Hudson & Rex showrunner Ken Cuperus: “I read it, and I actually turned it down”

I’ve been writing about Canadian television for years and thought I’d heard every story possible both on and off the record. But Ken Cuperus shocked me when we spoke about Hudson & Rex.

He initially turned it down.

“When I came into the show, it was kind of a grim and grey kind of procedural,” Cuperus said recently. “And I read it, and I actually turned it down. I said, ‘I feel like the material is too dark.’ I’m more of a comedy guy. I’m more of a heart guy. I feel like a show with a dog, you’ve got to have fun with it.” Executive producer Christina Jennings agreed with his assessment and told him to make the series he wanted.

In Monday’s new episode, “Fearless Freaks,” written by Cuperus and directed by Felipe Rodriguez, Charlie (John Reardon) and Rex (Diesel vom Burgimwald) unravel a conspiracy surrounding the death of a thrill-seeking daredevil.

We spoke to Cuperus about developing the series, the writing room and being allergic to his canine co-star.

How’s production been going? 
Ken Cuperus: It’s been really great. We’ve had some challenges throughout because we’re trying to do more of a spring and fall show. But we’re in Newfoundland for the winter, so it’s been a little tricky with the weather there, and getting rid of snow and all that stuff. So that’s kind of an added challenge, but other than that, it’s been great.

How did the show all come about in the first place?
KC: I actually came onto the show pretty late in the process considering. I believe that Shaftesbury has had these rights for this show for at least a decade. They’ve been trying for the last 10 years to get somebody to bite on it, so to speak. I think they were really close about five years ago, and that didn’t quite work out. Christina Jennings just really strongly believed in it, held onto it. And finally, they called me in about a year and a half ago and said, ‘Listen, we have this show. We really, really think it can work. We want to do a lighter touch.’

When I came into the show, it was kind of a grim and grey kind of procedural. And I read it, and I actually turned it down. I said, ‘I feel like the material is too dark.’ I’m more of a comedy guy. I’m more of a heart guy. I feel like a show with a dog, you’ve got to have fun with it. It’s a cop who has a dog for a partner. There’s an inherent lightness to that concept that I didn’t think was being utilized. So I said, ‘No, thanks.’

When Christina found out the reasons why I turned it down, she called me directly and said, ‘Listen, that’s the take we want. We want to see what you can do with that.’ And I couldn’t turn that down. I probably took it too far at first in more of a comedic like direction, and so we just kind of wrangled it into a shape that more strongly resembled what would be ultimately a Citytv show.

You didn’t want this to be Cujo.
KC: Yeah, exactly. But it was True Detective. The tone was just wrong. It wasn’t an 8 p.m show, which is what a dog and a cop show really could be. We got there, I think.

I like the tone of how serious things were. You jumped right in with the action with this kid being kidnapped. You get an idea of this is a serious show, but it’s going to have light moments as well.
KC: Yeah, that was the idea, the stakes have to be real or the concept is also not going to work. It was a balancing act.

Do you find that difficult?
KC: Not really. I’ve done a lot of procedural and if the stakes aren’t high, even in a lighter procedural, you’re just not going to engage the audience. The stakes have to be high. The stories have to be a little twisty. There have to be surprises. Then you layer everything else into that. You layer in the lightness. You layer in the heart and the comedy on top of that.

I know you are largely from children’s programming, from Mr. Young and The Stanley Dynamic. Do you feel as though working in the children’s genre has changed the way that you write?
KC: Well, I actually started in preschool. I think preschool writing is the hardest writing, and it trained me to take on those challenges in a way that made everything else I’ve done much easier, strangely. You’d think it would be the other way, but it is a very difficult genre. I get bored easily, so I’ve never wanted to just do one thing. I love going back and forth. I love going from an animated half hour to a laugh track, a multi-camera comedy, to a high stakes procedural. I love bouncing around like that. That’s something that only Canadian writers really get to do.

How many folks did you have in the writer’s room with you?
KC: We were a very small staff because we started with a smaller order of eight episodes. We did a couple of scripts before we were picked up. When our show was picked up, we already had two scripts. We only needed six more, so we started with a staff of four writers. And by the time it came time to move production and get it down to Newfoundland, there were only two writers. What happened was they added a back eight and we had to, basically, build the writing staff from scratch again. It was kind of like doing Season 1 and Season 2 at the same time and overlapping. It was quite a challenge, but it was a thrill to get more episodes.

Who did you have in the writer’s room?
KC: When we started, it was myself and Avrum Jacobson. We had Jessie Gabe and a writer named Celeste Parr, who is terrific. We had a writer named Kate Melville who only stayed with us a short time. She moved on quickly because she got a Netflix series. We were excited for her. And then [Murdoch Mysteries‘] Simon [McNabb] and Paul (Aitken] had come into the development room and done a script as well. We couldn’t keep them because Murdoch keeps coming back and stealing all the writers.

What about the experience filming in Newfoundland? It’s a beautiful part of the world. How has it been for you logistically and everything? You already talked about the weather a little bit. What’s it been like working with the crew?
KC: Oh my god, the crew is an A-plus crew there. They only have really one crew. You have to stagger your production with anything else that’s going on there. But man, you couldn’t ask for a better, stronger crew. You can throw anything at them. They’re so hardened from the difficult shooting conditions and the weather. Nothing phases these guys. I’ve worked with a lot of Toronto crews, and with no disrespect to them, they don’t hold a candle to how efficient the crew in St. John’s is, for a lot of specific reasons that are related to the environment.

Are you a dog person, a cat person? 
KC: I’m actually allergic to animals. I’ve found this show is great because when we’re outside, the dogs don’t bother me or anything like that. I have a quite mild allergy to dogs. If this was a cat show, I probably would have had to turn it down. Because of my allergies, I never thought in a million years I’d work on a dog show. I was a little bit fearful of it. I discovered that it didn’t bother me at all because the studio is so big that it’s not like you’re contained in a box with all that dog hair or anything. We keep it clean, and I’ve never had one single problem. I feel like up until now, I’ve wasted a lot of opportunities to work with animals because of it. And now, I think moving forward I won’t have that fear. So it’s actually been great for me.

What’s it been like working with this canine co-star?
KC: I think we were incredibly lucky with Diesel. He was a very young dog, so he was being trained specifically for our needs about a year in advance because we were already preparing for our pilot. I feel like he was very specific to us. He is just such a spectacular dog. I can’t believe the number of things he wants to do. He’s excited every day to come to set.

I can’t prove this because I don’t speak dog. But I could swear he gets jealous when we bring in the other dogs to do the distance work or the stunts. I think he’s got a look in his eye like, ‘Why are you bringing in that other dog?’ He’s been a joy. I can’t believe it. I honestly think we were just very lucky in that regard because like they say, it’s very difficult to work with dogs. If they don’t cooperate, your whole day is shot. We didn’t lose one hour to a dog misbehaving this entire shoot.

Hudson & Rex airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

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4 thoughts on “Hudson & Rex showrunner Ken Cuperus: “I read it, and I actually turned it down””

  1. Wow, another repulsive, snooze-of-a-dud from the Canadian Canon of Crap. Wasn’t this a dumb movie idea starring Jim Belushi, like, 20 years ago? Why are Canadian broadcasters and producers so hell-bent on creating shows that feel decades too late? Seriously. I watched the first episode, and while I could go into specifics about the acting, writing, etc., I would rather just get an understanding as to why none of the shows being made in our country are in any way thought provoking or original? I’m asking as someone with no solid understanding of the Canadian industry, but I’m now sincerely curious. Someone, please, explain to me why this country continually churns out mountains of crap, then has websites like this write glowing reviews?? I’ve more or less given up on this country in respect to making anything that takes on the quality of programming of the Americans or British, but it just makes no sense as to why we’re so incapable??

    1. Hey Jared, thanks for the feedback. When you refer to “mountains of crap,” can you give me some specific examples? Hudson & Rex reflects the changing television landscape, where international series are purchased and remade for a new audience (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108829/?ref_=nv_sr_3?ref_=nv_sr_3). Murdoch Mysteries has been on the air for 12 seasons and has been sold internationally. It’s a hit in France. Coroner, which debuted last fall, has gotten record-setting ratings for the CBC and has been sold by eOne around the world. As for “glowing reviews,” as the owner of this website it’s my mandate to spotlight Canadian originals and co-productions that I think are great and deserve some attention. You may not agree with me, but that’s OK, you’re allowed to have an opinion. As am I. -GD

      1. Thank you for your reply, Greg. I appreciate honest discussion about this sort of stuff, and even though I know it doesn’t cost tax payers much, these are our tax dollars at work, and I find it interesting to see the type of content our beloved broadcaster decides to put on air.

        Yes, I’m wondering why, in lieu of creating interesting, home-grown, original content we’re reviving 20+ year old Austrian procedurals? These are stale, run-of-the-mill ideas that scream “dated”, and it’s – perhaps – a sign worth considering that it took them 10 years to bite on this show? Again, I don’t know enough about the nitty gritty nuances of this industry, but as someone who works in sales/manufacturing, I know when to walk away from a bad deal (never mind pounding at the door for 10 years!)

        As for other Canadian shows? Well, I understand that this is your website, and it’s by no means meant to be a source of objective critiques, and I’m sure plenty of the creators and actors on the shows are grateful for your unwavering support, but short of Murdoch Mysteries & Heartland I can barely think of any real successful Canadian show that hasn’t made me roll by eyes and chuckle. Ones that come mind… let’s see: Cracked, Frankie Drake Mysteries, Burden of Truth (possibly the worst of the bunch), Street Legal’s revival (barf), 18 to Life, Arctic Air, Bellevue, The Border, Caught, etc.

        Again, this isn’t intended as an attempt to insult. I’m sure no one who works on any of the above sets out to make a bad show, and they’re undoubtedly at the mercy of a long list of creative interferences, but I just find it really sad to see what this country COULD do, and what it does. Where are the show examining the failure of our institutions? Where are hard-hitting drama that deal with drugs, poverty, racism, the treatment of our First Nations people? There’s so much opportunity to make shows like The Wire (to give a strong example) that go beyond just knee slapping fluff?

        Let’s get this conversation going!

        1. Happy to keep it going Jared! You mentioned our tax dollars and I think you were referring to Hudson & Rex. That airs on Citytv, which is a private broadcaster. But if you’re referring to Murdoch and Heartland then I apologize. Please check out Blackstone. It’s available on APTN.ca and is just the hard-hitting show I think you’re looking for. It deals with First Nations stories in a gritty Sopranos-style I think you’ll enjoy. If a mystery is your taste as well, catch Cardinal on CTV or Crave. Dark, atmospheric and based on a stellar book series. It’s our take on Scandinavian noir and it’s very good.

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