Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rookie Blue Finally Debuts

So there I was on the set of a new Canadian police series Copper and I was chatting up the two stars Gregory Smith (from Everwood) and Missy Peregrym (from Heroes).
That was late last fall and it's only taken seven months for the Toronto made production to finally get a prime time berth.
It debuts Thursday June 24 at 9 p.m. on Global TV and ABC with a new name: Rookie Blue.
Yeah, that's right, ABC has given it the Grey's Anatomy time slot for the next 13 weeks. And the series can best be described as Grey's Anatomy at a police precinct.
So what went wrong.
Back in the fall I was told ABC had promised it would get the first available slot in the New Year.
What went wrong was Can West which was veering out of control, eventually slipped into bankruptcy and was sold off with Shaw Communications grabbing up the television network.
The series credentials are impeccable.
Smith, 27, was born in Toronto but grew up in British Columbia where his father is a film director. He's been acting since he was 14 months old but really jumped into the fame berth with his terrific run as the emotionally damaged Ephram Brown on the series Everwood. the series ran for six seasons and 89 episodes.
"We've met before," he stuttered on the Copper set that day.
Well, the first time was CTV's launch where the Canadian network had picked up Everwood and Smith seemed tentative about the whole fame game.
And the second time was just a few years back when he compellingly played a drug dealer in Sudz Sutherland's terrific CBC miniseries Guns opposite Elisha Cuthbert. That one packed such a wallop CBC kept it locked up for two years before letting it escape on TV before the start of the official season.
"The Everwood experience was overwhelming," Smith, 27, now admits. "I became Ephram for a whole lot of fans and finally I just toured around the world to get away after the series was over. But I couldn't get away. I'd be in remote places and it was playing --everywhere. But I wasn't Ephram, I was me."
Rookie Blue dramatizes the first tentative experiences of a new band of police rookies. The dramatic concept is hardly new U.S. producer Aaron Spelling used it way back in 1972 in the ABC series The Rookies.
Besides Smith and Peregrym the young and enthusiastic cast includes Enuka Okuma (from Madison), Travis Milne (Leslie, My Name Is Evil), Charlotte Sullivan (Iron Road).
And there are veterans Ben Bass, Eric Johnson, Peter MacNeil backing the young cast all the way.
"They wanted me to play the sensitive guy again," laughs Smith. "That would have been too easy. "I actually read for the exuberant one, the guy who's also the klutzy ladies man. And so I'm Dov Epstein."
Peregrym,28, gets more screen time in the first few episodes. She's well cast as Andy McNally who comes from a cop family --her dad, now a sad alcoholic, was on the force and raised her after her mother walked away from the family.
"I'll tell you one of the reasons I snatched at this,' Peregrym laughs. "People somehow think from Heroes and Reaper that I'm a sci fi actress. It's because I'm from Vancouver and that's what we make. I got cast first of all in Dark Angel, then Andromeda came along. But now I'm a real person, it felt so right, so real."
Peregrym says shooting the series for months made the cast bond and today "it's like we really were rookies. I had to learn to shoot. I had to be in training like a cop just to protect myself. I think the show is getting better every week we work at it. I'm just beginning to understand everything my character should know about being in the line of duty."
Behind the camera there's co-executive producer Ilana Frank, highly respected in the industry, who I last interviewed on the set of the CTV series The Eleventh Hour. She's one again partnered with another Eleventh Hour veteran, producer David Wellington who also directs the first episode.
The co-creators include Tassie Cameron who executive produced the first season of CTV's Flashpoint.
So what's not to like?
I've previewed the first three episodes which highlight strong, flashy directing, a great use of downtown Toronto neighborhoods (although never actually identifying the city) and the integrated use of musical interludes a la CSI Miami.
But what I didn't get was a strong sense of excitement, a reason to switch back for a second or even third week which is essential for any new series in attracting viewers away from the competition.
And the mortality rate of new series on American network TV has never been more pronounced --look at the failure of CTV's Flashpoint to consistently attract a sufficiently high audience on CBS.
Every new series wobbles at the beginning. Asking this one to hit the air up and running is pretty unfair. But that's the reality of the situation.
Frank told me her crew had shopped the concept at all of the major U.S. networks and ABC was the one to sign up.
By running the first series off in the summer ABC may be hinting it's already giving up on a long term relationship.
But the fact the opposition is in reruns could give Rookie Blue a real chance to catch on.
All the ingredients from sexy stars to plots that could snap crackle and pop are there but what's needed is time for all the potentially winning elements to get sorted out.
Rookie Blue is still trying to find its own, unique voice, its true identity as a series.
We'll just have to see if it succeeds.

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