Nicholas Campbell is mad as hell about the current police crackdown on drug users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The aggressive new policing program contravenes the city's Four Pillars drug strategy, says the actor who plays the crusading coroner-turned-politician on Da Vinci's City Hall.
If life were a TV series -- and there certainly have been times when the stories from Vancouver's downtrodden streets and backroom corridors of power have seeped into the show's gripping plot lines -- you could almost see Mayor Dominic Da Vinci anxiously raking his hands through his tousled hair and pounding his fist on the desk. Of course, we will likely never discover what Da Vinci has to say about this real-life situation. Da Vinci's City Hall, the one-season spinoff to the long-running Da Vinci's Inquest, has been cancelled. Its final episode will be broadcast on CBC Television tonight. The timing certainly makes Campbell wonder.
"I don't think there was anybody who actually said, 'Hey, better get Da Vinci off the air because the Olympics are coming and we need to clean things up,'" says Campbell. "We've never been censored before, which I found constantly surprising because we've tackled some pretty tough issues.
"But now I see some of these decisions being made," he mutters into the phone, sounding as suspicious as Da Vinci might.
Campbell doesn't really think there was any conspiracy behind the show's cancellation. "But if this were the States, you could certainly believe it," the 53-year-old actor declares with a self-righteous harrumph.
Yep, you can almost hear Da Vinci's puckered lips smacking in the background.
Other than perhaps Bruno Gerussi as the beachcombing Nick Adonidas, there is probably no more memorable character in Canadian television history. When Da Vinci's Inquest premiered in 1998, critics hailed Campbell's deceptively casual depiction of the show's rumpled coroner. Even before the series began winning bundles of broadcasting awards and went on to syndication in nearly 50 countries, audiences found themselves strangely mesmerized by this rumpled, prickly, seemingly incompetent hero who probed, scolded and blundered his way to the truth.
"He's the best thing that ever came along for me," says Campbell, referring not to the character, but its creator Chris Haddock. "I don't like to lose Chris. But he says he wants to do another series with me. I can't wait to hear what he has in mind."
Haddock says he does hope to develop another series with Campbell some time down the road. "We're a good combination. Artistically, we're very much in sync."
The two met in the eighties, when they both working on a series called Diamonds. Haddock developed Da Vinci's Inquest with Campbell specifically in mind and refused to budge until CBC agreed to use him. (The actor had a reputation as a slightly unsteady party boy.) Even though Da Vinci has been cancelled, Haddock insists it's far from over.
"The character is still alive in my head," says Haddock, who is currently working on the outline for a Da Vinci movie that CBC Television has ordered. Penguin Books in the United States has also offered a deal for a pocketbook series.
"And every time I think about Da Vinci, there's Nick in my head," Haddock laughs. "It's a scary thought, I know. But maybe that's why I'm not taking it as hard as other people."
Haddock says he is "absolutely" not bitter about the cancellation, even though it did come as a surprise. "Eight years is a pretty good run," says the producer/writer, who will continue to work with the CBC on a new series, Intelligence, about organized crime. The public broadcaster has ordered 13 episodes.
"There is some melancholy, but the franchise isn't dead," says Haddock. "Right now, it's kicking in the United States. And we're all proud about the impact we've had with this great show."
Indeed, Da Vinci's Inquest pushed the boundaries of the crime-show genre, developing its own shuffling style, a documentary-like realism distinct from the melodramatic American model and the much murkier British thriller.
The show's plot lines -- which have seen Da Vinci pursuing a serial killer preying on prostitutes, championing a red-light district, lobbying for the creation of a safe-injection site and investigating the suspicious deaths of various victims in police custody -- were intriguingly based on real-life events and helped create increased national awareness of the seedy goings-on in Vancouver's marginalized Downtown Eastside.
The parallels between life and fiction crossed into the political world when Larry Campbell, a former British Columbia coroner who was an inspiration for the show and an adviser, was elected mayor of Vancouver in 2002. His campaign played up the association with buttons that read Da Vinci for Mayor. Two seasons later, the fictional Da Vinci, having failed at his run for chief of police, was also elected mayor.
The shift from the streets to city hall seemed like a natural succession to Haddock. "I felt we were cracking the code on a new genre of political thriller. I feel very happy with our artistic achievements."
Even though the setting had changed, City Hall's brilliant writing -- complicated narratives that layered plot upon plot with cross-woven stories pursued over several weeks -- remained similar.
And the new show's carefully drawn ensemble of wily cops, snitches and criminals included many of the same characters. Despite all that, the audience didn't follow. Mind you, the show was launched, after a delayed start, during the dark days of CBC's post-lockout period last fall, with little promotion. And with such a short run, it barely had time to build a following.
"I think there is a huge audience out there looking for good adult entertainment -- and I use that term broadly," says Haddock. "There's a latent audience out there for City Hall. We just didn't have the legs to prove it. If we were given another year or two, we may well have sustained it."
Some observers have said the show was probably cancelled because Richard Stursberg, the vice-president of CBC English-language television, and Kirstine Layfield, his new head of programming, want to put their own stamp on next season's drama lineup. Haddock doesn't buy it.
"I don't think it's fair to blame it on the new regime," he says. "For a couple of years, the old regime had been pushing me to consider that it might be time to move on. That's why I developed Intelligence."
In the meantime, Campbell is trying to figure out whether to stay in Vancouver or move back to Toronto.
"I don't know what to do. I've got a house with furniture in it [in Vancouver] Well, it's a dump, but I own it. I've got friends here and a horse at the track. I'm kind of like a Vancouver guy now, sort of. I feel a sense of ownership over some of the social problems."
So back to the new policing policy. "I don't like how they're trying to clean things up" says Campbell, even if he does consider himself a friend of the force.
Campbell says he is going to miss Da Vinci a great deal.
"It's the end of a rarefied era. It was kind of like a Don Cherry thing. Cherry can take a hard line on Russians and visors, and the CBC doesn't want to hear it, but it's what people think. Chris [Haddock]could say whatever he wanted about the city. He has a love affair with it that translates beautifully when he's talking about some serious social problems."
Still, Campbell, the actor, says with a laugh that he has to be careful about what he says.
"I'm still under contract with the CBC for the rest of the year. They could do anything with me."