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Prime Minister ready for his small screen close-up

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits cast members at TV series Murdoch Mysteries on set in Toronto on Oct. 14, 2010.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Stephen Harper is trading the Punch and Judy show of Canadian politics for a Victorian-era crime drama - at least for 90 seconds - making a cameo appearance as a cop on a TV series beloved by his daughter.

Mr. Harper spent Friday afternoon filming a bit part for a fourth-season episode of Murdoch Mysteries, a Canadian TV whodunit set in 1890s Toronto that has a growing international following.

The performance wasn't likely a stretch for Canada's self-styled law and order prime minister.

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But it was undoubtedly a welcome respite from a difficult week. Mr. Harper's government suffered a historic loss in Canada's campaign for a United Nations Security Council seat, racked up a bigger-than expected budget deficit and saw its defence minister barred from an Arab ally's airspace.

Shaftesbury, the show's production company, was tight-lipped about Mr. Harper's part, saying only that it contains references to hockey - a favourite subject for the Prime Minister. His scene will likely run between one minute and 90 seconds long, depending on editing.

Sources said Mr. Harper plays a desk sergeant named Armstrong in the episode filmed Friday.

The Prime Minister's Office said Mr. Harper and his daughter Rachel are big fans of the show, which has been described a Victorian-era version of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

The series revolves around Detective William Murdoch, who relies on cutting-edge forensic science to solve murders in late 19th-century Toronto.

It's not the Prime Minister's first appearance on the small screen. Among other things, he's appeared on CTV's Corner Gas.

Shaftesbury Films chair and CEO Christina Jennings said Mr. Harper was especially committed to his part, even drawing on his hockey history knowledge to offer pointers to the show's writers.

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"There were a couple of notes that came back to us," Ms. Jennings said. "He was pointing out a couple of little bits of historical accuracy."

The show had to get permission from the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) for Mr. Harper to play the role. He's not a member of the performers' union.

The show, which airs on City TV in Canada, has drawn enormous international viewership. It's licensed in more than 100 countries and territories and has become the No. 1 hit show for U.K. broadcaster Alibi. It also runs on prime-time TV in France and backers have closed a deal to sell 52 episodes to China.

Mr. Harper's appearance offers a major publicity boost for Murdoch Mysteries, which is based on a series of books by Canadian author Maureen Jennings.

The crime procedural's producers describes the one-hour series as a show where a detective uses "unusual techniques for the time - including fingerprinting, human-blood testing, surveillance and trace evidence - to solve some of the city's most gruesome murders."

Detective Murdoch's "unconventional approach elicits skepticism from his boss, Inspector Brackenreid."

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In the end, though, Murdoch "is often the only one who can crack the case."

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