Talking to the dead
Ioan Gruffudd investigates the truth behind a series of mysterious deaths in Australian crime drama Harrow. DQ hears more about the show from Hoodlum producer Tracey Robertson and Sally Riley, head of scripted production at broadcaster the ABC.
Ioan Gruffudd is used to dealing with dead bodies. In US network ABC’s fantasy drama Forever, he played Dr Henry Morgan, an immortal New York medical examiner who uses his knowledge to help solve crimes and seek a way to end his immortality.
Now he is back on screen as another medical examiner, Dr Daniel Harrow, in a new crime drama commissioned by Australian pubcaster the ABC. The series, called Harrow, follows a brilliant forensic pathologist who can solve cases others can’t. But when a secret from his past threatens his career and family, he needs to use all his genius to keep one crime buried forever.
Described as smart and impatient, a dedicated scientist and a maverick rule-breaker, Harrow knows he’s the best pathologist around and won’t stop until he uncovers the truth about why people have died.
The 10-part series, which debuts this Friday, sees him investigate the suspected suicide of a young girl, the death of a woman killed by a crossbow and the discovery of a human arm found inside a dead crocodile, among others.
Harrow is produced by Hoodlum Entertainment and ABC Studios International, with Disney Media Distribution handling international sales. It was co-created by Stephen M Irwin and Leigh McGrath, who produce with Hoodlum’s Tracey Robertson and Nathan Mayfield.
“We’ve worked with Stephen quite a bit on other projects [including Secrets & Lies] so he’s a really great collaborator of ours,” explains Robertson. “He wanted to write a show that was very character-heavy but also has a story of the week, so it’s a very strong character piece but it’s also a procedural so we solve a crime every week. Dr Daniel Harrow is a forensic pathologist so we visit the stories but we also have a strong story about him when he visits the dark side.”
Harrow marks the first series from ABC Studios International, which is led by Keli Lee, ABC Entertainment’s MD of international content and talent.
“Stephen and Leigh had developed the script independently, so we had the script and also the story arc of where we wanted to go with the show,” Robertson recalls. “We gave it to Keli, who we work with at ABC Studios. We pitched it to her in October 2016, she read it overnight and pretty much we were in production six months later.”
Once ABC Studios was on board, the ABC in Australia quickly followed. The broadcaster paid for the series development and the speed of the project meant production wrapped at the end of last year.
“We’re hoping it will be original enough for us that it will become one of our returning shows that fill a gap for us,” says Sally Riley, the broadcaster’s head of scripted production. “We have an older audience so with this show we’re trying to keep this older audience happy, but with Ioan Gruffudd in there will hopefully bring a younger group as well.
“The thing that attracted me to it was at its heart, it’s a show about a man trying to protect his family and how far you would go to protect your family. It’s got a great tone, it’s quite funny but it also has a dark edge, which is a really hard combination to do well and Stephen Irwin does a great job with that. Ioan cracks it for us. We’re really excited and hopefully we’ll go to another season.”
Both Riley and Robertson insist the show will stand out from similar dramas, such as Forever and Dexter, in which a forensics expert is also a compulsive serial killer.
“It does have a bit of a Dexter edge – [Harrow is] a forensic pathologist, we see him cutting up bodies,” Riley explains. “The difference with him is he’s really interested in the dead people; he sits and talks to them. He tries to figure out why they do things, he’s not just chopping them up and finding what the clues are. He’s actually going into their lives and talking to their families and really wants to find out why they’re in this situation.
“They’re usually unique murders that happen in this show so there’s always a twist. Harrow doesn’t always win in the end – he solves the crime but then there’s another twist from the overarching story about the dead body you see.”
Robertson, who is also working with Irwin on Netflix’s first Australian original drama, Tidelands, adds: “As with Stephen’s writing, there’s always an emotional reason why things have happened. It’s not just pulling off the mask and he’s a dark person. There are really strong character traits as to why everything has happened, which I think sets it apart.”