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For my final Loonie Politics column of 2023, I’m going to attempt to answer an age-old question for some people living in the Great White North. What is the most important TV series in Canadian history?

It’s a subjective question. Specific genres like sitcoms, drama series or animated programs could play a role. Subject matter such as sports, history and mystery/detective fiction could influence the decision of certain respondents. Production could be a criteria, including releases from major TV networks, independent studios, and Canadian companies with international participation and content.

The possibilities are endless.

Canada has produced some top-flight television. Comedy series like SCTVCorner GasLetterkenny and Kids in the Hall still resonate with audiences. Drama series like Slings & ArrowsDa Vinci’s InquestHeartland and Road to Avonlea had many regular fans, as did those who watched comedy-dramas like The BeachcombersRepublic of Doyle and Seeing Things. There’s also been some fine children’s programming, including Mr. DressupRazzle Dazzle and The Friendly Giant.

What’s my choice? Murdoch Mysteries.

I’ve had a near-annual tradition of writing about this popular show for North American publications. I believe it’s one of the finest TV shows ever produced in Canada. That’s a subjective opinion on my part. What if the discussion was shifted to suggest Murdoch Mysteries has evolved from one of Canada’s most successful TV series to the most important TV series (comedy or drama) in Canadian history? That’s a different topic in which objectivity would largely trump subjectivity.

Murdoch Mysteries is based on Maureen Jennings’s Detective William Murdoch stories, including Except the DyingUnder the Dragon’s Tail and Let Darkness Bury the Dead. Her fictional detective was inspired by John Wilson Murray, who became Ontario’s first government detective in 1875 and reportedly helped solve hundreds of crimes.

Murdoch was largely constructed with Jennings’s vision in mind. Born in late 19th century Eastern Canada, he came from a strict Roman Catholic family and held those traditions and values close to his heart in the then-predominantly Protestant city he lived in. Murdoch, who worked for the Toronto Constabulary at Station House No. 4, was a Polymath with a photographic memory. He used forensic skills and ingenious inventions to solve perplexing mysteries. His techniques of fingerprinting, blood testing, surveillance and trace evidence existed at that time but were rarely employed by most detectives.

The book series was originally developed into three made-for-TV movies for Bravo Canada in 2004, Murder 19C: The Detective Murdoch Mysteries. Shaftesbury Films then created a weekly, hour-long drama series which ran on Citytv between 2008-2012. It was unexpectedly dropped after the fifth season, and was quickly picked up by CBC – where it’s remained ever since.

Murdoch Mysteries has been watched by over 1.4 million viewers per episode starting in 2014, and has reportedly maintained this consistent audience. (The only CBC program with higher viewership is Hockey Night in Canada.) It’s been the number-one rated show on Alibi in the UK, and attracted about 3.5 million viewers per episode on France 3. It’s been carried in Greece, Australia, China, Finland, Brazil and U.S.-based networks Ovation and Acorn TV (which has released each season on DVD and Blu-ray). The episodes are witty, intriguing and thought-provoking. There’s plenty of good-natured humour, along with a few twists and turns until the guilty party has been revealed.

What makes it the most important TV series ever produced in Canada?

Murdoch Mysteries, like most mystery and detective fiction productions, is crafted to audiences who enjoy critical thinking, fact gathering, problem solving and thoughtful analysis. It’s become one of the most intellectually stimulating programs ever created for Canadian television, combining significant historical and educational components with several modern touches.

Several 19th century Toronto landmarks, including the Queen’s Hotel, Royal Alexandra Theatre and Eaton’s department store, have provided a sense of local history and flavour. There have been storylines involving the American Civil War, Klondike Gold Rush, European football, golf, pro wrestling – and more. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, magician Harry Houdini, actress Mary Pickford and inventor Nikola Tesla have made appearances, among others. Former Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier was also portrayed in the 2011 episode “Confederate Treasure.” He was joined by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a fan of the show who made a CBC-only cameo as a hapless police chief who didn’t recognize his national leader!

There have also been several well-placed winks to modern society that are a cross between artistic liberty and pure whimsy. Sly references have been made to dating services, the Internet, Silly Putty, Spam (“meat in a can”) and cellphones (“tiny portable telephone”). A fictional Toronto politician, Robert Graham, even swiped a line from a former U.S. President he would have never met, Donald Trump, when he said he wanted to “make the city great again.”

Murdoch Mysteries has helped expose more viewers to Canadian and world history. It’s subtly championed intellectual study within the guise of entertainment value. It’s also served as a springboard for those clamouring to know more about politics, science, local landmarks and the Victorian era.

It is, therefore, a unique example of a thinking man’s show.

Does this place Murdoch Mysteries on a higher plane than most previous Canadian comedy and drama series of a fictionalized nature? Yes. That’s why, in my estimation, it’s the most important TV series in our country’s long, rich history.

Objectively speaking, of course.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

It’s always a pleasure spending Christmas with my wife and son. We gaze at our tree, eat good food, read books, listen to music and watch DVDs.

I’ve viewed a cornucopia of Christmas-themed movies, animation, sports and documentaries in the past. In recent years, I’ve added another subject into the mix.

What is it?

Let me explain it this way. Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Dial M for Murder is a captivating tale about adultery, revenge, deception, mystery and a devious plan gone wrong. I’ve taken the imaginary rotary phone (of sorts) and instead Dial M for Mystery, be it Murdoch, Midsomer, Ms. Fisher and many more!

While I mostly read non-fiction, I’ve always enjoyed British-based mystery novels and detective fiction. Great authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown), P.D. James and Agatha Christie (Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot) sit on my shelves. John Mortimer’s brilliant Rumpole of the Bailey, which is primarily legal/courtroom drama but has subtle notes of mystery and detective fiction, is another favourite. There are also talented Canadian and U.S. writers that I enjoy, including Howard Engel (Benny Cooperman), Edgar Allan Poe (C. Auguste Dupin), P.D. James (Detective Adam Dalgliesh) and Charles Dickens (Bleak House).

And, of course, there is Maureen Jennings’ wonderful Detective Murdoch series.

The British-Canadian mystery writer has published eight novels about Detective William Murdoch. Her fictional 19th century protagonist grew up in Nova Scotia with a strict Roman Catholic upbringing. Murdoch works for the Toronto Constabulary at Station House No. 4. He’s depicted as a polymath with a photographic memory, and his forensic skills have helped solve many a mystery and murder in Toronto and elsewhere.

The real-life inspiration for Jennings’s books was John Wilson Murray. He was named the first Detective for the Government of Ontario in 1875, and solved hundreds of crimes before he passed away in 1906. He was later joined by two other detectives, which led to Murray becoming chief inspector and helping build the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Murray’s Memoirs of a Great Detective (1904) was turned into a popular CBC television series, The Great Detective, which ran from 1979-1982. Jennings’s stories took the country’s admiration for the great crime detective even further. Bravo Canada developed three 2004 made-for-TV movies, Murder 19C: The Detective Murdoch Mysteries. This led Shaftesbury Films to create Murdoch Mysteries, a weekly, hour-long drama that ran on Citytv between 2008-2012 – and, since its fifth season, on CBC.

I’ve written about Murdoch Mysteries for several publications, including Loonie Politics. This has been aided by screeners sent to me by the publicity department at RLJ Entertainment Inc./Acorn Media over the years.

Season 14 only contains 11 episodes. This is due to COVID-19 restrictions, which shut down many TV and movie sets for lengthy periods of time. Nevertheless, each episode is fascinating and intriguing to watch.

The first episode, “Murdoch and the Tramp,” was directed by lead actor Yannick Bisson and featured the late Charlie Chaplin. “The .38 Murdoch Special” was directed by Sharon Lewis, who I appeared with twice when she hosted CBC Newsworld’s counterSpin. The two-part episode, “Everything is Broken,” ended the season on a high note.

There was also a limited edition Halloween pop-up collectible in 2021. It contained the two Halloween episodes, “Sir. Sir? Sir!!!” (2018) and “Murdoch and the Cursed Caves” (2019), plus a three-minute bonus feature, The Murdoch After Show. Interestingly, Murdoch Mysteries had another Halloween episode in 2021 – and, for the first time in several years, a new Christmas episode. These two traditions will hopefully remain part of the franchise going forward.

Another great RLJ/Acorn release is the long-running British crime drama Midsomer Murders. Based on the Chief Inspector Barnaby book series written by Caroline Graham, the TV show started in 1997. It’s currently in Series 22 with a total of 129 episodes, and is broadcast in more than 200 countries internationally.

The limited edition set Midsomer Murders: John Barnaby’s Top Ten is a superb collection of the show’s stand-out episodes, including “Death in the Slow Lane,” “A Sacred Trust” and “The Killings of Copenhagen.” Barnaby, played by Neil Dudgeon, is a highly intelligent, whimsical and affable detective who solves an endless parade of murders in the fictional county of Midsomer. It’s been a fascinating series over the decades, and hasn’t lost an ounce of steam.

Finally, there is Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, based on the Phyrne Fisher book series written by Kerry Greenwood. It’s a spin-off of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which took place in Melbourne in the 1920s. The new series moves the characters forty years into the future. The main protagonist is Peregrine Fisher, daughter of Phryne’s half-sister Annabelle, who inherits her aunt’s fortune when she goes missing in New Guinea. It’s run for two seasons on Acorn TV, and is just as enjoyable as the original show.

I still have a few more DVDs to “dial,” so to speak, before I’ve fully caught up. I plan to enjoy each and every moment. Happy New Year, everyone – and speak to you in 2022!

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.