January 2020 marked a historic day in Newfoundland weather history. A blizzard event with 140km/hr winds was quickly dubbed “Snowmaggendon,” when it dropped 76 inches of snow on the province. That, and more, are revisited in Season 2 of The Weather Files: Total Impact.
Returning Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Cottage Life, the events highlighted in The Weather Files: Total Impact are truly fascinating and terrifying. Told through the eyes of survivors, scientific experts and first responders, it brings harrowing true human stories to wild weather.
Monday’s first instalment of eight episodes digs deep into the blizzard that pummeled Newfoundland early last year. What began as a southern winter storm tracking northward from the U.S. slammed into the colder North Atlantic air, triggering a true monster. Original footage shot on cellphones shows the devastation, as wind and snow paralyzed the region with feet of the white stuff. Though snow is a way of life in this part of the country, they weren’t prepared for this much.
Not just a recap accented by shaky cell footage, The Weather Files: Total Impact focuses on the human stories on Monday, like a young mother-to-be who went into labour as the blizzard was kicking in, and the Wall family, whose son, Josh, ventured out into the gloom. Pair that with experts describing the hows and whys of blizzards—and an analysis of snow, its benefits as well as dangers—and this Saloon Media project is compelling stuff.
The Weather Files: Total Impact, airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Cottage Life.
[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Rough and Tumble.”]
Well that was certainly a change of pace, wasn’t it? Whereas Murdoch Mysteries‘ Season 14 debut was more lighthearted, Monday’s latest was a truly rough and tumble affair. Written by Murdoch Mysteries and Frankie Drake Mysteries showrunner Peter Mitchell, Bobby Brackenreid was reunited with his family in the most stressful of ways: accused of murder. That meant Thomas had to walk a tightrope between being a copper and bringing Bobby in for questioning or keeping Bobby hidden while investigating the case himself.
By the episode’s end, Bobby had been cleared of the murder charge, but his future is uncertain. In our latest post-episode interview, we spoke to Peter Mitchell about the instalment.
Congratulations on Season 14 of Murdoch Mysteries and Season 4 of Frankie Drake Mysteries! How challenging was it to run both shows while addressing COVID-19 safety measures? Peter Mitchell: Probably not as challenging as working in a grocery store. Shaftesbury, the production company, placed an extremely high value on crew safety. We also worked with people who were all following the same protocols and were very serious about making sure both themselves and the people they were working with, stayed safe. That said, I’m a bit of a water-bug on set, moving from prep in the office with writers, pre-production with staff, shooting with the crew, and post-production with sound, music, and film editors. Multiply that by two shows and that is eight separate pods. My freedom of movement was very restricted and sometimes that was a pain. That said, meetings and the like conducted over Zoom went much quicker as people were much more focused. I also have a wonderful Associate Producer, Elsbeth McCall, who could handle things when I could be two places at once.
How did you adapt both series’ writing rooms so that scripts could continue? PM: Less is hopefully more. We had fewer scenes per episode, fewer characters in the scenes, and fewer background performers. Physical distancing was often a bit of a problem and we had to carefully plan out stunts and degrees of closeness between performers. Fortunately, the directors and assistant directors on both shows were able to block and choreograph the background actors so, I think, this will not really be all that noticeable to the audience. Both shows did fewer ‘days on the road’ than we have in the past. In the writing rooms, we didn’t spend as much physical time together as we have in the past and we often met in smaller groups than we have in the past. The demands of quarantine and distancing meant we had to show up focused and ready to work when we all got together (either virtually or in-person). It wasn’t as much fun as it usually is.
Was there an added benefit to writing from home, or was it largely a pain? PM: Once one got used to handling the tech, there was hardly a difference. I’ve spent most of my career writing everywhere, at home, in a crowded writing room, on-set and, very, very occasionally in a bar, so it was no different for me.
“Rough and Tumble” marked the return of Bobby Brackenreid, who was accused of murder. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Bobby. How did this storyline come together so that he would be the accused? PM: We’d always joked about turning Bobby into a serial killer. And while he isn’t that in the episode in question, we wanted to have a bit of a bang when he was reintroduced into the Brackenreid orbit. I think on some level seeing all the videos this summer of how demonstrations and the like could turn into random violence also tweaked the idea. And the release of Bob Dylan’s album Rough and Rowdy Ways kind of lit the flame.
It’s always interesting to see the Brackenreid family interact, especially now that Nomi is in the picture. Will the results of the case, Bobby guilty of a lesser charge, affect the Brackenreid’s again this season? PM: Well, that would be giving away a bit too much now, wouldn’t it? Safe to say, both the fates of Bobby and Nomi impact the Brackenreid’s this year.
It was wonderful to see Goldie Huckabee return and impact on William and Julia the way she did. Has the decision to have William and Julia appear in more light-hearted scenes been a conscious decision, or has it happened organically? PM: Jonelle Gunderson, who plays Goldie, has a delightful comic touch. It would have been a real shame not to utilize it. I have also been a fan of the “annoying neighbour trope.” The decision to have more light-hearted scenes with William and Julia came about because, well have you looked at the world out there, we felt we could use a little of it right now. Also, because it was difficult to film physical intimacy, we wanted to show that the two do love each other and if one way to do that was to see them laugh together more.
Who did you have in the Murdoch Mysteries writing room this season? Any new faces? PM: Murdoch has most of the same group it has had for the last couple of years, Paul Aitken, Simon McNabb, and Noelle Girard but this year we added Christina Ray and Caleigh Bacchus both of whom were wonderful additions who wrote very strong scripts for us.
Who did you have in the Frankie Drake Mysteries writing room this season? PM: The writing room at Frankie Drake was composed of Mary Pedersen (who I stole from Murdoch), Jennifer Kassabian (who was on the show last year) Keri Ferenz, and Robina Lord Stafford.
[Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched the Season 14 episode, “Keep Me in Your Heart.”]
Midway through last fall, TV, Eh? began getting emails. There were rumours among Heartland fans that Ty Borden (Graham Wardle) would not return to the show. We the rumours true, those emails asked? I don’t like rumours, so I didn’t address them. Instead, I let the Season 14 premiere of Heartland speak for itself.
And, sadly, as those rumours were true. On Sunday night, viewers learned that Ty succumbed to the gunshot injury he received in Season 13. “Keep Me in Your Heart” was an emotional hour with a memorial for Ty as its centrepiece, a year-later goodbye for the characters that was truly emotional. Here, Amber Marshall answers our questions about Ty’s death and what it means for Amy and the rest of the family moving forward.
Congratulations on Season 14 of Heartland. Can you believe it’s been 14 seasons already? Amber Marshall: It seems like only yesterday we were all meeting for the first time. The beautiful thing is the excitement we all shared to be a part of that first season, is still strong over a decade later. We genuinely love and respect one another. The cast and crew have remained close and all have each other’s best interests in mind.
COVID-19 threw a wrench in everyone’s lives. How difficult was it for you and the Heartland family to adapt to filming during the pandemic? AM: Being such a close and social workplace, it took a while to become consistent with a new routine. We are a group that hugs when we meet in the morning and when we leave at the end of the day. We spend many hours on set in close quarters and typically in between scenes and setups we usually all huddle together and run lines, or chat socially. This all had to change in season 14 to allow for COVID protocol to be followed. Lunches were now spent alone in our trailers or vehicles and any time we had in between setups or scenes was usually spent the same way. In some ways it allowed me to get more ‘homework’ done during the day, but the social side of Heartland looked very different.
Sunday’s episode revealed that, unfortunately, Ty developed complications and passed away. As a cast member and friend of Graham’s, how hard has it been to not have him around on-set? AM: The story of Amy and Ty has been very prominent since Heartland’s beginning. Graham and I have had many beautiful stories on Heartland over the years and have remained very close friends off-set as well. This year was a strange new reality on all fronts. In a way, the longevity of the Amy and Ty story gave me inspiration as an actor to be able to feel the grief and sorrow of losing that character. Graham and I still spoke often throughout the season and I was able to visit him recently as well.
What would you say to fans who are upset Ty is no longer on the show? He and Amy have been the centrepiece of this show since Day 1. There are things in our lives we can never prepare for. And when something devastating happens it feels as though our world is ripped apart and could never be put back together. I know fans of the show will be deeply saddened by the loss of Ty and I hope that they can join Amy and the Heartland family during this season of healing. There will always be events in our life that are out of our control and upset us. Instead of attacking them, or shutting down, we experience the most growth when we remain open and understanding.
When we pick up with the new season, a year has gone by. How do you feel about the time jump? AM: Heartland was supposed to begin filming Season 14 in April of 2020. At that time the scripts were written to be six months after Ty’s passing. When the pandemic caused us to push our start until September is was a beautiful thing for our story. Now, instead of ‘six months later’ we have a more powerful story of a whole year passing. I believe this added immensely to the journey of our characters. The memorial on the one-year anniversary of his death was so much stronger than if it was only six months later. Also, the seasons and backdrop to the stage we were setting was far more tailored to the events. To me, the colder climate and fall/winter landscapes make the audience feel the grief so much deeper than a spring/summer backdrop.
Ty leaves a huge hole in the family. How will Amy adapt to this new life, especially being a single mother? AM: Amy is no stranger to loss. The series begins with the death of her mother and her journey forward down a new road which she must travel without Marion. It is the horses that have always grounded Amy and as she works to heal their traumas, they, in turn, heal her. When Amy loses Ty, she goes through a wide range of emotions. She is numb to it for many months, then has strong guilt for not doing more to prevent it. With Jack’s help and understanding, she accepts that it was out of her control and the best way to honour Ty is to move forward and be present for their daughter. Amy leans on what has always comforted her in times of sorrow: horses. She includes her daughter in this form of healing and together they share some beautiful moments.
What can fans expect from the new season of the show? AM: As always, be prepared to laugh, cry and maybe throw something at your TV – perhaps all at the same time! This season is undoubtedly an emotional one, but the strength of the Heartland family coming together and the beauty of the cinematography brings so much to the hearts of the viewers who join us on this journey.
Heartland airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of Michelle Faye Fraser for Rescued Horse Season Fourteen Inc.
In my first interview covering the third season of Hudson & Rex, I spoke to show co-stars Mayko Nguyen about how emotionally draining the season debut was. Showrunner Derek Schreyer believes he knows the reason why.
“I think these times have shown us not just how much we love our animals, but how much they love us,” he told me in an email. I agree. I certainly have spent a lot more time bugging my cat, much—I’m sure—to his chagrin. But enough about me; here is my email chat with Derek Schreyer about the challenges of running a TV series during a worldwide pandemic.
How challenging was it for you, as showrunner, to create this season during COVID-19? Derek Schreyer: I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t much of a factor. We started rolling into Season 3 just as the world began to shut down, and the pandemic panic was at its absolute high (even though we’re actually much worse off now). Getting into a groove on a new season is challenging enough, but here was this added complexity of being forced to work on Zoom, and oh yeah, the world is burning. So those first few days were spent musing about life while figuring out the software (we use Miro to replicate a whiteboard) and all the new rhythms of a virtual room.
So yes, there were bumps. In a physical workspace, we can pace and move around and scrunch up the bad pitches (which will inevitably become ammunition). Sometimes we’d take group walks to stretch the legs or have a coffee break in a park, which is where some of the best ideas are formed. None of that possible in a virtual room, so we had to figure out new ways to spark our imagination. Complicating things further is everyone has a life, which can’t help but spill onto the zoom screen—there are the kids and the ferrets and the delivery men and the partners and the barking dogs, not to mention the technical glitches and different time zones.
But here’s the funny thing: I learned to love all that stuff. Distractions create amusing bonding moments, which can actually generate ideas. It really didn’t take our team long to gel. Of course, it’s not like we had a choice—our development window is much shorter than most one-hour shows, so we had to learn how to work together fast. That we’re not a massive room worked to our advantage, and we have a nice mix of new faces with returnees. There’s really only four of us—Vivian Lin and Joseph Milando from last season, and Sonja Bennet coming in fresh. We also had Cal Coons do the heavy-lifting on some of the earlier episodes, it would have been near impossible to slide right into Season 3 without him. And we were blessed with some strong outside writers, a number of whom have already written for the show.
And yes, COVID was certainly a factor in how we told our stories. We chose not to depict the pandemic in our fictional world, but production still had to manage it in real life, which meant fewer crowds and more two-handers and outdoor scenes. So there were definitely more barriers for the storytelling this season. But sometimes barriers breed innovation, and I’m very proud of the places we took our scripts. I honestly believe it’s our strongest season yet.
Mayko mentioned a lot more filming outdoors this season. Was this because of the pandemic, or was that just the nature of the storylines? DS: It’s actually a bit of both. Newfoundland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, which is one of the reasons we now air in over 100 territories—that rugged landscape is an appealing draw for places like Italy, France, and Germany. Some of our strongest episodes from previous seasons took advantage of that. And of course, with this year and COVID, it’s just easier and safer to shoot outdoors, so we definitely leaned more that way at first.
Luckily the outdoors is a natural fit for our world, given the Rex factor. There is something appealing about a man and his dog in the wild, that Jack London call to adventure is innate and universal. One episode finds Charlie and Rex venturing deep into the forest to a small nomadic civilization living off-the-grid. Another takes place under the ocean and involves Charlie strapping on a SCUBA suit in the search for clues on the ocean bed (both ideas inspired by our star John Reardon, who is a Master SCUBA diver in real life). The point is that this season often our story obstacles came from the elements, as opposed to complex set-pieces requiring a large cast, which is true to the DNA of our show.
The one down side to shooting outdoors is that Newfoundland does not have a very long summer. That can be difficult on the actors, who sometimes have to pretend it’s warmer than it is. Watching them in some of these dailies makes me realize how incredibly devoted they are to their craft and this show. Luckily, we plan our stories according to the elements, so the last three episodes shooting in the new year feature worlds that are largely indoors.
Did you have to alter anything in the planning and/or production because of COVID-19? DS: Absolutely, both on the page and on the floor. Production did an incredible job tapping down on COVID—employing working pods and zones, sanitizing stations, strict quarantining of out-of-province cast and crew, essential mask-wearing, and of course constant testing. All of this costs money and time, so almost every department, including Story, had to make concessions. So sometimes, if a test result wasn’t ready, we’d have to adjust a scene or write someone out. Re-inventing on the fly is not unusual during production, but COVID took it to another level. Having said that, as crazy as it sounds, the limitations didn’t hurt the episodes. At times they even helped them. Smaller scenes can become more visceral and intimate, allowing Rex and the cast to really shine. Crowds were certainly a casualty this season, but we quickly discovered we didn’t always need them. For instance, one episode is set at a dog show. We could never replicate the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, so we developed a fictional version that felt truer to St. John’s. And we’re working on an episode involving magic, which usually involves spectacle and an audience, but the more interesting things happen behind the scenes.
I’ve told both Mayko and John that there is a groove to the first episode of this new season. It feels like everyone “gets” their characters and there is a confidence/swagger to the show. Have you felt that? DS: Absolutely. Our four human leads really have found their groove this season, hitting new heights in clarity and depth. I strongly believe that any of them could anchor a U.S. show. But as good as they are individually, they’re even better as a team. I like to think it’s because of the brilliant writing, but it’s more likely that chemistry generates over hardship and time, and after two seasons and 32 episodes this cast has had plenty of both (epic reshoots, snowmaggedon, a pandemic … and I’m only scratching the surface!)
The other factor is, now that we’re deep into the third season, we really have figured out what makes each of these characters unique. We’re not a soapy show, and don’t go too deeply into the personal lives of our characters. So we can’t rely on shortcuts like bringing in a parent or girlfriend or brother or following anyone home (except Charlie and Rex). This means we need to define our characters through nuance in dialogue and work style. It helps that everyone works together to ensure their voices are clear and consistent, including the cast themselves.
Hudson & Rex is able to provide light and dark moments. The scene of Rex and his dead partner in the season premiere, and the closing scene at her tombstone, was emotional for me. Can you talk about the joy of bringing those moments to the screen? DS: Our opening episode was an idea that had been kicking around for a while, but was felt too early in the series arc for an origin story. But now that 30-plus episodes have been filmed, and given how crazy 2020 has been, I cannot think of a more perfect season kicker. It’s obviously a heavy episode that deals with loyalty, loss, and renewal. Jackie May did a lovely job capturing the raw emotion, and I don’t think you’re the only one who felt moved by the episode.
In many ways, that opener is very 2020. We’re all craving connectivity in these crazy times, and that is especially true with the animals we love. My parents had to put down their German shepherd not long before COVID hit, and they’re missing that dog every day. And I had to put down my best pal Cooper, our Portuguese water dog, the day we went into lockdown. We’ve learned to appreciate the bond we have with our animal companions. For this season’s opener, we’re telling that same story, except from the dog’s POV, which is even more wrenching.
I think these times have shown us not just how much we love our animals, but how much they love us, which is why our opener packs such an emotional punch. But the ending alludes to renewal, hope, and purpose—something we all could really use these days.
Hudson & Rex airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.
Diesel and Derek image courtesy of Derek Schreyer. Show images courtesy of Rogers Media.
Shocking but true: Cleopatra was nothing like the person Liz Taylor played in the big-budget 1963 film. That’s one of the first facts I gleaned from The Nature of Things‘ newest episode.
“Searching for Cleopatra,” broadcast as part of The Nature of Things, debuts Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC, pulls back the curtain on the most famous of the Pharaohs. Did she really fall in love with two men—Julius Caesar and Marc Antony—and die with a little help from a poisonous snake?
Viewers follow archaeologist Kathleen Martinez (pictured above)—who has been sifting through the ruins of the huge temple complex of Taposiris Magna, or City of the Dead, outside of Alexandria—in search of Cleopatra’s final resting place. Martinez has found tantalizing clues that she is in the right area, but nothing concrete. As cameras capture the digging, we are given the history of Cleopatra. What is true is that, over 2,000 years ago, Cleopatra ruled over 7 million people, wasn’t Egyptian and led an army against her brother. Also true: the Romans are credited with the depiction of Cleopatra that led to Hollywood’s version of the ancient ruler.
In addition to Martinez, Canadian Classical Studies professors Kelly Olson, from the University of Western Ontario, and Sheila Ager of the University of Waterloo, share their knowledge of the Egyptian queen and her times and emphasize she was a ruler whose exceptional skill was her ability to grab and hold onto power.
“Searching for Cleopatra” airs as part of The Nature of Things on Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC.