St. Marys Journal Argus
Peter Mitchell, executive producer of the Canadian television show Murdoch Mysteries, is pretty certain that he and the series will be back in St. Marys some time, after they wrap up filming scenes for a pair of upcoming episodes in the downtown core on Tuesday, Oct. 28.
Mitchell is also part of the show’s stable of directors, and he’ll be directing the scenes.
“We’re constantly on the look-out for places we haven’t been to,” Mitchell told the Journal Argus in an interview earlier this week — just off the plane from a visit to France, where he took part in a couple of promotional events for the show. He noted that, despite the fact the show is dubbed into French for that nation’s television marketplace, it is nonetheless the second-most-watch show on Sunday nights in France.
With a setting in turn-of-the-century Ontario, the sleuthing show obviously needs backdrops like what exists in St. Marys. But Mitchell noted the Stonetown is a little further than usual from Murdoch Mysteries’ home base of Toronto. Cambridge, he said, is a popular destination with similar charms, and it’s much closer to Toronto.
Still, “it’s part of our mandate to get outside of the City of Toronto . . . And sometimes a town or city presents itself with something you just can’t get anywhere else.”
More on that later. But first, a little bit more about the show.
This is the third year that the show’s producers have been asked for an 18-episode season. For the five years previous to that, it was just 13 episodes. The show started out airing solely on CityTV, but was taken on by CBC for national broadcast about five years ago.
“We’re now either the second or third most popular one-hour drama in Canada,” Mitchell said.
He has been with the show for four years, all as executive producer. He also takes an active role in the writing team, which he describes as a true group effort with about five key participants “basically locked in a room” brainstorming ideas for each show.
For the most part, the directors put together two episodes at a time, so they can take advantage of the shooting locations that are so key to creating the authentic feel of the entire series. That’s why, in St. Marys, scenes will be directed by Mitchell for two separate episodes.
One is entitled “Toronto’s Girl Problem,” and it’s loosely based on what he described as “a den of thieves in London (England) at the turn of the century.” They were, he suggested, “organized shoplifters,” and they had the peculiar name of “40 Elephants.”
And that’s where the “something you can’t get anywhere else” comes into prominence.
“Part of the story involves a jewellery store heist, and you guys happen to have an incredibly beautiful period-appropriate jewellery store right in your town,” he commented.
Mitchell notes that the series’ props master, Craig Grant, is well aware of the heritage possibilities within St. Marys. His mom and dad live here.
The other episode for which some scenes will be shot next Tuesday will be entitled “Crabtreemania,” and it’s planned as one of the more light-hearted episodes in this season’s 18-episode run. It’s inspired by events that took place well after the turn of the century: the beginnings in North America of pro wrestling.
It’s expected that the two episodes with St. Marys content will run back to back, as numbers 14 and 15 in this year’s schedule, and will first air sometime after Christmas.
Representatives from the show will get to work on Monday, Oct. 27, he says, “loading the empty jewellery store with jewellery, and hiding a few modern street signs.”
Mitchell noted it’s crucial that everything looks period-specific. That’s not only because the show’s creators have given themselves the responsibility of making things as authentic as possible. Probably even more importantly, the show has built such a strong reputation over its eight years, on an international basis, that its fans would never let the creators down if they fail to maintain the turn-of-the-century façade.
“It really does have a reach that surprises us sometimes,” Mitchell commented. A couple from Kentucky drove up to Canada so they could watch a season premiere; a group of dedicated fans put together a self-organized tour of Hamilton to experience some past shooting locations.
“And people respond to us and catch us out on our mistakes . . . They hold our feet to the fire. If we get a china pattern wrong, they let us know. ‘That didn’t come out until 1906,’ they’ll tell us. ‘It’s supposed to be only 1903!’”
For that reason, Mitchell fully expects that St. Marys, with is rich heritage architecture and the obvious value placed on maintaining older structures, will return as a Murdoch Mysteries setting in the future.
“When I was there looking at the shooting locations for next week, I was scouting around,” he said. “And I certainly saw a million other places that I’d like to revisit.”
On the show’s website, there’s a separate section that includes short films about the creation of each Murdoch Mysteries episode. Expect a film about the making of the “Toronto’s Girl Problem” and “Crabtreemania” — including, perhaps, interviews with people in St. Marys and additional footage from the Stonetown — to eventually appear in that venue, along with the actual winter, 2015 episodes.