I distinctly remember where I was when I read my first Hardy Boys book. It was The Tower Treasure, the first in the series, and I consumed it during a visit to my grandparent’s home in Cochrane, Ont. I was hooked and blew through a pile of others. Just in time for my TV-loving late 70s youth came The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on ABC with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. So, when YTV announced it had picked up Season 1 of the Canadian co-production, I was excited.
Debuting Friday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on YTV, this interpretation of The Hardy Boys is dark and wonderful. Set against the backdrop of the 80s and all of its music and fashion, Frank Hardy (Rohan Campbell), 16, and his brother Joe (Alexander Elliot), 12, move from the big city to their parent’s hometown of Bridgeport. There, the brothers’ quiet summer quickly comes to a halt when they discover their dad, detective Fenton Hardy (James Tupper) has taken on a secret investigation, leading Frank and Joe to take it upon themselves to start an investigation of their own.
We spoke to executive producer and lead director Jason Stone about how this classic was updated for TV, and how it sets itself apart from the sleuthing brothers before it.
How did you end up getting involved in The Hardy Boys?
Jason Stone: The Hardy Boys was actually my first book report I ever wrote as a kid in Grade 2. I wrote my first book report on The Tower Treasure. I still have it in some box at my parents’ house. Cut to 25 years later and I was in Toronto over the winter. I had gone on a general meeting with Kathleen Meek [Manager, Original Content, Drama and Factual] at Corus and we hit it off. She had mentioned at the end of the conversation that they were working on this adaptation of The Hardy Boys and my ears perked up.
I was like, ‘What kind of adaptation?’ She’s like, ‘We’re still figuring it out. Would that be something of interest to you?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I love The Hardy Boys.’ It’s such an iconic brand with such a deep history. I remember hearing stories about how the books were all ghostwritten by other writers, some of them Canadian even, and that it was all kind of put under the Stratemeyer Syndicate. And it was all just fascinating intrigue both behind the scenes of the books and how they were written and the stories I remember reading.
Kathleen connected me with Joan Lambur, who was working with Nelvana in putting the pieces together to make the show. Joan and I met in her office on a crazy, snowy, frozen January, and totally hit it off. She asked if I would be interested in coming aboard and I jumped at the opportunity. At the time, they had just been developing it as a 30-minute episodic show. Soon after that, we pivoted to a longer format of a one-hour, slightly older leaning, but more serialized as a slightly darker, more adventure, little bit less case of the week and more of a larger one big mystery as the smaller mysteries sort of throw us into each episode each week.
Why the decision to set it in the 80s?
JS: The biggest reason was that it just felt like if we’re going to have stories about teenagers and young adults sleuthing and solving mysteries, we wanted to remove the crutch of being able to just do it all on the Internet. Getting rid of Google and cell phones was just going to make for a more exciting story, because nobody wants to watch a bunch of kids sit on their computers all day long, solving mysteries.
And just reminiscing to the time when myself and the writers and a lot of the crew were in our formative years, in our teens. We used to talk about getting on your bikes and going out for the day and basically, your parents would just wave on your way out and you’d see them after dark. Who knows what you got up to, and the amount of trust and adventure. That freedom when you’re a kid was really palpable and potent to me as memory and something that I really thought would be a good sort of touchstone for the show and really giving that sense of empowerment that these teenagers would be able to take their own fate and their own destiny into their own hands and be the masters of their own domain. It felt really like a good way to do it. And, the less technological influence there is the better, at least for storytelling.
It appears as though the series deals with one case through the arc through the season. Why did you do that instead of doing a different case every week?
JS: We wanted to do something that had a little more scope to it. At the end of the day, what the networks were looking for started to evolve and move into something that was less episodic. So when we moved from the 30-minute to the one-hour, it felt like a natural sort of pivot in terms of the storytelling. When you move into one hour, it really does allow you to do a different kind of thing. You get to spend more time in kind of mining the characters in a different way, and also letting each thing build to a climactic conclusion. If it’s episodic, it’s like standalone. So whether it’s like Law & Order or CSI, which is an adult mystery show, there would have been that version, but it would have been like we’re just watching little cases break, and maybe there’s some character development, but it’s hard to show a larger arc of characters.
We wanted to really push our characters into situations that allowed them to stretch themselves, who they were, discovering who each other were, and learning lessons about themselves and the world around them, and really getting to feel like the scope and the world and the stakes were growing as the season progressed.
A question about the colour palette. There’s that kind of hazy, brownish, 80s kind of look. I guess that was the intention?
JS: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Me and Fraser [Brown], the cinematographer, and Brian [Verhoog], the production designer, and the colourist, Mark [Driver], we all are a part of that conversation. I had a very specific aesthetic that I was aiming for at the beginning. That always evolves and develops as you bring new collaborators in and new eyes in and getting the feedback from Joan and the network, everybody has input that they lean towards. But it didn’t really change all that much. The references that we were doing and the colour palettes were based on look books and photos, paintings that I would pull and work with the designers and cinematographers to dial in the look, and the costume designer, for that matter as well, Judith [Ann Clancy].
Whether it’s about renting furniture or building clothes or the way the lighting comes through the windows, or the kinds of props that are used, we all had a very cohesive plan that we wanted to stick to, to keep the look really specific without being overly stylized. We wanted it to feel very natural and not in your face that it was being handled unless you’re looking for it. It still gives you a sense of time and place, even though both of those were deliberately ambiguous.
The Hardy Boys airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on YTV.
Images courtesy of Corus Entertainment.