When it comes to Canadian television, showrunner Peter Mitchell has one foot in the past and one in the present.
On Mondays, the period whodunit Murdoch Mysteries—starring Yannick Bisson, Hélène Joy, Jonny Harris, Shanice Banton and Thomas Craig—continues to chug along in Season 15 on CBC, with no end in sight.
On Thursdays, it’s the modern-day cop drama Hudson & Rex, which follows the adventures of cop Charlie Hudson (John Reardon) his crime-solving dog, Rex (Diesel vom Burgimwald), Supt. Joe Donovan (Kevin Hanchard), Sarah Truong (Mayko Nguyen) and Jesse Mills (Justin Kelly) as they solve crimes in St. John’s.
With both series at roughly the halfway point in their seasons, we had a chat with Peter Mitchell about the challenges he faces helming two primetime series.
How do you logistically juggle both shows? Do you spend time in St. John’s, or are you doing Zoom meetings, and things like that?
Peter Mitchell: It’s a combination. I think I was out in St. John’s for slightly extended periods, about four times over the course of the season. And the times that I wasn’t there, writer Mary Pedersen, Joe Milando or Keri Ferencz was out there. I always had a writer around in St. John’s over the run. And the rest of it was just like it has been for the last few years. Just Zoomland. It was similar around Murdoch, although I was in the Murdoch offices more, obviously, because it’s just across the Gardiner, as supposed to across the continent.
How are you not burned out?
PM: I’ve got Mary Pedersen and the writing team on one side, and I’ve got Simon McNabb, and Paul Aitken, and the rest of the writing team on the other side. I will admit to getting confused every once in a while. What episode are we doing? What show is it? Is there a dog in this one?
I’ve had the chance to speak to Mary several times over the years, and it sounds as though she’s really become your right-hand person in St. John’s, with Hudson & Rex. Is that accurate?
PM: Yeah, that’s completely accurate. I mean, the other writers have contributed greatly too. But, Mary started with me as a script coordinator about six or seven years ago, and she’s essentially co-writing Rex with me. And the same with McNabb on the other show.
One of the things specifically about Hudson & Rex I wanted to ask you about, is going out and having the team be mobile. Was that something that was organic?
PM: I think the reason behind it was just doing a bit of a subtle shift of the show, and not leaning into the mystery so much. And then leaning a bit more into a classic police procedural. That meant tracking down a lot more clues, interviewing a lot more people, and trying to take advantage of the environment that we were blessed to shoot in. I really wanted to get a little bit more value out of Newfoundland than just aerial stock shots, and stuff like that.
And it doesn’t take long in Newfoundland, if you’re in St. John’s, to be any number of unique locations. As much as we could, in the first part of the season, we tried to maximize the exterior locations. Then as winter came, we pushed more inside, and it was a very deliberate attempt to make our team more active, and get some of the characters who often spent a lot of time behind the desk, out into the field a bit more and to try and have them work as a tighter unit. Each of them still maintaining the same sort of skillsets, but just getting them all out a bit more.
I think the actors all enjoyed that, and it just made it more of an investigative unit. It was a pretty deliberate decision. It might have been like the first or second line I wrote in my action plan for Season 4, so yeah, it was a deliberate thing.
One of the things that I noticed right away is Kevin Hanchard’s character, Joe, interacting more with his team. It just showed a tighter relationship with the team as a result of him being out of headquarters, and out on the road with them.
PM: He’s a pretty dynamic actor, so it’s hard to be dynamic when you’re stuck behind your desk, just issuing orders and talking to the press, so we just wanted to get him out, and be a cop a bit more often.
You recently filmed in Hamilton. Was it for a major part of a storyline?
PM: Yeah, it was an opportunity to do something a little bit different. Rex is getting one of those national police awards, so it made sense to take the show out on the road for a little bit. Even doing a one-day shoot in Hamilton brought with it its own difficulties. We only brought Charlie and Rex out, but they were the ones getting the award, so it made sense. And as you can imagine, two years into this, travel and all that stuff is still difficult, but I think at the end of the day, it was worth it.
Speaking of Rex, you’ve added a camera shot through his eyes, showing evidence he has picked up on. What was the decision behind that?
PM: Again, it’s going to the procedural versus the mystery. It just made sense to try and visually depict Rex as an active investigator, being able to find things that other people can’t find. And it was always a little bit of trying to construct a mystery, or a puzzle, or a riddle, or a crime, that was interesting, but it would still be possible for a dog to solve it.
All of the dogs involved in playing that role are doing a lot more than they were before.
PM: We made a commitment, me and the directors, to shoot Rex more, and not just shoot him as random cutaways. In the past, sometimes they would shoot the Rex stuff last, and sort of run out of time. For us, it was always shoot the Rex stuff first, and try as often as you can to have in the scene standing by, or with one of our characters, so that even if he’s just hanging around being Rex, he’s still active in the frame. That was kind of led by Gary Harvey off the top, that we prioritize what Rex is doing in a scene.
Let’s switch things up and talk about Murdoch Mysteries. What was your reaction when Hélène Joy first came to you and said that she was pregnant? Was it always like, ‘OK, well, we’re going to have Julia be pregnant as well’?
PM: I think I almost made a snap decision. Hélène phoned me up and told me the news, and it was at that point still pretty secret. I don’t think very many people knew, if any. And I think I thought about it for about 10 minutes, and went, ‘OK, I guess Julia’s having a baby. How do you feel about that?’ I don’t know why. I don’t know why I decided it. And I kind of unilaterally decided it. I talked to Hélène, and she said, ‘Yeah, that’d be cool.’ And I said, ‘OK, we’re going to do it.’ And then I went to the network after that, and said, ‘Well guess what guys?’ And there’s always the slightest amount of apprehension, you know?
The way that the season unfolds, I wanted to build it so that when the baby comes, and the baby does come, of course, there are still three or four episodes post-baby. I think if I had ended the season with the birth, it feels like, ‘OK, they’ve done everything they needed to do, goodbye.’ It was like, ‘No, let’s have the kid, and let’s have that sweet Murdoch solving a case.’ Just to show that this is just going to be another part of their lives. Everything that could possibly happen on Murdoch has almost happened, so I’m like, well, why not just add this, and just work it into the fabric of the show?
Julia is not going to stop being a proactive female lead just because she’s had a kid. It’ll allow for some additional moments of warmth and humour, and who knows jeopardy. I don’t see it being a [detriment] at all.
Is there going to be a cliffhanger at the end of this current season?
PM: Yeah, but it won’t involve babies. Yeah, there’ll be a few little cliffhangers. In fact, I’ve just got it up on my computer screen right now. I’m just going over the last 10 pages of it as we speak.
Hudson & Rex airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
Hudson & Rex images courtesy of Rogers Sports & Media/Shaftesbury. Murdoch Mysteries image courtesy of CBC.