VANCOUVER - Viewers may think they've seen it all when it comes to crime dramas on TV. A new Canadian series, however, provides one of the biggest shocks of all — giving away the identity of both the victim and the killer in the first few minutes.
The series is "Motive," a Vancouver-based cop show starring Kristin Lehman as Det. Angie Flynn and Louis Ferreira as Det. Oscar Vega. CTV premieres it in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot this Sunday at approximately 10 p.m. before moving it to its regular time slot Feb. 10.
Billed more as a "how-dunit" or a "why-dunit" than the usual "whodunit," each episode will reveal who committed the crime right upfront. The hook is watching the investigators piece together clues to see if they can figure out what the audience already knows.
The inverted detective storytelling device isn't exactly new. In fact, one of the greatest TV detectives of all time, Peter Falk as Columbo in the show of the same name, made it work once a month in the '70s.
"The game for the viewer," says "Motive" executive producer Rob LaBelle, "is how do these two people, from disparate backgrounds, come together and what causes one to kill the other?"
You almost have to be a detective to track down the original motive for this series. An initial pilot script was pitched more than seven years ago by executive producer/creator Daniel Cerone ("Dexter," "The Mentalist"). A series was put in development at CBS, home of many cop shows, yet missed the cut for their 2006-07 season.
LaBelle, as well as James Thorpe, who has written and produced several Canadian dramas, were brought in as executive producers and the show was pitched in Canada. Other producers became attached, including former CTV executive Louise Clark.
CTV ordered a second script but then went through their own executive shuffle — usually the kiss of death for a series in development. The new Bell regime, however, looking for a Canadian tent-pole drama to replace "Flashpoint," stuck with the series. A full season of 13 episodes went into production in Vancouver last fall.
To complete the circle, ABC announced Wednesday that they were picking up the series for a summer run.
The producers were now motivated to find the right actors. Auditions took place in New York, L.A. and Toronto. An all-Canadian cast was assembled, including Lauren Holly ("Picket Fences," "NCIS"), American-born but now married to a Canadian and living in Toronto. She plays the crime drama's sexy morgue MD.
Roger Cross, a busy Vancouver actor, jumps between this show, "Arrow" and "Continuum." He plays stern squad boss Boyd Bloom. Brendan Penny plays eager beaver rookie detective Brian Lucas.
The face of the series, however, is Lehman. All along, creator Cerone saw her character as his Columbo. The former dancer was born in Toronto but grew up in Vancouver and was coming off her biggest U.S. series break, "The Killing." At 40, she suddenly found herself in demand for other American television roles.
Her personal motive, however, was to choose a job that would keep her in Canada and, specifically, Vancouver, close to her husband and their four-year-old son. She finds "Motive" is a Canadian actor's "dream come true" and pinches herself every time she drives the 10 minutes it takes to get to work.
"I get to work on a show Canadians are going to get to see and it's largely driven by this amazing female character and I get to play her," she says between takes on the set. "How lucky is that?"
Lehman's Det. Flynn is "the scrappy blue-collar girl," says veteran director Sturla Gunnarsson, who feels there is a "Moonlighting" vibe between Flynn and Ferreira's calm, collected, more spiritually grounded Vega.
Ferreira had his own motives for joining this series. The veteran Canadian actor has worked steadily on both sides of the border for years on everything from "Touch" and "24" to "Durham County" and "SGU Stargate Universe." His career took a hit, however, when he abandoned his longtime stage name, Justin Louis, and switched back to his actual given name.
It was a decision to honour his Portuguese heritage after the death of his mother, one he says he "had to make," even though his agent and manager saw it as career suicide. After not working for a year and a half, he was beginning to think they might be right.
When the opportunity arose to audition for "Motive," Ferreira jumped at the chance to return to Vancouver, where his teenage son had recently relocated. Split from his girlfriend of 5 1/2 years and lonely in L.A., Ferreira says he was only too happy to trade his empty American nest for the condo he now shares with his son.
Not that getting the part was a slam dunk. "I was released and they auditioned a bunch of other guys," says Ferreira. "I think they wanted somebody a little more 'TV handsome.'"
The producers looked but, in the end, came back to Ferreira. Gunnarsson, for one, says there could not be a better choice. "I think this show really won the casting sweepstakes," he says. "Kirstin and Louis are substantial, three-dimensional actors, and they clicked from the very start."
But then again, sometimes you have to know the ending first to figure out the motive.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist. While in Vancouver he was a guest of CTV.