Tag Archives: Joseph Kay

Executive producer Virginia Rankin breaks down Transplant’s origin story

Virginia Rankin has executive-produced some of the most compelling series in Canadian television. From 19-2 to Bad Blood and This Life she, and the folks at Sphère Média Plus, have brought unique characters and compelling stories to primetime TV.

The latest is Transplant. Airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, Rankin’s newest project debuted to strong ratings in Canada. Starring Hamza Haq as Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed—a Syrian doctor with battle-tested skills in emergency medicine—it appears she’s got another success on her hands.

We spoke to Virginia Rankin about how Transplant was created, and how the TV market has changed for a company like Sphère Média Plus.

Take me back to the beginning. How did Transplant come about?
Virginia Rankin: I work very closely with Tara Woodbury, who’s our head of development, and Tara really wanted to do something around immigration and refugees. Her family, her extended family, sponsors a Sudanese refugee, so she has firsthand experience with it and so she wanted to do something around that. And my experience, in 20 years of television, is that it’s incredibly hard to tell those stories because mainstream networks are like, ‘Ah, it sounds like an issue. We don’t do issues.’ So, I sort of a little hesitant, but she was really passionate about it. And at first, we were bouncing around ideas like rom-coms and comedies and this kind of thing.

At the same time, we knew that [CTV] was looking for a medical show to replace Saving Hope. And we also knew that we wanted to work with Joseph Kay. I had had a great experience working with him on This Life. We sort of cornered him. We all kind of sat around and threw ideas around and then one night, in the middle of the night, they kind of all came together and the title Transplant came to me and that was some debate about whether it should be The Transplant, by the way, or Transplant. But for me, it was just Transplant and I saw the poster and on the poster was Hamza Haq.

We knew from working with him what a great guy he was and that he’s the full hero package. He’s charismatic, he’s handsome as anything, he’s got the acting chops and he’s a wonderful human being. My job was done and then it was over to Joe and Joe just took those simple elements and he went away and he did a lot of deep diving, a lot of research and he came back and he pitched us this beautiful story of Bash and his sister Amira as Syrian refugees and their new lives in Canada.

It was really all created by Joseph.

Just to clarify, Hamza was not attached. We didn’t say it has to be this guy and we hadn’t attached him in any way. We actually went through a full audition process before we attached him, but he did come on as a consultant. So he read the draft and gave Joe his thoughts.

He actually had to audition and we did audition a number of Syrian actors. We looked quite extensively at Arab actors. And when it came down to it, he was still the guy who we really thought could bring an audience to the show.

What is it about Joseph Kay that ticks the boxes when it comes to a showrunner?
VR: It’s how seriously he takes his job. It’s the research that he does. He has to really know his characters in a deep way. And he does that. He does that work. He’s a wonderful collaborator. I’ve worked on two shows with him now and I just love the creative conversation with him and how he listens and he thinks and he takes everything on board. And then he comes out with beautiful work. So, I can’t say enough good things about working with him.

As you said, Hamza is fantastic. You can’t help but cheer for this guy.
VR: He’s a leading man. He’s Omar Sharif and you don’t see that that often either. And frankly, I think we’re incredibly lucky that we kind of discovered him when we did. I mean, he already had it long CV, but certainly, this is his first major, major leading role. And I feel like a year or two from now we wouldn’t have been able to get him. So, I feel like he’s going to break out. But luckily for us, he loves the show. He’s really, really, really passionate about it and he works so hard and put so much of his heart and soul into it.

When you see NBCUniversal International Studios attached to this, I can’t help but think about the way that the market has changed and how it’s become truly international. As a producer, has there been a seismic shift in the way that you go about making television shows here in this country and how you shop them around?
VR: It’s interesting. It is quite different working with NBC than it has been working with the other international distributors we’ve worked with in the past. NBC sees itself as a studio. We don’t have a studio system in Canada. In Canada, we, the production company, sees ourselves as a studio because we own the copyright and the cashflow and we do all that stuff. But NBC does see themselves more like a studio. Their participation is on a level that they’ve earned that. And so they are much more actively involved than the experience I’ve had with other international distributors, which is great because you do want your show to sell around the world and they obviously know how to do that. So, we really appreciate their perspective and we really hope that the show does succeed in significant markets around the world.

What can you say about Bash’s journey through the first season of the show?
VR: The journey of Bash is, to a certain extent, to allow himself to release some of his secrets because some of his secrets are kind of killing him. He’s carrying guilt and trauma as any refugee will have, any survivor will have. And he’s sharing those things and he perhaps needs to share them more for his own sake, for his own survival. So that is his character journey, which is to learn to let some of those secrets go.

The first episode ends with Bash sitting down with Jed Bishop and Jed saying, ‘Let’s have that job interview over again.’ Is this going to be a mentor-mentee type of relationship, a father-son relationship between these two?
VR: Yes, yes, absolutely. There’s the father-son dynamic there and like any father-son or parental relationship, it’s not always nice. It’s not always pretty. So on both sides, there’s rebellion from the son figure and there are disappointments from the father figure, it’s all of those variations of the father-son relationship.

Transplant airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Joseph Kay returns to TV with a new family in CTV’s Transplant

A part of me will always miss This Life. Created by Michael MacLennan—from an adaptation of Radio Canada’s Nouvelle Adresse—and taken over by Joseph Kay when MacLennan departed for Los Angeles to co-executive-produce The Fosters, the story of a single mother raising her two daughters while battling cancer was cancelled far too soon. I feel like Kay was just getting the story going before it came to an end.

Thankfully, Kay is back with a brand-new primetime family, albeit with a different style of story. Debuting Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, Transplant follows Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed (Hamza Haq, The Indian Detective), a Syrian doctor with battle-tested skills in emergency medicine, makes the difficult decision to flee his country with his younger sister Amira (Sirena Gulamgaus, Orphan Black).

With the hope of returning to his career in medicine, Bash and Amira build a new life in Canada while managing the struggles that come with a new country. Bash works in a new environment after earning a residency in the Emergency Department at Toronto’sfictional York Memorial.

Alongside Bash at the hospital are Dr. Jed Bishop (John Hannah), Dr. Mags Lablanc (Laurence Laboeuf, 19-2), Dr. Theo Hunter (Jim Watson, Mary Kills People), Dr. June Curtis (Ayisha Issa, Dark Matter) and head nurse Claire Malone (Torri Higginson, This Life).

We spoke to Joseph Kay about his road to Transplant, the learning curve of writing a medical drama and Hamza Haq’s superstar potential.

How did Transplant come about? What was the origin story?
Joseph Kay: I started developing it way back in 2016 right as This Life was ending actually. At the time I had been reading a lot about really skilled professionals from different parts of the world who come here and then can’t qualify and can’t do their jobs. It occurred to me that that could be a novel take on the genre. I was always a fan of the medical genre. And when I started thinking about it on those terms also in 2016, Syria and the conflict was in the news a lot. It still is, but it was in it quite a bit then. And there were a lot of refugees and newcomers and immigrants coming to Toronto specifically.

Two sort of jumped into my mind together, the idea of building a show around a refugee coming from Syria who was amazingly skilled at something and then wasn’t able to do the thing that he could do. I started researching pretty heavily both sides of that, particularly the Syrian side and immediately got connected and found a lot of different Syrians who were here and different kinds of immigrants and newcomers to get people’s lived perspectives and trying to figure out whether I could write that and sort of went from there.

Was the name of the show always Transplant, or was it something else?
JK: It was always Transplant. It’s just a very evocative, I love single word titles.

Let’s talk a little bit about some of the other research you had to do. Was that a bit of a slog for you or do you like doing that kind of research into medical terminology or do you pay somebody to do that for you?
JK: Both. I love it, Greg. I actually love it. I found, very early on, a doctor who is a trauma team leader at St Mike’s hospital in Toronto. So, by the time the show was up and running, we had a lot of consultants. But in the early days, I was very fortunate to come across a guy who was willing to give a lot of his time to just take me through everything and read the scripts and help me with the dialogue and all the medical-ese.

Hamza is great as Bash, a very expressive face. I’m cheering for him and fell in love with him. Was Hamza, when he walked in the room or when he supplied his casting tape, was he the guy right from the get-go?
JK: Definitely. Hamza and I knew each other because of the second season of This Life. He was sort of a foreign student in his little arc and he was nominated for a CSA for his role. And at the time Hamza and I talked a lot. Hamza’s an immigrant and part of his background formed the character he was playing on This Life. We get along well creatively. So as soon as I started thinking about this show, Hamza was the guy I started thinking about very, very, very early on in the process. Of course, we looked at every available actor all along because you always have to do that. But Hamza was very prominent in my mind and in the minds of the people at Sphere Media from the beginning. And then when he did finally start reading for it: he’s a star.

He’s charming, he’s got great energy, he is very expressive. And the character was always meant to be the kind of person who doesn’t say that much, so you want a specific actor who can pull that off. And I had written this thing about the character in one of the series documents, which is that Bash is the kind of guy who you tell all your secrets to and then you realize that you don’t know a single thing about him and you told him everything.

Can you tell me about some of the themes and storylines that you cover in the first season?
JK: When we started really digging into the creative we quickly realized that the storytelling lends itself to this idea of starting over. Starting over of second chances, so everything systematically would flow from that. I mean, it’s Bash’s opportunity to start over. And so in that way, the stories that we tell over the first season are, what are the challenges there both at work and the kinds of conflicts he’s going to find himself in at work? He’s the kind of person who is all instinct and a bit of a rule breaker. He acts before he thinks. So we’re trying to look at sort of the challenges he faced in an environment being an outsider combined with the sort of the nature of his personality.

And then also to see the other side of him. We’re fortunate in that we’re able to go home with him and see a little bit of his family life. And so we’re telling his story of starting over and we’re also at the same time wondering who this guy is and where he came from really and what happened to him and what he left behind. So as we encounter present-tense conflicts and challenges at work and in his personal life, we start to unpack what happened to him and what are the sort of major events of his life that have led him right now. We let those trickle out in ways that keep it interesting and mysterious.

Transplant airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Exclusive photo gallery: First-look photos at CTV’s Transplant

Clearly, we here at TV, Eh? were good boys and girls last year because Bell Media has given us one heck of a cool belated Christmas gift: an exclusive first-look at CTV’s newest original series, Transplant.

As previously announced, Transplant stars Hamza Haq, John Hannah, Laurence Laboeuf, Jim Watson and Ayisha Issa.

 

Here is the official synopsis for Transplant direct from Bell Media:

Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed (Hamza Haq), a Syrian doctor with battle-tested skills in emergency medicine, makes the difficult decision to flee his country with his younger sister Amira. With the hope of returning to his career in medicine, together Bash and Amira strive to build a new life in Canada while managing the struggles that come with a new country. With life experiences and a medical background unlike his Canadian counterparts, Bash works to navigate a new environment and forge new relationships after earning a coveted residency in the Emergency Department of one of the best hospitals in Toronto, York Memorial.

Transplant debuts this spring on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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CTV and NBCUniversal International Studios partner on new medical procedural The Transplant from Montréal-based Sphère Média Plus

From a media release:

Canada’s leading television network CTV, together with NBCUniversal International Studios, today announced THE TRANSPLANT, a new, one-hour, primetime medical procedural slated for CTV’s 2019/20 broadcast season. Developed by CTV, the series is from award-winning Montréal-based producer Sphère Média Plus (19-2). NBCUniversal will have distribution rights outside of Canada. The announcement was made from the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) Prime Time conference in Ottawa.

When a truck plows into the busy street café where he works, Bash, a struggling Syrian refugee, draws on bold skills and warzone instincts from his former life as a doctor to save multiple people. Among these victims is the chief of the busiest trauma centre in Toronto and the one person who can give Bash the opportunity to return to a career in emergency medicine that he so deserves.

THE TRANSPLANT tells the story of this charismatic man with an elusive past as he joins a team of doctors, challenged to make a place for himself in a new hospital and country. The drama blends a modern immigrant tale with an ensemble medical procedural, offering audiences a fresh take on a beloved genre. The first cycle consists of 13 episodes, with production set to begin in Summer 2019.

The series is created and written by Joseph Kay (FRONTIER, LIVING IN YOUR CAR). Executive producers are Jocelyn Deschenes, Bruno Dube, Virginia Rankin, Jeremy Spry, and Tara Woodbury of Sphère Média Plus, the producers behind Bell Media’s multiple award-winning drama 19-2.

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This Life Season 2 finale: Showrunner Joseph Kay on Natalie’s decision to “Choose Life”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 210, “Choose Life.”

Natalie Lawson (Torri Higginson) has been on an emotional roller coaster throughout the second season of CBC’s This Life. She gutted her way through the side effects of her cancer drug trial, learned she was in partial remission, dealt with the return of her ex-husband, David (Louis Ferreira), suddenly lost her mother, Janine (Janet-Laine Green), and nearly died in emergency surgery. All the while, she tried to plan for what will happen to her children if she succumbs to her disease. But in Sunday’s season finale, “Choose Life,” written by showrunner Joseph Kay, Natalie discovers she’s out of treatment options—and has little choice but to finally relinquish control and come to peace with her situation.

“So much of the show has been about Natalie preparing for [her kids] and trying to control them,” explains Kay. “We just wanted to put her in this position where all she could do was accept it and live in the moment.”

Natalie wasn’t the only one to have a moment of clarity in the episode. Caleb (James Wotherspoon), Emma (Stephanie Janusauskas) and Romy (Julia Scarlett Dan) also came to new understandings about who they are and what they want out of life. Meanwhile, Matthew (Rick Roberts) and Nicole (Marianne Farley) found themselves at an interesting crossroads in their marriage, Oliver (Kristopher Turner) reconciled with Gerald (Peter MacNeill), and Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) showed off her new-found maturity.

Kay joins us by phone to break down “Choose Life” and tease what may be coming up next for the Lawson family, should CBC greenlight a third season.

Janine’s funeral brings everyone together in the finale and moves several storylines along. Was that one of the motivations you had for writing her death?
Joseph Kay: The major reason that we felt her death was necessary—and it was something that we thought about for a very long time—was that in a show about this woman who is, from the very first scene of the show, preparing to die and trying to sort of get power over it because she knows it’s coming, it was important that someone needed to die. Just to tell her that this is what it is, and you can’t get ready for this. It had to be someone close to her, and, obviously, it was never going to be one of the kids, and who is closer than your mother? I don’t mean to say that we did it only for Natalie, but that was the line of thinking. So much of what goes through Natalie’s head is, ‘How can I prepare for this? How can I make sure my children are ready? How can I control this? How can it happen in a way that it’s going to be OK, and I know it’s going to be OK?’ And that’s just not the way it works, you know?

So that was the motivation, and then when we decided to really get behind it and do it, then we realized that it was the perfect crisis point for numerous threads that we had been dangling to come together. Family comes together in crisis, and it crystallizes things or it diffuses things or it has a way of cutting through distance, reminding you who has got your back in life. So it just felt natural, and we knew that we had to do it in the second-to-last episode. We just knew that structurally that’s where it had to go.

Caleb shows up for the funeral with a new girlfriend and her daughter. At first, that was surprising, but upon reflection it makes perfect sense.
For us, he kind of goes back and forth between not wanting to be his dad and hoping he doesn’t turn out like his dad, and then being the guy who filled in for his dad. So wanting to save a single mother and her child was very Caleb, we thought, but it also had some David in it. So, for us, it’s about Caleb becoming his own man. He’s doing it for himself, but he’s kind of motivated by who he is, and he’s just kind of caught between his two parents.

Over the last two episodes, Romy has finally been given the freedom to make her own choices, including to live with David if Natalie dies. Is that exactly what she needed?
Yeah, I think it was. I don’t think she knew exactly how it would come. I mean, Romy was the one who brought David back, and she was the one who at that end of Episode 209 put her faith in him, [believing] he’s going to come back. And she wants a dad. For her to breakthrough with him on some level, she put her trust in him, and it seems to have paid off for her—at least for now. She’s trying to make herself seen, you know, ‘I’m here,’ and doing that in the way Romy does it.

Natalie is a great mother. Nobody would doubt that. But that it would take her this long, and for Romy to have to go through that much for Natalie just to suggest, ‘How about we send you to school for more artistic kids?’ There was probably a shorter route for Romy to get there, but she had to live through all that in her own way to get there. For us, it was just, is she going to go live with her dad right now? Is she going to leave? What’s she going to do? And I guess sometimes you get what you want, and it’s scary.

True. In the scene in the park with David, Romy looked a bit overwhelmed by her choices. Julia Scarlett Dan’s expression was perfect.
Right! She’s so expressive. I mean, God, that girl . . . In that scene, we wanted to end it on that look, but there were so many options because she’s so expressive in the moment and vulnerable. She’s just lovely.

Emma decided she was done with Miranda’s antics and quit her job, but I hope the storyline about her sexual identity won’t get dropped.
We felt that her affection for Miranda was real. So even though Miranda revealed herself as maybe not the greatest person in the world and Emma made a decision, we’d like to see where that goes, too.

It absolutely will not [get dropped] because we felt that we came to that with Emma in a way that’s really organic to who she is. And also Emma, she doesn’t have to take shit from people. She’s developing the confidence. We believe in what’s happening to her and very much want to see where it goes.

Matthew and Nicole discussed their future, and Nicole has a much more open-ended view of their relationship than Matthew expected, which I love. Why did you decide that felt right for her?
We, the writers, just loved that development as well. [Laughs.] We are super excited to hopefully get to explore it. She’s been going through this growth, and we only see sparsely what’s happening on her side of all that. You know, she got married young, she lived a fairly sheltered life, and she didn’t want to go back to square one. So it felt important for her not to just revert to a housewife—not that there’s anything wrong with being a housewife, there absolutely isn’t. But, for Nicole, she just wasn’t going to be happy going back to the way things were. She’s changed, and she still loves him, but she wants to know what’s out there. And she’s had experiences offscreen that she liked, so she wants to know what’s going to happen. And conversely for Matthew, he needs to control his existence in a big way, and this would be difficult for him, so that excites the writers.

Oliver agreed to work for Gerald at the garage to help pay back the loan for his studio. Was having him fully reconcile with his dad the goal of the season for him?
Yes. Because when he first comes back in Season 1, he comes back with tension with his parents, but we always felt it was more squarely with his dad. He had a hard time connecting with his dad, and we wanted to bring those two together in the absence of Janine.

I have to say that I really like Oliver and JD together.
With the JD thing, we liked the idea that—at his most vulnerable, with his mother just passed and with his own mental health—that [Oliver] has a strong connection with someone at the least likely time, and that the relationship starts on Level 20 instead of on Level 1. Oliver has had kind of a rough ride as far as his relationships have gone on the show, and we felt he deserved something . . . And with Shannon Kook, who plays JD, we took that seriously because we knew we wanted to explore it, so we had chemistry casting with the few actors we were looking at, and those two seemed to connect.

So much happened with Natalie this season, but at the end, she seemed to accept that she had to let it all go and live in the moment. Did you know that’s where you wanted her to end up when you began writing Season 2?
It was always present, because I think if you were in her position, starting from the very beginning of the series, you’d think, ‘OK, I’ve got to get things ready for the kids,’ but also, ‘I’m alive now, what do I do?’ So that idea is present, but I think to get there is not a linear path, and it’s a messy path where it may feel like you’re moving backwards all the time. We were trying to complicate things and complicate things and have her challenge her own life and her own happiness and all her own decisions and the way she saw herself, to have her get to this point where she just has to let go. She has no choice because she’s told, ‘You don’t have any options.’ And they’re not kidding when they say that to her.

 

Did you always envision the season ending with the fireworks? The Leonard Cohen song was a nice touch.
Yeah. We had the idea for a really long time. We had the idea for the Leonard Cohen song a long time ago as well. We didn’t do it because he passed away. The visuals are beatific and beautiful, and the song is ‘Bird On A Wire,’ so it’s a sad song. So I think she’s sitting there at peace and looking at the fireworks, and her kids are wherever they are, and the song is sad. Everything is going to be OK because it has to be. Because [she’s] alive now and then also there is the great unknown before her. It will be a different stage in Natalie’s story. Obviously, she is still going to worry about her kids and engage with her kids, but she has to get past worrying about the minutiae of it.

What are you most proud of regarding Season 2?
I’m really proud of the way it came together. I know that’s such a general answer, but it’s a very hard show to write and make. I think that on the level of the scripts, we took something and deepened it and made it more complex and dug into the characters in interesting ways. I’m really proud of the writers and all the work that got made and of the filmmaking overall. People were always happy with the scripts, but there’s a big difference between liking the scripts and then a show coming together. I feel like on every level our directors and our editors are so good, making these moments that are often very sparse in the script. They really are. And, obviously, the actors are amazing, and they are so expressive. But I’m just proud of the team and how much everybody is able to do with a limited budget. There’s always not enough time and not enough resources, but the show looks good and it feels good, and that’s thanks to the great team that we have on every level.

We hope that This Life is renewed for Season 3. What would you like to explore next season?
I think we want to dig into all the questions that we ask in the last episode. Is it endgame for Natalie? That’s a big question for us. Is it over, and what does that look like? And we wouldn’t shy away from any of the questions we ask in the last episode, like what would Matthew and Nicole having an open marriage look like? We’d like to dig into that and follow that. Romy says that she’s going to go live with her dad, so do we also go there? We do a lot of work to make sure everybody’s journeys are grounded and real and feel honest, and we don’t want to pull the rug out anywhere. That means sometimes that there aren’t huge twists on this show, but hopefully you believe it when you see it. I feel like all the questions we ask, we really want to answer them.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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