Tag Archives: Peter Mitchell

Showrunner Peter Mitchell talks Hudson & Rex and Murdoch Mysteries

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.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Preview: Hudson & Rex returns for Season 4 with a new look and feel

I like Hudson & Rex for a few reasons.

First, its cast is top-rate. From John Reardon, Mayko Nguyen, Kevin Hanchard and Justin Kelly to Diesel vom Burgimwald on down, everyone on the call sheet is enjoyable to watch. Secondly, the writing team is truly gifted. Led by showrunner Peter Mitchell, they craft stories that are believable, have real dramatic stakes and a pinch of humour thrown in. And third, that stellar Newfoundland setting and the crew that works it. Every episode is a love letter to that part of Canada, no matter how dark the crime may be.

Returning Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern on Citytv, here’s the official synopsis for “Sid and Nancy,” written by Peter Mitchell and directed by Gary Harvey:

When two hikers are discovered murdered near a remote coastal trail, the team is on the hunt for a fugitive duo wanted in a series of grisly campsite murders.

And here are some non-spoilery notes from me after watching a screener of the episode.

A new setting…
As I mentioned above, all the main players are back in Season 4. But, there is a big change within minutes of Episode 1. The Major Crimes team is on the road and reporting out of a mobile unit.

“It keeps all of us together and takes us out into the field more and in the office less,” Reardon says in the Season 4 press kit. “Having the team together adds a new element of storytelling and it showcases Newfoundland even more than we have in the past. I think it makes the show more dynamic because we’re all in communication with each other, we’re responding in real-time, and solving the case in real-time instead of regularly coming back to the office to regroup.”

… and a new vibe
I totally agree with Reardon’s statement. There is an energy, sometimes frantic, in Thursday’s return, that has been added to Hudson & Rex. It just feels like there is more at stake and more opportunity for conflict between local police forces that don’t appreciate the big-city unit rolling onto their turf.

A little spark?
Over the past three seasons, Hudson & Rex has faintly hinted at an emotional connection between Charlie and Sarah. Judging by a scene on Thursday, the needle may be headed into “strongly hinting.”

Hudson & Rex airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Derm Carberry for Shaftesbury and Pope Productions.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Murdoch Mysteries showrunner Peter Mitchell looks back on Season 13

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the Season 13 finale of Murdoch Mysteries, “The Future is Unwritten.” 

Well, Murdoch fans, what did you think? After a week filled with comments about Julia’s smooch with Dr. Dixon, George’s kidnapping by Amelia and thoughts on Ms. Hart, it all came together quickly on Monday night. By the time the dust had settled, George had talked his way out of a calamity (I honestly thought he might meet a grisly end), Dixon revealed himself to be a silly boy looking to add notches to his bedpost, and we understood a lot more about Violet Hart.

We also saw William and Julia reconcile and reveal some true honesty. That’s something that has been missing a tad with our favourite couple and just one of several questions I asked of showrunner Peter Mitchell.

Before we get to that, here’s what he had to say about the title of the episode: “The title of the episode, ‘The Future is Unwritten,’ comes from a documentary about Joe Strummer. Because Joe was such a positive life force, I always think of it as meaning the world in front of you has limitless possibilities.”

Congratulations on 13 seasons.
Peter Mitchell: Oh, thank you.

Violet Hart’s storyline has evolved from this somewhat wide-eyed person that was brought into the morgue by Julia. Has this evolution been organic?
PM: Well I mean we had Rebecca, who was super sweet like Mouna Traoré. But when Shanice comes in, I think the very first thing she says to Julia is, ‘I don’t expect to be working for you for very long.’ She comes in as a vitamin salesman, and sort of off the very top says, ‘You ain’t the boss of me.’ A character who you could never really nail down. I mean she shows up, she tells Ogden she doesn’t believe in God, she tells Murdoch she does, and then she shows up at the funeral of a strange baby, and is either crying or pretending to cry. We’ve always tried to keep her a bit elusive.

You must love it when you’re reading people that absolutely hate Violet Hart, or love Shanice in her portrayal.
PM: A million years ago I worked on a show, and one of the actors was a guy called Cedric Smith, who’s a well-known older Canadian actor. And he was always like, ‘It’s more fun to be the bad guy.’ It’s often more fun to write for the bad guy.

OK, let’s talk about Watts. His storyline this season has been fantastic. He’s gay. Again, was that an organic storyline? Was that feedback from Daniel? 
PM: That was probably a bit more organic. And I think that the way that Daniel portrayed the character, it was with the writers easy for us to go, ‘Yeah, that wouldn’t be a surprise.’ I don’t think we plotted out a three-year arc that would uncover a secret, other than it seemed like although some of the fans had a hard time accepting that this could indeed be possible, it never seemed to us that it was a huge leap. And Dan was super pumped to do it, sort of like off to the races.

Why the decision to have Julia kiss Dixon? It felt as though she was instigating it.
PM: I think it’s incredibly attractive to have somebody attracted to you. And at certain times in your life, I think you just feel like you need that. Her views about lust versus love might be completely different than William’s. This might be water off a duck’s back to her. Or it might be something she’d never would have gone through with. I think, probably in my heart of hearts, that if it had have progressed much further, she probably would have said, ‘I can’t do this.’ But I don’t think she was opposed to a little first base action. I don’t think it makes her cruel. I mean I’ve already stated my case that I don’t think it makes her evil or unredeemable.

And I think if the fans were honest with themselves, I think they would admit to certain urges in their lives they may have had.

William hasn’t been the most attentive this season.
PM: I would also argue if I had to, it wouldn’t have mattered how well or poorly William had treated her. I don’t think it’s like a deficit on William’s character because Julia got momentarily interested in another guy. I don’t think it’s punishment, I don’t think it’s any of that stuff.

Regarding the 200th episode, was there a special kind of pressure that you felt as a showrunner and as a writer when you’re reached that landmark number?
PM: Oh yeah. Yeah, 200 was an opportunity to get some kind of oomph. And I think 200 was also significantly long enough to celebrate the show in its totality. So that’s why we wanted to have guest stars that spanned all the way back to the first season. We wanted to have shout-outs hidden in the script that referenced the balloon ride from like eight-gazillion years ago, the bellman from the honeymoon on the heels of the 100th episode.

We wanted to populate it with Easter eggs, and we wanted to sort of, as opposed to being sombre, or serious, or any of that shit, we just wanted to celebrate kind of the zaniness that Paul Aitken and the rest of the writers bring to the show, so we had a fucking death-ray. There was a lot of hat-tipping going on. And we just wanted to populate it with that other aspect of the Murdoch thing, the historical guest stars. Allow Murdoch to be surrounded by his peers, i.e. the smartest people in the world, which he is one.

Season 14 has not been announced. Anything you can tease in case it happens?
PM: The little tramp might make an appearance. Not Julia, but Charlie Chaplin. Hopefully the same as last year, and hopefully we’ll do it a little bit better.

 

What did you think of the Season 3 finale? Which storyline was your favourite of the whole season? Let me know in the comments section below!

Images courtesy of CBC.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Preview: Murdoch Mysteries gets spooky with “Sir. Sir? Sir!!!”

I’ve been excited about the Murdoch Mysteries Halloween episode ever since showrunner Peter Mitchell teased it during our chat earlier this year. There won’t be a Christmas-themed TV movie in Season 12, but he did say this Monday’s instalment is a worthy replacement.

“There is going to be an out-of-the-box Halloween episode,” Mitchell said late last month. “It’s certainly a standalone episode. And it is probably unlike any Murdoch you’ve seen.” So, is he right? Here’s what the CBC has revealed regarding “Sir. Sir? Sir!!”

Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) investigates an astronomical phenomenon with a strange impact on his colleagues’ behaviour and dire implications for Toronto.

And here’s what I can tell you after watching a screener of the episode, written by Mitchell and directed by Craig David Wallace. Don’t forget: because this is a standalone episode, there won’t be any Season 12 storylines involved.

It all starts right away
I love it when an episode of my favourite show shakes things up and really lets you know you’re in for something special. That happens right out of the gate with Murdoch. And look closely at the men Higgins speaks to in the alleyway. I swear the one who doesn’t say a word looks eerily familiar. As for Higgins, well, the astronomical phenomenon affects him in a unique way. Lachlan Murdoch is at his outrageous best.

What is the inspiration for “Sir. Sir? Sir!!”
A long-running animated program that features special instalments at this time of year seems to be the main culprit, but there are plenty of nods to iconic horror and science fiction films in the mix.

All hands on deck!
This special episode features all of our main and recurring characters involved in the story. A sweet treat for sure. Additionally, look for veteran comedian Darren Frost in a memorable guest role.

For once, George was right about something
However, this landmark event isn’t welcome news.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Murdoch Mysteries: Showrunner Peter Mitchell talks “Murdoch Mystery Mansion”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched Episode 1 of Season 12, “Murdoch Mystery Mansion.”

It’s been a long, hot summer here in Southern Ontario. Thankfully, the cooler air has arrived and with it the super-cool season première of Murdoch Mysteries. There was a lot to like about “Murdoch Mystery Mansion.” In particular, I enjoyed little things like William not being sure where to hang his hat upon coming home to a jam-packed house, Miss Hart’s unhappiness at Julia still being in charge of the morgue and Sophie McShera’s guest-starring role. I also liked the bigger story steps, including Higgins and Ruth’s upcoming nuptials.

Thanks to showrunner Peter Mitchell for taking time out of his busy day to discuss Monday’s episode as well as a look forward to future weeks. And, he gave me an answer to the question, “Is there a holiday movie this year?” This season, in addition to speaking with members of the Murdoch writing team, I’ll be chatting with members of the cast and crew too. I’m looking forward to bringing you exciting behind-the-scenes insight into our favourite show.

Congratulations on Season 12. You joined during Season 5 of Murdoch Mysteries; has the ride been a fun one?
Peter Mitchell: I think that would be an understatement. It’s been a pretty fun ride.

Not only did you have Frank Lloyd Wright in the first episode but also quite the gory death with a room dripping with body parts. Great job!
PM: Thanks! We also threw in a bit of the Me Too Movement in there and a little bit of Tinder. It’s got a couple of historical characters in there, allusions to the future and a nice, fun little mystery. I liked having the actress from Downton Abbey on, and I thought the actor who played Frank Lloyd Wright was true to what I could learn of him.

Aaron Poole was very good as Frank Lloyd Wright.
PM: It was surprising. I had to keep going back to Frank Lloyd Wright houses circa 1905 because they are so modern. The Murdoch’s house would fit into today’s world. [The set] is based on existing Frank Lloyd Wright houses of the period. It was [almost] completely accurate.

The set design was beautiful.
PM: The exterior was a house that was built along the same lines as a Frank Lloyd Wright house even though Mr. Wright never actually built a house in Canada. He certainly built a bunch in upstate New York and places like that. The exterior was a pretty good match to a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright houses that I researched. And Bob Sher and the art department did a great job with the interior. We added a few Murdoch gizmos, like the potato cooking room and the retractable bed just for fun.

How did the casting of Sophie McShera from Downton Abbey happen? Is that a deal with the UK?
PM: It’s not so much a deal as much as we try to endeavour for the last few years to open up the season with somebody recognizable to our UK audience. They submit a list of people they would like to see on the show and we pursue them. Anybody from Downton Abbey is on the list. The UK broadcaster knows their market and if they’re not from Downton Abbey they’ll probably be from EastEnders.

Gary Harvey directed this episode. Not only has he directed a lot of episodes of Murdoch Mysteries, but you’ve been friends with him for years. What does he bring to the table as a director?
PM: I’ve known Gary for most of my professional life. He has a fairly comprehensive understanding of what I like to see in a show. He’s very good with story and usually captures all of the moments. We can communicate with very few words. He generally knows what I’m hoping to get, even if it’s a sly allusion to Tinder, he knows what matters in the scene and hopefully what matters in the story. He has the experience to get eight out of 10 things with the amount of time we have to shoot.

You already have that shorthand.
PM: Of course. He’s a very efficient director and the actors like him and trust him. The crew likes him and he gets the job done in the time we give him to do it. I don’t have to spend much time on set when Gary is shooting unless I want to go down and make fun of him. [Laughs.] So I’m down there quite a lot. [Laughs.]

We saw William and Julia in a very good place in Episode 1. Lots of loving looks and humour. Will that last for a while?
PM: Oh yeah, I think so. We’ve dialled down on the soap elements a little bit this year. We do a little more work with cases. Julia has yet another new job. We have a few episodes that highlight our secondary characters a little bit more strongly maybe, than in the past. A couple of episodes in a row feature Brackenreid in a very big way. An episode that features Watts in a big way.

Watts is great and has been getting a lot of screen time. Should I be reading into that?
PM: I don’t think so. He’s got a considerable amount of talent so it’s a shame not to use him when we can. Higgins has got more airtime this year too.

I just got ‘My Big Fat Mimico Wedding’ in my Inbox. Episode 3 for the wedding. You’re not stretching it out all season?
PM: That’s right. The Newsomes are in full bloom. The wedding: will they or won’t they? And who dies? [Laughs.] It’s a nice, fun comedy.

What can you say about Miss Hart and her plans for taking over the morgue?
PM: She may get what she wants. And I think it’s nice to have a character who is not a true villain, but a bit flinty. It keeps our other characters on their toes and she has ambitions of her own. She’s maybe not as much of a team player as the rest of them.

Is there going to be a holiday movie?
PM: There isn’t going to be a holiday movie this year but there is going to be an out-of-the-box Halloween episode. It’s certainly a standalone episode. And it is probably unlike any Murdoch you’ve seen.

What did you think of Monday’s season return? Have you got questions for Peter Mitchell or anyone else on the cast and crew? Let me know in the comments below and I will ask them in the coming weeks.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail