Tag Archives: Private Eyes

Following procedure

Procedural series were once the bread and butter of US broadcast networks. But international buyers are finding them harder to come by amid the appetite for increasingly serialised storytelling. DQ examines the future of the story-of-the-week format.

For more than a decade, the Monte Carlo Television Festival has recognised the most watched television dramas in the world with its International Audience Award. Last year’s winner was NCIS, which drew 47.1 million viewers worldwide in the previous 12 months.

Since the gong was first handed out in 2006, NCIS has won three times, while CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has scooped the prize on seven occasions. The Mentalist and House also each have a win to their name.

Notice anything they have in common? They’re all US procedurals – story-of-the-week series that follow a team of crack sleuths as they bid to solve a different crime each week. Or in the case of 2009 winner House, an unlikely doctor and his unconventional medical approach, with new patients being admitted into his care in every episode.

The award is proof that US procedurals continue to be popular around the world, even if they’re not as loved as they once were at home. Because while international broadcasters have been crying out for a new influx of these traditional series, the format has been taking on a decidedly serialised evolution over the past few years. Such is the demand overseas that Germany’s RTL and TF1 in France went so far as to commission their own US procedural, hostage drama Gone, in partnership with NBCUniversal.

NCIS is set for a 16th season

“I feel like they’re on life support,” Adam Pettle, showrunner of legal drama Burden of Truth, says of procedurals. “They still attract probably an older audience, while broadcasters are always trying to find a younger demographic, which is the Netflix generation where television is consumed in a very different way and people bulk-watch TV.”

Yet series such as Blue Bloods, Law & Order: SVU, NCIS (renewed for its upcoming 16th season) and its multiple spin-offs, and the ever-expanding Chicago franchise on NBC are just some of the episodic series still pulling in millions of viewers each week, not to mention the older series still drawing eyeballs in repeats and syndication.

Lloyd Segan, showrunner of detective procedural Private Eyes for Canada’s Global and ION TV in the US, describes case-of-the-week dramas as “comfort food” for viewers. “I can come home and put my feet up and watch a show where the characters are family,” he explains. “The storyline has a beginning, middle and end and I feel comfortable not having to worry about mythologies or binge-watching a series.”

With shooting on season three underway, Segan says Private Eyes – which sees Jason Priestley and Cindy Sampson team up as private investigators – is “completely procedural.” He continues: “The serialised aspects are the relationships between the main characters but the stories themselves are straight procedural. You could probably programme them in any order you wish. You don’t need a recap. The shows play to themselves. It’s a fantastic, delicious feast for audiences all over the world to enjoy.”

One showrunner who knows more about procedurals than most is Peter Lenkov, who is currently running CBS series MacGyver and Hawaii Five-0 (pictured top) and is also behind a pilot remake of Magnum PI for the same network.

MacGyver, recently renewed for a third season, is a reboot of the 1980s show of the same name

“CBS still treads in that pool, they still do those kind of shows and they still do them successfully,” Lenkov says. “I know every season they still develop several traditional procedural series and they try to mix it up with how you get into those worlds and who those characters are.”

However, he adds that the network has been embracing greater serialisation in its case-of-the-week series, supporting character arcs and stories running across multiple episodes.

“That was frowned upon years ago, but is something that the studio and network really welcomes now,” Lenkov says. “My experience there over the last 10 to 15 years has been how much they have embraced serialised arcs within the traditional procedural format.”

Lenkov also has experience on serialised series, having worked on the fourth season of Fox’s real-time thriller 24 in 2004/05. “What we realised when we did that show was, even before bingeing existed, a lot of people were bingeing episodes three or four at a time,” he recalls. “That’s something that really helped changed storytelling on TV.”

Best known for long-running ABC crime procedural Castle, husband-and-wife team Andrew W Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller will be back on the network this summer with Take Two. The series stars Rachel Bilson (The O.C.) as Sam, the former star of a hit cop series who is fresh out of rehab. Desperate to restart her career, she talks her way into shadowing rough-and-tumble private investigator Eddie (Eddie Cibrian) as part of research for a potential comeback role. She soon draws on her experience as a TV cop to help solve a high-profile case, leading them to team up for future cases.

Andrew W Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller’s Castle starred Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion

Echoing Segan, Miller believes viewers love closed-ended stories because “sometimes you don’t have the time to watch a long serialised drama and you just want to come home and watch a story that has an ending to it. There’s also the aspect of beloved characters in those stories, and that doesn’t go out of fashion either.”

Take Two, like Castle before it, is described as a light-hearted procedural that allows its creators to place just as much focus on the characters’ relationship as the crimes they solve each week.

“Terri and I both come from features so the ability to close out a story in an episode feels very comfortable to us,” Marlowe says. “But we also like big, epic storytelling where you’re telling a novel over 15 episodes. We watch that as well. The nice thing about ‘peak TV’ is there’s room for them all. For us, it isn’t one pushing the other out of the market. It’s just an expanding international palette, to allow room for all sorts of storytelling.”

Different types of storytelling don’t just extend beyond the procedural, but also within the episodic format itself. “There are some procedurals that depend upon different mechanisms of storytelling,” Marlowe continues. “Something like CSI is much more interested in the forensic evidence than it is necessarily the character journey, whereas other procedurals are much more interested in focusing on the character journeys and what their approach to crime-solving is. Even in a procedural format, there are plenty of sub-genres there for the audience.”

Hakan Kousetta, chief operating officer for television at See-Saw Films (Top of the Lake), notes that there has been an increased focus on serialisation but says all of the main US broadcasters are still hunting for “that killer procedural.”

Shenae Grimes-Beech (left) and Angela Griffin in US police procedural The Detail, which is based on UK show Scott & Bailey

“It’s to do with shows having characters that are so strong that the audience connects and comes back to them week on week,” he says. “Also, these particular shows contain a puzzle at their heart, which audiences love to engage in solving. In procedurals you are rebooting a new story in the same world each week, with gradual character evolution, whereas in serialised drama you need to create both a world and a set of characters that transform from one episode to the next, while delivering complex plots that hold the series together and hopefully carry your audience through to a satisfying ending.”

Pettle admits the procedural is going through an evolution. “It does still exist but it’s on its way out,” he argues. “I don’t see a younger audience tuning into it. Maybe there’s just not enough story. It’s very linear and incredibly well crafted but I think we’re moving in a different direction. The Good Wife is a procedural format with legal cases of the week but they meld personal and procedural so effortlessly on that show.

“For me as a writer and showrunner, it’s very difficult to plug into something for eight months where you’re not digging deep and writing about real people and exploring the multiple dimensions of different characters. I don’t think I could run a show like NCIS. I wouldn’t be hired to do it. I wouldn’t stay emotionally engaged in it as a creator.”

Pettle, who is also a co-showrunner on The Detail, admits CBC would not have commissioned a serialised drama like Burden of Truth six years ago, at a time when there was more demand for traditional episodic TV. The series, which like Private Eyes and The Detail is distributed by Entertainment One, sees Kristin Kreuk play a lawyer who returns to her hometown and tackle a legal case with social issues at its core.

“There’s still that balance broadcasters want,” Pettle says. “I remember on Saving Hope, which I co-ran for two years and ran on my own for two years, from year to year when we went into CTV at the beginning of the season, it was always like, ‘We want it to be more procedural,’ or, ‘We want it to be more character-driven.’ One year they gave percentages – ‘It can be 40% procedural.’ What’s in fashion is always changing.”

Grey’s Anatomy – ‘a great example of a show that has both serialised and case-of-the-week content’

Pettle’s The Detail co-showrunner Ley Lukins also believes serialised storytelling has come to the forefront thanks to the introduction of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services. “But I do believe there’s still a heavy appetite for case-of-the-week, episodic dramas,” she says. “Grey’s Anatomy is a great example of a show that has both serialised and case-of-the-week content within it. And even with something like Law & Order would still draw an audience today. But to me, and from the conversations I’ve had with people, there’s more of an expectation these days that there is a serialised element to the case of the week. If you marry the professional and the personal well, you can serve both audiences quite well.”

In the case of The Detail, which is based on British crime drama Scott & Bailey, it was US broadcaster ION Television, rather than its Canadian network CTV, that sought more procedural elements in the series. “It’s not to say we didn’t have character and that character wasn’t a major part of it, but it was definitely their wish to have a more case-of-the-week type of series because it does well for them,” Lukins says.

Hybrids such as Blindspot and The Blacklist, which marry deep mythologies with new cases each week, were heavily influenced by serialised US cable dramas, the success of which led broadcast networks to “find their own language” and remain competitive, Marlowe notes.

“There were lots of interesting experiments out there to see what the audience would respond to,” he says. “But what sustains is good storytelling and good characters. If people are engaged in the storytelling and the characters, whether it’s serialised, closed-ended or a hybrid, the audience will show up for it.”

The resurgence of procedurals, coupled with television’s never-ending infatuation with recycling old hits, means shows such as Magnum PI and Cagney & Lacey have been piloted this development season. “What you see right now is a confluence of familiar formats that people know are tried and true but also bringing in the element of IP,” says Marlowe, who believes the biggest challenge facing creators is how to break through the noise. “Some recognisable IP certainly helps.”

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk

Lenkov says he simply prefers the challenge of mapping out 22 stories a season. “I just like the puzzle aspect of building a plot each week,” he says. “I find that a lot of fun as a writer.”

But when they’re boiled down to their bare bones, procedural series are built on the simple concept of good versus evil, he adds. “If you look at the live numbers of a lot of CBS procedurals, they do really well. It shows you there’s an audience there that still likes that format. When eight million people tune in to watch a show live, that tells you a lot of people still like the genre. They still like the crime procedural. I think it’s alive and well.”

René Balcer, best known for Law & Order and, more recently, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, certainly believes there is still a place for procedural television. As for what such shows might look like in the future, that is less clear. “One can argue that the success of the just-the-facts procedurals of the 1950s, such as Dragnet, was a reaction to the subjective character-driven film noir detective films of the 1940s like The Big Sleep. Audiences liked them because they were new and different. Character-driven procedurals like Hill Street Blues were a reaction to the Dragnets and Adam-12s. And, like audiences, creative content-makers get bored with the status quo, so expect the pendulum to keep swinging.”

However, Mikko Alanne, showrunner of National Geographic’s The Long Road Home, begs to differ. “In broadcast, due to the weekly format, there will likely remain room for them, but I definitely feel audiences are increasingly gravitating toward more character-driven serialised stories,” he says.

With season two of Burden of Truth in development, Pettle says there will be another single case at the show’s heart, which will focus on sharing information and protecting people’s privacy. But, interestingly, he adds there will be more episodic elements.

“It will be a more high-octane season,” he says. “Season one was all in a small town and this season will be split between the city and a small town. There will be more stories – it will still centre around a serialised case but there will be more story and a faster pace.”

Lukins concludes: “I don’t believe procedurals will ever go out of style. In a lot of ways, in shows that might not be considered procedurals per se, there is a case-of-the-week element, it’s just maybe not a cop case or a medical case. But there’s a pattern to be found in anything. And so procedurals may change in terms of how they’re delivered but I do think the formula of the procedural is here to stay.”

As broadcasters around the world continue to seek procedurals for their schedules, it’s hard to argue with Lukin’s assertion. But with today’s showrunners preferring to delve into personality over plot, what shape they may take in future is less clear.

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Something about Mary

Mary Kills People showrunner Tassie Cameron tells Michael Pickard how the Canadian drama strikes a balance between the serious subject at the heart of the story and its lighter, humorous moments.

Tassie Cameron

As befits a drama set in the morally grey world of assisted suicide, the opening minutes of Mary Kills People are a sombre affair.

Mary, played by Hannibal actor Caroline Dhavernas, is administering a fatal dose of drugs to an American football superstar as she helps him to carry out his wish to die, all behind the back of his unsuspecting wife.

Then suddenly, as the doctor and her assistant make their escape, the seemingly dead patient comes back to life, kickstarting a shift in tone as Mary comedically attempts to finish the job before his soon-to-be widow, now returned home, discovers what has happened.

Viewers may not know whether they can, or should, laugh as this opening phase comes to a head, with Mary and Des (Richard Short), her trusted partner-in-crime, ordering Mexican food at a drive-thru just minutes after killing their latest patient.

“I thought the script was so surprising tonally; there were so many turns that weren’t action or investigative turns but were character turns that whipped me around all over the place and surprised me in a way I don’t normally get,” admits showrunner Tassie Cameron. “It will be very interesting to see how people take it.

“My sister [exec producer Amy Cameron] was saying that people at a screening were quite shocked at the opening. They weren’t sure whether they were allowed to laugh or what they were supposed to be doing. Then when they’re ordering fast food and talking passionately but with a sense of humour about what they’re doing, I hope that gets you through that. You have the opening, you’re surprised and then you pick up on what the tone is meant to be.”

The eponymous Mary is Dr Mary Harris, a single mother and ER doctor by day, who also moonlights as an underground angel of death, helping terminally ill people to die on their own terms. But as her secret business booms, her double life becomes increasingly complicated when the police start to close in.

Caroline Dhavernas plays ER doctor Mary Harris, who has a secret life

The tone of the series was a huge talking point during the show’s development, but Cameron says there was never an argument about shifting it away from creator Tara Armstrong’s original script.

“What drew us all to the material was the shifting tone, the moments of lightness and levity between these characters,” the showrunner says. “None of us ever set out wanting to make an issue piece [about assisted suicide]. We want to explore the issue, of course, and do it in an organic, thoughtful and respectful way but we were trying to make something that was surprising, entertaining, character-driven and not completely issue-based.

“Certainly Mary has her opinion – she tells us all the way through and she’s our hero – but her reasons for believing in it so passionately are quite complicated. We do explore the other side of the issue and the police are involved, so I hope it’s balanced. We’re not trying to dig in and convert people into thinking assisted suicide is the way to go. We’re just trying to show one person who’s passionate about what she believes and why.”

Setting up Mary as an ER doctor further muddies the moral waters, as she saves lives by day before facilitating the wishes of those who want to die when she’s off-duty.

Mary was always a doctor, Cameron says, before revealing she was put into the emergency room to enhance that very juxtaposition. “It felt realistic,” she says. “Many of the doctors we’ve spoken to who believe in assisted suicide also believe in doing everything they can to save their patients if they want to be saved.

Cameron sees TV drama as a collaborative process that relies on its cast

“All the way through we tried to be as accurate as possible. We had a police consultant, spoke with many doctors, spoke with people who specialise with medical ethics and we read a lot. And, of course, the more you talk to people about it, it’s interesting how many people ended up having a direct experience with this topic as we talked about it.”

The six-part series, which debuted on Canada’s Global TV on January 25, carries elements of a mystery thriller, as the police chase down Mary, but also as viewers uncover who Mary is, her story and why she has this duel life. It was a conscious decision by the creative team to slowly reveal her true character over the course of the short run, revealing her to be strong, passionate and a force of nature while at the same time highlighting her flaws as she struggles with life as a single parent.

Cameron attributes much of Mary’s characterisation to actor Dhavernas. “She brought so much to the part,” she says. “She was magnificent. She’s a very self-contained actor and a very subtle actor. As soon as we realised she was available — we’d all seen her on Hannibal and I’d been following her career for years since [Fox’s 2004 comedy-drama] Wonderfalls, which I thought she was terrific in — we put it to her and she was phenomenal to work with.”

Cameron has previously been showrunner on Flashpoint and Rookie Blue, the police procedural that ran for seven years on Global and US network ABC. She’s also recently exec produced Jason Priestley PI drama Private Eyes.

And unlike Rookie Blue, which she co-created, she says she has no problems running a show she didn’t originate, such as Flashpoint and now Mary Kills People.

“I love working with other writers; I learn so much from the process,” she explains. “I have no ego about it having to be my own. I co-wrote the last episode of Mary with Tara and Marsha Green so the only credit I have is the third co-writer. But there’s so many components to showrunning that aren’t just about the writing. I felt that’s where Amy and I were able to be very helpful to Tara and guide her vision, support it and interpret it in all the other myriad of ways that need to be addressed when you’re shooting.”

Richard Short plays Mary’s partner-in-crime Des

Cameron describes herself as a very collaborative partner who values everyone’s ideas, whether they come from the writers’ room or the floor of the set. “I feel like for people to do their best work, they need to feel that they can throw out all the bad ideas, and maybe there will be a good idea in there and no one will make fun of them,” she says. “I’m just very hardworking and a perfectionist about the scripts. I believe that a show is made on scripts and casting and those are the most important things.”

She also enjoys working with actors, whether they want to adjust something in the script or talk through a scene with her before they commit to camera. “I love being surprised by actors as well,” she continues. “The script is a guideline. There’s certain words and speeches you want to protect for various reasons but I think it’s a very collaborative form.”

That collaboration on Mary Kills People extended to the all-female creative team, with the exception of producer Norman Denver.

Cameron and her label Cameron Pictures, established with her sister Amy, partnered on Mary Kills People with Entertainment One (eOne), which also distributes the series internationally. Tassie and Amy Cameron both exec produce with Tecca Crosby, eOne’s Tashi Bieler and director Holly Dale, while creator Armstrong is co-exec producer.

“I’d never worked with so many women in so many positions. You would sit around the table at a creative meeting and everyone would be a woman,” Cameron says. “It was a very interesting and exciting experience to work with so many smart women on a project like this. I hope the end result for people on set was a safe, collaborative, supportive environment without a lot of big egos. We were all just collaborating to make it the best we could make it.

“It wasn’t by design, it happened that way. It was very organic, it wasn’t a mission statement. It’s a great time to be a female writer and showrunner. The challenges still lie more in diverse writers and directors. That’s where the work needs to be done. It still needs to be done in terms of gender. I keep seeing studies where a tiny percentage of directors in television in the US are women. It’s very disheartening. So maybe Mary Kills People was an unusual thing.”

An unusual thing, perhaps, both in terms of its development and its storyline, which may not have been considered worthy of transmission had it not been for the drama boom that has given rise to antiheroes and morally challenged characters, both male and female.

Cameron was attracted to the script’s many twists and turns

“The first aim for the show is to entertain and surprise and to portray an incredibly complicated female character,” Cameron continues. “But certainly I think we were all struck by how moving and how real the death sequences feel throughout the series. There’s a sequence at the end of the second episode I find so moving I can’t stand it. But its undercut with some humour. I think we’re just trying to be honest. Death, and life, are complicated, sad, funny. It’s a mix of tones and I think we’re trying to reflect that.”

One day, Cameron would like to find a genre show like Orphan Black to work on, but for now, she’s already back in production, this time on her next project, Ten Days in the Valley.

Ordered straight-to-series by ABC, the 10-part drama stars Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) as Jane Sadler, an overworked television producer and single mother in the middle of a fractious separation. When her young daughter goes missing in the middle of the night, Jane’s world – and her controversial police series – implodes. Life imitates art: everything’s a mystery, everyone has a secret and no one can be trusted.

Cameron, who is the creator, writer and showrunner, also executive produces with Sedgwick, Jill Littman, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross. It is produced by Skydance Television.

“Mary Kills People debuts on Lifetime in the US in April and then Ten Days is premiering [on ABC] in May,” she reveals. “It was a really risky show – I never thought it would get made. It’s about a showrunner and I set out thinking I’m going to feel free to break any rules I’ve made for myself over the last few years of making television. I was just going to have fun and do something different. So I broke the rules of writing about the industry and I’ve got journalists, who everyone says are verboten on television – I just threw in anything I found interesting that people told me I shouldn’t write about. So imagine my surprise when ABC sent it straight to series.

“It’s really fun for me. We’re shooting at Paramount and we’re getting the real crew to sign off being the crew on camera for the show-within-a-show. It’s very meta and mind-boggling a little bit, but it’s fun.

“I don’t know whether more Mary will happen. That depends on how many people watch it, but I’ll get through Ten Days and then come straight home to work on season two of Mary Kills People.”

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One step ahead

Hell on Wheels producer Entertainment One is proving to be a nimble operator as it bends to the changing television landscape.

While the independent film market is struggling in the face of big budget blockbusters, it is proving to be a source of inspiration for the television arm of Entertainment One (eOne).

Pancho Mansfield
Pancho Mansfield

The global production giant still plays the traditional US network game, with series orders for both Kiefer Sutherland-starrer Designated Survivor and Conviction at ABC.

But it is also adopting an indie filmmaking approach by developing, financing and packaging projects in-house before taking them out to the market. A case in point is “polyromantic” comedy drama You Me Her, ordered by DirecTV’s Audience Network, which sees husband and wife Greg Poehler and Rachel Blanchard embark on a three-way affair with an escort (Priscilla Faia).

“That was shot as an indie picture,” explains Pancho Mansfield, president of global scripted programming at eOne. “All the scripts were written in advance and every episode has the same director. They shot 10 episodes, 350 pages, in 35 days and it looks great and feels like a feature romantic comedy. It’s just five hours long instead of 90 minutes.”

In the increasingly saturated television market, it’s not just networks feeling the competitive strain but producers and studios too. “So it’s critical for us to control our IP and, at times, develop internally,” Mansfield continues.

“If it’s the right idea, we will write scripts internally and package them. A show like HBO’s True Detective is part of a new category of feature TV, where you have movie stars coming to do television and it’s all put together and goes direct to series. It’s becoming more and more common, as the feature business isn’t satisfying for a lot of talent in that industry.”

‘Polyromantic’ comedy You Me Her
‘Polyromantic’ comedy You Me Her

eOne, whose credits include Saving Hope, Rogue and Bitten, partnered with Sienna Films on Cardinal (pictured top), a serialised drama for CTV based on the novel Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. The show stars Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse as a pair of detectives attempting to uncover what happened to a 13-year-old girl whose body is found in an abandoned mine.

“TNT, USA Network – all these networks that used to have blue-sky, comfort-food, closed-ended episodic procedurals are out of that business,” Mansfield says. “They’re all into serialised provocative drama that has to have some hook to make them stand out.”

John Morayniss
John Morayniss

But the studio is also seeking to meet the needs of international buyers that are no longer sated by content produced for US networks, especially when it comes to procedurals. One example is Private Eyes, which stars Jason Priestley as an ex-pro athlete who turns to solving crimes alongside his partner, played by Cindy Sampson.

John Morayniss, CEO of eOne Television, notes: “There are not a lot of procedurals being originally commissioned in the US anymore. That will change, it goes in cycles, but we know the international market still wants them. So if we have the opportunity to produce one of those light procedurals you’re not getting out of the US, we’re going to do it.

“What’s interesting about a lot of those shows is they end up being reverse-engineered back in the US. It’s not that networks don’t want them, they’re just not motivated to develop them in the same way anymore. So you just have to be nimble enough to know who your target buyers are, both in the US and internationally, and hopefully you’ll have the right talent to make it commercial, sellable and desirable.”

Mansfield adds: “Channels are looking for the best programming that makes sense for their networks. We’re seeing networks doing things in the US that we didn’t expect. We expected niche programming from SundanceTV but now it’s broadening out and certainly the digital platforms can do it. It is challenging for certain networks that still rely on ratings, but for studios, developers and producers it’s a very exciting time.”

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Private Eyes: DQ talks to Jason Priestly and Cindy Sampson

Jason Priestly and Cindy Sampson team up as a pair of private investigators in Canadian drama Private Eyes. Michael Pickard tracks them down.

They’ve teamed up to play a pair of private investigators who carry out covert operations at the request of their clients.

But when DQ finds Jason Priestly and Cindy Sampson sitting together on a beachside sofa in Cannes, they’re anything but undercover. Laughing loudly at each other’s jokes, they’re supremely at ease and riotously enjoying one another’s company – a quality that also comes across on camera in the early teaser trailers for their new crime drama Private Eyes.

The series follows ex-pro hockey player Matt Shade (Priestly) who partners with PI Angie Everett (Sampson) to form an unlikely duo.

On the ice, Shade learned how to hustle, read people and anticipate their moves. Working with Angie, he’s found a new home where his skills still matter. Meanwhile, Everett – straightforward and clever – has taken over her father’s PI business after his death and strives to keep his legacy alive.

The show sees Priestly's ex-pro hockey player partner with PI Angie Everett, played by Sampson
The show sees Priestly’s ex-pro hockey player partner with PI Angie Everett, played by Sampson

“He’s the flashy ex-hockey player with the celebrity status,” Sampson explains. “Angie doesn’t suffer fools, she has no time for that and is a workaholic so there’s some friction in the beginning but eventually she opens up her life and her business and they become partners by the end of the first season.”

Traditional crime procedurals – from which Private Eyes takes its cue – have fallen out of favour in the US over recent years as serialised stories have taken priority for broadcast and cable networks and streaming platforms. But Priestley believes there’s still a place for case-of-the-week series, with demand for episodic content particularly high across Europe.

“Detective shows have been around for a long time and people always seem to respond well to them,” he says. “We grew up on a steady diet of shows like Moonlighting and Heart to Heart (both of which feature male and female co-leads) and this show is a homage to programmes like that – just with a much more modern storytelling technique.”

Priestly needs no introduction. Growing up on camera in various bit-part roles, he shot to fame as Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills, 90210 – the Aaron Spelling-produced soap that ran on Fox for 10 seasons until 2000. More recent credits include Canadian comedy Call Me Fitz and a recurring role on Syfy’s Haven, among numerous cameo appearances in shows produced on both sides of the US/Canada border.

“I was attached to the show from the very beginning of the development process,” Priestly says of Private Eyes, which launches on Global TV today. “I was involved right from the get-go and it’s been about three years. We had an exhaustive search to find our Angie and luckily we found Cindy in Toronto. We looked everywhere – New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver; we looked everywhere and found Cindy in Toronto, which was very lucky for us. We clicked right away.”

Sampson, who came onboard in August 2015, continues: “I did a screen test, a chemistry test, so I read with (Priestly) in a room of 40 people. We had a good laugh and then it all happened really quickly. We went into fittings and started shooting in the middle of September. We wrapped 10 episodes in February.

Priestly is best known for his long stint on 90210
Jason Priestly is best known for his long stint on Beverly Hills, 90210

“There are a lot of lines to learn. We did a lot of talking! And being in every scene… It was amazing though. We had so much fun doing it. It didn’t feel like work.”

The pair didn’t know each other before partnering for Private Eyes but Sampson – whose credits include Rookie Blue, Supernatural and Rogue – says they instantly connected through their shared sense of humour.

“That helps when you spend 24 hours a day with someone for six months,” she says. “It really helps when you have to eat three meals a day with the same person. We hear that other people don’t get along so well but we’ve been pretty fortunate. We had a good time. So many times you work on projects and the finished result is great but the experience maybe wasn’t great.”

Priestly adds: “We’ve been having a really good time and hopefully it comes through in the show and people enjoy watching it.”

The 10-episode season, produced and distributed by Entertainment One, has been written by showrunners Shelley Eriksen (Continuum) and Alan McCullough (Rookie Blue), who gave their stars plenty of room to embody their characters beyond the lines on the script.

“We had quite a bit of latitude (with the characters), which is good because things would change on a daily basis,” Priestly reveals. “Things would evolve while we were shooting, so it was exciting. A lot of those changes came out of the fact that everyone was always working to make the show better.”

Sampson adds: “And once we got into the groove of our characters, things were evolving because of that too. It was like a living, breathing thing.”

The production wasn’t without its challenges, however, and both Sampson and Priestly recall one particularly cold day shooting on board a ferry.

Cindy Sampson
Cindy Sampson says she and Priestly hit it off from the start

“The day on the ferry was coldest I have been in my entire life,” Sampson says. “There were tears rolling down our faces and we’re trying to pretend it’s a nice fall day. There were tears non-stop!”

Priestly adds: “We shot an episode on Toronto Island – it’s not a place many people go or know about. It’s a beautiful island just in Lake Ontario and you have to take a ferry to get there (from the main city of Toronto). They shut down the ferry in the winter, and we were on it on the last day it was in operation before winter. And there’s a reason they shut it down – because it’s so fucking cold. It was the coldest I’ve been in a long time.”

Priestly now splits his time in front of and behind the camera, having first climbed into the director’s chair more than 20 years ago for episodes of 90210. More recently, he’s helmed episodes of medical drama Saving Hope and forthcoming horror Van Helsing – and he says the new opportunities that emerging streaming services provide mean it’s an exciting time to be working in television.

“There’s been a lot of qualitative improvements in television, certainly since I started my career in the 1980s, like the way we shoot television now,” he notes. “When I started, we shot on film. Film is dead. The way we light television now is different. We use LED lights as opposed to the old acetylene lights.

“The technology has impacted the way we do it in myriad ways. But also the fact the special effects are so readily available now. The use of green screens and the things you can do without green screens, the opportunities to be creative are so much greater now than they were even 10 years ago. The landscape has evolved and continues to evolve every day.”

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