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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

Murdoch Mysteries: Production designer Bob Sher reveals the on-location magic behind the show

Bob Sher and his team do amazing work on Murdoch Mysteries. And, if they do it really well, you don’t even notice it. That’s because Sher, the show’s production designer, is tasked with creating wonderful sets like William and Julia’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home and lesser-known items like hiding road paint and parking meters when the show is filming on location.

Sher, who has worked on projects like Dino Dan, Schitt’s Creek and Traders, gave me behind-the-scenes scoop on how he does it and how—thanks to Benjamin Moore—Murdoch Mysteries fans can paint their home to look just like William and Julia’s.

What does the title of production designer mean on Murdoch Mysteries?
Bob Sher: It involves the fact that you have to do a lot of research. You have to go back to 1906 and even before that. And then, when we go on location … building sets is one thing because you can do whatever you want. But when you go on a location you have to change all the signs, make sure that the street lights are right, cover up all the parking meters. And one of the biggest things, if you can believe it, is covering up the white lines and yellow lines on the street. It becomes a bit of a conundrum to get it all worked out and make sure everything is period correct.

We have such a dedicated audience that they will see a bus stop and they will write letters. So, you have to be really diligent about research and making sure everything is period correct, right down to a chain link fence. Even though it was invented in 1845, not everyone might know that.

Where do you go for all of that research? Is it done online?
BS: We go online. I also have a bunch of assistants that work with me. We also go to the Toronto Research Library and look at pictures of what life was like back then. Fortunately, there was a lot of photography taken back then. But then, it’s all black and white. The challenge is what I think the colours were back then and what others think the colours were back then. I take a lot of my cues from San Francisco. I visited there many years ago and a lot of the buildings were painted very strange colours. Mints, yellows and light greens. It looked very odd, but you know what? It was all historical. What I’ve tried to do in the last couple of years on Murdoch is try and get us into brighter colours and better colours and not just brown.

I know that a lot of the show before was what we called Murdoch brown. To me, the lighting was a little darker. So, we’ve tried to lighten it up with the colours on the walls and I think it’s made a bit of a difference. I think everyone is saying the show looks different and a little bit better, fortunately, because I’m not just using brown.

And with Joanna [Syrokomla] in wardrobe, we’re sort of coordinating with each other and she’s doing really beautiful costumes. Between us, we’ve kind of put it together and come up with a palette of colours and have really enhanced the colours of the show. The world wasn’t black and white back then. They had colour. And, in fact, they had richer colours than we had in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s because they used dyes from plants. That’s what I’m trying to do with the show. And Benjamin Moore, which are the colours I usually use, have historic colours. They’ve done their research into what historic colours are.

You mentioned covering up parking meters, signs and paint on the roads. How do you obscure that stuff?
BS: There are a couple of things that we do. One of the things that I’ve done is put birdseed on the lines. Birdseed has different colours. The only problem with birdseed is on a windy day it blows off. Another thing that we do is that I’ve had my scenic [painters] paint some rubber and vinyl, cut them into strips and lay them down on the street. The biggest problem with all that is that not all asphalt is the same colour. And if it rains, the asphalt gets even darker. It gets a little tricky. The other thing that we can do is we can place a wagon over top to hide the lines.

Now, in St. Mary’s, Ontario, they were so happy to see us that I asked the locations guy if he could ask the city if they could just paint out the yellow lines. Which they did. They painted out the white and yellow parking lines for us and then repainted it. Kudos to St. Mary’s for letting us do that.

A lot of the coverups are masked with crates; we’ll place a crate or barrel or street dressing in a particular position that, based on where the camera is pointing, it kind of hides it. With parking meters it’s a little trickier because you can’t just take them off. So, when we shoot in Cobourg say, we made covers that went over the parking meters that looked like you could tie a horse to it. It was sort of tongue and groove and was painted a Murdoch brown colour. And we just slipped them over the top of these parking meters. And every once in awhile we’d have a guy with a horse standing near it.

I have to ask you about the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It looks amazing.
BS: I thought that was a great opportunity that the producers and the writers have given me to move William and Julia out of their hotel that they’ve been in and take the leap that Frank Lloyd Wright was around [the area]. I’ve always been a fan of the guy anyway and it was just a lovely thing to do to have a brand-new set that looks totally different than anything else Murdoch has had. We did a lot of research into what the stained glass windows should look like, the different things that he puts in his houses, the tables, the chairs, the desk, everything. Some of the things we had to build because they’re too expensive to buy and some of them we got a pretty good deal on. That furniture is still pretty popular these days.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.


Preview: Frankie Drake Mysteries deals out drama

While a new episode of Murdoch Mysteries was bumped from CBC’s Monday night schedule for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, fans of Frankie Drake Mysteries will be happy their favourite ladies remain intact. And what an episode! After a few weeks of Bessie Starkman vs. Frankie Drake, the gals go all out in “Dealer’s Choice.”

The CBC released the following synopsis of the episode, written by John Callaghan and directed by Ruba Nadda:

Frankie and Trudy reluctantly take a case from mob boss Bessie Starkman, but things take a turn when Frankie’s accused of murdering a mole.

And, as usual, here are my two cents after watching a screener.

Gambling gals
Frankie and Trudy are investigating the case of a lost silver pocket watch. It seems like a simple enough case. But a twist and a turn later and the pair are face-to-face with Bessie Starkman (Natalie Brown). Needless to say, Bessie is not happy to see Frankie. Bessie, if you remember, expressly warned the private investigator to steer clear of her dealings. Soon, Bessie finds herself grudgingly teaming up with Frankie in the hunt for the watch.

Guest stars galore
“Dealer’s Choice” boasts 19-2‘s Conrad Pla, The Expanse‘s Ted Whittall and The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Rohan Mead in various roles throughout the hour. Whittall’s character is a particular kind of cad. Recurring cast members Grace Lynn Kung and Anthony Lemke are featured too.

Frankie Drake Mysteries airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


Crave gifts viewers with a whole mess of Letterkenny including a Christmas special and all-new six-pack of episodes

From a media release:

No holiday humbugs here. With the festive season on the approach, Crave delivers tidings of all-new LETTERKENNY quicker than you can say golds, frankincenses, and myrrhs. This Crave seasonal delivery includes the brand new special, A LETTERKENNY CHRISTMAS: THE THREE WISE MEN, streaming Friday, Nov. 23, followed by a fresh six-pack of episodes launching Christmas Day. Created by and starring Jared Keeso, the hit small town comedy is produced by New Metric Media in partnership with DHX Media and Play Fun Games.

“Pitter patter, let’s get Advent’er!” In the brand new special, A LETTERKENNY CHRISTMAS: THE THREE WISE MEN, the Hicks get in the festive spirit and throw a holiday get-together with enough gifts and jingle juice to go around. There is talk around town that it might just be the best Christmas party ever.

In keeping with what has become an annual holiday tradition, viewers wake up to more LETTERKENNY under the tree again this year with another all-new six-pack available to stream on Christmas Day. While the LETTERKENNY locals continue to seek out love in all sorts of places – from bush parties all the way to the big city – new and familiar faces make appearances around town, including guest stars Sarah Wayne Callies (THE WALKING DEAD) and Jonathan Torrens (TRAILER PARK BOYS) as Mennonite parents, Noah and Anita Dyck; and the return of Sarah Gadon as mysterious lady-skid, Gae.

In addition, production is currently underway on the next set of LETTERKENNY episodes, which sees The Hicks launch their own public access call-in show. Set to debut on Crave in 2019, Jacob Tierney returns to direct all episodes and reprise his role as the fan-favourite Christian leader, Glen. The episodes also feature a stacked slate of returning guest stars, including Tiio Horn as The Natives’ badass leader, Tanis; CSA-nominated Dan Petronijevic as Hick McMurray; Magalie Lépine Blondeau as Wayne’s lady love, Marie Fred; and Kelly McCormack (Killjoys) and Jess Salguiero (Saving Hope) as Shamrockette stars Mary-Anne and Betty-Anne.

Based on overwhelming demand, additional shows and markets have been added to the 2018 LETTERKENNY LIVE tour – a 90-minute comedy experience, starring Jared Keeso, Nathan Dales, K Trevor Wilson, and Mark Forward. Kicking off in Orillia on Dec.1, LETTERKENNY LIVE, THE ENCORE! tour, presented by Puppers Premium Lager and Crave, and produced by New Metric Media, features additional sketches and video not seen on the original tour, as well as original stand-up sets from Wilson and Forward. Tickets for LETTERKENNY LIVE, THE ENCORE! are available here.


December 1 – Orillia, ON – Casino Rama

December 3 – Brantford, ON – Sanderson Centre

December 5 – St. Catharines, ON – Meridian Centre

December 6 – Mississauga, ON – Living Arts Centre

December 11 – Regina, SK – Conexus Arts Centre

December 13 – Saskatoon, SK – TCU Place

December 14 – Lethbridge, AB – ENMAX Centre

December 15 – Red Deer, AB – ENMAX Centrium

December 17 – Kelowna, BC – Prospera Place

December 18 – Vancouver, BC – Orpheum Theatre

The first five seasons of LETTERKENNY, along with special episodes “Ferda Edition”, “The Haunting of MoDean’s II”, “St. Perfect’s Day,” “Super Hard Easter,” and the original web series Letterkenny Problems, are currently streaming on Crave. The first two seasons of LETTERKENNY are now streaming exclusively on Hulu in the U.S. LETTERKENNY is also available on iTunes and Google Play. Seasons 1-4 of LETTERKENNY are currently available on DVD wherever DVDs are sold.

Created by and starring Jared Keeso, the award-winning half-hour comedy revolves around the dustups Wayne (Keeso) and his buds – Daryl (Nathan Dales), Wayne’s free-spirited younger sister, Katy (Michelle Mylett), and Wayne’s buddy, Dan (K Trevor Wilson) – get into with their small-town rivals. Dylan Playfair and Andrew Herr reprise their roles as hotshot Hockey Players “Jonesy” and “Reilly”. Tyler Johnston and Evan Stern return as Skids Stewart and Roald. Mark Forward returns as the temperamental Coach.

LETTERKENNY is produced by New Metric Media, in partnership with DHX Media and Playfun Games in association with Bell Media, with the participation of Canadian Media Fund, OMDC Tax Credits and the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and distributed by DHX Media. Jared Keeso is executive producer, co-writer, star, and creator, Jacob Tierney is executive producer, director, and co-writer and Mark Montefiore is executive producer for New Metric Media.


Comments and queries for the week of November 16

Wow, people need to relax a little, so [Murdoch Mysteries] had a little fun and did a one-off episode that was a standalone and not part of the Murdoch Mysteries continuity/canon. The horror. I mean seriously, if you didn’t like it, then that’s fine (though I feel a little bad for you as it was clever, fun, and exciting). But to accuse the writers of being lazy because they didn’t tie it up to the storyline … I suggest you get over yourselves a little and let the writers who have delivered a consistently fun and entertaining show have a little fun of their own with this. Lots of shows have done Halloween themed episodes that don’t have any bearing on the main story. And those of you who can’t get past that miss the fact that they did it damn well. Solid nods to classic horror/sci-fi and still utilizing the charisma and solid acting chops of all the main cast. If you can’t get over yourselves long enough to have a little fun and indulge in a Halloween episode, then just skip it and move right on to the next episode. But don’t take it out on the writers. It’s not them, it’s you. —Alex

I loved this one. It was very funny and spoofed so many vintage horror/sci-fi movies. I especially loved when alien-Murdoch tried to laugh. It reminded me of the time Wednesday Addams tried to smile. I know I sound sadistic, but I also enjoyed Julia’s horror when she realized that she had killed her husband because she had listened to George Crabtree!! And Murdoch’s repeated demands for “romance”! I too was expecting someone to wake up at the end. But I don’t understand why so many fans are angry because the show did the unexpected instead. Those who claim the episode had no ending are wrong. As in the original ending to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the ending is that the aliens succeed in taking over the Earth. Once I realized that WAS the ending, I realized it was a standalone Halloween episode. I LOVE Halloween episodes. I was pretty sure there would be no references to the incidents in this episode the following week. Though I did need to check that things really did go back to normal the next week. —Clare


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Travelers Season 3 premieres on December 14th only on Netflix

From a media release:

The third season of Travelers finds Grant MacLaren and his team of highly-trained operatives from the future pushed to the limit and dealing with themes of loyalty, trust, death, and the ever-growing power of Artificial Intelligence. With their existence now leaked to the world, the team must find a way to keep knowledge of the Travelers program from the general public, while continuing to perform missions under the watchful eye of the FBI.   Each team member will face their own personal breaking point, all while trying to stop the Faction, hunt down elusive Traveler 001, and to save the world from a terrible future.

Season 3 stars Eric McCormack, MacKenzie Porter, Nesta Cooper, Jared Abrahamson, Reilly Dolman and Patrick Gilmore.