Tag Archives: Simon McNabb

Murdoch Mysteries: Simon McNabb breaks down “Murdoch and the Tramp”

[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Murdoch and The Tramp.”]

Like a Christmas present arriving late out of the blue, this season of Murdoch Mysteries launched several months later than usual. It has definitely been worth the wait. Monday’s storyline melded several of my favourite pieces of the Murdoch Mysteries puzzle—Murdoch’s technology, historical figures and classic Crabtree humour—to provide a rollicking hour of entertainment. In my inaugural Season 14 chat, I spoke to Simon McNabb, the episode’s writer and Murdoch co-executive producer, about it.

How did COVID-19 affect your life and being able to work on a TV show?
Simon McNabb: It affected the writers in a couple of ways. The most immediate one was just, of course, on March 13th or whatever it was, we disbanded the writer’s room and didn’t see each other face to face for many months after that. It was kind of right in the middle of us breaking the arc for the season and coming up with the first batch of episodes, so we were able to sort of go off and write at that point, but then normally we would come back together and continue to talk about what the next episodes would be and give notes on those first episodes.

Like everybody else in the world, we just started doing everything over Zoom, which was nice in terms of being able to roll out of bed, straight into the writer’s room. But it was also challenging in that it’s a very different dynamic to be talking over video conference as opposed to being in person, in part because we’re not there in person, but also because it’s hard to sit on a video conference for, like, eight hours a day. We would generally do a short meeting where we got everything out—which takes away that opportunity to sit around and put your feet up over lunch and just say something that’s totally out of left field that might add a little creativity to the proceedings—but I think, ultimately, we found a good way of working bringing some of that creativity into the process anyway. It was pretty unusual, but it turned out pretty well.

Maybe the positive is that you are such a veteran writers’ room that, that may be unlike maybe a newer show, you can kind of roll with the punches a little bit better than others can.
SM: Absolutely. I think we were pretty uniquely suited to roll with whatever was thrown at us. And I also think there is an upside to only having a short meeting a day and then having some time as a writer to just sort of think on your own and reflect. It slows the pace down a little bit. But it means that when you do meet again, say the next day for a couple of hours, everybody has more ideas and is a little more refreshed and had something they really are burning to say.

Do you remember if it was you that came up with the idea of having Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel involved in this episode, or was it a collaborative effort?
SM: Well, it’s always collaborative. I think in terms of somebody saying the words Charlie Chaplin, I believe it was me back in March when we were still sitting around a communal table. But at the same time, I also know that some years ago—probably multiple times over the years when we’ve been sitting around brainstorming ideas and what historical figures we might want to see—Charlie Chaplin has come up before. And then we check the historical record and find out that he was only 11 years old at that time or something and we decided to move on. So it had been a couple of years, I think, since anyone had mentioned it.

I just Googled him and found out that in 1908 I believe was the year that he first got on a boat and left the UK to tour with Fred Karno’s vaudeville troupe. As soon as we sort of got that historical green light—that it was vaguely possible within our fictional world, that he could’ve come to North America—then we ran with it and discovered the truth that Stan Laurel had been his understudy and discovered that Buster Keaton was already touring with his family around North America. And we decided, if we were going to do one of them, we might as well do all of them there to do vaudeville in a new way with some of the biggest historical figures we’ve ever had on the show in terms of fame and profile.

I had no idea about Stan Laurel being Charlie’s understudy.
SM: Yeah, I had never come across that either, but it was true that he was Chaplain’s understudy while they were with Fred Karnos’ company. And I think he was quoted many times in his career as saying that Charlie was just this unbelievable talent who taught him an enormous amount.

You must love it when you’re able to hint that Crabtree invented The Tramp character and provide a wink to the audience.
SM: For sure, and the winking to the audience, and the winking to the historical record and what we now know to be true today, is a huge amount of fun of the premise of this show. It was something that was set up long before I started working on that and it’s such a stroke of genius. I don’t know who exactly came up with sort of that attitude to look back at history in that way through these characters on Murdoch Mysteries, but it’s something that the audience delights in. We see great comments on Facebook and Twitter every time we get a chance to really properly profile a great historical figure. Hopefully people will be pleased with the fun we’d had in this episode.

What is Yannick Bisson like as a director?
SM: Yannick is a fantastic director. I’ve worked with him before. He directed an episode last year about George Crabtree’s father that I wrote, and we collaborated on that episode last year and I got to watch him up close and personal. He comes at it from his enormous experience as an actor and, as a result, is really perceptive in terms of character and in terms of working with not only the main cast but guest actors. He has a real instinct for visual gags, for telling the stories through the set, the location and the great sets that our art department has been making the last couple of years. I remember one of the Christmas movies, him just making a great deal of incredible humour out of something that on the page, there’s only a couple of direction lines. And I think, as a director and an actor, he managed to sort of embrace the spirit of this episode in a big way.

Let’s use the chase scene in this episode as an example: how much of that would have been in the script?
SM: The chase scene was definitely the biggest set-piece in that episode. One of the biggest ones we’ve ever done maybe in terms of just the number of moving parts, the number of characters and the number of what do you want to call them stunts or gags that we wanted to incorporate, and it really paid off. There is Crabtree’s influence on The Tramp, but there’s also a Buster Keaton gag in there. I would say it was very specifically scripted, however, the realities on the day are always different than what’s in the minds of the writers who we’re sitting in the writer’s room.

That was the sequence went through a lot of labour and prep from all the departments that were changed repeatedly due to both constraints in terms of the time and budget. I remember, specifically, new ideas coming up in prep about how to make it funnier and more specific to the characters. I know that Yannick had a couple of ideas during prep of how to pay off gags better and make things a little more lively in that sequence. I know on the day there were things on set that were just like, well, it’s not going to quite work the way we wanted it to in this very specific way. So let’s change it and do it this way instead and, luckily, the result was pretty great.

With this shorter season, how many episodes are you credited with writing?
SM: This year I wrote two episodes. I wrote the Charlie Chaplin episode and another forthcoming episode that features some members of the Newsome family and the writer’s room as a whole collaborated on the last two episodes of the season. So I had a small hand in working on those scripts as well.

How many seasons have you been with Murdoch Mysteries?
SM: Eight seasons.

Wow. Do you ever look back and think about that, or no?
SM: It’s shocking every time I stop to think about it. I feel like it’s a very unusual career trajectory to happen onto a show that’s already well-established and then rise from being script assistant and story coordinator to a relatively senior writer and co-executive producer over the course of eight seasons. It’s crazy and it’s not something I ever, ever expected when I started working on Murdoch Mysteries. I thought, ‘Well, yeah, this show will probably go another season maybe,’ and here we are eight years later. And hopefully, there’ll be more.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Simon McNabb discusses “The Spy Who Loved Murdoch” and why Margaret wasn’t at Higgins’ wedding

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “The Spy Who Loved Murdoch.” 

I saw several Facebook posts from fans who were concerned by sneak peek images showing William in the arms of another woman. Those concerns were, obviously, all for naught. Murdoch is devoted to Julia and only a matter of NATIONAL SECURITY would cause him to go near a woman other than his wife. I thoroughly enjoyed the instalment, which was packed with intrigue, suspense and offbeat humour.

I spoke to the episode’s writer, Simon McNabb, about all the goings-on, including what was up with the ferret and why Margaret wasn’t at Higgins and Ruth’s wedding.

I know there are darker episodes coming, but I feel like the tone of Season 12 has been great. There has been some lightness to it with storylines and costuming. I think it’s been all-round really good so far.
Simon McNabb: Thanks, I agree. I think we really wanted to start things off with a lot of fun, positivity and energy after what was quite a dark ending to last season. But, as Peter has alluded to a couple of times on social media, there are certainly going to be some heart-wrenching episodes and we’re going to get into some dark places as we go through the season.

How did the A-story for Monday’s episode come about, with Terrence Meyers?
SM: We had wanted to do an episode with a French guest star for a little while because we’d heard the show had gotten quite strong ratings in France and really had a following. We’re always looking for opportunities to bring in interesting guest stars and we thought, ‘Well, there was something interesting happening politically in the world.’ [Countries] were just starting to make the alliances that were going to end up leading to World War I a number of years later. We thought there might be an opportunity there between Terrence Meyers and, with someone from France, we could create a scenario that could plausibly take place in Toronto that could have some implications for the beginning of World War I about eight years later.

How did the casting of Louise Monot happen? Had you heard of her?
SM: I hadn’t, but I think some of the people working on the show had. Particularly with the international casting it’s an interesting process. It happens every year with our UK broadcaster. I know that involves conversations with the UK broadcasting partner; they give us a list of people they’d love to see on the show each year. I think it was a similar process here. I believe there was a list of people who were suggested would be suitable for this character who were going to have the kind of profile in France that would be appealing and have the talent to pull off the role.

It worked. There was great chemistry between Régine Rivière and Murdoch.
SM: That’s great to hear. From what I saw I agree and that was the fun of it. A great deal of credit goes to Louise Monot but also Yannick who really sort of relished getting to put on the fake persona of the beard, moustache and all of it.

And he got to use his French as well!
SM: That was another thing we always have in the back of our minds. It’s always nice to let Yannick use French. As we were coming up with the story one of the first balls we put in the air as a writing room was, ‘If this is the situation and we’re talking about international things and France is involved, and the Triple Entente, Yannick is going to have to impersonate a Frenchman. That’s going to be part of the story.’ In a way, it’s looking for that opportunity and knowing that he can do it really well as an actor and a character that sort of guided us.

Simon, there was a ferret on a leash. Where did that come from?!
SM: [Laughs.] There was a moment during the season when Peter Mitchell walked into the writer’s room and I, slightly with my tongue in my cheek, said, ‘Pete, I need a ferret.’ Where it came from was we had this big set piece that we had been working on story-wise and there was a lot of stuff that needed to happen. And we needed to introduce this character of a Russian diplomat who needed to be a real live wire and an unpredictable sort. There were a lot of things that had to happen, and it actually spanned a commercial break in a way. I hope the scene that occurs to people is the great Rahad Jackson scene in the film Boogie Nights. A young man is wandering around in the background, with no explanation, lighting off firecrackers. It adds an insane tension to everything that is going on in what would already be a tense scene. I thought it would be a fun thing to add to the mix. It was abstract but oddly fits the tone of the character we were going for.

Fans were wondering why Margaret wasn’t at Higgins and Ruth’s wedding. Can you answer that?
SM: I noticed that some of the fans were asking that question and I was going to answer but many of the fans provided the answer that was actually scripted and cut for time. Tom Brackenreid explains at some point in the script that she was rather insulted by the fact that she was not asked to plan and organize the wedding. As a result, she staged a silent protest by staying home. It was a nice moment but it came at a point in the story where we needed to lose a little time because the episode was running long. It’s a shame. The decision was made not to bring in Margaret’s character because it would have made the story a little too busy. We had a lot of guest characters to service. It was a bit of a disappointment when we made that choice, but it had to be done. For the fans of that character and those who follow along so closely, it probably should have been addressed.

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

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

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Production begins on new original drama, Rex – coming to Citytv in 2019

From a media release:

Shaftesbury, Pope Productions, and Citytv announced today that production has begun on new drama series REX (wt). Centred on the partnership between a police detective and his hardworking dog, REX is a procedural drama with a twist. Starring John Reardon (Van Helsing, Continuum), Mayko Nguyen (Killjoys, Fahrenheit 451), and Enrico Colantoni (Bad Blood, Flashpoint), the eight-episode, 60-minute series is based on the long-running, international hit series Rex, a Cop’s Best Friend. Executive produced by Christina JenningsScott Garvie, and Paul Pope, the series has begun shooting in St. John’s, Newfoundlandand will continue through December 2018.

Set in St. John’s, NewfoundlandREX is an action-packed police procedural drama focused on the partnership between a dedicated detective and his extraordinary former K9 dog. Rex and Charlie are a detective team that combine their individual skills to solve the most puzzling crimes. This is the first English-language adaptation of the highly successful European format that has aired in 125 countries around the world for 18 seasons.

Starring John Reardon as Detective Charlie Hudson, Rex’s partner; Mayko Nguyen as chief of forensics Sarah TruongEnrico Colantoni as Superintendent Joseph De Luca; and Diesel (a Canadian Kennel Club Grand Champion) as Rex.

Shaftesbury and Pope Productions Ltd. produces REX in association with Citytv, a division of Rogers Media, and Beta Film GmbH. Beta Film GmbH holds worldwide distribution rights. Produced with the participation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, the Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit and the Rogers Documentary and Cable Network Fund.

REX is executive produced by Christina JenningsScott GarviePaul PopeKen Cuperus, and Avrum Jacobson, followed by Laura Harbin as Supervising Producer, Julie Lacey as Producer, and Lisa Porter as Associate Producer. Friedemann Goez and Oliver Bachert are Executive Producers from Beta Film GmbH. Episodes are written by Showrunners Ken Cuperus, Paul AitkenJohn CallaghanJessie GabeAvrum JacobsonSimon McNabb, and Celeste Parr. Episodes are directed by Felipe RodriguezAlison Reid, and John Vatcher.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Murdoch Mysteries: Simon McNabb on “Crabtree a la Carte” and Violet Hart’s intentions

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Crabtree a la Carte.”

Just what is Violet Hart up to? That was my biggest query going into Monday’s new episode of Murdoch Mysteries, especially after fans noted her odd behaviour in and around William. That was just one of many questions I had for Simon McNabb, who wrote “Crabtree a la Carte,” an instalment with plenty of fun thanks to Crabtree and Margaret, a gruesome poisoning and some tense moments between Julia and William.

I need to ask you about Violet Hart. Fans have noted her odd behaviour. She went to Josephine’s grave in “Mary Wept,” and made a comment to William about perhaps one day marrying a detective like him. Should fans be worried? Do we have another Eva Pearce on our hands?
Simon McNabb: [Laughs.] As a fan, I love any character who has a strong point of view and can bring some drama to the table. What kind of drama that might be for Violet Hart, obviously I can’t disclose, but I don’t think anyone should be worried, I think they should be excited.

I’m not sure if ‘excited’ is the right word if it means something bad happens to any of our core characters.
[Laughs.] That’s fair enough. I can’t say anything specific with respect to Violet, but I hope that, like all of our best characters, that even if we have questions about her we come to understand her at the end of the day.

She is certainly diligent. She works through the night to get William the information she needs with respect to the tainted meat.
One of the things that is interesting about her, as a character from our point of view as a writing team, is that she’s really good at her job which everyone on our show is if we’re being honest. Other than on occasion, when Higgins gets lazy. But, as a young woman in a male-dominated profession, what we haven’t really done before is bring in a character who right off the bat says something like, ‘I’m not going to be your assistant forever.’ She is somebody who has ambition from the get-go and isn’t afraid to say what she wants and wants to get out of life.

A reader picked up on Daniel Kash’s character’s name as being Randall Gordon, a take on Gordon Ramsay. I didn’t even twig to that.
Yeah, that was intentional. We’ve done it on occasion in the past as well as a sly reference to contemporary personalities and people we know in the public sphere. We’re always curious about what people will pick up on and we’re happy when people do because it means we’ve built the character strongly enough that there is just a little bit of Gordon Ramsay that comes through in Daniel’s performance.

There is so much buried in an episode of Murdoch Mysteries, from the murder itself to names of characters to props and signs. You really need to watch an episode more than once.
The great thing is we have a bunch of fans who do watch the show more than once. We’re aware of that and are excited, thrilled and quite honoured, frankly, that people like it enough that they revisit it, sometimes the same night that it airs or the very next morning. That’s just amazing that people care about it that much. In the writer’s room, we think about that but also people in all the departments—the crew—really get a kick out of that fact as well. People like Craig Grant in the props department and Bob Sher, our production designer and art director, go that extra mile so that there are those extra details.

Leslie Hope has directed a handful of Murdoch Mysteries episodes. I thought she did a great job capturing the action between Crabtree and Margaret during the Madison Fine Beef Culinary Challenge. What does Leslie bring to the table as a director?
When Leslie read the script [for this episode] during our first meeting about it she told me she had never seen any of these cooking competition shows. It shocked me that anybody could miss this enormous cultural phenomenon. But she got right into it and got very excited about it and watched a whole lot of the shows [as research] and really wanted to bring that aesthetic to the way that she shot the cooking sequences and then they way they cut it together. As a director in general, I think Leslie is someone we all love to work with. She’s been on the show for a couple of years now and she is somebody who, because she has a background in acting herself, the actors really respond to and enjoy working with. She is somebody who brings an energy and a focus to set that gets the crew and everybody excited to be there.

For me, the tainted meat in this storyline reminded me of what happened with Maple Leaf Foods back in 2008.
It’s funny, that’s not a case that we researched for this episode. The case that we had at the top of our minds in terms of the PR strategy and that kind of storyline was the Tylenol case from the 80s, which was not their fault at all but they decided to come out and apologize before they knew what the cause was. It came out that it was actually a lone wolf who tampered with a few bottles. Our view and the general consensus at the time was that it was a brilliant move to take responsibility before they had to and get in front of it because once it came out they had nothing to do with it they came out smelling like roses. So we tried to mirror that up and down scenario with our tainted meat scandal.

On the heels of the happy news that Julia is pregnant came an uncomfortable few scenes between she and William. Of course, that happened in front of Violet. Will there be more moments like this as Julia moves forward?
I hope it’s not all sunshine and lollypops because if it is it gets a little boring. At the same time, I hope the audience likes the direction that the rest of the season goes in. As for their fighting in this episode, it’s the perfect example of something the fans can enjoy and be excited about because, yes there is some friction between them but it comes from a place of love and William wanting to be everything he can for Julia and Julia wanting to be the best expectant mother that she can be.

There are a lot of balls in the air as we get into the last handful of episodes of Season 11. The pregnancy, Higgins and Ruth’s engagement … I can’t imagine every storyline will be wrapped by the season finale. 
I hope there is enough of a sense of closure at the end of the season that people will be satisfied even if there are hanging questions left over. Compared to the end of last season, there will be fewer question marks hanging over the heads of our characters and the audience.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

 

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Murdoch Mysteries: Simon McNabb discusses Home for the Holidays

Monday’s annual Christmas TV-movie Murdoch Mysteries: Home for the Holidays was unique on a couple of fronts. First, it didn’t feature the entire cast of characters all in one place toasting Christmas and smooching under the mistletoe. Second, it delved into an unlikely main storyline for a holiday episode: the plight of First Nations people. The tale followed William and Julia to Victoria to visit Murdoch’s brother, RCMP officer Jasper Linney (Dylan Neal), and the trio was drawn into a murder connected to an archaeologist (Megan Follows) who has uncovered an ancient Indigenous settlement.

With Home for the Holidays safely nestled into its bed, we spoke to Simon McNabb—who co-wrote the episode with showrunner Peter Mitchell—about all that and more.

Simon, this year’s special was different in tone. Sure, we had snow, holly and the traditional stuff with Higgins and Crabtree back in Toronto, but in Vancouver, with William and Julia, there was the green and the serious Indigenous Peoples storyline. What’s the background on how the A-story came about?
Simon McNabb: I think it came out of a desire to do something a little different. We felt like we’d done two Christmas movies set in the city and had explored so many of the Christmas movie tropes. When we did the first one, we never thought we’d do another one so we used as many possible Christmas movie references, ideas, themes and tropes as we possibly could. And then we had to do another one, so we came up with even more. This time we felt that if we did the same thing over again we would be wearing a little thin. We wanted to do something that was unusual, or at least unusual for us. And, at the same time, there was a desire to travel the show somewhere because we hadn’t filmed outside of Toronto or Southern Ontario since we went to Newfoundland.

And, at the same time, there was a desire to travel the show somewhere because we hadn’t filmed outside of Toronto or Southern Ontario since we went to Newfoundland. There were a couple of options on the table and one of them was British Columbia. Pete Mitchell was immediately attracted to that idea as someone who grew up on Vancouver Island. I’m also from British Columbia so I was excited as well. From there it became a matter of, Well, that means we’re going to do a bit of an evergreen Christmas. It’s going to be different, but we’ll still be able to draw on the fun family aspects of visiting relatives for the holidays. Aside from that, it’s going to be different and depart from the usual Santa Claus and gift-giving kind of theme.

I’m interested in what the fans have to say. I’m sure everyone would be happy with those tropes ever year but creatively it would get stagnant for the writing room.
Yeah, that’s what we felt. And once we decided to go to B.C. and do a storyline that wasn’t snow-covered we quickly realized that there were different stories to tell out there. If we were going to tell a story that had to do with the First Nations community on Vancouver Island it would sort of be impossible or inappropriate or just not right to attempt to tell a story about a Christian holiday and really embrace that. We wanted to tell a story that was a little bit more open and different.

I thought you told the First Nations story respectfully and that was clearly important to you because you brought on Haida/Cree artist Kristi Lane Sinclair served as consulting producer.
Kristi was involved and helped us not only in the story department with notes, research and insight into the history of the Haida and other nations on Vancouver Island but she was also a huge source for props and set decoration in terms of not only research but connections with First Nations artists, craftspeople and crew members on the west coast.

Was she a consultant on the language spoken as well?
Language was one of the parts interesting about it, and certainly one of the most eye-opening for me. One of the reasons we heard about Kristi and she got involved in the project is because she’d been working on a documentary for the CBC that was a behind-the-scenes documentary for a film they were filming in the summer in Haida Gwaii called The Edge of the Knife. That film was produced and directed and acted largely by members of the Haida nation. All of it is in the Haida dialect, which was done very intentionally as a way to document the language of the Haida because it’s been dying out and even fewer speak it. She was very aware of that and was able to connect us with people that could translate the Haida lines of which there were very few because we mostly interacted with members of the Songhees nation. The Songhees nation has even fewer people who speak it but Kristi was again instrumental in connecting us with some of the elders from the Songhees nation, a small handful of which are actually fluent in the language.

Home for the Holidays is a close-ended episode that doesn’t tie to story arcs, but you did bring in recurring characters to take part.
We brought in Ruth Newsome and Nina Bloom which places it a little bit in the chronology of the love lives of Higgins and Crabtree. It’s liberating to write something that isn’t linked to anything else. We allow for five to 10 per cent of the holiday episode to allow our characters to go a wild a little bit and let the spirit of the season overtake them for good or for bad. Let Margaret Brackenreid be a little bit nuttier than she usually would with her greed and then allow for a really sweet moment of redemption for anyone who does go off the rails.

Can you talk about the storyline involving the Ponzi scheme and the Brackenreids?
The Brackenreids always seem to be the heart of a holiday episode because they are the perfect nuclear family with kids whereas none of our other leads have that. It seems like there is always plenty of stuff to do with them at Christmastime. In terms of the investment storyline, that just came out of doing a little research and finding out that Charles Ponzi had landed in North America and on his way to Montreal to start his first little fraudulent cheque scheme. We thought it would be great to do something with him, and then we thought it would be great to have them almost lose the house to him and that it would be a perfect story to do at Christmas.

That’s crazy! Ponzi was in Canada during this time period?
I forget the exact time period. He landed in Boston first, I believe, and then he did go to Montreal. His first sort of criminal activity, as far as anyone knows, was working for a slightly shady bank in Montreal.

It continues to fascinate me how real-life historical figures and storylines can be worked into a storyline. I feel like a Murdoch Mysteries history class should be offered at a college.
[Laughs.] That would be fun. It would be a fun jumping-off point and I think that speaks to what we hope the show does for people in a more casual way. A professor who decided to teach history through the lens of Murdoch Mysteries would hopefully use each historical figure or incident as an opportunity to learn a lot more about it and to make sure they got all the details and facts right as opposed to the odd corner that we cut to make it fit into our episodes. And, hopefully, people who are watching the show and go off on their own and do a little more reading about it and actually understand the history.

Murdoch Mysteries returns with new episodes Monday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

 

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