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September 30, 2014

Stars of Flashpoint talk about Toronto taking center stage

by Jane Boursaw, posted Jun 30th 2008 11:02AM
Flashpoint Conference CallFlashpoint premieres Friday, July 11, at 10 p.m. ET on CBS, and yes, it's another cop show, but it sounds gritty enough to offer something interesting. The new summer drama stars Enrico Colantoni as Sergeant Greg Parker, Hugh Dillon as Ed Lane, David Paetkau as Sam Braddock, and Amy Jo Johnson as Jules Callahan.

The series follows the lives of a Toronto-based Strategic Response Unit (SRU), unique cops who go beyond the call of ordinary cops to rescue hostages, bust gangs, defuse bombs, handle state-of-the-art weaponry and, of course, risk their lives to save others.

I participated in a conference call this week with Colantoni, Dillon, Johnson, and executive producers Bill Mustos and Anne Marie La Traverse. Some highlights of the call:

Johnson's real-life pregnancy won't be incorporated into the story. "I'm past my first trimester, so I have a lot more energy," she said. "As for doing the show, it was a bit of a rough start for me. I was like, whew, this is a lot more intense and difficult than I thought it would be, but I've gotten into the rhythm, and I'm having a lot of fun now, although I'm starting to show a little bit."

Colantoni (who played Keith Mars on Veronica Mars) is happy for the chance to play with guns. "Keith Mars was a wonderful character to play, but there were not enough guns in it for me," he said. "This has such an abundance of explosions and pistols, and I feel like I'm six years old playing cops and robbers all over again. Plus, I'm from Toronto and my brother was a cop for a lot of years, so this is my chance to pay homage to him."

Johnson, who kicked butt as a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, loves lots of action. "I definitely didn't expect my career would start off as a super hero, but I like doing action, and I find it fun. I was a gymnast for ten years when I was a kid, so it's sort of right up my alley. Before we started shooting, we spent a week with the SRU Emergency Task 14 in Toronto, so that was interesting watching them do different simulations."

The show is set in Toronto, because it was inspired by the real-life emergency task force there. "One of the distinguishing features about Toronto's Emergency Task Force is that in addition to training their men and women in lethal and non-lethal tactics, they also train in negotiation and psychological profiling," said Mustos. "So, it's like a fully rounded SWAT team unit where you get all of the skill sets you need in one team. The second thing that inspired this idea was a real-life incident our pilot was modeled after, which took place about three years ago near the Toronto Train Station. That's where the idea started, and it progressed from there and developed into the series it is now. We got our Canadian network on board and then CBS on board, and since it was inspired in Toronto, we decided to set it in Toronto."

The show is both macho and emotional. "I think that the show is about the human and personal cost of heroism, so even though we're depicting a really macho world, we're looking at it from an emotional point of view," said La Traverse. "We explore the emotional flashpoint of the people who are at the center of these critical incidents, so it's a mixture of an emotional drama and a procedural macho cop show."

It's an episodic show with a bit of black humor. "We don't have a serialized kind of storytelling approach where we get deeply into the personal lives and home lives of our lead characters," said Mustos. "There's a little layer of that present, but it's minimal. Also, in our research with the real Emergency Task Force here in Toronto, we discovered that one of the ways these men and women deal with stress is a form of black humor they use among themselves. We've tried to introduce a little bit of that around the edges of our script. Once the team is on-site and dealing with the crisis of that week, however, it's all down to business. It's all about trying to defuse that crisis without the loss of life. That's the goal of the team."

It's about life and death and ticking clocks. "This is not a franchise about another dead body at the start of an episode and investigation into the mystery of who caused that death," said Mustos. "We were more interested in the kind of storytelling which would allow us to explore an elite police world that's happening in the here and now. A world that's about a ticking clock, and a world where we could really explore the emotional side of a story that's often ignored in a police procedural. That's what we're hoping will appeal to audiences, so we think our way into this police show is fresh."

They love the summer premiere date. "We like it for a bunch of reasons," said Mustos. "Even though the network approach to scheduling is really changing, the reality is that in the third week of September as all the new shows get launched, it's very easy for a good show to get lost in the shuffle. We love the opportunity to be on CBS this summer and be one of two original dramas on the CBS schedule. We think we have the full support of the network right now, because they don't have a lot of other brand new shows to concern themselves with."

They also love Friday nights at 10 p.m. "For starters, Friday night is a good night for CBS," said Mustos. "Secondly, CBS has moved Numb3rs out of the 10 p.m. slot and put us there, giving Numbers as our lead-in, so we like that very much. CSI started its life on a Friday night, and that's a pretty auspicious case study to have gone ahead of us. But we think Friday night is a good night, and the fact that we have Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs ahead of us -- in a time slot which CBS regularly wins -- can be a very positive thing for the show."

The original title was Critical Incident. "That's the technical term for the incidents that we explore from week to week," said La Traverse. "In developing the series, we started to see a pattern in the kinds of stories we wanted to tell. At the center of every story is a human being in crisis and a human being who is brought to a flashpoint, to their edge ... a father who wants a heart for his daughter as she's dying ... people who are pushed to the brink and do things they wouldn't necessarily do on a usual day. That's how the title Flashpoint came to stick. At the center of every story is an individual in that flashpoint moment, and we tell the stories of how that person got there and how our team is brought in to help save that person from themselves or from the situation that they find themselves in."

It's cool shooting in Toronto. "It's been really liberating shooting in Toronto, because we've been able to show off the city in a way that hasn't been seen by audiences widely," said Mustos. "When you're shooting Toronto as New York or Chicago, you have to constantly avoid certain Toronto landmarks, which are wonderful landmarks. But we get to show the city off in all of its glory, and because our critical incidents tend to take place in big locations, it's given us a chance to pick those wonderful spots in Toronto, whether it's on the water or the top of an office tower or inside a glorious old historic bank."

The characters play well together. "Enrico plays Greg Parker, the Sergeant of the team, and he really embodies this emotional intelligence that's very important to the steering of this team," said Mustos. "There's a kind of empathy, an intelligence that Enrico brings to his performance that was perfect for that role. In Hugh's case, we have the character of Ed Lane, the team leader. Ed is the tactically brilliant guy on the team who knows exactly how to handle every situation, but who bottles up all that he's seen and done over the years. Hugh is a wonderful example of an actor who's able to portray those deep reserves, that idea of a life really lived behind his eyes. We felt that Hugh in that role and Enrico in the sergeant role would make a beautiful partnership. When it came to Amy Jo, we were looking for an actress who would be credible as a sharpshooter and a rappelling master, but who would also bring a real empathy to the role. We think that Amy Jo, with all of her wonderful years among the Power Rangers and Felicity and other things, is an audience favorite wherever she goes. Our viewers will be the judge, but we think we were bang on it with these choices."

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