Murdoch Mysteries: Showrunner Peter Mitchell talks “Murdoch Mystery Mansion”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched Episode 1 of Season 12, “Murdoch Mystery Mansion.”

It’s been a long, hot summer here in Southern Ontario. Thankfully, the cooler air has arrived and with it the super-cool season première of Murdoch Mysteries. There was a lot to like about “Murdoch Mystery Mansion.” In particular, I enjoyed little things like William not being sure where to hang his hat upon coming home to a jam-packed house, Miss Hart’s unhappiness at Julia still being in charge of the morgue and Sophie McShera’s guest-starring role. I also liked the bigger story steps, including Higgins and Ruth’s upcoming nuptials.

Thanks to showrunner Peter Mitchell for taking time out of his busy day to discuss Monday’s episode as well as a look forward to future weeks. And, he gave me an answer to the question, “Is there a holiday movie this year?” This season, in addition to speaking with members of the Murdoch writing team, I’ll be chatting with members of the cast and crew too. I’m looking forward to bringing you exciting behind-the-scenes insight into our favourite show.

Congratulations on Season 12. You joined during Season 5 of Murdoch Mysteries; has the ride been a fun one?
Peter Mitchell: I think that would be an understatement. It’s been a pretty fun ride.

Not only did you have Frank Lloyd Wright in the first episode but also quite the gory death with a room dripping with body parts. Great job!
PM: Thanks! We also threw in a bit of the Me Too Movement in there and a little bit of Tinder. It’s got a couple of historical characters in there, allusions to the future and a nice, fun little mystery. I liked having the actress from Downton Abbey on, and I thought the actor who played Frank Lloyd Wright was true to what I could learn of him.

Aaron Poole was very good as Frank Lloyd Wright.
PM: It was surprising. I had to keep going back to Frank Lloyd Wright houses circa 1905 because they are so modern. The Murdoch’s house would fit into today’s world. [The set] is based on existing Frank Lloyd Wright houses of the period. It was [almost] completely accurate.

The set design was beautiful.
PM: The exterior was a house that was built along the same lines as a Frank Lloyd Wright house even though Mr. Wright never actually built a house in Canada. He certainly built a bunch in upstate New York and places like that. The exterior was a pretty good match to a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright houses that I researched. And Bob Sher and the art department did a great job with the interior. We added a few Murdoch gizmos, like the potato cooking room and the retractable bed just for fun.

How did the casting of Sophie McShera from Downton Abbey happen? Is that a deal with the UK?
PM: It’s not so much a deal as much as we try to endeavour for the last few years to open up the season with somebody recognizable to our UK audience. They submit a list of people they would like to see on the show and we pursue them. Anybody from Downton Abbey is on the list. The UK broadcaster knows their market and if they’re not from Downton Abbey they’ll probably be from EastEnders.

Gary Harvey directed this episode. Not only has he directed a lot of episodes of Murdoch Mysteries, but you’ve been friends with him for years. What does he bring to the table as a director?
PM: I’ve known Gary for most of my professional life. He has a fairly comprehensive understanding of what I like to see in a show. He’s very good with story and usually captures all of the moments. We can communicate with very few words. He generally knows what I’m hoping to get, even if it’s a sly allusion to Tinder, he knows what matters in the scene and hopefully what matters in the story. He has the experience to get eight out of 10 things with the amount of time we have to shoot.

You already have that shorthand.
PM: Of course. He’s a very efficient director and the actors like him and trust him. The crew likes him and he gets the job done in the time we give him to do it. I don’t have to spend much time on set when Gary is shooting unless I want to go down and make fun of him. [Laughs.] So I’m down there quite a lot. [Laughs.]

We saw William and Julia in a very good place in Episode 1. Lots of loving looks and humour. Will that last for a while?
PM: Oh yeah, I think so. We’ve dialled down on the soap elements a little bit this year. We do a little more work with cases. Julia has yet another new job. We have a few episodes that highlight our secondary characters a little bit more strongly maybe, than in the past. A couple of episodes in a row feature Brackenreid in a very big way. An episode that features Watts in a big way.

Watts is great and has been getting a lot of screen time. Should I be reading into that?
PM: I don’t think so. He’s got a considerable amount of talent so it’s a shame not to use him when we can. Higgins has got more airtime this year too.

I just got ‘My Big Fat Mimico Wedding’ in my Inbox. Episode 3 for the wedding. You’re not stretching it out all season?
PM: That’s right. The Newsomes are in full bloom. The wedding: will they or won’t they? And who dies? [Laughs.] It’s a nice, fun comedy.

What can you say about Miss Hart and her plans for taking over the morgue?
PM: She may get what she wants. And I think it’s nice to have a character who is not a true villain, but a bit flinty. It keeps our other characters on their toes and she has ambitions of her own. She’s maybe not as much of a team player as the rest of them.

Is there going to be a holiday movie?
PM: There isn’t going to be a holiday movie this year but there is going to be an out-of-the-box Halloween episode. It’s certainly a standalone episode. And it is probably unlike any Murdoch you’ve seen.

What did you think of Monday’s season return? Have you got questions for Peter Mitchell or anyone else on the cast and crew? Let me know in the comments below and I will ask them in the coming weeks.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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5 thoughts on “Murdoch Mysteries: Showrunner Peter Mitchell talks “Murdoch Mystery Mansion””

  1. I want to know since Peter is a wrestling fan (I’m sure I read that in regards to Crabtree Mania), did he give Henry the H middle name on purpose so his initials would be HHH aka Triple H from WWE?

    1. From what I’ve been able to gather, the exterior is a CGI facade over an existing structure, including the stairs and threshold over which Murdoch carries his wife. The interior is a set piece, mimicking the Frank Lloyd Wright style (of houses built in NY State) constructed on a sound stage. The setting is strikingly similar to this 1903 structure (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2010-04-10_3000x2000_oakpark_edwin_h_cheney_house.jpg) in Oak Park, Illinois. The only structure built by him in Canada during this period would have been the E.H. Pitkin Cottage on Sapper Island in Ontario in 1902. In 1911 he would design the Banff National Park Pavilion, which was demolished in 1939. So, essentially, the whole thing is a lovely illusion.

  2. I was wondering if the ‘Hieronymous’ middle name was not a reference to the 15th century painter or even the Michael Connelly character of the same name.

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