There are countless reasons why television shows are created. It could be anything from showcasing an actor to fulfilling a contract. A reason I haven’t heard before is why Northern Rescue came to fruition.
“We really wanted to do something that was a little more hopeful and family co-viewing,” says creator and executive producer David Cormican. He and his co-creators, Mark Bacci and Dwayne Hill for Don Carmody Productions, all most recently worked on the decidedly dark Citytv project Between. Now they can add bona fide family drama to their IMDB pages.
Debuting exclusively on CBC Gem this Friday—an airdate on CBC will follow—all 10 of the show’s Season 1 instalments arrive ready for a binge watch. William Baldwin stars as John West, a big-city search and rescue man who uproots his family after his wife dies. A change of scenery, and moving in with their Aunt Charlotte (Kathleen Robertson), would seem—on paper—to be just the thing to help them cope with the loss. Not so, especially for 16-year-old daughter Maddie (Amalia Williamson) and 14-year-old son Scout (Spencer MacPherson).
I spoke to Cormican about how Northern Rescue came about, how the stars aligned and being the first drama to drop on CBC Gem.
How did Northern Rescue come about?
David Cormican: If you look back through—especially Don’s resumé, and then mine as well—it’s fairly, I don’t want to say dark, but let’s say genre skewing. A lot of sci-fi, a lot of horror, a lot of action. It wasn’t necessarily stuff that I can sit down and watch with my parents, right straight on down to my brothers and sisters and their kids, and my kid as well. We really wanted to do something that was a little more hopeful and family co-viewing.
It’s one of those things where it’s always sort of resonated with me in terms of the story and I thought it’d be great and a lot of fun to get into these characters, into the meat of it.
Maddie is the voice of the show. Why did you decide to go with her as the storyteller, as the way in, as opposed to traditional let’s just jump in and find out who these characters are on our own?
DC: I think on the surface you might sort of think that the show is about John because he’s played by the biggest star, you know, Billy Baldwin or Kathleen Robertson, who is playing Aunt Charlie. But when we started getting into it, it’s funny, I know we use two devices. I’m not normally a huge fan of flashbacks and narration and we use both a lot, and we even actually thought that we were going to pull back on the narration after the first episode. But it just sort of created this nice sort of framework and we started to realize as we were breaking the series, way back before we started shooting, was that Maddie really was our lead. She was the one who we’re sort of seeing most of the story through, she’s our narrator, reliable or otherwise.
We’re seeing a lot of it through how it connects to her, and it’s also because especially in the first season, there’s a major secret that is brewing that it sort of ramps up to 10 on Episode 5 and then by the time we reach the final episode of the season and we sort of crank is to 11. When we tested a few of the episodes out with some of our nearest and dearest to see what they think might be coming and that, and no one’s been able to sort of see it. So that’s kind of great.
We realized that there’s so much that hinges around the character of Maddie that it really starts to put the whole family itself into focus when we see it through her eyes. Ultimately it is a family drama, but Maddie is sort of the primary vehicle that we use to advance the story forward.
The obvious question, of course, is how do you land a Billy Baldwin? Is it an executive producer credit, to entice him?
DC: Billy came very early on in the show and he read a couple of the earlier drafts of Episodes 1 and 2 and responded immediately to them, and this before we were out to cast anyone else either. So Billy read the scripts and we already had some interest from the networks and Billy just sort of loved the notion of family and definition we were playing with. Which is not, you know, your stereotypical nuclear family definition. It’s sort of who you choose sometimes as opposed to whose thrust upon you. We got on the phone one day and it was supposed to be a little meet and greet ‘Hello, how are you?’ sort of thing. And I think we started jamming for almost an hour and a half on additional story points and this and that.
We got into the stories of Billy’s family and our families and starting swapping tales back and forth. The meeting quickly lead to the conversation afterwards where the agent called up like, ‘So Billy loves it, so let’s talk some points’. And the EP thing was actually that was sort of inspired on our side because of Billy’s involvement, he got very involved on the front end of things and has been a great champion of the show with the networks to sort of assure them that, ‘Yeah, I’m in this. I’m in it to win it, so let’s make this happen.’
And I think Billy sort of puts it best. It’s called show business. There are some producers that handle the show side, and some that handle the business side and there’s rarely some that handle both sides and Billy is the first to admit that he’s on the creative side of things, so he likes to sort of roll up the sleeves on his character.
There are some very serious storylines that come up, obviously the loss of a mother and a wife. Search and rescue by nature is not something to laugh about. How do you balance some of those storylines?
DC: I would say our inclination actually, especially when you get into myself and Dwayne, I think our leanings are a little bit more on the comedic side. And certainly on some of the drafts of the scripts, even closer to final draft, you could see read into them quite funnily if you were to… or play for the comedy and we had to sort of constantly be reminding everyone on set to not play for laughs. Remember it’s not comedy in the script, it’s levity.
And that took a couple episodes until we got everyone in all of their roles to sort of come because I think everyone’s first inclination was like, ‘Cool! Room for comedy here, right?’ And I think that might be sort of borne out of some of the other shows that CBC is known for right now like Schitts Creek and Workin’ Moms and stuff like that. Again, we’re playing to that darker, edgier side of the drama so while yes, there are moments of levity, we always try to shy away from ever calling it comedy because I’m a big believer, especially, comedy and tragedy is such a fine line.
Now, obviously the broadcast for this is going to be a little different. You’re going to be the second show that’s been featured on CBC streaming, CBC Gem in this case. How did you feel about that?
DC: I think some people were nervous. I wasn’t. I like this idea, and I liked it from the get-go and I championed for it a little bit more once it realized it could mean the difference for us between just being a show on CBC versus being a show that’s going to be a first for them on Gem, because then they’re binging all episodes at once.
We’re no longer sort of a slave to the week-to-week. And I think that’s smart, not just for us, but I also think it’s smart for CBC Gem as a platform.
Northern Rescue‘s entire first season is available for streaming on Friday on CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC.