Interview: Murdoch enters the squared circle

I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling since I was a little kid. Back then, the WWF (as it was called back in the day) would come to Brantford, Ont., to record house shows for Maple Leaf Wrestling. It was there that I saw the British Bulldogs, Jake the Snake Roberts and others. I attended WrestleMania VI at the Skydome and cheered like a fool when the Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan.

So to say I was thrilled to see Monday’s newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries was not only entitled “CrabtreeMania” but centred on pro wrestling is an understatement. I got the episode’s writers, Simon McNabb and Jordan Christianson, on the phone for a tag-team interview about the storyline, which concluded with George Crabtree being offered a job in Station House 3.

Congratulations on the season pickup from CBC. Will you both be back in the writing room?
Jordan Christianson: Yes, we will. We’re in the process of writing first drafts for the first several episodes of the season. And we have a loose idea of where we’ll go in the episodes after that and how the arc of the season will go.

Let’s talk about “CrabtreeMania.” I was a huge pro wrestling fan when I was a kid, so this episode was a lot of fun for me. Simon, can you tell me how the storyline came about? Was there pro wrestling in Toronto circa 1902?
Simon McNabb: I did a fair amount of research into the wrestling of the time. Simon and I and Peter Mitchell are fans of pro wrestling. We had heard that pro wrestling was around at the time but we didn’t know much about it. It was big at the time, about as big as boxing, but it had been marginalized and was happening in a lot of bar rooms. A wrestler would take on all comers in a town. It was believed back in the day that a lot of matches were fixed because there were no governing bodies and barely any championships. It was very localized. I leant itself to corruption and gambling and entertainment.

The one liberty that we did take was the characters weren’t quite as flashy back then. That grew in the 1920s and 30s. In 1902 it was about matches that went on for an hour.

JC: The other liberty we took is that, back then, wrestlers didn’t have the personas in the way that they did in the 1980s and 90s. There was no Big Boss Man that was a prison guard. It was just Joe Anderson. We thought it would be fun to portray Victor McAllister be like a Vince McMahon and introduce theatrics to wrestling.

SM: Although we took liberties with the costumes, there was a wrestler named the Turkish Strangler, I think. That kind of stuff was around, but to a lesser degree.

Jordan, where were the wrestling scenes filmed?
JC: That was in Hamilton and it was some sort of abandoned warehouse. What Pete liked about it was that it was a blank slate and it leant itself really well to having a rough and ready bar atmosphere rather than a small arena or theatre. That location was terrific.

You guys cast four actual wrestlers in some of the roles. Jaxon Jarvis is the real deal. Are they all pros?
JC: Jaxon and The Solid Man [Jeff Black] and The Gladiator [RJ Skinner] are all members of the local wrestling group GCW. Peter had been going to these matches just as a wrestling fan and got such a kick out of these guys. We had been kicking around a wrestling story for a couple of years, so he was pretty keen to get those guys involved.

And Jonny Harris got a chance to get into the ring and fight too. Did one of you tell him about the upcoming storyline and what was his reaction?
SM: I think it might have been me that had the first conversation about it and I would say his eyes lit up. He’s a wrestling fan too and he’s the kind of actor who is up for anything exciting.

JC: We also knew from ‘Kung Fu Crabtree’ that he will go all-in physically. He wanted to be in that ring.

SM: The stunt coordinator actually felt that the part where Crabtree lifts Edna up on his shoulder was too unsafe because the wrestling ring had a bit of give to it.

JC: If I’m not mistaken, they tried to rehearse it and it looked like it was going to be too awkward, cumbersome and perhaps dangerous for Tamara Hope, so I think it was nixed. But then he and Tamara, I think, went off on their own and practiced putting her up on his shoulder like Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage/Elizabeth style. And when the cameras were rolling they just nailed it.

At the end of the episode, Crabtree was offered a detective’s job at Station House 3. Will he take the job?
SM: I think we can say that this is the beginning of an exciting new chapter for George and we hope the fans like where we go with it.

JC: Crabtree is a good copper and has been doing this for years. In a very practical sense, it made sense that Crabtree would have some ambitions of his own and would be ready to take that next step in his life professionally and personally.

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