Saturday, June 8, 2013

TVO's First Ever Original Drama Series Is A Hit

I've been covering TVOntario  even before it came on the air.
First it was the Ontario Education Authority way up on Bayview Ave.
Then it morphed into regional network TVOntario on Tortonto's Eglinton Street.
I think I must have covered almost every TVO premiere over the last 40 years as TV critic first of The Spectator and later The Toronto Star.
So I'm happy to report TVO's new series Hard Rock Medical is the first commissioned drama series the network has ever done.
And I'm equally happy to add it's entirely professional and watchable. And completely Canadian.
You can check for yourself when Hard Rock Medical premieres Sunday night at 8 (repeating Friday nights at 8:30 and 10 p.m.).
First of all it's resolutely Canadian not a disguised version as so often happens in Canadian series shot here but designed for quick sales to U.S. TV.
The medical drama follows the lives and experiences of eight prospective medical students who have opted to study medicine in Sudbury with the understanding they will continue practicing medicine in Canada's North.
The show works for me and it's all due to the diligence of veteran producer-director Derek Diorio.
I phoned him up at his Ottawa based company (Distinct Features)  to ask how he'd accomplished something TVO always said was too expensive.
First of all I remembered that distinctive name from way back when. I'd actually met him in  Ottawa in 1985 when he was playing the character Haggis Lamborgini in the hit TV series The Raccoons.
During the Eighties Diorio was a member of the comedy group Ski Row. He later scripted such series as You Can't Do That On Television (1982-84).
To hear Diorio tell it he was making a series for TFO (the French language equivalent of TVO) called Meteo+ "and that was in 2010 and I heard about a project called the Northern Ontario School Of Medicine (NOSM) which deliberately trained home grown doctors because of a continuing shortage.
"Look, I'm a producer. I'm always thinking story. And this one was real and I could see all the dramatic possibilities right away."
After the success of Meteo+ Diorio went on to make another scripted series for TFO: Les Bleus De Ramville (2012013) perfecting a technique to make dramas at acceptable costs.
"TFO's budget is a lot less than TVO. So the idea that I could produce a quality drama series for relatively little was something I had demonstrated."
Both TFO series were also filmed in Sudbury which Diorio jokes is becoming the new Hamilton.
"Costs are relatively less than in Southern Ontario. " And Sudbury presents a relatively "new face" in terms of locations.
Diorio began researching and writing scripts. He discovered that within six weeks of enrollment " first year students are out in the field working with a doctor professor and with that they meet all sorts of patients in all sorts of situations."
TVO began collecting funds --sources included the Northern Heritage Fund Corporation, Canada Media Fund, Canadian Film Tax Credit, Ontario Film Credit as well as funding from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) which has the second window.
Diorio says he had a huge talent pool to chose from at auditions. The only big name is Patrick McKenna (Traders) as one of the senior doctors.
"I had the freedom to chose the best actors and not go for names. I couldn't afford names anyway," he jokes.
Each episode is half an hour. "I estimate I'd shoot an episode every 2 1/2 days. Had to with the small budget. The actors had to get used to shooting out of sequence. We might do a scene from the first episode and then a scene from the sixth episode. The only standing set constructed for the show is the medical room at the university."
Most TV medical shows are glossy and focus on the romantic complications of the ultra handsome doctors.
"Our show can be funny at times," says Diorio. "Then it's gritty. A real slice of life. The new doctors are a bit older than usual --they've seen life and made a commitment to do this kind of work.
"We even have an aboriginal actor from Australia. His character wants to work with native people. It's a neat twist on the usual plot."
The fine cast includes Sudbury actor Stephane Paquette, Mark Coles Smith, Rachelle Casseus,  Danielle Bourgon.
But the only actor beside McKenna you may recognize is Jamie Spilchuk as intern Cameron Cahill and that's because he currently stars in well received Rogers Phone TV commercials.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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