My capital day with Murdoch and Stephen Harper

There are times when I shake my head and say to myself, “I love my job.”
Wednesday was one of those times. It all started after I was invited to Ottawa to watch the folks behind Murdoch Mysteries shoot a few scenes in front of the Parliament Buildings. Next thing I know, I’m being ushered into the Centre Block to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper, some readers may recall, guested on the historical drama during the fourth season. His cameo brought tons of press and publicity and the series drew a record 700,000 viewers that August night on City.
Between scenes on that production, Harper turned to Shaftesbury CEO Christina Jennings and pitched her an idea for an episode. I know! Harper’s idea: have the resourceful detective investigate the murder of a member of the Toronto Wellingtons, a turn-of-the-19th-century hockey team. Harper is in the last weeks of finishing a book on hockey’s early days in Canada. (I know again! Shouldn’t he be busy slashing budgets and invading Iran? On second thought, keep writing about hockey!)

Savvy Jennings turned the idea over to wordsmith Peter Mitchell, and the showrunner spun it into a storyline. The episode, “Murdoch Night in Canada,” will be the second last episode of the fifth season (airing next summer on City).
The two Ottawa scenes were efficiently shot with director Gail Harvey at the helm. Getting the second shot in front of the landmark Centre Block was challenging. In a week, Christmas lights and decorations will be strung everywhere. New temporary mesh fences (security was bracing for a possible “Occupy Ottawa” protest) were also wrecking the shot. Harvey found a seam and the cast and crew, including several extras in period garb, jumped through it.
The folks behind the series let the PMO know ahead of time that they were going to be out in front of Parliament in the snow shooting these scenes. An invitation to come inside and meet the PM was made. Somehow, TV boy and his trusty laptop got pulled into this private audience.

Mitchell, Bisson, Jennings and Harvey

We were led down into the security entrance under the Peace Tower. There everybody shed their coats, belts and laptops just like at the airport. Reassembled, we were then led upstairs to the PM`s corner office.
Yannick Bisson, still in costume from the afternoon shoot, was first in line, along with his charming wife Chantal. These kids have been together 23 years and have three grown daughters. Jennings was also in the room as was Mitchell and Shaftesbury PR boss Katie Wolfgang.
The PM, who looks taller and thinner in person, was gracious and friendly. He’s obviously a true fan of the series and very into the era in which it is set. He pointed out that shooting in front of the Parliament buildings was problematic as the original structure was largely destroyed in a 1916 fire and the new Peace Tower and other features were designed by a different architect. Go around and use the original, circular-shaped library as a background, he suggested, it dates back to the Murdoch era. Too late.
Jennings broke the news that the series, recently rescued from an eventual cancellation on City, will migrate to CBC in 2012 for a Sixth Season. Harper took  the news in and wryly mused, “I’ll watch it anyway.”
Another tease I left out of my Canadian Press report followed. The PMO was told there would be a working press dude in on the scrum but this was a friendly visit, not a press conference, and I really don’t want my taxes audited.
I didn’t get to compare notes with Harper on being an extra on this series. He at least got a speaking part. I played background extra “Miner No. 7” in an episode shot in The Yukon last August. Apparently it was a part Harper really wanted.
I did ask the Prime Minister what else he watched on  television. He singled out Coronation Street, and then made one of those faces that says, “Yeah, I know.” He also gave that standard answer that he only watches American News shows. There were no shout outs to the Sun News Network.
His kids, he says, enjoy the occasional reality show, but that’s not his thing.
Bisson and Jennings presented him with a few gifts: a too-small T-shirt (for his daughter, he said) and a signed copy of the script.
Anyone else they would have asked to sign a release for the story idea. Harper could claim his intellectual property has been snatched. There better be an on-screen credit I’m thinking.
Soon he’ll want his union card. Where will this end? Will Harper be sending story ideas to Little Mosque? Republic of Doyle? Coach’s Corner?

Extras in period attire helped add colour to the location  shoot

He was also given a Murdoch pocket watch and seemed to genuinely appreciate it. “Something not a lot of people know about me is that I’m allergic to certain metals,” he said, hiking up his shirt cuff  by way of explaining he seldom wears a wrist watch. “This is something I can use.”
He then cheerfully offered to stand for photo ops with everyone in the room. You bet I darted in there, although damned it I didn’t have my car keys with me for one of those “look who’s just won a car?” photo ops. Soon as I get it, straight to Facebook.
Not that posting it there will be that unique. Harper says he poses for 15,000 to 20,000 of these shots a year. He’s like Prime Minister Santa Claus!
His corner office was richly paneled with honey-coloured oak but pretty sparse otherwise, probably more of a meet-and-greet room. He has another working office in a building opposite the Centre Block. A large portrait of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, hangs on the wall opposite his desk. There are some nice colour shots of his family on the wall. A Beatles mug was there on the desk.
On the way out, as you descend the stairs, there are two large portraits of Canada’s lesser-known prime ministers, bum-patter John Turner and Bill Maher pundit Kim Campbell. They look out of place, like the White House hanging paintings of those two party-crashers who snuck in a few years ago.
Afterwards we all piled into a van and made a bee-line for the airport. We all made with the “can you believe what just happened?” remarks. The Murdoch gang is the best.
So is Canada. I know it is U.S. Thanksgiving, but you have to be thankful for living in a country where you can go see your leader at work.

One Response to “My capital day with Murdoch and Stephen Harper”

Leave a Reply