Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Murdoch Mysteries


CBC -- Series premiere Jan. 5;
Mondays beginning Jan. 6

Top Cop

Yannick Bisson Continues To Shine As 
The Artful Detective Of "Murdoch Mysteries"

By Eric Kohanik

It's a sunny fall day and there is much to celebrate inside Toronto's Sullivan Studios.

Production is almost done on another season of Murdoch Mysteries. Over on the police-station set, Yannick Bisson is wrapping up his scenes as William Murdoch, the Victorian-era detective whose artful sleuthing helps solve the cases facing the Toronto Constabulary each week.

“It seems everything gets the most intense and the most difficult in the last week,” the 44-year-old Bisson concedes during a break.

A 30-year acting veteran, Bisson has a fondness for Murdoch. “It's certainly been the most rewarding role yet,” the Montreal native says. “We've had some pretty big setbacks happen for him. There's been a bit of a glass ceiling for him in terms of how far he can go in his career. Between that and romance, he's taken a few hits.”

Bisson is backed by a solid ensemble, including Thomas Craig as Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, Jonny Harris as Constable George Crabtree, Hélène Joy as Dr. Julia Ogden and Georgina Reilly as Dr. Emily Grace. Nevertheless, Bisson grapples with certain challenges.

“It's always been relatively easy to do,” he says of recreating the show's historical feel. “You show up and they've got these great clothes that sort of bundle you in. You flip across the parking lot onto a set that they've put so much effort into. The scripts are so wonderful. You really do step out of your trailer and step back in time.

“That part is easy. The toughest part for me is the endurance. In one day, we do three times the average person's workday, just by virtue of the hours, the intensity and the speed that we work at. So, in five months, you can get burned out. You have to take care of your body. You've got to stay fit, exercise a lot, get out in the sun and recharge.”

The end of any show's season is enough to fuel a wrap party. But there are a lot more reasons to celebrate now.

Based on the Detective Murdoch novels by Maureen Jennings, Murdoch Mysteries is now in its seventh season, but only its second on CBC. The show had been in the domain of Rogers Broadcasting, airing on its chain of Citytv stations. Although it was successful, Rogers executives decided the series no longer fit their revamped City brand. They pulled the plug after the fifth season.

“It was definitely a low point,” Bisson told a Toronto crowd of fans in November, after a screening at the inaugural Canadian International Television Festival. “We had done five years. We had good ratings, really solid ratings. It was real disheartening. It was discouraging.”

That didn't last long. According to producers, CBC called 24 hours after Rogers ditched the show.
A ramped-up publicity campaign by CBC took “Murdoch Mysteries” to new heights of popularity last season. The network then boosted the usual 13-episode order to 18 this season. After a break for the Winter Olympics next month, the series will resume with its extra instalments.

“It's certainly a new outlook,” Bisson says back on the set. “It's been fun doing the show for somebody who wants it.”

With 1.6 million viewers (including regular TV, on-demand viewing and online streaming), Murdoch Mysteries is Canada's top-rated homegrown drama. But its reach goes farther. The show airs in more than 100 international markets – including the U.S., where it was recently picked up by Ovation, which is airing all 96 episodes of the seven seasons under a different title: The Artful Detective.

Whatever the moniker, the exploits of Detective William Murdoch and company continue to shine brightly. And although Bisson has worked in the U.S., the Murdoch Mysteries resurgence has refuelled his passion for Canadian TV.

“I think, artistically, we have much, much better product,” Bisson says. “Also, you know, I'm a Canadian. I'm very much loyal to that. I'm very much a proponent of the Canadian industry. It has given a lot to me. And I have a lot to give back.”

Murdoch Mysteries – CBC – Mondays

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - January 2014.)

The Best Laid Plans


CBC -- Series premiere Jan. 5;
Mondays beginning Jan. 6

Party Animals

Ottawa's Backroom Shenanigans Get 
A Playful Political Jab In "The Best Laid Plans"

By Eric Kohanik

Jonas Chernick admits he hasn't really paid much attention to the scandals, backroom dealings and other political-party shenanigans that take place on Parliament Hill.

“I can honestly say that, while I knew that went on, it wasn't something that I've ever had an interest in personally,” the 40-year-old Winnipeg-born actor confesses. “I'm not the most political person. I keep myself aware of what's going on. And, of course, I vote. But I'm not a political junkie.”

Nevertheless, when the chance came along to play the political junkie at the core of The Best Laid Plans, Chernick didn't waste any time. He began his campaign to land the role with full force.

“I kind of lobbied for it at first when I heard that the show was going into production,” explains Chernick, who is perhaps best known for doing triple duty as writer, producer and star of a 2012 Canadian movie called My Awkward Sexual Adventure.

“I said, 'I know the story. I know the character and I think I'm right for this.' It was kind of a match made in heaven right away. I really feel like this is one of the best projects I've ever been involved in.”

The Best Laid Plans is a six-episode series that premieres Jan. 5 on CBC, with the remaining instalments airing on Mondays, beginning Jan. 6. Based on the novel of the same name by Terry Fallis, the series takes a lighthearted look at the behind-the-scenes lunacy that often infiltrates the political arena in Ottawa.

The production casts Chernick as Daniel Addison, a down-to-earth guy with a Ph.D. in English who has a passion for teaching but has been working as a speechwriter for George Quimby (Mark McKinney), the Leader of the Opposition.

An ethical guy at heart, Daniel gets overwhelmed by the backroom hijinks of the Hill, not to mention certain backroom "manoeuvring" involving his girlfriend, Rachel (Sarah Allen). And so, he decides to head back into the academic world, where he would be safe from the backstabbing he has endured. Or, at least, so he thinks.

Blackmailed into completing one final assignment by his boss – Quimby's chief of staff, Bradley Stanton (Raoul Bhaneja) – Daniel agrees to recruit and work for a candidate who will challenge the stronghold of a longtime political incumbent (Peter Keleghan). He soon discovers that finding a suitable candidate – or even a less-than-suitable one – isn't so easy.

Many current comedy series rely on documentary-style formats that have characters being “interviewed” to offer comments on their storylines. The Best Laid Plans takes a slightly different approach, using a more traditional theatrical device of breaking down the “fourth wall” by having Daniel (who also narrates the story) turn directly to the camera in various scenes.

“That was really fun and unusual,” Chernick recalls. “I had never done that before. I'm a real fan of that style. One of my favourite movies ever was Ferris Bueller's Day Off. That was the first time I became aware of that storytelling strategy. I spent a lot of time in my prep thinking about and exploring my character's relationship with the audience. That was a unique and exciting discovery for me – and really fun to play.”

The Best Laid Plans is brimming with familiar faces. Among them: Eric Peterson (Corner Gas), Jodi Balfour (Bomb Girls), Leah Pinsent (Made in Canada), Sonja Smits (Traders) and, of particular note, screen veteran Kenneth Welsh – who, without giving too much away, puts in a show-stealing performance as Daniel's gruff and grizzled landlord, Angus McLintock.

Chernick is effusive in his praise for Welsh. “Ken is literally a living legend,” he says. “He is one of the greats in the industry. Acting with him, across from him, is like a master class in film acting because he is truly a natural. When the cameras are rolling on him, anything can happen.

“It's just miraculous to be there with him when that magic is happening.”

The Best Laid Plans – CBC – Series premiere Jan. 5; 
Mondays beginning Jan. 6 

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - January 2014.)