Sunday, January 6, 2013

CBC Nabs Murdoch Mysteries

The rule on Canadian TV used to be so certain.
When a TV series got cancelled its chances of bouncing to the opposition were considered a long shot at best.
OK, so it did happen to Don Messer's Jubilee when CBC-TV cancelled the series in 1969 after 12 season. It was promptly picked  up for four more seasons by Hamilton's feisty CHCH.
And CHCH also revived the old Nathan Cohen CBC show Fighting Words in 1970 and after Cohen's sudden death the next year kept it going with a new host, Peter Gzowski.
But I remember in 1972 when the new TV network Global suddenly collapsed and all its big new shows were cancelled.  CBC would have nothing to do with  any of them.
The same thing happened when Citytv killed off its lively series about twenty somethings called Godiva's in 2006. No other Canadian network would touch it.
So three cheers to CBC for promptly picking up The Murdoch Mysteries for a sixth season after it got dumped by Citytv.
You can judge for yourself by watching the first new episode Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC.
The star is Yannick Bisson who is now a strong enough actor he can carry a series as demanding as this and all with seemingly effortless ease.
I first interviewed him in 1984 when he was a callow 15-year-old who got the slot opposite Megan Follows in the Canadian TV movie. He played a character named Spear Kozak and was pretty terrific. It was his quietness on and off camera that impressed me.
Unlike other teen heart throbs I've interviewed over the decades Bisson persevered. He wisely built up a block of credits and simply kept at it.
There was the TV movie Brothers By Choice (1986), the weird wrestling sitcom Learning The Ropes (1989), another series called High Tide (1994-97) opposite Rick Springfield, the western show Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy (1999) replacing Chad Willett who pulled out after doing the TV movie, Undergrads (2001), Soul Food (2004), Sue Thomas FB Eye (2005).
Then Bisson replaced Peter Outerbridge when Murdoch Mysteries morphed from occasional TV movies to series form in 2008.
Whew! And the guy's still only 43 with a great acting future ahead of him.
In fact I was the first TV critic on the set when MM was still shooting in its original east end studios--the TV movies were done in Winnipeg.
I came to marvel at the huge set for the police station but also hang out for the umpteenth time with Bisson who is always the hardest worker any set he's on.
In fact I still can't figure out why CBC didn't snap this one up originally --except that the original TV movies were running on CTV.(made by Shaftesbury Films).
I also met Maureen Jennings who wrote the original novels --weeks later while vacationing in Florida she was swept out to sea and barely survived.
Now I'm watching the first new CBC  episode which zings right along.
Part of its success is due to the seasoned cast: Bisson, Thomas Craig (Inspector Brackenreid), Jonny Harris (Constable George Crabtree), Helene Joy (Dr. Julia Ogden).
The yarn concerns a flying machine built to compete in an upcoming air show with one made by the Wright brothers. Remember --this is supposed to be 899!
And the subplot looks at the strands of patriotism for the British Empire with the Boer War raging in South Africa.
 I can't divulge plot details but the special effects at the end involving flight over Niagara Falls are terrific.
Period dramas are often musty things where the decor threatens to overwhelm the story.  Here the story zips right along aided by such guest villains as Peter Keleghan. And tying the whole thing together is Bisson 29 years after his acting debut in Hockey Night and still going strong.

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