Tag Archives: Peter Mitchell

Murdoch Mysteries: Author Maureen Jennings discusses “Game of Kings” and her latest Murdoch novel

Spoiler alert! Do not read this until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Game of Kings.”

It’s always a pleasure to speak to author Maureen Jennings. After all, she created the character of William Murdoch that we’ve enjoyed first in her novels and then on television. Monday’s newest episode, “Game of Kings,” contained several noteworthy moments and storylines, among them a history of Poland, the intricacies of chess and how everyone in Station House No. 4 knows Julia is pregnant.

I spoke to Jennings about writing Monday’s instalment and what fans can expect from her latest Murdoch novel, Let Darkness Bury the Dead.

This was a fascinating episode that contained a lot of Polish history, including the hussars—the winged calvary—and the coronation sword, Szczerbiec. Where did the inspiration for this episode come about?
Maureen Jennings: I was invited to Poland as part of a writer’s festival, so I learned a little bit of the language. Then I came across the story of the husaria, the winged horsemen, and the ceremonial sword. I thought it all was a great possibility for an episode. Then I came upon the real story of a chess tournament that had happened in the United States—I think it was in 1904—and thought it was a great combination, especially these days, to have an international chess tournament and have all of this other nationalism going on with the Polish husaria. At the time, Poland was occupied by Russia and it was a difficult time. Through this tournament, some of these ancient conflicts would show themselves.

It’s amazing that, as reflected in this episode, the coronation sword really was brought to Canada for safe-keeping, though that was during the Second World War.
All of that came afterwards, so I thought it was great. I fiddled a little bit but it was not at all implausible that there would be this sword here. It was a great connection.

How did you go about fleshing out the chess storyline, regarding Crabtree, Higgins, Watts and Nina?
Initially, I pitched a blindfold chess tournament that I got very attached to. Again, this was all based on true events. One man played, I think, 22 boards at once. He had his back to the boards and had to keep all of those games in his mind which I think is phenomenal. But when we talked about it, Peter thought it would be a bit difficult to do it that way and that the more traditional tournament that ended up in the show would be a bit easier to film. Chess is a funny game because it’s very quiet and formalized conflict and I really enjoyed trying to depict that.

The history of chess goes back far in Canadian history. At least as far back as 1872 with The Chess Federation of Canada.
I’m always finding out interesting information like that. I like chess and I did a lot of study on it for this episode. I was so impressed with these chess geniuses.

There was that wonderful moment when it was revealed that Nina and Karina were the truly skilled chess players and the men were just making the moves as instructed.
Yes. Again, women were not playing as much but there was a women’s league and they were fantastic as well.

How does it work with regard to which episode you’ll write in a season?
I’ll present four or five stories that I’m interested in, we’ll talk about it and they’ll say, ‘Why don’t you work on this one?’ They’re all stories that I’m interested in which I’m lucky to have. No one just tosses me a story and says, ‘Write a script.’

What has been the most challenging transition when you go from writing a novel to writing a television script?
I had to constantly be aware of my words. In the beginning, Paul Aitken was always telling me I was writing too many words. I had to really keep it in mind that this was a visual medium and to cut that down. That wasn’t so hard. What was challenging and fun to learn more of the mechanics of a TV show. It’s not just the script as such. In the first episode I wrote, for example, that there was a big thunderstorm. That’s not a big deal for me—I just write ‘big thunderstorm’—but in fact on a set, rain and snow are very difficult to do. Nobody wants to do rain because you ruin the cameras, never mind the cast. It’s things like that that I had to think through.

It was revealed, in very funny fashion, that Julia is pregnant and everyone knows. How do you feel about her being pregnant?
I like that thread. It’s been going on for a while and set up quite well.

Finally, let’s discuss your latest novel Let Darkness Bury the Dead. This is your first Murdoch novel in years. What’s it about?
I advanced the story to 1917 and it turned out to be a fabulously interesting time period. I often say that sometimes writing a novel changes your life and I think that’s the case with this. It was so amazing to study that time period. Because it’s 1917, Murdoch is 56 so I had to think about that. Is he physically different? What has happened to him in that amount of time? That was a bit easier than I thought, but it’s a bit like reconnecting with an old friend. I liked going back to Toronto because it had changed but not dramatically so. I’ve currently just done another jump to 1936 and that is very, very different because it’s post-War and things were very different in Toronto after World War I.

Get the latest news on Maureen Jennings from her website. What did you think of “Game of Kings”? Let me know in the comments below!

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

 

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Murdoch Mysteries: Peter Mitchell on the premiere and previews Season 11 storylines

Spoiler warning: Do not continue reading unless you have watched Monday’s Season 11 episode, “Up from Ashes.”

If you’re still reading, it’s because you have either A) watched Monday’s premiere, or B) you love spoilers. After a Season 10 cliffhanger that saw Doctor Julia, Inspector Brackenreid and Constables Crabtree, Jackson and Higgins all in danger and Detective Murdoch in custody, “Up from Ashes” returned with an emotional thrill ride that not only exonerated Murdoch but collared Councilman Williams, Robert Graham and Chief Constable Davis. Unfortunately, Jackson passed away as a result of his gunshot wounds, leaving Station No. 4 in mourning. (But how great was it to see Hodge has landed back on his feet?)

In the first of our exclusive weekly discussions with the Murdoch Mysteries writing team, showrunner Peter Mitchell—we caught him scouting locations for an upcoming story about a white moose—explains the season premiere and what’s to come in Season 11, including the two-hour holiday special, which explains the Murdoch Takes Vancouver event!

Congratulations on a great season premiere. It was well-written and well-performed. You were able to bring all of the storylines together in an exciting way.
Peter Mitchell: I think we did a nice job. It was economical and worked.

It’s now official: Constable Jackson did not make it out of the church alive. Did Kristian Bruun want to leave Murdoch Mysteries?
When I decided to commit to doing a cliffhanger like that, someone couldn’t make it. It would have been dishonest if everybody was fine. I hadn’t even really decided who it was going to be when I wrote it.

How, then, did you decide who it was going to be?
Fan loyalty, number of years on the show, Kristian had some other opportunities … Daniel Maslany [Detective Watts] has a bigger presence on the show this year, our cast was starting to get large, large, large and I think we served Kristian well and he served us well. There were no hard feelings or anything like that, it’s just what happens.

Fans become so attached to characters and they don’t want to see anyone leave. But I think that becomes boring if you don’t shake things up. 
I think so. And, at the heart of it, this is a drama. Without conflict, without change and without loss … every jeopardy can’t be on just secondary characters. You have to have it happen to your primary characters to have any kind of impact.

Can you go into more detail about Detective Watts’ involvement in Station No. 4 this season?
He’s in at least half of the episodes, he’s kind of a gadabout detective and he comes and he goes. He is semi-permanently stationed in No. 4.

Is that a case of Daniel comes in and your plan was just to have him for a few episodes and then you change your mind because of what life he breathes in Watts?
I think so, yeah. Kristian was like that too. Kristian came in as Slugger Jackson a few years ago and I couldn’t help keeping him in my mind, and we decided to bring him along, much like we did with Lachlan Murdoch; his participation has increased with every season of the show and continues apace this year.

The scene where Murdoch realized Crabtree was really alive and working behind-the-scenes was pretty emotional.
The bromance between those two has been and will continue to be, a key element of our show. It just felt that natural way to play it. William had kind of given up hope on him; he had never really given up hope on Julia, and he kind of expected Brackenreid would be OK. And he saw Crabtree lying there, dead, in the season finale.

Are we going to revisit Murdoch’s house building this season?
We’re constantly riding that line between murder mystery and domestic drama and we have a whole new domestic drama for Murdoch and Ogden this year that is more important than houses.

When I spoke to you last season, you thought Teddy Roosevelt might be back this season. Can you confirm he does?
Well, somebody hunting the moose! [Laughs.]

What about Dr. William Osler?
Yes, he is in the early part of the season.

Helen Keller?
Yes, early part of the season.

Alexander Graham Bell?
Early part of the season.

Our friend Terrence Meyers will be back?
Yes, along with Pendrick. The nosy newspaper reporter we were all beginning to hate is back, and so is the burlesque dancer.

And Colin Mochrie is guest-starring this season as well.
With the number of incidents that have surrounded the Murdochs at their hotel, someone thought it was wise that we get a hotel detective. [Laughs.] He appears in the Helen Keller episode which is, I think, the third episode of the season.

The holiday movie this year is two hours, correct?
Yes, it’s two hours and it’s a slightly different spin on the holiday movie this year. It’s not so much a retelling of a straight-up Christmas story. There is a little extra in it. We’re going to shoot a little bit of it out in Victoria, B.C. We’re actually prepping it as we speak and are just doing the final casting decisions.

So, the west coast of the county is playing into the storyline?
Yeah, there are sort of two independent storylines. ‘Meanwhile, out on the west coast…’ and then, ‘Meanwhile, back in Toronto.’ It will have some elements of Indigenous culture, specifically the Haida. We’re going out to Victoria in nine days to shoot.

At what point did you decide that going west to film was a good idea?
It’s always been a part of this show, and particularly with Christina Jennings, that when we have the opportunity we try to travel the show. We do have fans across the country and it’s an opportunity for the fans to say Hi. In formulating the Christmas movie this year, and in an attempt to not start spinning our wheels, it was a natural part of our growth to say, ‘Let’s get out a map … where do we want to go? Is there a story we can tell here? Yup.’ We were able to come up with a story that has a bit of resonance with Canada being 150.

What did you think of the season premiere? Do you have a message for Kristian Bruun? Are you excited for the holiday movie? Let me know in the comments section below!

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

 

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Murdoch Mysteries: Showrunner Peter Mitchell looks ahead to Season 11

Spoiler alert! Do not read on until you’ve watched Murdoch Mysteries Episode 18, “Hell to Pay.”

Now that was one heck of a season finale, wasn’t it Murdoch Mysteries fans? It’s a good thing our favourite series has been greenlit for another season because there are a ton of questions to be answered! Will Julia be found? How will William get out of this scrape? Is Det. Watts really there to help William? Did Brackenreid fight off Davis, or is he injured or, gulp, dead? And, perhaps most importantly: did Higgins, Crabtree and Jackson all survive the gunfire?

We spoke to Murdoch Mysteries showrunner Peter Mitchell about that edge-of-your-seat instalment—the show’s landmark 150th—and where the show goes in Season 11.

First of all, congratulations on your writing win at the Canadian Screen Awards, as well as Murdoch Mysteries winning the Golden Screen Award. Is it important to you to win awards, specifically one for writing?
Peter Mitchell: Murdoch has never gotten a nomination for writing, so it was important to give a little shout-out to the writers. It’s nice to win an award, but it’s not why I’m here. I think I’ve been nominated 11 times or something and this is the first time I’ve won. Winning is better than losing. [Laughs.] I won’t deny that. It was nice of the movie to win too as a whole. Obviously, I’m biased but getting the award for most viewership is more important than anything else.

Let’s talk about the cliffhanger season finale, ‘Hell to Pay.’ I seem to remember Murdoch being framed for murder once before?
I believe he was at the end of Season 4 [“Murdoch in Wonderland”]. That was just before my time. I don’t think it was a cliffhanger, he was exonerated by the end of the episode.

At what point did you decide ‘Hell to Pay’ would be a cliffhanger?
I think it was around the time that we thought Trump was going to win [the election]. I just figured everything would go to hell both fictionally and in real life.

It was great to see Robin Dunne back on TV. I haven’t seen him since Sanctuary.
He was great. I had never met him before, actually, and he was a ton of fun. It was also especially fun to work with John Wildman, who was on a TV show called The Campbells a million years ago and I used to drive him to work. That’s the first time we had worked together in, like, 30 years.

You started out in the industry as a driver?
Well, as a production assistant. They didn’t have drivers back then. I was the general gofer guy.

How long were you a P.A.?
One season, and then I moved into the writing department fairly quickly once I got my foot in the door.

Did you take a TV writing course at the time?
I took one television writing course at York University for, like, a semester. My instructor was in the business, at CTV, and he got me a gig.

OK, let’s talk about the episode. Miss Cherry’s personality has certainly evolved. In last week’s episode, she was talking shit about William and Julia. There is no faster way to turn the fans on someone than having them do that.
Yeah, especially Julia. We learned that when one of the characters Emily was involved with called William a stick in the mud. That was basically her death sentence. [Laughs.] But we had portrayed Louise as being controlling over George throughout, but it was when she insults George’s friends that he can do better. I kind of knew what the reaction would be.

Is that it for Louise Cherry?
I wouldn’t say so, no. She performs a function in the finale and is not out of the picture.

With regard to Inspector Brackenreid … we hear a gunshot and last saw Davis aiming a gun at his head. 
We hear a gunshot go off and that’s the last we see of Brackenreid. I guess we’ll see what happens.

It appears we might be losing one of the constables. Murdoch is told that one of them is dead.
I think you have to think about the reliability of the narrator, the person who is telling him that. I don’t think we can end a season like that and have everything be tickety-boo. The show, in essence, has five cliffhangers: three constables, one Julia and a Brackenreid. And we don’t see any of them past the three-quarter mark of the show. And, why is Watts offering to be so helpful at the very end of the episode? Is he a good guy? I don’t know. Why didn’t he help Murdoch earlier? Why is he showing up now?

So, Watts may have ulterior motives?
Maybe. I never trust those Maslanys. They have many faces! [Laughs.] Daniel is fantastic; just a very pleasant young man.

You’ve created this mess with all of these characters. How do you clean it up going forward?
I think it’s a big enough mess that it will take more than one episode to clean it up. I’ve been studiously avoiding the hard work of making it all make sense. I think what I’ll probably do is use a couple of the early episodes to deal with the repercussions of last year and then bounce the show ahead three months in time because I don’t think we’re purpose built to go dark, dark, dark. We’re allowed to go dark on the show but I don’t think we can stay there.

Are there any historical characters you’re planning on bringing on board for Season 11?
I think we’re going to bring back good old Teddy Roosevelt. I think we’re going to bring Dr. William Osler back, one of the founders of modern medicine. I think we’re going to bring in Helen Keller, who will help solve a case. And, with Helen Keller, I think we’re going to get Alexander Graham Bell. That’s just in the early stages right now and I think we’re going to try and pay a tiny bit more attention to getting more historical characters in this year than we did last year. That might entail the return of Laurier and Terrence Meyers, of course, some of the regular characters we like to see every year.

In terms of the historical characters, they all seem to be in the world of medicine for some reason.

What did you think of the season finale? Let me know in the comments below!

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Link: Inside CBC’s hit series Murdoch Mysteries with showrunner Peter Mitchell

From Eleanor Besley of Pop Journalism:

Link: Inside CBC’s hit series Murdoch Mysteries with showrunner Peter Mitchell
“I’m responsible for the large, creative parts of the show. I work with the writers to come up with ideas for stories, casting, and the post-production and editing work. From beginning to end, I have a hand in all those aspects. This show has been running for ten years now, so everybody knows their job. On a good day, I don’t have to do anything, except to say “yes,” “no,” or “sure, try that,” and just let everybody do their jobs.” Continue reading. 

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Murdoch Mysteries showrunner Peter Mitchell breaks down “Great Balls of Fire, Part 2”

Talk about a dramatic conclusion for Murdoch Mysteries. After setting up Julia’s potential demise at the hands of a ghostly Eva Pearce, William struggled to save his wife from the flames as The Great Fire consumed Toronto.

Also unveiled during “Great Balls of Fire, Part 2”? Crabtree and Nina are still going strong, so much so he invested in Sam’s garage, William has staked out him and Julia’s dream home and Henry learned his cigars were not the cause of the fire.

In the first of our season-long discussions with Murdoch Mysteries‘ writing staff, we broke down Monday’s episode with showrunner Peter Mitchell and got a hint into Episode 3.

Was there ever any talk that “Great Balls of Fire, Part 1” and “Part 2” be a two-hour movie instead of two episodes?
Peter Mitchell: Briefly, but I don’t think seriously. It easily could have been done, but it never came up as a serious request.

The scenes that involved fire were impressive. It looked as though you used a combination of CGI and real fire. Was that the case?
It was probably 70-30 real fire.

Safety would have been an issue, no?
It was dicey because, though you do a certain amount of flame retardant, there is always the fact that the bones of the set have been around for quite some time, so there is always a flammability factor in play. Not so much danger to the actors because long lenses and flame bars can disguise proximity. There is a bit more distance between the actors and the flame than the eye would tell you. There is always a tiny risk anytime you do anything, but our main concern was that we didn’t actually start The Great Fire of Scarborough. But we had fire engines on hand and all that stuff.

Did you build extra sets onto the original set that was part of the fire?
We built additions on to the existed set that could be used, especially for the after-effects of the fire. They were sort of modular pieces that could be put into play and then removed. We built a couple of sets that, even though they looked damaged, were remarkably undamaged after the fire effects were done. The CGI that was done after the fact lent to the slightly greater carnage.

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I really enjoyed the moment where Brackenreid was narrating the toll of the fire while sepia-toned footage of fighting the blaze was shown. Did you use actual footage from the intermixed with the cast acting it out?
We used as much archival footage as we could find. There is actually some film of the fire from the time. We used the archival footage that we found and then shot some elements and then aged and treated them to look like they fit the archival footage.

Was it a challenge to not focus too much on the fire and stick to the murders when the fire was such a big event?
Quite frankly, the amount of resources it would have taken to do a full episode about the fire would have been beyond our abilities. I liked the idea of using the archival stuff and thought it worked really well. Because it is a murder mystery and it is a fairly well-known event, we acknowledged the one victim of the Toronto fire. We didn’t want to create a falsehood that the fire was used to cover up a murder. We wanted to be more journalist that storyteller in that moment.

Because of the extent of the blaze in real history, will it be referenced at all going forward?
We see that from time to time, in some places. If you look at the actual city maps and the areas that were affected, it was certainly considerable but there are large parts of Toronto that weren’t affected by the fire. We didn’t really want to do Murdoch Mysteries: The Dresden Files. [Laughs.]

What about Julia’s mental state? By the end of this episode, she recognizes killing Eva was necessary. Has that story closed for good?
I think it’s pretty much closed. It was a good opportunity to deal with it, but I think it runs its course. There’s always the danger when you have strong female characters of turning them into a damaged character. I want to stay away from that. Brackenreid got better after being screwed up two years ago; there’s no reason Julia can’t.

It was a nice full-circle moment when Julia told Elizabeth that killing will change her.
We all compartmentalize, right? Who knows, maybe it will pop out sometime, but not in the immediate future.

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Crabtree and Nina seem to be going strong, especially after he invested money in Sam’s garage.
Crabtree is on the up part of the roller coaster right now. Then it goes down. [Laughs.] But then it goes up again! And down. What we’ve enjoyed about that is opening up that Star Room set to us. It allows us to have our cops because they are red-blooded males, someplace to hang out and give us some visual colour. We get to use the burlesque routines as a bit of commentary on the show. There is a debutante routine in the first part and a firefighter routine in the second part, which are just fun little bits and very much what burlesque vaudeville would have been at the time.

We got to see William’s plot of land where he’s planning to build the house. Will we spend much time watching it built?
I think there is enough of that on HGTV. [Laughs.] And things don’t always go as planned.

What can you tell us about next week’s episode?
George may be on the way to finally finding love, Julia may be on the way to being healed and Murdoch may well be on the way to a crushing mortgage.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

Check out this footage of the 1904 fire

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