between, they have songs involved but they’re not necessarily murder ballads; they more play to the theme of the episode.

Is that the reason why the logo is kind an equalizer? The bar’s moving up and down and changing to blood?
DV: Yeah! Here’s the reason for that. In pitching the show, one of the things that I thought would be interesting, always looking for ways to separate yourself from other shows and bring something interesting to the mix, is I thought if the show were to play over five seasons, it would be great to, in each season, explore one of the five senses. So in the first season, sound … music. In different cases, it plays a part in the show and that’s why that equalizer is in there, it’s a subtle reference. I don’t know if we’re necessarily pitching the show on the five senses, but in developing Season 2 I am looking at the sense of touch.

You said off the top, when it came to developing this you were trying to figure out what your voice is. So what is your voice? What’s your strength? Is it dialogue? Is it atmosphere? Is it setting a scene?
DV: It’s kind of hard to reflect on yourself. I think, certainly, crime drama, and I tend to lean toward the darker side of things. And so when I’m putting a room together, I purposefully put writers in the room that are really strong on the lighter, comedic side of things because you obviously need both in the show. But I have no problem getting into—Blackstone would be a perfect example—a show where you lift the rug up and show the dirt underneath. I tend to like that kind of stuff. It’s fun to write.

Let’s talk a little bit about Jessica Lucas. She’s fantastic as Kate. How did she get involved in the process? 
DV: I’m bi-racial, my mother’s black, my father’s white, and so when I wrote the show I thought, ‘I would like to have a character that was bi-racial.’ For me, without getting too personal, it’s sometimes weird being in that gray area where you’re not black, you’re not white, you’re kind of in the middle and you kind of see things a little differently. I thought it would be fun to do things with issues that are going on today. So in starting there, I was already looking for a certain actor, an actress who fit into that and Jessica was really top of my list. We just felt that she was right for the role and when we reached out to her and she read the material, the conversations were really good and she felt good about it.

This first episode, it really starts and ends with a bang, literally. Can you talk a little bit about this journey for Kate as she moves forward into these following seven episodes?
DV: I would say that would be a part of being inspired by Marcella. I really like that the character Marcella had all of the issues that she was dealing with in her policing. There’s a case that comes back into our story from Kate’s past. [We’re] just piling all this stuff on this character.

The Murders airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Citytv’s Hudson & Rex takes a bite out of crime

An age-old adage says that you should never work with kids or animals in the entertainment business. But for actor John Reardon, it’s been a dream being part of Hudson & Rex … and a case of coincidence or maybe fate.

“My wife and I, we just had a little boy named Hudson,” Reardon says with a laugh from St. John’s. “He was probably about 10 months old when I first received the script.” The actor, a Halifax native who has appeared in shows like Arctic Air, Continuum and Van Helsing, stars alongside a German Shepherd named Diesel vom Burgimwald.

Debuting Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv, Hudson & Rex follows the partnership between Major Crimes detective Charlie Hudson (Reardon) and his partner, Rex (Diesel vom Burgimwald), a canine with heightened senses. Based on the Austrian drama Inspector Rex, the drama also stars Mayko Nguyen, Kevin Hanchard and Justin Kelly. In the premiere, Rex proves himself as a member of the Major Crimes team when he tails a kidnapper. We spoke to Reardon during a break in production.

How has production on Season 1 been going so far?
John Reardon: It’s been going great. We are just finished up our twelfth episode right now of 16. We had a nice long break over Christmas and I got to go back and see my folks in Halifax. We’ve been having a great time filming in St John’s. We’ve shot a lot of the famous locations here, like Signal Hill and along the row houses. And we’ve been really lucky with some amazing locations, the landscape here is really unique and beautiful. We’ve been braving the winter elements, as well.

I think you also ran in that little park just by the Terry Fox statue as well, in Episode 1.
JR: That’s right. That was actually one of our very first locations. Episode 1 was actually the third episode that we shot. But yeah, it was one of our first locations down there, it was beautiful.

The classic adage is not to work with kids and not to work with animals. Despite that, here you are with a canine co-star. How did Hudson & Rex all come about? 
JR: I got a script … my wife and I, we just had a little boy named Hudson. He was probably about 10 months old when I first received the script. And my wife and I had just bought a place in L.A. We’d been living at Venice Beach for a lot of years and then we bought a place more in the suburbs when Hudson was born. We were in the process of moving the bags into our house, we had been there for I think maybe two days when I got the script. And I remember my wife read the script first because I had to run out and do a few errands and I came back and she said, ‘I think you have to do this show because your character’s name is Charlie Hudson.’ There was definitely a little bit of—I don’t know if serendipity’s the right word— but it definitely got my attention and then I read the script and I loved it.

And yeah as you say, people say working with animals definitely can be a challenge but that actually was a huge plus for me, because I love dogs, I grew up with them. But I’m just so impressed with what he’s capable of doing and what the trainers are capable of having him do. He keeps you on your toes a little bit because, you know, he’s a dog and he will sometimes do things that you just completely don’t expect. It makes it fun, it makes it a lot of fun.

Can Diesel only work a certain number of hours and then you have to shut things down, or he has to take a break? 
JR: I’m not sure what the restriction is. They make sure that he has plenty of rest during the day. There are actually three dogs, so they make sure that Izzy or Ico, who are the other two dogs who are actually his nephews. They will come in at times to make sure that he is having breaks, that he’s not on set for too long. That he’s getting rest, and often times they’ll do a lot of the more stunt type stuff, just to protect him to make sure because he has been trained the most thoroughly. They’re very careful about that, they take really good care of him and we very often see him in his downtime having a little nap over in his trailer. [Laughs.]

He’s got a better life than the actors.
JR: Yeah, he lives well.

What I found very interesting and very different, is that the show just starts with the crime, and you don’t learn about how Rex and Hudson got together until midway through the episode. I enjoyed the wait.
JR: That’s exactly what I think the writers were going for, something where the action kicks off right away, and the relationship component of the story I think is much more interesting once you do know the characters a little bit. It’s kind of nice that we get into the story, we see the characters working together at the police station and Rex, and then as you get to know us you start to get the backstory and people care about it. We like to have a large component of action and then a large component of the relationship stuff, which we call action with heart.

I was also surprised at how quickly we’re introduced to the rest of the team. Again, I was expecting that the focus was going to be Charlie and Rex when the reality is in the first episode they spend very little time together.
JR: It’s really a show about a team and everybody has their strengths and brings something unique to the team. You see all the people that you’re going to start to get to know and have them be together and see their relationships from the start.

The showrunner for Hudson & Rex is Ken Cuperus. I know him mainly from children’s programming. What’s he been like to work with?
JR: He’s great, I love working with Ken. One of the things I love is he’s very collaborative and he likes to get to know us actors, and he watches us on set to see how we interact with each other. And then he will often write to that a little bit, so he likes to find little things in our relationship that we have in real life. Not a lot, but he will just add little things here and there. And it’s nice because then you’re like, ‘Oh this character has more and more of me in it each time I read the script.’ And he’s a great a writer and mixes action and more of the relationship stuff really well.

Going through this guest cast, you’ve got Greg Bryk and Jeremy Ratchford and Tamara Duarte in Episode 1, I know that Lauren Lee Smith is in an episode later, as well as Anastasia Phillips, Tony Nappo and Kristin Booth. This is a who’s who of Canadian talent that’s dropping by to play in your sandbox.
JR: Every single episode, every single character, we were so fortunate to have these great actors come in. First of all I feel very thankful to have the opportunity to work with them. And then it’s just fun because we have been based on the West Coast for so long, I haven’t had an opportunity to work with a lot of these actors. I know them so well but I hadn’t had a chance to work with them personally because so many of them come from Toronto. It’s great to meet the actor behind the characters, and the great thing too is that all the actors that come in are obviously very talented but they’re great people.

Hudson & Rex airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Jann, Season 1

From Tony Wong of the Toronto Star:

Link: Jann Arden’s narcissistic alter ego shines in CTV’s Jann
For Jann Arden, it was life colliding with fiction, making it an almost impossible scene to shoot.

In her CTV television series Jann, a show loosely based on her own life, writers had recreated the moment when her mother, who died from Alzheimer’s in December, first got diagnosed with the debilitating disease. Continue reading.

From Eric Volmers of the Calgary Herald:

Link: Typecast? Calgary singer Jann Arden plays a strange version of herself in new CTV sitcom
“It’s interesting and I think it’s a very contemporary story, where it allows me to just be a very fluid person and make decisions just based on who I like and nothing else.” Continue reading.

From Eric Volmers of the Calgary Herald:

Link: Actress Deborah Grover on the emotional journey of playing Jann Arden’s mother
“All of that was so present in me, in terms of the journey she had taken with her mom. So, yeah, short answer: It was a huge responsibility. But Jann never made me feel that.” Continue reading.

From Glenn Sumi of Now Toronto:

Link: TV review: CTV’s Jann is a biting entertainment industry satire
But Jann Arden has the kind of presence, innate comic timing and acting skills that go beyond stunt casting. Her new TV show, Jann, is the real deal: a funny, biting satire about the entertainment industry that isn’t afraid to make fun of its star. Continue reading.

From Daniel Ball of Eat North:

Link: One day in Calgary: actor Ryan Northcott
“A lot of the time, the people you’re working with on set are pretty guarded, but Jann was super down to earth.” Continue reading.

From Bill Brioux of Brioux.tv:

Link: REVIEW: Jann is F—in’ hilarious
Just like The Beatles, Arden is called upon to play a heightened version of herself in Jann, premiering Wednesday on CTV. She throws herself into the role – physically throws herself into it – in the very first episode. She has a scene in the snow that’s Lucille Ball-level slapstick-y. Continue reading.

From David Friend of The Canadian Press:

Link: ‘I’ve never felt more empowered’: Jann Arden on her TV show, relationships and the future
Jann Arden is having a moment.

It’s about a week before her 57th birthday and her new comedy series “Jann,” which debuts Wednesday on CTV, is already looking like a success. Network executives seem pleased with the first season, and social media response to a preview of its debut episode is solid. Continue reading. 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Preview: Fire Masters grills up tasty vittles on the road to $10,000

I like to fancy myself a bit of an expert on grilling. Thanks to Ted Reader, I’ve mastered cedar plank salmon, grilled vegetables and to-die-for burgers. But I simply don’t have the skill needed to compete in Food Network Canada’s latest culinary competition.

Fire Masters—bowing Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the specialty network—pits three chefs against one another in a sweaty, hot and smoky test to see who can tame the fire and walk away with $10,000.

At the helm of this spark-filled challenge is professional chef, writer, restaurateur, world traveller and—currently running a private chef service and consulting company in the Cayman Islands—Barrie, Ont., native Dylan Benoit. The bearded, pony-tailed chef introduces the three chefs ready to do battle in three rounds and, as done on Chopped, one is eliminated until a sole chef is left standing. Unlike Chopped, however, the final competitor goes head-to-head with one of the episode’s judges. In the case of Thursday’s debut, that means Connie DeSousa, Ray Lampe or Hugh Mangum.

The first challenge tasks the trio with creating a dish that reflects who they are. This is a tactic used to great effect on Top Chef Canada because it not only shows off a chef’s skills but their influences as well. With just 30 minutes on the clock, Fire Masters becomes an orgy of flashing stainless steel, glowing embers and egos. After a visit and taste by the judges, one chef is cut from the competition.

In the second challenge, the remaining two are asked to prepare fish, with the Round 1 winner getting an advantage. If this all sounds a little of Top Chef Canada, I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I zipped to the end of the screener to see if it was made by the same production company. It’s from Architect Films (Home to Win, Great Canadian Cottages), but Fire Masters sure has a lot of Top Chef Canada‘s DNA. And, since it’s a proven formula, why not go for it?

The departure of that formula is, of course, having the Round 2 winner face off against one of the judges. And, in Thursday’s first episode, the battle is fun as heck to watch. I won’t give away the results, but you like cooking over flames and the competition of Top Chef Canada, you’re going to like these budding Fire Masters.

Fire Masters airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Image courtesy of Food Network Canada.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

New Metric Media bolsters original slate with three development deals from critically-acclaimed authors

From a media release:

New Metric Media, the independent production company behind Hulu’s hit series “Letterkenny” and the popular Netflix series “Bad Blood”, has optioned the rights for multiple projects from three renowned authors including bestselling Criminologist Dr. Michael Arntfield (“Murder City: The Untold History of Canada’s Capital of Serial Homicide”), veteran author and Toronto Star’s lead investigative reporter for organized crime Peter Edwards and popular online personality Anne T. Donahue, announced today by Mark Montefiore, President, New Metric Media.

Based on the book by best-selling true-crime author Dr. Michael Arntfield, “Monster City” divulges the true account of the serial killers who terrorized Nashville’s music scene for over three decades in recent history — and the cold-case Murder Squad determined to bring an end to the sadistic killing sprees of ‘The Motel Killer’, ‘The Fast Food Killer’ and ‘The Rest Stop Killer’ among others. An industry-leading consultant on crime trends and emerging forensic methodologies, Arntfield is attached to consult on the project. Monster City is published by Little A, the literary fiction and nonfiction imprint of Amazon Publishing.

New Metric Media is extending its partnership with Peter Edwards, currently serving as an Executive Producer on the hit TV series “Bad Blood” which is based on one of his books. The indie prod-co will develop multiple television series to create the “Peter Edwards Universe”, based on optioning the rights to a selection of his novels. Some of his most notable books under the deal include “Unrepentant: The Strange and (Sometimes) Terrible Life of Lorne Campbell, Satan’s Choice and Hells Angels Biker” and “The Bandido Massacre: A True Story of Bikers, Brotherhood, and Betrayal”, both of which were national bestsellers as well as upcoming titles such as “The Wolfpack” to be published by Penguin Random House this year.

 “Nobody Cares” is a frank, funny personal essay collection by the author of popular newsletter ‘That’s What She Said’ Anne T. Donahue.  The prolific and raw memoir about work, failure, friendship, and the messy business of being alive in your twenties and thirties also deftly tackles the subject of mental health. As she shares her hard-won insights from screwing up, growing up, and trying to find her own path, Anne’s essays offer all the honesty, laughs, and reassurance of a late-night phone call with your best friend. Donahue is attached in the adaptation.  “Nobody Cares” is published by ECW Press.

 Michael Arntfield is repped by Sohrab Merchant at The Characters, Grace Freedson at Grace Freedson’s Publishing Network and Danny Webber at Hall Webber LLP. Peter Edwards is repped by Juliet Forrester from Top Left Entertainment and Premier Artists’ Management. Anne T. Donahue is repped by Addison Duffy at UTA and Carly Watters at PS Literary.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail