Chris Haddock's new TV series is about spies, but he is keeping other aspects of what he's working on top secret. However, the creator of such acclaimed Vancouver-set shows as Da Vinci's Inquest and Intelligence will declassify one point: He is excited to be back in command of a TV show.
Eight years after CBC cancelled Intelligence, the crime drama that is his most recent series, Mr. Haddock is working toward the October debut of The Romeo Section. Although Mr. Haddock, the show's creator, executive producer, writer and director, is keeping his secrets about The Romeo Section's premise, promotional material from the CBC describes it as a "contemporary espionage thriller" about a veteran agent who sets out to recruit a high-value informant.
Mr. Haddock made his mark with Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall – sly, slick, sophisticated shows about a crusading coroner played by Nicholas Campbell who eventually became Vancouver's mayor. The two series aired from the late 1990s to 2006. Since Intelligence, Mr. Haddock has worked as a writer and producer on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
The Romeo Section seems to have come out of the blue. How long has it been in development?
We've been talking about it for a few months. It's out of the blue to other people, but it hasn't been to me. I've been really cagey about this. My friends have been giving me grief because I didn't tell anybody what was going on. It's not a matter of wanting to jinx stuff or being superstitious so much as, to me, it's all about the idea and where I am with the idea. You don't want interference. You want to keep it steady so the bubble doesn't pop. And find out what its tensile strength is as you develop the idea. I am going to continue to be cagey because that's just my feeling about this particular show and the subject matter, quite frankly, demands it.
How is your relationship with the CBC? Some have suggested things came to an acrimonious end with Intelligence.
When Intelligence was cancelled, I squawked about it and moved immediately on. It wasn't something that I had time or interest in lamenting. I said my piece. I am thrilled to be back.
Some people have pointed to the cancellation of the feminist westernStrange Empire to suggest the CBC may be cautious with its programming. Will you have an opportunity to take The Romeo Section wherever you want to take it artistically – even if it's off the mainstream and conventional approach?
Absolutely. That's the reason I am very comfortable working within the CBC and with [general manager for CBC Television programming] Sally Catto, whom I am on board with and reporting to. The CBC has provided a home for all kinds of things.
Nobody wants to greenlight a show they think is not going to be exciting to watch. I think there is tremendous freedom in coming back to the CBC. They have put on all kinds of challenging stuff.
Will we see any of the on-air talent from Intelligence and Da Vinci in The Romeo Section?
I really cannot say or make any kind of truthful statement there because it really is in the beginning stages, and while I have characters to match up with the proper actor and actress, we're at that stage of very, very early days. Everything I have done with Da Vinci and Intelligence, I tried to cast and crew out of Vancouver. I always set out with that intention. The talent is here. Sometimes, you have to dig it and really go searching for it. Inevitably, there will be people that we've seen before and probably, inevitably, from the previous repertory company that ran through Da Vinci and Intelligence.
What can you say about what The Romeo Section is about?
I am trying to be very cagey about it all and protect the idea somewhat. Keeping the information about the story you're about to tell secret is vital. We see it so much now where everything is blogged about, behind the scenes things. Everybody is talking about the idea and the character before it even airs. I understand the strategy behind that, to get everybody excited to come to the circus. But I think a lot of people like myself, [say:] "I've heard about the circus so much that by the time it comes to town, I don't really want to go."
The history of spy TV series includes I Spy, Alias, The Americans and Covert Affairs and even CBC's X Company. What shows in this realm have you liked?
I've always been a bigger fan, in a funny kind of way, of British treatment of the intelligence subject than I have of generally the American approach. It probably reflects just the general bombast of American television – everybody seems to run around the world and it's big, loud and noisy. I prefer the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy – some of the John LeCarre stuff that seems to be a little closer to what I imagine the reality of things to be. One thing I am attracted to in the British stuff is the breadth of character actors, how much of this kind of stuff they leave up to the character to express. It just seems to be a more rounded kind of approach to the whole subject of espionage, betrayal and treason.
How has television changed since Intelligence went off the air in 2008?
There are more hours and outlets. It's hard enough getting attention at any time and was easier when Da Vinci was launched and Intelligence was launched. You had a little bit better shot at grabbing a little attention because there weren't so many shows and outlets being promoted and all that noise that is out there. But the function I am focused on is telling a great story and luring people in. My job is getting them engaged when the television is turned on, and riveted by the story.
Failure is especially visible in ratings-driven TV. Do you worry about that?
No. The worst thing that can happen with a failure, really, is you can learn something. That's just always been my philosophy. Things combine to help the show get an audience or not. Of course, you want numbers to be there. You get anxious if you feel the numbers aren't there if you're not getting the network publicity, and people aren't seeing all the good work that people are doing on your show. But we're all getting the opportunity to do it. That's life that people in this business embrace whether they tire of it or get bruised and battered.
This interview has been edited and condensed.