Doyle. It's only a name. And then it isn't merely a name - not here in Newfoundland, anyway, where you're tripping over people named Doyle. Or "Dile," as they say if they haven't been to university. I heard lead singer Alan Doyle of the band Great Big Sea say that. Said he didn't know his name was Doyle until he went to university. Before that he was called "Dile."
This story is, by the way, an epic of Doyle. If you have a problem with that, you're out of luck. Go home now to your mother and tell her you want your name to be Doyle. And good luck.
When I land in St. John's after midnight, the first thing I note, by the luggage carousel, is a man holding up a sign saying, "Sean McGinley." This is worth noting because McGinley, a distinguished Irish actor, is the co-star of Republic of Doyle , the reason why I'm here. The show is CBC's major new drama for 2010, the biggest TV thing ever made in Newfoundland and Labrador, and one of CBC's largest-budget series ever, with a cast of hundreds, all about a father and son private-eye team: Jake and Malachy Doyle.
Later, luggage retrieved, I'm staring at the Blackberry, as a fool from Toronna does. I glance at the man with "Sean McGinley" sign, and he approaches. "Are you Sean McGinley?" I assure him I am not and, if the Irish actor had been on the flight from Toronna, I'd probably have recognized him. "I'd better check," the man says and wanders off.
I'm looking for the taxi stand when he next appears. "Have you something to do with Republic of Doyle ?" I tell him I'll be visiting the set next morning and I'm from The Globe and Mail. This cuts no ice. "What's your name?" he asks. "Doyle," I say. "Doyle!" he repeats, with exclamation marks and eyes wide as silver dollars. "In that case," he says, "I'll take you wherever you're going. Mr. McGinley won't be here for hours."
So the man, Jim, takes me to the hotel, where I check in as Doyle, like I usually do. There is a small fuss. I'm thirsty, you see. The mini-bar is as empty as the street outside. And the phone doesn't work. The latter is solved by use of the Blackberry. Not such a Toronna idiot, this Doyle. I call room service for a bottle of cold beer. "Oh now," the man says, "I think that's all locked up. I'll call you back." He does. "We could send you a draft beer," he says. "Grand," sez I, "Send it up, and I'll pay cash for it." "All right, and what's your name, sir?" he asks. "Doyle." Minutes later a young man arrives and, with a flourish, hands me a glass of cold beer. "A glass of beer, on the house, Mister Dile," he says. Hasn't been to university, obviously. Never mind. The Doyles are cruising here.
Next morning, at an unholy hour, I'm sitting in a pew at Cochrane Street United Church. Beside me is a fictional Doyle: Allan Hawco, co-creator and star of Republic of Doyle . The shooting for part of Episode 11 of the series has just finished in the church. "It's a nice little romp about a missing horse," Hawco says of the episode, "nothing heavy." And that sums up the series, really. From what I've seen, it's fun, light-as-a-feather, old-fashioned TV crime drama. Jake Doyle (Hawco) takes small cases in St. John's - piddly stuff that inevitably involves fist fights and charming the ladies. Dad Malachy (McGinley) looks on askance but mostly eggs him on. The cops are not amused but one young lady cop falls for Jake. Shenanigans ensue. The buzz on Republic of Doyle is - this ain't The Border; this is fun.
Hawco, relaxed, is not at all like a man who has spent six months on this show, acting, writing, taking care of countless chores. Hereabouts, Hawco is seen as a kind of Laurence Olivier of the St. John's arts scene, a Renaissance man who is co-artistic director of his own theatre troupe, The Company Theatre, as well as doing movie and TV work. He was, they say here, relentless on getting financial support from the Newfoundland government and getting Republic of Doyle made in St. John's.
In the TV racket, however, a myth has grown up around Republic of Doyle that it was a troubled series. There's nothing unusual about this. The Canadian TV biz is far from a charitable environment. Jealousy festers, and rumours abound. Here's the legend of Doyle : Hawco envisaged Canadian veteran actor Gordon Pinsent as the dad Malachy. Disappointingly, Pinsent is not available. East Coast actor Peter MacNeill plays Malachy in the pilot, but not the series. Irish actor McGinley is hired. Doyle goes into production in July with writer Denis McGrath ( The Border ) as show runner. McGrath leaves the show in October. Soon after, two others writers leave the show. Next, swine flu hits the set, and production stops. Finally, a storm shuts down production.
Hawco finds this legend very amusing: "Maybe it is due to the fact that we are so far away, and no one knows what is really going on. Truth is, this production has had more than its share of amazing luck. And people can guess or speculate, and I can say whatever I want, but in the end, as we all know, it's about whether anyone likes our show or not. I am hoping they do - obviously."
On the Pinsent matter: "It did work out that he did an amazing guest-starring role for me in Episode 5. Gordon is truly one of my all-time heroes and idols. He has also been seriously supportive over the years and helped me a lot. I am willing to venture a guess that 90 per cent of pitches to every network in this country want Gordon in their show. But alas, he is a busy boy."
On the McGrath issue: "Every production goes through all types of changes among the crew. In the end, it is solely about fit, and chemistry. … It's not personal."
On the swine flu: "Oh boy. That sucked. I got it. It was nasty. We did have a few days delay, but I was able to do a rewrite on a badly needed script. In a way, because I was so sick, I was able to catch up."
On the storm rumour: "That is really funny because it didn't happen. Other than swine flu, which was like, a few days delay, everything else has been business as usual and on schedule. Except my sleep."
In truth, Republic of Doyle is, ah, very Doyle-esque - jokey, frisky. But it obviously owes a debt to TV series of an earlier era, and The Rockford Files (1974-1980) is often mentioned to describe its tone. True? "Rockford is surely one of them, as were Magnum [P.I.]/i> , Columbo , Banacek - Pinsent guest-starred - and all of the other 1970s/1980s cop/P.I shows," Hawco says. "But so were Rescue Me , Cracker , TheMentalist , the first season of Californication , Prime Suspect , Law & Order and Life on Mars . I am a TV fan. And bigger than that, I am obsessed with storytelling."
As seen in the rough advance material, St. John's is a major character in the drama and looks fabulous - it seems at times that the show is an homage to the city. How deliberate is that? " Republic of Doyle was designed to be set here - as I am from here and this is where Perry [Perry Chafe, co-creator with Hawco and Malcolm MacRury]and I conceived it. But it is so important to us that Newfoundland is not rammed down your throat. We want viewers from all over Canada - and the world - to feel this show is for and about them. … But I really hope people enjoy the elements that are specific to Newfoundland that might make the show special. There is so much here in terms of inspiration and beauty. I try to let this fall naturally into the work."
Later that morning, I stand on Holloway Street under blue skies. There's a cold, whipping wind. I'm watching the crew shoot a brief scene in which that young lady cop (Krystin Pellerin), who has a thing for Jake Doyle, interviews some rogue. Hawco arrives and watches the scene on a monitor. I'm standing there taking notes, my hands blue as the sky. Hawco silently hands me two hand-warmers. Only a fictional Doyle, this fella, but decent, like a real Doyle.
The cast and crew then have lunch at Bishop Feild Elementary school, which has been commandeered. My interview with McGinley - who arrived safely after a complicated trip back from Dublin, via London and Toronto - takes place in the principal's office. A quiet-spoken, charming man, McGinley is a theatre veteran doing occasional film and TV roles. That's how Hawco knows him. "I was very taken with the stories and the sense of identity," he says of Republic of Doyle . "I'd been to Toronto many times and was aware of how Newfoundland was perceived. A place apart. But arriving here I was struck by how utterly unique it is. People here don't care what the outside world thinks. They're comfortable in their own skin. The show reflects that. The place, the physical look of St. John's, is part of the fabric of it. And I love it.
"This show is outside my comfort zone, really. I'm the only non-Canadian and I've never done this accent before. It's an enormous challenge. I didn't want to just slide into it, so I've had a lot of coaching. Frankly, I'm fascinated by everything about Newfoundland."
Then we're thrown out of the principal's office - the boss of the school mustn't be a Doyle.
There follows, for me, little St. John's adventures that can only be revealed to a Doyle (or "Dile"). We're not snobs. Not snobs about Republic of Doyle , the show, either. It's light, a gambol of a show. Very Doyle. Doyle isn't only a name. It's a state of mind. Trust me, I know.