AMC Networks, the entertainment company behind some of the most popular and award-winning brands in television, streaming and film, and award-winning production company Shaftesbury, announced today they have entered into a new strategic partnership. Through its investment in Shaftesbury, AMC Networks will gain access to Shaftesbury’s award-winning slate and expand its content and development capabilities in Canada. Shaftesbury CEO and Chairman Christina Jennings will continue to spearhead the creative focus of the company and lead the day-to-day operational control alongside Executive Vice President, Scott Garvie. Jennings, Garvie and Shaftesbury board member Michael Levine will remain on Shaftesbury’s Board of Directors. They will be joined by two new AMC Networks directors, Harold Gronenthal, EVP of Programming and Marketing for AMC Networks International, and Matt Graham, GM of the AMC Networks-owned Acorn TV streaming service. Shaftesbury and its shareholders were advised on this strategic investment by RBC Capital Markets.
The new partnership will create growth for Shaftesbury’s existing and future slate of content across all genres, creating more opportunities for Canadian creators in front of and behind the camera. The partnership also builds on AMC Networks and Shaftesbury’s existing production relationship. Shaftesbury is the studio behind some of the biggest titles on Acorn TV, including all 14 seasons of Murdoch Mysteries. In addition to Acorn TV, AMC Networks operates the entertainment brands AMC, SundanceTV, BBC America and the fast-growing streaming services AMC+, Shudder, Sundance Now and ALLBLK.
[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Murdoch Checks in.”]
“It’s great to see Murdoch and Ogden together in such an informal setting, and just enjoy each other’s company. They work so well together, their skills combine to create a perfect detective team.” That’s what Noelle Girard, writer, and co-producer on Murdoch Mysteries, had to say about Monday’s newest episode. And we totally agree.
“Murdoch Checks In,” written by Girard, saw our favourite couple in the woods and part of a group headed to a lodge for a little getaway. Of course, no time away with these two is ever spent truly relaxing and this was no different. Sadly, the death of art collector Derek Ferdinand meant William and Julia were on the case.
Meanwhile, back in Toronto, Higgins and Crabtree teamed to identify a head buried in a garden allotment and Miss Hart’s relationship with Carmichael moved to the next level.
We had an email chat with Noelle Girard to find out how the episode came together.
Noelle, how has the pandemic affected the way you write? Are you comfortable writing by yourself or do you like the noisiness of a writer’s room? Noelle Girard: While it’s always been the case at Murdoch that we write the outlines and drafts by ourselves, I did miss going into the writer’s room every day and chatting about the script. We had our notes sessions via Zoom, and while it got the job done, there’s just something about the long, sometimes meandering talks in the room that can point you in a better direction or bring out something you missed while writing alone.
How did the idea for the main storyline of a trek through the woods and murder at the lodge come about? Was it inspired by anything in particular? NG: We like to have an episode where Ogden and Murdoch get away by themselves, and of course it’s always a busman’s holiday for them as there is always a murder to solve (or two, or three). It’s funny that while Julia does enjoy tramping and sleeping in a tent with Murdoch, this time she’s chosen their getaway, and it’s at a cozy inn.
We also wanted to bring back the character of Derek Ferdinand. That character inspired us to do something a bit different, as we typically have the murder Murdoch is investigating happen in the tease, or early in act one. But with the irascible Mr. Ferdinand, we thought it would be better to spend a bit of time with him before he’s offed.
I really enjoy it when Murdoch and Julia head outdoors. It’s the chance to see them in a new—and sometimes unfamiliar—environment. Do you enjoy that change of setting when you’re writing? NG: It’s great to see Murdoch and Ogden together in such an informal setting, and just enjoy each other’s company. They work so well together, their skills combine to create a perfect detective team. I also love their more informal outfits, it’s a treat to see what the costume department comes up with.
Professor Leamington is a lot of fun. I laughed out loud when he first spoke of the genus of woodpeckers. Did he come fully-formed on the page or did the actor bring his own ‘foibles’ to the table? NG: The actors always bring so much to the scripts, of course. We wanted to have a few ‘types’ as suspects, such as the flirty widow and the tweedy professor, to annoy Murdoch and Ogden, and it’s fun to play someone who thinks he knows it all off Murdoch, who actually does know it all. We had a larger cast of suspects planned and had to whittle down the numbers due to pandemic restrictions, but I think it turned out better with a smaller group of characters.
I’m not a fan of gardening, but even I know a human head isn’t supposed to be planted next to my beans. Where did that macabre detail come from? NG: It was actually stolen from an article I read a year or two ago. A woman in France was furious that her industrious co-worker was making her look lazy by comparison. She killed the woman with a wine bottle, then buried her head in her allotment. Very gruesome. I did get second thoughts halfway through the process, but by then the prop department and the model artist were having too much fun making the head!
It was enjoyable to have Higgins and Crabtree work a case together. Do you relish the opportunity to write for a pairing like theirs and a meatier storyline for them? NG: I just love the two of them together. I think every script I’ve written for Murdoch Mysteries has at least one daft conversation between those two. Crabtree, of course, is up to the challenge of taking on a murder investigation, and Higgins’s oblivious laziness is on full display.
Higgins is having a hard time staying focused. Clearly, the future baby is having an effect on him. NG: Doesn’t Higgins always have a hard time staying focused? It doesn’t take a lot to divert his attention. And I have to say I’m so excited that Henny and Ru-Ru are having a baby. I’m sure their parenting will be sweet but absolutely chaotic.
And yet, his interrogation of Miss Irwin was well done. NG: When we discussed the interrogation scene with Higgins and Crabtree in the early stages, it made us laugh that Higgins would be the one that cracks the suspect and gets the confession. While Higgins isn’t the murdering kind, it makes sense that he could understand her motivations, and sympathize a little bit.
Giving Miss Hart a romantic storyline is a welcome addition to Season 14. Has that evolution of her story come naturally? Yes, that was planned from our early talks about this season. We wanted to continue our exploration of what makes Hart tick. We’ve seen what she will do to get ahead, how she deals with her past coming to haunt her, and now we wanted to see her clash with a romantic interest. Arthur Carmichael, being so wealthy and cocksure, has more than met his match in Violet Hart.
The theme of racism arose during Miss Hart’s date with Carmichael at the restaurant. What’s it been like writing that storyline, and dealing with racism during this time period? NG: Hart and Carmichael’s relationship, for me, is all about power, class, and scandal. We were interested in showing the shifting power dynamics in their relationship. Carmichael is attracted to Hart but also attracted to the scandal he is causing by courting a Black woman. Of course, Hart is not one to be trifled with and soon asserts her power, intriguing Carmichael even more. The effects of racism are a part of Hart’s story, as well as her relationship with Carmichael. It’s perhaps at the root of most of their power imbalances, and it will be so interesting to see how Hart shifts all those imbalances throughout the season.
[Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched “Shock Value.]
I love getting Maureen Jennings’ take on episodes she has written for Murdoch Mysteries. After all, she created the character of William Murdoch in her novels. Without her, there wouldn’t be Murdoch Mysteries.
In Monday’s latest instalment, “Shock Value,” we were introduced to scientists who performed experiments on their fellow human beings in the interest of education. This isn’t a new trope on TV, film, or real life, but the Kingstons brought it into sharp, and creepy focus. Add to that the re-appearance of Dorothy Ernst and her plan for George, and “Shock Value” was a disturbing story.
We conducted an email interview with Maureen Jennings to get her take on Monday’s episode.
How did the main storyline for “Shock Value” come about? Was it inspired by anything in particular? Maureen Jennings: Two main things. A few years ago, I came across a wonderful book called Fear, written in 1893 by an Italian doctor named Angelo Mosso, who was keen to understand the interactions between our bodies and emotions. He measured the respiration and heart rate of his subject and how a gun fired behind them affected these. He also developed an early version of the lie detector. We’ve used that in a couple of early episodes with Murdoch as the subject. It is a fascinating topic that we are still exploring. For me, a direct offshoot of the issue is what motivates us to pursue tasks, praise, or punishment? I’m all for praise, myself. Also, I was very interested in the notorious experiments of Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. He concluded that people were very susceptible to those they saw as authorities and surrendered their own judgments even when asked to do something that they believed was causing another person pain.
This is one of the darker episodes of Murdoch Mysteries and pretty darn scary. Do you relish the spookier, scarier storylines? MJ: Not me. I’m a wimp. Blame the writer’s room.
Did the pandemic affect how you wrote this episode or is writing a Murdoch Mysteries episode more of a solitary affair for you anyway? MJ: Pre-COVID-19, we had a fun second story about basketball and we were hoping to lure one of our fabulous Raptors to come and do a cameo. It had to be dropped. FOR NOW.
There are always little things in Murdoch episodes that made me smile. Brackenreid explaining why he was eating an apple is one of them. Do you enjoy writing tidbits, knowing the fans will enjoy them as well? MJ: I especially like historically related bits. For instance, the origin of the term basketball. (Naismith using peach baskets to catch the balls.
And we got yet another peek at William liking things “just so” when he measured the apple and banana slices for uniformity. I loved that detail. MJ: He’d drive me crazy.
The Kingstons may be some of the most dangerous people we’ve met on Murdoch Mysteries. They use manipulation to test the human condition. Who was the inspiration for them? MJ: Sort of the Kinseys from the 50s. The Kinsey Reports. All serious scientists who conduct experiments must have obsessive natures and coldness at the centre. But hey, we owe them a lot.
The secondary story worries me. It seems like George is going to be framed as insane and perhaps be the victim of revenge. Can you comment on that? MJ: Keep watching.
[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Code M for Murdoch”]
It’s simply not a season of Murdoch Mysteries until Terrence Meyers appears in at least one episode. Following his debut way back in Season 1, a visit from Meyers (played by Peter Keleghan) means a storyline jam-packed with intrigue and backstabbing (both literal and figurative).
Monday’s latest instalment also featured fan favourite James Pendrick (Peter Stebbings) and that dastardly Allen Clegg (Matthew Bennett). We spoke, via email, to Paul Aitken, the episode’s writer.
Congratulations on Season 14. Can you believe Murdoch Mysteries has gone on this long? Paul Aitken: When we were starting Season 2, we had a phone conversation with the network (Citytv at that time). They told us they loved the show and joked that they wanted it on for 15 seasons. We laughed. They laughed. And here we are.
Is it a Murdoch Mysteries rule that there be one Terrence Meyers episode per season? PA: I don’t know if it’s a hard and fast rule but it’s become a very ingrained habit. It’s like every Beatle album had a Ringo song.
How did the main spy-themed storyline come about? Is it inspired by any particular part of history or film? PA: It all started with a dream I had about Murdoch getting a message saying “Murdoch Find JP.” We then combined that with a Terrence Meyers plague story we had knocking around for a few years.
Was the rabies sub-plot inspired by the current pandemic? PA: No. We had this cooking for a few years in various forms.
I always love it when Peter Stebbings has time to reprise his role as James Pendrick. I’m surprised you were able to schedule him around his directing duties. PA: It took a couple of years. I guess we can thank COVID for his availability.
The fans love James Pendrick. Did you have any idea, at the time he was first introduced, that he would be a hit? PA: No. He was introduced in Season 3 as part of a season long storyline that was ultimately resolved. We brought him back in Season 5 as the inventor of an electric car that ended up being crushed by big oil. It was then that we realized the potential for the character.
Do you have a favourite recurring guest character to write for or is that an unfair question? PA: It’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is. There are many I love of course. Terrence Meyers, Ralph Fellows, James Gillies, Roger/Rupert Newsome, etc. If I have to choose I’ll go with Pendrick. He’s such a ridiculously magnificent man. A saner, nobler Elon Musk. He gets his dreams crushed in every episode, yet rises again with an even BIGGER plan. I wish I was James Pendrick.
The first three episodes in Season 14 have featured many funny or lighthearted moments. Is that a theme this year or will things get darker as we move on? PA: I think we’ve always had a mix, both between episodes and within episodes. I don’t think this season is any different. It’s a grab bag. You never know what you’re going to get.