Everything about Hard Rock Medical, eh?

CBC, meet APTN

There are encouraging signs at CBC lately, in terms of the quality of what they’re putting on screen and how audiences are responding to it (let’s not talk about the rest).

With a vision that’s shifted toward distinguishing themselves from the private networks with more sophistication, more partnerships  and more international acquisitions, ratings have more or less followed with their new programming.

Less would be fall’s Strange Empire, which garnered an audience around the mid-200,000s. Not stellar for a not-cable network, though the quality isn’t in question.

More would be this winter’s The Book of Negroes co-production with BET, based on Lawrence Hill’s award-winning novel, with around 1.4 million watching each of the six episodes.

Somewhere in between would be Schitt’s Creek, which reunited Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy and premiered in January to a huge 1.4 million, but has plateaued at nearly half that audience.

Another mixed result would be X Company, which debuted last week to somewhere over 800,000. CBC must have hoped for more — the absence of a braggy ratings media release is a clue — but it’s a decent number with potential to grow.

They’ll air Young Drunk Punk sometime after its City run, and a highly credible rumour has it that Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays will come back, though CBC are taking their time confirming it. They apparently don’t care that I’m on the edge of my seat here.

But what of those killer budget cuts and the need to fill out a schedule with less money for original series and fewer episodes for the series they do make?

CBC, meet APTN: Canada’s other public broadcaster.

With every interview or review I do of an APTN series, I find myself thinking to myself — and to the interviewee, and to Twitter — that CBC would be a great home for a show like that.

Like Hard Rock Medical, the hugely entertaining half-hour Northern Exposure of the North that deserves a much, much bigger audience than it’s getting on TVO and APTN. And hey, it would make a great pairing for the equally cable-esque Michael, wouldn’t it?

Or like  Blackstone, which could be the closest Canada has come to The Wire, exploring social and political issues within a community.  And which could make a great pairing for a season two of Strange Empire.

I’m less sold on Mohawk Girls but it as well as some of APTN’s children’s and youth programming might benefit our actual public broadcaster, and be benefited in return with a wider fan base.

I used to wonder “why doesn’t CBC do the kind of distinct, uniquely Canadian programming APTN is doing,” but now it’s more “if CBC can air a City show in second-window, why not an APTN show?”

So CBC, meet APTN. Can I buy you guys a drink?


Tonight: Hard Rock Medical

Hard Rock Medical, TVO – “Prison Confidential”
Charlie’s unauthorized prescription to a prisoner puts both he and Farida in jeopardy, Melanie is intrigued by an inmate’s cannabis cure for White Hand Syndrome; Eva and Gary have a confrontation with a racist police officer and Dr. Cardinal rekindles an old friendship, all while trying to talk Dr. Healy through a recurring nightmare.


Hard Rock Medical plays a mean game of Tetris

Derek Diorio has created hundreds of hours of film and television and knows well that you can’t please everyone all the time. “Somewhere along the line, somebody savages the show.”

Except Hard Rock Medical, the show he co-created with Smith Corindia. The  series has never had a bad review (knock on wood).  “The worst somebody called it was ‘maybe a little too earnest.’ If that’s the worst we get, I think we’re doing OK.”

That seems like a challenge to me, but I can’t do it either: after discovering it part way through its first season, its blend of quirky humour and absorbing character drama  instantly made it a favourite.

Based on the unconventional Northern Ontario School of Medicine, centred around eight medical students learning how to deliver health care to isolated residents,  Hard Rock Medical has been difficult to find even amid the witness-protection-level-promotion of many Canadian series. I was assigned a story about it last summer and had to stifle my “Hard Rock what now?” reaction.

Season two launched last week on TVO — episodes are available online. It gained a nation-wide broadcaster when APTN picked it up after the Australian co-producer dropped it (season two will likely air in April there).

The second season retains its humour but takes a darker turn. “Thematically, there’s a lot of questioning of faith,” said Corindia. “We’ve got Healy questioning his medical career and battling alcoholism.”

“I hate talking about it but mental illness was the underlying theme of this season,” said Diorio. “The pressures you have in your life, things you have no control over that  affect people in very different ways. But if you put that out there, who’s going to watch it?”

How they approach themes is why those who have discovered the show want to watch. Within the first couple of episodes, for example, med student Charlie’s goat (received in payment for treatment) may have swallowed some diamonds, so what’s a man to do but sneak it into a vet’s MRI machine? It’s a comedic entry point to the impending doom of Charlie’s financial situation, another example of the personal cost of pursuing a medical career.

Instead of following a syllabus as with the first season, season two incorporates medical emergencies into the students’ lives. “Healy is a medical emergency,” Diorio pointed out, while Corindia gave the example of Nancy’s estranged husband suffering a stroke. Incorporating the personal stories with the medical cases was one way to make the series more compact.

With eight med student characters and a handful of faculty vying for air time, it’s not easy for a half hour show to serve all the characters. Going from 13 episodes in season one to eight in season two threw in a bonus challenge.

“It’s kind of like a Tetris game,” said Diorio.

They plotted out storylines for four major characters: Charlie (Stéphane Paquette), Healy (Patrick McKenna), Farida (Rachelle Casseus) and Cameron (Jamie Spilchuk). Then came the “mini-majors” and the more minor characters.

“Last year Gina figured much more prominently,” Diorio lamented, “but this year we ran out of real estate. Her story is actually a ton of fun but we just didn’t have time to get into it.”

Corindia explained that people see the ensemble as the med students especially, but this season gives more weight to some of the faculty as well.

Given the tricky financing and huge cast, it seems a minor Canadian TV miracle that the show doesn’t scream low budget.

“Everybody works for free,” Corindia jokingly explained.

“The joy of the show is everybody has bought in,” Diorio continued more seriously. He gives the example of Australian actor Mark Coles Smith, originally cast as part of the Australian co-production deal. Without that deal, Hard Rock Medical takes a financial hit to bring him in, but the producers feel he’s an integral part of the show. His agent isn’t keen on him continuing with a (let’s say it:) obscure Canadian series while his career takes off in his home country. Yet both sides are eager to have him back for a potential third season.

“Part of that is they get to do something they don’t get to do anywhere else,” said Diorio. “We are a dot on the landscape and we get calls from actors who want to be on the show.”

“They’re invested in characters as well as the show,” added Corindia. “But  at the end of the day, I mean come on, you are on a TV series.”

Patrick McKenna, whose character isolates himself in a cabin and in addiction, is nearly unrecognizable, completely absorbed into the role.

“I think it’s safe to say he’s never played a role this dramatic and funny at the same time,” said Diorio. “Wait until you see where he goes.”


Link: This week’s must see TV includes X Company, Vikings, Hard Rock Medical

From Bill Harris of QMI:

‘Two and a Half Men,’ SNL’s 40th and more top this week’s must-see TV
X Company (debut) – Inspired by a true story, this is about a secret Canadian spy camp that essentially created the espionage business during World War II. With Hugh Dillon, Jack Laskey, Evelyne Brochu, Warren Brown, Dustin Milligan and Connor Price. Continue reading.


Preview: Hard Rock Medical checks in for Season 2

Back when I was working for another website, I ignored Hard Rock Medical. I’d spent some time in and around its setting of Sudbury, Ont., and quickly dismissed what I imagined would be a low-budget Grey’s Anatomy. That was stupid and arrogant of me, because Hard Rock Medical is incredibly addictive television.

Season 2 returns to TVO on Sunday night with two back-to-back storylines (each episode will be available online following broadcast on TVO’s website) that begins with a sweeping view of the rugged Canadian Shield and its exposed rock and proud pine forests.

Told over the soundtrack of Derek Miller’s bluesy guitar playing—while he portrays Kyle—”Trouble” quickly gets back into the swing of things. Gary and Cameron are discussing Eva, who has jetted to Los Angeles to record with Kyle and Gary’s pretty sure she’s avoiding his calls. Cameron, meanwhile, is lamenting the fact he isn’t sure where he’s headed in life.

That same confused direction applies to Charlie, who is spending his days poking through goat poop in the vain hope the missing diamond earrings will be located and he can pay off mounting bills. I immediately felt badly for sad-sack Charlie, whose only happiness appears to be the Harley Davidson he going to have to sell if the earrings don’t show up soon.

And while I know Patrick McKenna has done a lot of dramatic acting since he left The Red Green Show, it’s still jarring to see him in an adult role. I like him just fine on Remedy, but he’s much better on Hard Rock Medical playing troubled Dr. Fraser Healy. Content to just sit in the woods and drink his life away, Fraser is dark and broody, frustrated by Raymond, refusing to return to the hospital and hoping Nancy will stay by his side.

With the next term back in session, everyone is going to have to get back into the swing of things pretty quickly. I expect Fraser will report to work, but he’s not going to be happy about it or make things easy for Raymond.

Notes and quotes

  • Hard Rock Medical has one of the most inventive opening credits I’ve ever seen.
  • I’m thrilled that Hard Rock Medical allows Andrea Menard to show off her fantastic singing.
  • “I pick you.” I want one of Kyle’s guitar picks.

Hard Rock Medical airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on TVO. Episodes are available for online viewing the day after broadcast.