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The show's writing staff dig into the many Torontos the city contains, from glass-walled mansions on the Bridle Path to unhoused people lying in sleeping bags under the seedy marquee of Filmores strip club on Dundas Street East.Steve Wilkie/Citytv

Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent, Episode 7 shoot

Police headquarters set, Etobicoke. Friday, Nov. 10, 5 p.m.


The set is sprawling: terrazzo floors, Deco ironwork, a dozen desks (currently empty, because this scene is just the leads). There’s an interrogation room and a conference room. There’s a hallway lined with portraits of police dogs. There are fully dressed sets for a jail cell, hospital room and forensics lab (glass-front fridge full of vials, stainless steel morgue drawers), plus a swing set done up as a victim’s hippie-chic apartment (vinyl record player, macrame).

Dozens of crew members adjust lights and blackout screens around a whiteboard, a.k.a. the Murder Board, marked up with a timeline. The episode’s director, Winnifred Jong, calls “Action, please” (the “please” proving that we are in Canada), and the scene begins.

Two detective sergeants, a man and a woman – the A-team of the Specialized Criminal Investigations Unit – stare down the board, thinking aloud. In moments of significance, their eyes flick to one another. He is Henry Graff (Aden Young) – face like Pedro Pascal, voice like a subway rumbling under a sidewalk. She is Frankie Bateman (Kathleen Munroe) – palpable intelligence, magnetic blue eyes. Their dialogue is dizzy with victims, suspects, clues, investigative jargon: “I don’t think Roman was the one recording Clara. Ten days ago, Mark found a video on Rachel’s tablet.”

So far, so very Dick Wolf. The dominant producer in U.S. television, Wolf Entertainment oversees three hit franchises (Law & Order, Chicago and FBI), which own three entire nights of television (the 8, 9 and 10 p.m. slots) on two U.S. and Canadian networks (NBC and CBS, City and Global).

But in this police station, the wall map is of Toronto, and the name drops are unabashedly 416: Cherry Beach, Bay Street, the Rosedale ravine, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Episode 1 begins with a beauty shot of the skyline from Lake Ontario; a scene card reads SINGH FABRICS, GERRARD STREET EAST; an outdoor walk-and-talk moves from new to Old City Hall.

Wolf Entertainment has licensed its shows to other countries before – for example, there are French and Russian adaptations of Law & Order: Criminal Intent – but those took existing U.S. scripts and made local adjustments.

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The Toronto iteration of the show is the biggest investment Rogers has made in original Canadian programming.Amanda Matlovich/Citytv

This Toronto iteration (a co-production of Wolf Entertainment, Universal Television, Rogers Television, Lark Productions and Cameron Pictures Inc.) is the first international franchise to create its own plots and scripts. The showrunner is Tassie Cameron (Pretty Hard Cases, Rookie Blue). The stories are ripped from Canadian headlines. The cast and crew are homegrown. It’s also the biggest investment Rogers has made in original Canadian programming.

When Cameron first got the invitation to write a trial episode – she had to compete for the gig against other (unnamed) writers – she immediately thought about … the CN Tower. “It sounds silly, but I pictured the Toronto skyline with the Law & Order font,” she says. “I want to highlight the city I love, that I feel patriotic about. I understand how it might seem weird to celebrate a city in a show about murder, but making a world-class franchise here will be really exciting if we pull it off.”

They hope to export it around the world, including the United States. The cliffhanger question is, will Canadians watch?

Crown attorney office set

7 p.m.

While the crew repositions cameras in the police station, Munroe and Young take a break in this otherwise-unoccupied set (wood panelling, black quilted leather chairs, fireplace). In their Holmes-Watson dynamic – all partners across the Law & Order franchise have a Holmes-Watson dynamic – she’s the Watson, fact-driven, empathic. He’s the Holmes, a font of esoteric knowledge, a seeker of motivation, a pusher of psychic buttons to provoke an unguarded response.

“Bateman traps them in her tractor beam, while I wander around and examine for clues,” says Young, who’s 52 and Canadian-Australian. In his 30-year career, he’s worked with Bruce Beresford (Black Robe), co-starred on stage with Cate Blanchett (Hedda Gabler), and won awards for his lead role in the Sundance series Rectify.

We’re in Episode 7 (out of 10), and the actors have begun to banter like their characters. Young was offered his part without an audition; Munroe, 41, born in Hamilton, had to read for hers, even though she’s been in series from AppleTV+ (City on Fire), Prime (Patriot) and HBO Canada (Call Me Fitz). She’s also appeared in five – five! – other Wolf Entertainment shows: Law & Order: Organized Crime, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med and FBI.

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Cast members (left to right) Karen Robinson, Aden Young, Kathleen Munroe, and K.C. Collins pose for a photo at a press junket as they promote the television series "Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent" in Toronto on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Munroe: “We had to do a chemistry read.”

Young: “I had jet lag, so she had the chemistry for us both.”

Munroe: “I was the chemistry and, frankly, the read.”

Becoming headliners in the Wolfiverse was “gobsmacking,” both admit. As a child home sick from school, Munroe watched the OG Jill Hennessy-Jerry Orbach Law & Order “from morning to night,” she says. “It formed my impression of what New York City was, what TV crime drama was. It had a feeling of grit, and more normal-looking people than most TV.”

“It was the inspiration for what’s now podcast territory – true crime, case files,” Young says. “I’ve always been intrigued by crime in that regard: how detectives are almost explorers, going into these worlds they know very little of, whatever the murder drags them into. And they have to investigate that world, as an actor does, be it seamen, or strip clubs, or corrupt politicians. Graff looks at a situation almost like an X-ray, trying to imagine: What, of everything on Earth, led to this moment now? He goes backward and looks not just at the visible but also the invisible.”

The difference between a Wolf show and everything else, Munroe says, is “stamina. The first couple weeks, I felt like I’d been thrown into a marathon after lying on the couch for a year. The amount of work we get to do, the amount of writing for these two characters who are operating at the top of their game, the extraordinary guest actors who come in – it’s a thrill.”

And because this is Law & Order Toronto, they depict cops differently than most U.S. series. “So far, we haven’t had to use this,” Young says, gesturing to the prop gun in his costume holster. “It’s rubber, by the way. When we were doing our press photos and footage, the express rule was: No guns. Our weapon is this.” He pulls a fountain pen out of his pocket and mimes writing in a notebook.

Munroe: “We’re not brutes. We don’t use force. We haven’t said, ‘Get down on the ground!’ yet. We use tactics to gently pull confessions.”

As well, she continues, “The writers have incorporated a social conscience that’s central to our feeling of national identity. We try to vilify the right things and celebrate the right things. We’re looking at the systemic issues that impact the lives of the criminals we deal with. That feels like a Canadian conversation.”

In an episode about recent immigrants, for example, “We communicate with them,” Young says. “We’re compassionate about the plight that got them here. We feel for the horror they find themselves in, in a way that I truly believe reflects what it means to be Canadian.”

Munroe: “There’s been a real effort to not be exploitative. To not take these real people’s stories and make them sensational. We’re still Law & Order.

Young: “We’re still gonna bully some suspects.”

Munroe: “We’re still gonna get the bad guy. But we’re careful about how we show the victims, the bodies. At the centre of this show is life and death, and that’s never far from our minds.”

Young: “The tragic reality is, if Graff and Bateman come into your life, it’s a bad day.”

Production offices

9 p.m.

The usual rabbit warren of tiny offices, mismatched swivel chairs and kitchenettes with dirty mugs in the sink you find behind the scenes of any production. Cameron and producer Erin Haskett sit in an unclaimed office crowded with spare desks, talking about their bible. In television, a bible is the backbone of a series, a document that usually runs 50 to a few hundred pages, describing the characters and their backstories, the milieu and tone of the show, and multiple season arcs. The Law & Order bible is 1,000 pages long.

“It answers every question,” Haskett says. “How do they look at cases, handle story elements, set up postproduction?”

The basic format is not to be tinkered with. “Each episode stands alone, so you can drop in,” Cameron says. “They take on primal subjects. They’re a little familiar but always have a twist. They’re plotted cleverly, so the audience can play along. And they play fair with the audience, not cheating with the clues, assuming viewers are intelligent.”

Linear (non-streaming) television may be waning, but the Wolfiverse remains strong, and Rogers’s senior vice-president of television, Hayden Mindell, believes a Toronto-based Law & Order is “a natural fit” for his audience. And though Jimmy Fallon cracked a joke in his monologue when the series was announced – “How do you plead, sorry or not sorry?” – murder, unfortunately, is not a stretch here. “I’ve been writing Canadian crime stories for 20 years,” Cameron says. “I haven’t felt hemmed in by our goodness.”

She does tuck in a few Easter eggs. Bateman’s mother is a journalist, for example, and Bateman remarks on how poorly they’re paid. Cameron’s mother is the renowned journalist Stevie Cameron. “We haven’t written a cameo for Drake,” Cameron says, grinning. “But if he calls, we’ll figure something out.”

As well, she and her diverse writing staff dig into the many Torontos the city contains, from glass-walled mansions on the Bridle Path to unhoused people lying in sleeping bags under the seedy marquee of Filmores strip club on Dundas Street East, “so we’re not just showing my authentic Toronto, but lots of people’s.”

The Criminal Intent format, with its focus on motive, is particularly well-suited to the Canadian character, Haskett believes: “It’s about persistence, doggedness, a quest for justice. It’s more about curiosity than judgment. These stories are as much why-done-it as whodunit, so it’s really important to understand the characters.” And, she says laughing, “our detectives do sometimes say they’re sorry.”

As for the differences between Canadian and American law, Cameron is trying not to overexplain. The detectives work with a deputy Crown attorney, Theo Forrester (K.C. Collins), not a district attorney. Crowns are not referred to as “counsellor.” (In Canadian courts, opposing lawyers call each other, “My friend.”) Robes are worn. Miranda Rights are not read (we have Charter Rights). Amusingly, so accustomed were the writers to American procedurals, even they were shocked to discover that, in Canada, a suspect in an interrogation does not have the right to demand a lawyer.

The one thing Cameron and Co. have never done with LOT:CI, as they call it, is take their responsibility to the franchise lightly. They’ve experienced first-hand how beloved it is. “Every Uber driver who asks what I do is like, ‘Whoa, that’s cool!’ ” she says. “The owner of the food store I go to hugged me when I told her. I have to keep my head down, type the words, rely on the muscle memory that I’ve made television before. Because if I let myself think about the hugeness too much, I’ll be paralyzed.

“You try to forget that you’re making Law & Order, and then when it matters, you try to remember that you’re making Law & Order.” Dun-dun.

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