It was about time that the Law & Order franchise headed north of the border. With four international versions airing around the world, Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent debuts Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern on Citytv.
You may have seen the massive billboards in Toronto, the teasers on Citytv, the cast appearances at a recent Toronto Maple Leafs tilt and the social media posts. Rogers/Citytv is expecting big things from Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent. Judging from the first episode I screened, the show will deliver.
Starring Aden Young (Rectify, The Disappearance) as Detective Sergeant Henry Graff, Kathleen Munroe (Chicago Med, Call Me Fitz) as Detective Sergeant Frankie Bateman, Karen Robinson (Schitt’s Creek, Pretty Hard Cases) as Inspector Vivienne Holness and K.C. Collins (Pretty Hard Cases, Shoot the Messenger) as Deputy Crown Attorney Theo Forrester, the first episode of Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent hits the ground running and never looks back. Mixing the wry humour of the Law & Order franchise with crimes and a killer guest cast, I can’t believe it’s taken this long for a Canadian take to air.
We spoke to executive producer Amy Cameron about how the series came about, “being Canadian,” and how the iconic “dun-dun” can and can’t be used.
Walk me through the process of how Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent came to be.
Amy Cameron: Well, it came through Erin Haskett at Lark Productions. Erin has Lark Productions, which is based in Vancouver. Universal Studio Group are minority shareholders and they hold the format license for Law & Order. They’re always looking for different places to bring Law & Order and what would make sense and what’s the right fit.
I think this conversation started a couple of years ago now with Erin and Rogers about whether or not they could do a Law & Order Canada. And when push came to shove, ultimately people felt that Law & Order Toronto was the sort of city where they wanted to have this start in Canada rather than Vancouver. They’re a Vancouver production company.
I used to be an exec on a project of Erin’s when I was at CBC, but other than that, we hadn’t worked together, but we are friends and enjoy each other’s company and similarly think about the industry. Last Christmas, she came to us and said, just after Christmas, ‘Would you guys be willing to take something on with me and produce it in Toronto and be our co-producer on the show?’ Sure.
And then it turned out it was Law & Order, which honestly, I spent the winter and the spring kind of feeling like it was all a bit of a surreal joke. I’m not actually checking out studio space for Law & Order Toronto. I’m not actually looking at crew for Law & Order. I mean, I was such a super fan
Tassie [Cameron] ended up writing a pilot that was presented and that was accepted, and we found out that it was green-lit on a Thursday. I should look at the dates, but it was the Thursday, a Thursday night, we found out that we were going to go ahead and it was announced to the world on the Monday.
Were still reeling with the information that we were green-lit, and we were going to produce Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent when the rest of the world found out too. That was the end of May, the beginning of June, and we started filming at the end of August. So it was insanely quick to turn around, locking down a studio space, getting our key creatives in place, having our designer design a set, and finding directors. The casting process was so wild, how do you define what’s Canadian? There’s the idea of trying to define how Canada is different from the U.S. What is Canadian versus what is American? No one thing can, there’s no one way to answer that question. It feels like it’s a million little decisions,
We wanted to make sure that this version of Law & Order was imbued with Canadian creatives, Canadian decisions, very much embedded in the Canadian culture and mindset and way of doing and creating. It was pretty wild. We were on the road for the first two weeks because our sets weren’t ready. It was wild. So much fun though. No time to stop and second-guess things. You’re just going.
This being a Dick Wolf creation, is there kind of a checklist that you had to meet? Did he see episodes and have to approve anything?
AC: With the format agreement, you have access to Wolf executives for consultation purposes. We had a wonderful conversation with their post-producer, and we were able to sort of dig into, ‘OK, how do you do this? What’s this with those location cards, with the use of dun-dun? It was so incredibly valuable to have someone just say it out loud, which is the dun-dun sound is never used as an exclamation mark on a scene or music. If you have a score going, you can never count on the dun-dun as the thing that takes you. It’s a small nuance, but it’s its own entity, and it’s not meant for emphasis.
There are certain guidelines, when it came to writing the scripts. For Criminal Intent, you’re aiming for about 10% of the episode from the criminal’s perspective. It is much more an intellectual pursuit of a criminal rather than a physical one.
But for the most part, Wolf and Dick Wolf were hands-off. That said, he did watch the first episode, and he really liked it. The feedback we got was the Canadians did good work.
The cast is so strong. Aden Young, Kathleen Munroe, Karen Robinson and K.C. Collins really hit the ground running and are wonderful. Was there chemistry with the cast right away?
AC: The only character that Tassie wrote with the actor in mind was Holness, Karen’s character. We had worked with Karen, and we knew that she would be able to bring it, that she would be able to bring in that humanity and humour when needed.
Working with K.C. on Pretty Hard Cases, we knew how strong an actor he was and really loved working with him again. Aden and Kathleen have worked together in the past. They get along very well.
Rogers and Citytv couldn’t have given you a better time slot on Thursday. You’re right after the mothership. Are you cautiously optimistic for a second season?
AC: We don’t know about the second season, but I feel we have done everything we can to get a second season. If this season is the only season that we get to share with fans, I would be disappointed. And yet I’m incredibly proud. I’m so proud of our crew, they knocked it out of the park. The sets are spectacular. Oleg Savytski is our production designer. Unbelievable. The performances from our actors, the commitment of the writers to cracking the formula, cracking the format, just even our post team, the editors, and the attention to detail in terms of the edit and understanding that … I don’t think there’s anything else we could have done. It is up to Canadian audiences to show up if they want a second season.
Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on Citytv.
Featured cast image courtesy of Steve Wilkie. Images courtesy of Rogers Media.