The Murders, an eight-part Canadian police procedural, stars Jessica Lucas (Gotham, Cloverfield) as rookie homicide detective Kate Jameson on the hunt for a mysterious killer who uses music for destructive ends.
In this DQTV interview held at Canneseries, Lucas explains why she was drawn to play Jameson, who she describes as a strong, smart detective who is also deeply flawed.
She also reflects on taking the lead in a series that celebrates diversity, her dual role as an executive producer and actor, and why she felt empowered to bring her own ideas to the series.
The Murders is produced by Muse Entertainment for CityTV and distributed by APC Studios. NBCUniversal International Networks acquired the series for its channels across Europe and Africa.
Canadian police procedural The Murders puts music front and centre as a detective tries to make amends for the mistake that led to a colleague’s death. DQ speaks to showrunner Damon Vignale.
Since it was first released by Lefty Frizzell in 1959, country ballad Long Black Veil has been covered by performers including Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
Sixty years later, it is now set for another outing in Canadian crime drama The Murders. But the song doesn’t simply provide the soundtrack to the opening episode – it plays a pivotal role in the plot.
In fact, Long Black Veil was the origin point for the whole series, owing to the fact it is described as a ‘murder ballad,’ a song that describes a killing. In this case, the lyrics tell a story from the point of view of an executed man falsely accused of murder. He refuses to give an alibi due to the fact that, on the night of the killing, he was sleeping with his best friend’s wife and would rather die than admit the truth.
“Something about it just led to me thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a serial killer who was marrying music to his crimes?’” says showrunner, creator and executive producer Damon Vignale. “So the first episode essentially opens with that exact storyline. We have a character who’s accused of murder, he’s brought into the police station and his alibi proves false. As they investigate, they realise he was with his best friend’s wife. So he’s cleared but he ends up dead and they find a song on his cellphone that was texted to him, and it’s Long Black Veil.”
That became the launchpad for music to play a key role in each episode, with a different song used each time to tie into the theme of that particular story. And it certainly makes for a different type of crime drama.
Solving the crimes is rookie homicide detective Kate Jameson, played by Jessica Lucas. Set in Vancouver, the episodic case-of-the-week drama follows Jameson as she searches for redemption in her investigative work after her negligence causes a tragedy. In the pilot episode, Jameson partners with Detective Mike Huntley (Lochlyn Munro) as they navigate the case of a mysterious serial killer who uses music for destructive ends. The first episode also introduces a serialised story that will run across the eight-part season.
The series is produced by Muse Entertainment for Canada’s Citytv and distributed by About Premium Content. NBCUniversal International Networks has already pre-bought the series for its channels across Europe and Africa.
The Murders opens with Kate, the daughter of a homicide detective and an ex-lawyer who is now running for mayor. Justice runs in her blood. So when she leaves a gun in her car and it ends up being used in the murder of her partner, events spiral out of control.
“I just thought it would be really interesting to have a character who is all about being the best cop she can be and right out of the gate there’s this big stumbling block that could ruin her career,” Vignale says. “How does she navigate that and what guilt does she carry with that throughout the series? She does carry this feeling of responsibility, this failure that she’s responsible for her partner’s death, and is constantly trying to find retribution in her cases.”
The show also explores Kate’s familial background. Vignale says she was written as a biracial character – her mother is caucasian, her father is black – because that’s the showrunner’s own background. “There’s often a dialogue about black and white but I rarely hear stuff talked about in the grey area, where you’re not white, you’re not black, you’re just living your life. I thought it would be interesting to explore that in this character,” he continues. “We don’t go heavily into it but we certainly don’t shy away from it.”
In casting Kate, the production team sought out Lucas, who Vignale says was ready to step into a lead role after stints on Gotham and Gracepoint. “There’s a list of actors who are at that place in their career where they’re ready to take the lead of a show and we felt pretty strongly that Jessica was at that place where she can carry a show. You don’t know until you get in there and start working and looking at the edits, and she is strong. I’m really pleased. She really is the face of the show and carries it. I’m really excited for people to see it.”
The Murders marks the first time Vignale has taken up the showrunner role, having watched and learned from others including Simon Barry (Ghost Wars, Continuum), Dennis Heaton (Motive) and Bruce Smith (19-2). While juggling duties in the writers room, on set and in the edit, he sees the biggest part of the job as setting the tone in terms of both the story and in production.
In the writers room, “we really start on plot,” Vignale says. “Once we have that, we start to look at what themes we can use that relate to our characters. So that our characters and this plot are now working together. Those things are at the forefront for me. Then of course, you want really great twists and misdirects, you want to surprise people, and we do try to put our investigators in a bit of danger. Then the crime drama gets across into that thriller aspect, which I think is exciting and I try to push into a show as much as I can.
“A lot of the time it’s just about inspiring the best in the work and in people, which can be a challenging endeavour,” he continues. “Simon told me there’s going to be a lot of noise, and what you have to decide is what you’re going to listen to and what you’re not. What he suggested is you focus on your writers, directors, actors, editors and the music. You focus on those things because when you watch the show, they all have to do with what you see and hear. So put all your attention there and just hire great people and let them to do what they do.”
That being said, as a showrunner, “you really are thrown into the middle of a circus,” Vignale admits. “There are jugglers and people on the high wire. It really does feel like that, and you’re trying to make it all work and flow so the audience has a good time.
“There’s always a challenge around budget. A cop show costs money and, to make it real, you need cars, police, a corner van. You need all the stuff that goes with that. It’s a balance so when you watch the show it feels big but, at the same time, you’re driving the story through it so it’s achievable in production.”
Ahead of The Murders’ launch on Citytv today, Vignale is already developing scripts for a potential second season. Should he get the green light, he already has a plan in place for a five-season run, with each season exploring themes around one of the five senses. If season one is about sound, season two would look at touch and so on.
In a television landscape where crime dramas still dominate and hunger for episodic procedurals has been overshadowed by trends for binge-watching and serialised storylines, The Murders and its musically themed plots will likely have viewers singing for more.
Hot on the heels of Amazon’s announcement of its content origination plans in Japan, Netflix has revealed a new scripted project in India.
Sacred Games is based on Vikram Chandra’s acclaimed novel of the same name. The author, who will also write the adaptation, said: “Over the last few years, I’ve watched with great excitement and pleasure as Netflix has transformed narrative television with its ground-breaking, genre-bending shows. I’m confident all the colour, vitality and music of the fictional world I’ve lived with for so long will come fully alive on the large-scale canvas provided by Netflix. I’m thrilled to be working with Netflix and Phantom Films (the show’s production company).”
The show is set in Mumbai against a backdrop of crime, political corruption, and espionage. Seven years in the making, it centres on Inspector Sartaj Singh, one of the few Sikhs on the Mumbai police force. The story pits Singh against Ganesh Gaitonde, the most wanted gangster in India. Shot on location in India, the series will be a hybrid Hindi-English production. It will be available to Netflix members globally upon completion.
Now 55 years old, Chandra was born in New Delhi and has a number of novels to his name, including the award-winning Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which has been published in territories such as the UK and US.
Commenting on the opportunity to work with Chandra, Madhu Mantena of Phantom Films said: “We are very happy to start this journey with Netflix by producing Vikram’s outstanding story. And we are confident we will create some exciting and groundbreaking television content from here on.”
Erik Barmack, VP of international original series at Netflix, added: “We are delighted to partner with creative powerhouse Phantom Films to bring Vikram Chandra’s epic novel to life with the best Indian and global film talent available today. Sacred Games reinforces our commitment to bring the authenticity of local stories to Netflix members across 190 countries worldwide.”
Other high-profile stories this week include AMC and Sony Pictures Television’s decision to develop a six-part miniseries based on The Night of the Gun, the memoir by late New York Times columnist David Carr.
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) will play Carr while Eileen Myers is attached as an executive producer and writer. Myers has several high-profile credits, including Mad Dogs, Masters of Sex, Last Resort, Hung, Big Love and Dark Blue.
For those unfamiliar with Carr’s memoir, it is an acclaimed depiction of his battle with cocaine and alcohol addiction. As an active figure in the US media business, he is credited with having kick-started the career of Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls.
Elsewhere, CBS has given a straight-to-series order to Ransom, a new hostage negotiator series created by David Vainola and Frank Spotnitz (The Man in the High Castle). The show has been set up as an international coproduction, with France’s TF1 and Canada’s Global also signed up for the 13-parter. Also on board is global content distributor Entertainment One (eOne).
The series will star Luke Roberts as Eric Beaumont, an expert crisis and hostage negotiator who resolves difficult kidnap and ransom cases. The show is inspired by the experiences of crisis negotiator Laurent Combalbert, one of the top negotiators in the world.
Spotnitz said: “The world of crisis negotiation is incredibly compelling, as demonstrated by the fascinating real-life cases Laurent Combalbert has negotiated. Laurent has inspired a brilliant and complex character, and you can’t help but be moved seeing all the lives he’s saved around the world.”
Amazon continues to be busy – picking up a number of new scripted pilots. Among them is Carnival Row, a supernatural series from Guillermo Del Toro, Travis Beacham and Rene Echeverria. A coproduction between Amazon Studios and Legendary TV, the show is based on a feature-film script created by Beacham 11 years ago. Since then, he has established himself as a leading action-adventure movie screenwriter with titles like Clash of the Titans and Pacific Rim (on which he worked with Del Toro).
Another Amazon pilot continues the current fascination with Cuba now that the country is opening up to the international market. Called Tropicana, it is set in the world of the Tropicana nightclub against the backdrop of pre-revolutionary Cuba. Written/executive produced by Josh Goldin and Rachel Abramowitz and executive produced by Andrea Simon, the series will feature all the usual suspects including the mafia, the CIA, Batista loyalists and Castro revolutionaries. Goldin and Abramowitz previously worked together on Klondike, while Goldin’s solo credits include Darkman.
Interesting projects bubbling up in the UK include a BBC2 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s superb novel Decline and Fall. With comedian Jack Whitehall already installed as the lead of the three-part miniseries, there are reports that Eva Longoria is in negotiations to co-star.
The adaptation is being handled by James Wood, who came to fame with BBC comedy Rev. Set in the 1920s, Decline and Fall follows student Paul Pennyfeather, who is unfairly expelled from Oxford University and ends up teaching at a boys school in Wales.
Still in the UK, FremantleMedia has announced that it is backing a new scripted indie to be headed by feted producer Laurence Bowen. Called Dancing Ledge, the company is setting up new offices in Notting Hill with projects from some of the UK’s most talented writers and a development deal with The Hobbit star Martin Freeman.
According to Fremantle, the new Dancing Ledge slate includes a dozen projects for UK and US broadcasters including dramas by Mark Gatiss, Guy Hibbert, Chris Lunt, Dan Sefton, and John Donnelly, as well as a new limited event-series development commission for History written by Simon Block (Home Fires). Bowen is also developing several scripted ideas with Martin Freeman.
Commenting on the new company’s excellent writer relationships, Bowen said: “Dancing Ledge is only ever going to be as good as the writers it works with and we are lucky enough to already be working with some of the very best in the UK.”
Finally, Canadian broadcaster CityTV has greenlit some dramas. Bad Blood: The Vito Rizzuto Story, will debut on City and FX in the US in 2017 and is inspired by the life and death of mobster Rizzuto. New Metric Media, Sphere Media and DHX Media will produce the series, based on the book Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto’s Last War – co-authored by Toronto Star reporter Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso.
Another commission is Second Jen, a coming-of-age comedy about two second-generation Chinese and Filipino-Canadian millennials and best friends. Created by and starring Samantha Wan and Amanda Joy, the show will be produced by Don Ferguson Productions and premiere on Citytv.com in the autumn.