Christmas is upon us, and the folks over at Saving Hope have given fans one heck of a present: a special holiday episode. Yup, Thursday’s newest instalment, “Shine a Light,” combines an ice storm, ugly sweaters, family, wayward spirits, an injured Santa and a dose of miracles into a feel-good story that’s unique to the series. As co-writer Fiona Highet says, creating an episode of Saving Hope for the holidays means dropping ongoing storylines—such as Dawn’s sexual assault and Maggie’s near-death experience—from the mix so the episode can air out of sequence from the series.
Before we talk about “Shine a Light,” I want to chat about this season overall. There have been some really strong episodes and storylines, particularly Dawn’s sexual assault and the marathon bombing that led to Maggie chatting with Charlie.
Fiona Highet: The show has so much heart, you want to take people where you know they’ll be moved. The trick in a story like the bombing one is to position our characters in it rather than have patients come into the ER. We positioned Maggie into the race and then took the unusual step of having her speaking to Charlie. That opened up Charlie’s world wider than it’s been.
Did Adam Pettle really push the writers’ room this season to explore those boundaries?
With the addition of new characters, every episode so far has served a lead character, a guest star and a new character. That’s three angles to come at rather than two, which is much harder. That construct really challenged us. We needed bigger stories. The cast is playing more like an ensemble than they ever have. I wouldn’t say that Adam specifically said anything, but we’ve moved away from the love triangle and have said, ‘Now what? What obstacles can we put in everyone’s way?’
OK, let’s talk about “Shine a Light.” How does it feel to have a writing credit on something that will live on and be broadcast every holiday season?
I was so excited, and it’s not even because Patrick Tarr and I are the Christmassy-ist. He and I were already lined up to write Episode 12, and that’s the one it turned out to be. I’ve written with him before and he and I just clicked, so I knew this was going to be good. I was really excited to be writing it for a couple of reasons. One, as you say, it has a life outside of the show, but it also comes with its own challenges. We couldn’t use the new cast members or serial information. All of the stories and drama around Charlie and Alex were gone. We have to play Dawn as though she has not come through this experience … those things seemed to be more challenging than they were once we were in it.
Were there certain items on the Christmas episode checklist that you felt needed to be addressed?
I had to do a little research. I could picture M*A*S*H and Christmas in The Swamp, but not much else. I very consciously watched some Grey’s Anatomy and some ER Christmas episodes to see what they did and what they were talking about. There is always a kid on the verge of life and death. There was certainly conscious thinking around story balance and structurally saying, ‘We cannot go from this child waiting by the tree to the guy whose genitals hurt.’ That was much harder than I thought it would be.
We knew we wanted to cover ugly Christmas sweaters because it’s funny, we knew it would be funny to put Dana and Shahir together because we don’t often see them together and we knew we could give them some of the anti-Christmas sentiment and they would play it with exactly the right touch.
You spoke earlier about doing research for this episode by watching holiday episodes of Grey’s and ER. Are there holiday episodes, TV movies, movies or specials you watch during the holidays?
I can’t not watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. My kids are 13 and 11, so they’re too old for it but I’ll drag them back in every year. Elf is a modern classic and I’m a fan of a more recent movie called Arthur Christmas. My family has a funny tradition—I don’t even know how it started—of watching Gene Kelly movies at Christmas, the big musicals, so I’m sure I’ll be seeing Anchors Aweigh even though it has nothing to do with the holidays. I’ve also come around to the Love Actually phenomenon.
Saving Hope airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.