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.)