The crossover episode is one of those rare treats for true TV lovers. It's fun to see your favourite characters pop up on another show-even if the results don't always live up to expectations.
Most crossovers start with a connection. Usually the characters all inhabit the same town or work environment. Even more important, they all appear on the same network and/or shoot on the same studio lot.
The character of Sam Drucker (played by the late Frank Cady), for example, was a one man crossover during the '60s. Besides his regular role on "Green Acres," the genial country store owner could be seen occasionally on two of CBS's other "rural" comedies, "Petticoat Junction" and "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Decades later, John Munch, the character played by Richard Belzer on "Law & Order," showed up on "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "The X-Files" before eventually migrating to "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
In the '80s, the staff of "St. Elsewhere" dropped into the bar on "Cheers." That made sense because the hospital and the bar were both set in Boston and both shows ran on NBC. The writers were also able to keep everybody in character. The result was a crossover to remember.
Less successful crossovers? Take your pick. The "Full House"/"Family Matters" pairing was forgettable. Few "Seinfeld" fans are mad about the "Mad About You" crossover. When the two main leads from "Bewitched," Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York, loaned their voices to an episode of "The Flintstones," well, how did that family get from the '60s to the Stone Age-and become even more of a cartoon couple?
All these things must have gone through "Murdoch Mysteries" showrunner Peter Mitchell's mind when he floated the idea of that rarest of crossovers-a Canadian crossover-to the folks behind "Republic of Doyle."
Allan Hawco, the star, executive producer and writer of "Doyle," says Mitchell is famous for getting to the point. "He only sends one word emails," says Hawco. The one word he sent to Hawco: "crossover."
At first, the "Doyle" star couldn't see how it could happen. Logistically, there were some hurdles. "Doyle" is based in St. John's, Nfld. "Murdoch," starring Yannick Bisson as the famous turn-of-the-century detective, is shot in Toronto.
Story-wise, the hurdle seemed even higher. How do you bridge a 112-year time difference?
What they had in common, however, was that both are basically cop shows. Mitchell's solution to the time difference was intriguing: It would be the great, great, great grandfather of Jake Doyle who visits Det. William Murdoch in 1901, and, later, young Bill Murdoch, the great, great, great grandson of the famed detective, who heads out to The Rock to aid Jake Doyle.
Hawco ran the idea past fellow writer/producer Perry Chafe and they worked out the production logistics.
The first part of the crossover, "Republic of Murdoch," airs Monday, Nov. 25.
"It's a total, full-on, '80s crossover," says Bisson, who joined Hawco and other CBC stars at a Winter Launch promotion Wednesday in Toronto.
Bisson plays the straight-arrow detective on the series. He points out that one of the "Murdoch" characters, Const. George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), is always talking about his Newfoundland roots. "Having Jonny on the show and a bunch of references and his accent, it was an easy way to go creatively," says Bisson.
The story has the detective and Crabtree off to Newfoundland after a dead body and a piece of parchment puts them on the trail of one Jacob Doyle. There they engage in the usual "Doyle" fisticuffs and fight scenes. There's a humorous moment when young Doyle urges Murdoch to join him on his getaway ride, which her refers to as his "GTO." This 1901 model, however, bears no resemblance to the cool blue '68 Pontiac Jake Doyle rides in modern day St. John's.
Bisson and Harris shot their scenes last summer in Newfoundland. The olden days scenes wound up being shot in a blazing heat wave, which made the heavy wool 19th century costumes worn by the cast all the more uncomfortable. Later, the modern scenes were shot in a freak storm. "It was sleeting sideways," recalls Bisson. "We were all in skimpy, contemporary clothes when they came down to do our show," says Hawco.
The second crossover episode, where Det. Murdoch's great-great-great grandson visits The Rock, will air early in the new year in the Wednesday "Doyle" time slot.
When it's suggested that this modern day Murdoch looks more like the more casually-dressed Bisson from those CIBC bank ads, the actor agrees that this "Bill Murdoch is a little bit more like me."
Now in its seventh season, "Murdoch Mysteries" has become CBC's biggest hit since its own crossover from City two seasons ago. Fans snapped up 500 tickets in 15 minutes on-line to a sold-out salute to the cast in Toronto earlier this month at the inaugural Canadian International Television Festival.