When the new one-hour drama Whistler airs later this month, creator Kelly Senecal will be pleased to see 80 per cent of his vision on the screen. In the real world 80 per cent is a mid-range "B", but in the world of Canadian TV, it’s an "A+."
This is particularly impressive in a medium known for its often-exasperating lunacy. For example, Whistler is just the latest in a long list of Canadian shows where the word "toque" proved problematic for non-Canadian co-production partners. But Senecal doesn’t get hung up on the small things.
"It’s always a mix, there’s the ideal in your head and the reality of what ended up on screen," says the Vancouver-based creator.
On Sunday, June 25, audiences across Canada will get a chance to see a good chunk of what’s been rolling around in Senecal’s head since he took on the project more than two years ago.
"Another company had pitched a Whistler show to CTV, gotten some development money and it stalled in development. It was basically about five boarders sharing a cabin and it was more of a half-hour show. CTV still had money in the development budget so they decided to switch gears and approach a writer/producer and I ended up being the one they went with."
"At that point there wasn’t even a title, just the idea of a show set in Whistler and some development money and a network that was excited to do something in Whistler."
Senecal was determined to create fully realized characters and not just stereotypes. He also wanted to make the type of edgy TV that maverick network HBO produces.
"The only character who’s a snowboarder on the show and he’s dead," he quips, referring to the murder mystery that is the spine of the series arc.
The murder of an Olympic champion local golden boy combined with the series’ strong musical soundtrack made producer Janet York, who runs the film and TV music department for Sam Feldman and Associates, describe the show as " The O.C . meets Twin Peaks ."
Senecal laughs a little when he hears the creative shorthand version of his show’s content, but concedes that Whistler is no single genre show.
"It’s a hybrid, it’s a mix of shows. There’s one part that is sort of melodrama, night time soap opera, then there’s another part that’s genuine family drama, like where they deal with the death of a family member, and then there’s the mystery element."
Up until the last couple of years, most non-news television in Canada, from preschool programming to reality TV has been producer-driven. This model meant that often people who weren’t particularly creative were developing shows designed to satisfy demographics. CTV, the network currently airs 17 of the top shows in Canada, began to change that moving towards the US model of making creator-driven projects. The success of Brent Butt’s Corner Gas and Susin Nielsen’s Robson Arms is proof that this method of making TV works.