TVO’s Hard Rock Medical embraces North Bay in Season 3

Derek Diorio uses the word “talent” a lot when talking about North Bay, Ont. The city, almost four hours up Highway 11 from Toronto, was the new home for Season 3 of TVO’s Hard Rock Medical.

Returning on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m. ET on the network, Diorio not only sings the praises of the city and its environs but the folks who live and work there too. After two seasons of filming in Sudbury, Ont., the medical drama decamped for a couple of reasons, one of which was a partnership with Canadore College.

As with previous seasons, these new nine instalments follow the adventures of medical students enrolled in the fictional Hard Rock U, loosely based on Lakehead University and Laurentian University’s Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Sunday’s debut and the second episode boast some intriguing storylines: Gary (Mark Coles Smith) and Charlie (Stéphane Paquette) are embedded with an EMS team, Eva (Andrea Menard) and Melanie (Melissa Jane Shaw) are placed on a First Nations reserve, and Dr. Healy (Patrick McKenna) begs to return to work. We spoke to Hard Rock Medical co-creator Diorio about the move to North Bay and what fans to expect from Season 3.

Season 3 was filmed in North Bay, Ont., after being in Sudbury for two seasons. Why the change?
Derek Diorio: There is always a bit of a gap in production of about 18 months. And in the interim, Sudbury really got hot. The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation has put funding into a lot of productions and just as we were about to go into production, they also financed Cardinal. That was a big, huge, production and they sucked up a lot of the local resources and shooting days. If they were shooting for 50 days we were shooting for 30.

In previous seasons, I had built a relationship with Canadore College and the students in two of the programs there, Television and Digital Cinema. It was such a great experience working with the kids in the program. Conversations took place and I was asked if I would move production to North Bay. It was an ideal fit. I cannot say enough good things about the people running the program at Canadore. There are really good programs in Toronto at Ryerson and here in Ottawa with the Algonquin program, but there is something special going on in North Bay. The people who are there really care about what they’re doing and there is money because of the NOHFC and an industry. We had so much talent there, and it raised the game of the show.

I love the fact that, through this partnership with Canadore, the students are not only getting paid to do the work but are getting a hands-on education working on a television series.
What I keep stressing is that Canadore is unique. You can attend their programs and you can graduate with a television or film credit. I don’t think there are any other programs in North America that come close. It’s a small college, but it has a really good program.

We’re a small production and our budget is extremely low. There are lots of great actors in Toronto that I don’t really have access to because I can’t bring a day player in from there because it costs me $3,000. We designed the show, very heavily this year, around actors that were available to us in the North Bay area. I think we put 45 actors from North Bay in continuing roles. And the music that we use in the show are from acts in the area; our music is composed by a guy from North Bay. I think the area has improved the show.

A storyline that struck me in Episode 1 was Eva and Melanie out on Nipissing First Nation and a patient with cancer. It’s a very timely storyline.
There are two things we try to do with the show. Every year we loosely follow the curriculum of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. It’s great because it gives us structure. We also look at what the school does and come up with our own premise or torn from the headlines stories. The whole First Nations storyline began torn from the headlines and we drifted off into a completely different storyline. We’re writing for the environments that are easily accessible to us, so 80 per cent was shot in and around Canadore and the edge of Nipissing First Nation is about five minutes from the campus. We were driven a lot by location and made it Eva’s reservation. And then you just start exploring what can happen on a reserve. The idea of bringing Melanie into the storyline was very much a fish out of water. Part of our theme for Eva this year is that it’s tough to go home. She has the ambitions to do it, but it turns out to be a lot harder than she thought it would be.

Gary and Charlie are embedded with the EMS. I was surprised to see Charlie break down following the scene of a car accident.
Charlie is the least likely to succeed and he’s our comic foil as well. We want to show his scope and the reality of students who have three or four kids and decide to go back to school. The pressure is unbelievable and one of the things that comes up is marriages are really tested by medical school. Most people who enter medical school are doing it coming out of university and are footloose and fancy-free and very few are connected. But what happens with Charlie is actually pretty funny too.

So, it’s just you and co-creator Smith Corindia doing all of the writing?
That’s it. We don’t have a choice, dude. But there is a huge advantage to that. We pound out a story arc for a character or two characters and go through all of the episodes. And then it’s lather, rinse and repeat for the rest of the characters. And then you assemble them all into the episodes and you find that one episode has 40 scenes in it and other has 15 and you adjust. You adjust the outlines and then you go to script and it’s actually quite a fast process.

Hard Rock Medical airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on TVO. All of the episodes will be available on beginning on Jan. 9.

Hard Rock Medical airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on APTN beginning on Feb. 8.

Images courtesy of TVO.


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