TV, eh? Interview: CBC May End Up Shooting Never Shoot a Stampede Queen

Nevershoot frontcover2ndedCBC is developing Mark Leiren-Young’s book Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo as a potential television series. The winner of the 2009 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen is a collection of stories about Leiren-Young’s time at the Williams Lake Tribune.

“So far CBC has ordered a series bible, which has been delivered, and the response has been very positive,” said Leiren-Young. “Now we’re waiting to see if they order a pilot script.”

TV, eh?: How did the television deal come about?

Leiren-Young: Andrew Williamson, the director of development for Keatley Entertainment, read the book not long after it was published and suggested that Julia Keatley should check it out. Andrew and I worked together on a short comedy that I wrote and he directed — The Green Film — which was big fun and has done ridiculously well for us on the festival circuit, so I’m game to work with him any time. And I knew Julia did Godiva’s — which I was a huge fan of — and that her dad was responsible for Cariboo Country. Even though I’m too young to actually remember the show, because I’m a Canadian culture geek and because of the time I spent in the Cariboo, I know it was pretty much as iconic and as quintessentially BC as The Beachcombers. It launched Chief Dan George — how cool is that? It turned out Julia had always wanted to revisit the Cariboo because she’d grown up around that series being shot and loves the region as much as I do. And as soon as she read the book we sat down and talked, and talked, and talked. Several hours and many crazy Cariboo tales later it was pretty clear that we were going to play together.

TV, eh?: What’s your involvement?

Leiren-Young: I wrote the bible. I’m writing the pilot. Julia and my beloved agent, Amy, agreed on some impressive sounding title like “chief wrangler” or “rodeo clown” or something. And assuming all goes well I will be neck deep in making the show happen.

TV, eh?: How closely will it follow the book?

Leiren-Young: The book is definitely the touchstone for the series, but the heart of the book — and the series — is Williams Lake and the quirky characters who live there. I think the Cariboo Chilcotin is totally ready for another close-up. When I was in Williams Lake to do a reading of the book last year there was a crime wave where teenaged girls were holding up convenience store clerks with machetes. Just last week Williams Lake came second on the list of the “worst places to live in Canada.” This is a place with enough wild stories to run as long as The Beachcombers. It’s also insanely photogenic — a fantastic mix of wild west frontier and industrial wasteland.

The biggest change we’ve made so far is that the book is set in the mid ’80s when I was a reporter at The Williams Lake Tribune and, for all sorts of reasons, we wanted to move this to modern day. One of the things I love about shifting this to present day is that it allows us to look at the importance of local news in small communities today. I think local newspapers and local radio shows really can be the heart of a community. And since the book came out, I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people in the community — and from reporters who worked at The Trib before and since I did — saying the stories ring true regardless of the era they lived in the Cariboo.

We’ve also aged the lead character up a bit and changed his name from Mark because giving him my name was way too confusing when Julia or CBC were giving notes. (“Mark, when Mark says this…”) And since this is TV-land I suspect that if all goes well whoever is cast to play me might be just a smidge purtier than me. I’m all in favour of Taylor Kitsch from Friday Night Lights, since I gather Julia was the first person to cast him. Oh, hey, this is the internet … I look exactly like Taylor. We could so totally be twins.

TV, eh?: How is it translating as a TV series?

Leiren-Young: I’m having a blast finding out …

When Northern Exposure came out a few years after I left The Trib it was friends from Williams Lake who called and said, “they’ve made a series about you at The Trib — except it’s about a doctor instead of a reporter.” And when I saw the show I completely got the similarities — except I definitely didn’t have Janine Turner to flirt with. So I’m thinking that the other change we’ll have to make is that the Mark character who won’t be named Mark also won’t be Jewish, so it doesn’t look like he’s supposed to be Joel Fleischman.

The biggest difference between Northern Exposure and my life in Williams Lake is that I covered some pretty heavy news stories and Northern Exposure rarely dealt with anything heavy. So I’d like to layer in the real life and death stakes, while still creating something that primarily goes for the laughs.

The biggest reason I was shocked to be nominated for the Leacock Medal is because the book deals with murders, racial discrimination and some seriously — to borrow a word from my favourite Law and Order intro — heinous crimes. But I’ve heard from people that one reason it won the Leacock was because those real life and death stakes made the funny parts even funnier. I’d love to pull off the same balancing act with the series and I really hope I’ll get the chance to try.