CBC’s The Detectives shows “this can happen to you, to someone in your family”

One of the most compelling series on CBC is The Detectives. The documentary series is heading into Season 3 on the public broadcaster, revisiting true crimes in this country, the families involved and the law enforcement officers who capture the killers who commit heinous acts.

Returning Thursday at 9 p.m. with a visit to New Brunswick, viewers recall the death of a woman and her son, and the lengths former RCMP detective Gerry Belliveau (played in re-enactments by Allan Hawco) goes to solve it. Produced by Montreal’s WAM Media GRP Inc.—who also make the U.S. counterpart Real Detective, available on Netflix—we spoke to showrunner and executive producer Petro Duszara about the series and Season 4.

You’ve been working professionally in TV and film since 1998. How did you get into the TV and film industry? 
Petro Duszara: I actually studied anatomy and some biology at McGill. And in my last year, I shocked my parents and said I was quitting, and applied to communications at Concordia, and did communications studies there and then started working in TV after that. I’d definitely had a change of course. My whole background was science, science, science, science, science, and then I knew I always wanted to do TV and made the decision a little late in the game. Not too late, I guess.

Biology and science really play a part in The Detectives, because it’s all about the forensics, and DNA in a lot of these cases. 
PD: True. I never thought of it that way, but you’re absolutely right. There is definitely that link. And I find what I’ve really liked, and the team has really liked, in terms of doing the shows is, you really need to piece things together, for detectives reading these things together. And I find that’s very scientific as well. And then, of course, the human drama.

How do you go about choosing the stories that you’re going to cover?
PD: It’s a multi-pronged approach. We’re looking always for cases that represent across the country. You don’t want to stay centric in a particular city. We’re looking for stories that will hold an hour of television. There are a lot of excellent cases that are open and shut, or there isn’t as much investigative work that has to be done, so we’re looking for stories that we can last.

You’re looking for detectives that are emotionally connected to the story, and also eloquent enough to share their story, and they have the charisma to carry a story onscreen. You have to find cases where there is a really solid and important reason to tell that case, to reopen those wounds. We’re looking for landmark cases that changed things in the legislature, or how policing works, or open the eyes to a department, in terms of seeing things in their blind spot. So that’s a critical part.

And then, the linchpin is you look for stories where we speak to the families. We make sure the families know what we’re doing, and are supportive of what we’re doing. And then, once all of those boxes are all checked off, then we go ahead with the story.

The season premiere takes place in New Brunswick. I’m learning more about the country through this show.
PD: Our researchers love that too. Because we travel to these locations, when we meet these detectives, and we’ll often meet the families as well. And so, you’re seeing different parts of the world that you’re trying to capture and share with the rest of the country. So it’s neat.

Part of the storytelling is done through reenactments and some details are altered. Why? 
PD: There are different reasons why things are altered. Sometimes details are altered to protect the identity of people that, although they were specifically involved in their case, their names have never been published and made public. Sometimes in an investigation, an investigator will interview five or 10 different witnesses, who’ll give them one bit of information each. Rather than having five or 10 different scenes with five or 10 different people, we’ll create a composite character who provides all those tips in one shot. The same thing happens with investigators.

Often, in reality, you don’t have necessarily a partner working a homicide case with you. You’ll have a variety of people on a team. So sometimes, we create a composite character that represents several of the officers that worked on the team with the lead investigator, that kind of stuff. And then, there are some instances where there are some police techniques that were used in the investigation, that they’d rather keep confidential.

When people are tuning in to watch the show, what do you want them to take away from it? Do you want them to see these police officers and the heroes that they are? Do you want it to be the community, the families?
PD: This is really a show about the consequences of violence. You’re seeing how that violent act affects the family of the victim, how it affects the community, that whole thing. So when we watch the shows we look at it as, ‘This is what happens when violent crime happens in the community. It affects the detective, it affects the family, it affects the whole community. And this can happen to you, and this can happen to someone in your family, it can happen down the street.’

The Detectives airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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