Canadian Broadcasters Filming More Cop Dramas
Canuck TV shows are finally getting greater exposure on U.S. network schedules.
TORONTO -- Canadian TV shows are finally getting the exposure on U.S. network schedules that their indie producers always craved, but there's a catch.
With CBS airing Flashpoint and ABC renewing Rookie Blue for a sophomore season, Canadians that long considered their cities safe and crime-free compared to Chicago and Los Angeles now watch an increasing slew of bang-bang-shoot-em-up Canadian police procedurals in local primetime.
The latest Canadian cop drama to be shot on the mean streets of Toronto is Befriend & Betray from DHX Media and screenwriter Michael Amo (TheListener).
The backdoor pilot for Shaw Media is no pro forma police procedural.
The twist is Befriend & Betray is based on the true-life story of AlexCaine, a non-descript Montrealer who spent 25 years infiltrating the Hells Angels, Asian triads and other criminal brotherhoods that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police could not penetrate themselves. Caine's private life is no less problematic.
"People don't know much about a police infiltrator. You're out there, andyou're on your own," explained Floyd Kane, executive producer of Befriend & Betray.
The trick with Canadian cop dramas is making Kevlar-vested cops in Toronto or Vancouver look like those that walk the beat in Los Angeles or Brooklyn, while around them murder victims are zipped into body-bags, crime scene evidence is collected, suspects are arrested and red lights swirl in the background.
The Canadian producers do little to identify local landmarks in Toronto or Vancouver so the cop dramas, which are largely packaged, financed and distributed worldwide from satellite offices in Los Angeles, can be sold worldwide.
And the producers invite U.S. networks to pay as little as $300,000 per-episode to air the Canadian dramas as imports or co-productions.
It's a win-win for everyone: the U.S broadcaster reduces its risk intaking on a new primetime series, and the Canadian producer can tout its American network berth as it pursues foreign sales.
Just how little the U.S. networks pay for the Canadian cop dramas was evidenced by series like The Bridge on CBS and The Listener on NBC earning second season orders from their Canadian and other international broadcast partners, even though they flopped and were cancelled early on stateside.
Like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue, Befriend & Betray was in development for years as Canadian broadcasters increasingly take the care and time toget scripts right before pulling the trigger on a series order.
Kane first optioned the book Befriend and Betray by Alex Caine, on whichthe TV series is based, and briefly flirted with Paramount Vantage on a possible feature treatment.
But Kane always envisioned a TV drama, and approached veteran Canadian screenwriter Michael Amo to flesh out a possible grimy, gang-fuelled drama.
Kane, Amo and Halifax Films exec Charles Bishop next pitched the project to Tara Ellis and Karen King, commissioning editors at Global Televsion, which co-produced another local cop drama, Rookie Blue, with ABC.
Kane and Amo had developed Befriend & Betray as a six-episode drama.
But when crunch time came, Global Television's Ellis and King ordered atwo-hour pilot.
That sent Amo into over-drive to squeeze eight hours into 88 minutes, virtually overnight.
"I'd already envisioned an arc for each episode. So the idea that Alex (Caine) could take down a whole gang in one episode wasn't credible," Amo recalled.
"Intense, but manageable," is how Kane recalls drafting a two-hour pilot script on the hop.
Veteran TV director Ken Girotti (Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Rescue Me) immediately sensed the tension in Befriend & Betray becoming either a telefilm or series when he came on board the project in spring 2011.
"Everyone seemed to want a TV movie that could stand on its own, but the long range goal was to build a series," he recalled.
Another big challenge was casting a cop drama that virtually hinges on one character that audiences will need to connect with for ultimate ratings success.
"I never thought it was that difficult to find a 25-33 year-old white male lead," Kane insisted.
In the end, Montreal-based actor Tim Rozon was chosen to play Alex Caine.
"We all decided that there was only one guy, that's Tim. He captured what Michael (Amo) and I were going for, where we were going with Alex Caine," Kane recounted.
The ensemble cast also includes Byron Mann, Christine Horne, Klea Scott,Tom Jackson and Steph Song.
Befriend & Betray was shot on small, cramped locations in and around Toronto, with no standing sets.
"This show is a location show. It reminds me of how we shoot in New York City. What we wanted is to bring the city and the environment it's in," Girotti explained.
"To go to a studio, you just don't get that," he added.
If Befriend & Betray nabs a full series order from Global Television, it won't be alone.
Global Television already airs another local cop drama, Shattered, and ordered eight episodes of the female cop drama King from veteran producers Bernie Zukerman and Greg Spottiswood.
Also in the Global Television pipeline is the suspense crime drama Endgame from creator and showrunner Avrum Jacobson, which portrays a reclusive chess master who starts solving crimes after his fiancee is murdered.
And Canadian streets won't be as clean as yesteryear after rival broadcaster CTV jumped on board with CBS to co-develop a procedural cop drama from creators Mark Wilson and Patrick McKenna and showrunner DavidBarlow set in cross-border Niagara Falls.
CBS and CTV jointly produced Flashpoint andThe Bridge.