Television

Ready for its close-up

With the new series Tom Stone, Calgary finally gets to play itself

BRIAN BERGMAN February 25 2002
Television

Ready for its close-up

With the new series Tom Stone, Calgary finally gets to play itself

BRIAN BERGMAN February 25 2002

Ready for its close-up

Television

With the new series Tom Stone, Calgary finally gets to play itself

BRIAN BERGMAN

In the opening episode of Tom Stone, RCMP Cpl. Marina Di Luzio learns over dinner at a posh Toronto restaurant that she is being reassigned to Calgary. “You know,” she sniffs in response, “they don’t have anything to eat in Calgary that doesn’t have hooves.” That scene in the Feb. 25 debut neatly foreshadows what happens over the 13-episode span of the CBC-TV series’ first season as Marina (Janet Kidder) heads off to what she considers the untamed West. There, she reluctantly teams up with the title character, Tom Stone (Chris William Martin), an excop, ex-cowboy and ex-con whom Marina recruits out of jail to be part of a covert commercial crime unit. While the fishout-of-water premise underlying Kidder’s role is nothing new to network television,

the setting is unique. Tom Stone is the first prime-time Canadian series to be firmly and unapologetically rooted in Calgary, a city that is clearly ready for its close-up.

What is also unusual about Tom Stone is its lighthearted tone. Canadian shows tend to come in two very distinct forms— earnest one-hour dramas or outrageous half-hour sketch comedies. The hourlong Tom Stone, on the other hand, is modelled very much on the “dramedy” format perfected decades ago by such American shows as Magnum PI and The Rockford Files. “I wanted to create a show that had the feeling of the sort of the TV series I used to watch,” says Tom Stone's 46year-old creator and executive producer, Andrew Wreggitt. “You’ve got a hero whose innate goodness you trust, but who is also a bit unreliable and larcenous— someone you can have fun with as a char-

acter. And I couldn’t think of a better setting for that kind of show than the boomand-bust world of Calgary.”

For Wreggitt and fellow producers Tom Cox, Doug MacLeod and Jordy Randall— all long-time Albertans—Tom Stone is, in fact, a labour of love. They are veterans of the hugely popular North of 60 series, which was set in the fictional town of Lynx River, N.W.T., and shot in Bragg Creek, 40 km west of Calgary. After that show’s sixth and final season in 1998 (North of 60 made-for-TV movies continue to be shot periodically), the four producers began looking for something to keep them gainfully employed in their own backyard. They had long toyed with doing a series set in Calgary and the nearby ranch country as a chance to expose Canadians to both the cowboy and cosmopolitan aspects of their home city.

Torn Stone promises to be just the ticket. The lead character grew up on a ranch but went on to become a member of the Calgary police vice squad. A bit of a rogue, he ends up in jail after becoming implicated in a financial scam. The RCMP’s desire to tap his undercover skills secures his early release, but Tom is broke and reduced to living in a ratty trailer parked on a ranch west of Calgary owned by a hard-drinking former exotic dancer.

If Tom is a shiftless western charmer, Marina is his polar opposite: diligent, ambitious and wary of life beyond the comfortable confines of downtown Toronto. After arriving in Calgary, she finds a funky apartment loft, only to be kept up nights by the sound of coyotes roaming the ravine beneath her window. “Its a foretaste,” says Wreggitt, “of how the environment of Alberta is going to affect her character. She is coming out here and discovering this world, which the audience discovers as well through her eyes.”

The premise of the show—a commercial crime team dedicated to rooting out corporate and political corruption—allows for a wide range of story lines. In some episodes, Tom and Marina are prowling the office towers and private clubs of downtown Calgary in pursuit of whitecollar miscreants. Other instalments are set against the spectacular backdrop of the Rocky Mountain foothills just west of Calgary—including one in which former Beverly Hills 90210 heartthrob and Vancouver native Jason Priestley stars as a young man down on his luck who turns to horse rusding to try to cover his debts.

The series also features archetypical Calgary characters, such as Toms friend Jack Welsh, a Scotch-swilling entrepreneur who has won and lost millions on wildeyed business deals, many of them ethically challenged, to say the least. In a sly nod to The Rockford Files, the producers convinced actor-director Stuart Margolin, who won an Emmy for playing a similarly shady sidekick, Angel, in the 1970s series, to take on the recurring role of Jack. During a recent break in shooting, Margolin told Macleans that he saw similarities between the two TV shows—and between Calgary and Dallas, where he spent much of his youth. “There’s the oil, the cattle, the independent attitudes,” said Margolin, who also directed four Tom Stone episodes. “The oilmen I grew up with had no safety

CALGARY INCOGNITO

Tom Stone is unusual in that it is both shot and set in Calgary and the nearby countryside of southern Alberta. Traditionally, the region has masqueraded as various U.S. locales in films and television series. Some examples-.

Unforgiven (1992). Clint Eastwood’s bleak vision of Kansas circa 1880 was actually filmed in and around Calgary and several smaller southern Alberta communities.

nets; they husded people and were really flamboyant characters. Calgary feels very familiar to me.”

Ultimately, both Margolin and the producers of Tom Stone realize the show’s success depends on how audiences react to the two young and relatively unknown lead actors. Judging by early episodes, the boyishly handsome Martin and the striking Kidder have a winning chemistry. Offscreen, both are excited by the opportunities at hand. Vancouver-based Martin, 27, who recently completed a recurring role (as Greg Stenson) on Felicity, is struggling to adjust to Calgary’s frequently bitter winter—the local assurance that it’s a “dry cold” does nothing for him. Otherwise, he’s having a blast. “The character of Tom Stone is just so much fun,” says Martin. “He’s conning everyone all the time. It’s always an act with this guy.” Toronto-based Kidder, 30, sees some strong parallels between her character’s situation and her own. Prior to Tom Stone, she’d been to Calgary only once—at the age of five, while visiting her aunt, Margot Kidder, on the set of Superman, which

Legends of the Fall (1994). Brad Pitt looks mighty fine set against the backdrop of what’s supposed to be rural Montana but is, in fact, Calgary and nearby Morley, Alta.

Honey, I Shrunk The Kids: The TV Show (19972000). Shot in Calgary, It’s about a fictional American inventor and his family.

Snow Day (2000). This Chevy Chase vehicle is set in upstate New York. B.B.

was partly shot in Alberta. “I think both Marina and I have been pleasantly surprised by what Calgary has to offer,” she says. “I think both of us thought we would not like it here.” Among other things, Kidder has been struck by the beauty of the Rockies, Alberta’s big skies and Calgary’s urban diversity. She is also delighted by one of her character’s quirks: Marina is a nationally ranked amateur boxer who, when the occasion calls for it, can kick serious butt. “It’s not very often,” says Kidder, “you get to play a woman who is accomplished at what she does and is also physically strong.”

With any luck, Kidder and Martin will be enjoying their roles for some time. Even before the first episode aired, the CBC renewed the series for a second season—a clear vote of confidence from the network bosses on what they’ve seen so far. Tom Stones creator is equally assured Calgary can provide fodder for countless story lines. “We have a ton of research on wacky business stories we could do,” says Wreggitt. “You get the sense that anything could happen here.” 03