Season 11 of Murdoch Mysteries marked significant changes in the writers’ room. Dan Trotta, Natalia Guled and Noelle Girard joined the CBC drama after Michelle Ricci and Carol Hay departed to create Frankie Drake Mysteries and the untimely passing of Jordan Christianson.
Trotta, who most recently was a writer and producer on Omni’s Blood and Water drama, penned Monday’s new episode, “Dr. Osler Regrets,” which saw historical figure Dr. William Osler drop by, a sequential killer on the loose and the return of Louise Cherry (Bea Santos). We got Trotta on the line to discuss the episode and introduce him to the Murdoch Mysteries fandom.
Before we talk about tonight’s episode specifically, how did you get into the Canadian TV industry in the first place?
Dan Trotta: I started out in theatre. I took playwriting at university and was in the trenches for a few years and couldn’t make any money. I was broke. I liked the idea of being a starving artist but I didn’t like the reality of it. The romance faded pretty quickly, so I started teaching. I was a teacher at Fanshawe College for a while. I’ve lucked into some pretty amazing jobs and feel like I haven’t been qualified for them at all. I was teaching for awhile but I realized I could do that for 20 years and not even realize it. Teaching was a great job but the time was just sort of floating away and I knew I wanted to write but I didn’t know how to make a living at it.
TV sort of made sense. The first script I ever wrote was accepted into the National Screen Institute. I went through there—it’s a crash course for a week where you rewrite your pilot and have meetings—and it was great. Then I was living in Montreal at the time and offered my time at Muse Entertainment. I asked if I could just hang out and make coffee and find out how the business worked. They were incredible and said, ‘We can’t have you hanging out for free but we have this stack of scripts that need to be read.’ It was amazing. I owe a lot to them. I was there for about a year and read hundreds of scripts. They let me sit in on meetings and were working on The Kennedys at the time. I wrote synopses and materials for some of their other projects; it was awesome. They were the ones who told me I should go to the Canadian Film Centre. I got in and was lucky enough to be there and have Denis McGrath as our showrunner that year. From there, I got an agent and was grinding it out for a couple of years writing Lifetime movies and other stuff and then Blood and Water came along.
How did you come to be on Murdoch Mysteries?
I sort of knew [showrunner] Peter Mitchell through mutual friends and we watched hockey occasionally. When positions opened up he sent me an email and asked if I wanted to come in and interview for it. I never expect to get anything—that’s just how I operate—so went in and the pressure was off. I didn’t really have any procedural samples. I’ve always liked and respected the show, Peter, Simon and Jordan; that was kind of it. It was a very last-minute kind of thing; I think I found out I got the gig on the Friday and I believe they were starting on the Tuesday.
You might have known people involved in the show, but you were still joining a mystery drama going into its 11th season. Were you nervous?
Yeah. I didn’t know the show too well. I had seen Murdoch and knew what it was but I didn’t have a super-solid understanding of the show. I did some major catching up. And then there was the procedural element to the show, the actual mystery was kind of new to me. We had written a procedural at the CFC and I had a couple of pilot procedurals but I didn’t have a lot of experience with it. That was the trickiest for me, figuring out how the mystery works and unfolds and the order with which you reveal things. The real nuts and bolts of it was the hardest thing to pick up and I think I’m still picking it up, quite frankly.
In Monday’s episode, you had a historical figure in Dr. Osler to work into your story as well as Louise Cherry, who fans are very vocal about. There was a lot of pressure going into your first credited episode.
The Osler thing was kind of a gimme in that I found this article about the actual incident. Not the murders, but his speech. And how everything was taken out of context and blown out of proportion. From the interview with Pete and knowing somewhat about the show, I knew they liked it when they could establish a corollary about what happened then and what happens now. This was kind of an early version of now what we call Internet shaming. Osler’s reputation was, essentially, ruined for awhile. Part of the mythology of that story is a couple of older men supposedly committed suicide because of what he’d said. That’s what we ran with. The story was kind of there and we had to build the mystery around it.
As far as Louise Cherry, it’s interesting to see just how much the fans dislike that character based on the incident: she basically said the Murdoch’s were boring. So we turn it up to 100 and have her fabricate these newspaper stories. It was fun, though. She has a laser focus and it’s fun to write for her.
How did you work George’s clock hobby into the story?
We reverse engineered that. We came up with the victim angle first and then thought it might be cool if George had a connection to this somehow. We didn’t actually start with George, we sort of backed it in. I kept wanting to write funny lines and ham it up and everybody in the room said, ‘Keep it simple because Jonny will make it funny. Just don’t overwrite it. Keep it short, keep it tight and he’ll do something.’ These guys are awesome, it’s just second nature to them 10 years in.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.