With 'Law & Order Toronto,' the pressure looming over the show's creators is immense

'Law & Order Toronto'

Nobody wants to be the person who mucked up the "Law & Order" franchise.

It’s a fear that’s haunted veteran procedural writer Tassie Cameron since she embarked on the most daunting responsibility of her career: turning Dick Wolf’s beloved legal drama into the new spinoff "Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent."

Despite years of experience writing on "Rookie Blue," "Pretty Hard Cases" and "Mary Kills People," she quivers at her latest responsibility as the one holding the reins for a major event in Canadian television.

"I think we all feel a tremendous amount of pressure not to let down Toronto (or) Canada – it’s horrifying," the showrunner said ahead of the broadcast premiere Thursday on Citytv.

"People have such embedded expectations about the show because almost everybody's watched it and has feelings.

"You don't want to disappoint the franchise holders in the States, but you don't want to disappoint your country. And it starts to feel big like that. I know that sounds ridiculous."

Sitting alongside fellow executive producer Erin Haskett at their production office, the pair are discussing how far they've come in only a few months.

It's December of last year and the Canadian "Law & Order" has one shooting day left in its whirlwind season, which came together on tight timelines as dual Hollywood writer and actor strikes halted many U.S. films and TV series.

"The show got greenlit the first week of June, with one script," Haskett said.

"Then it was like, oh my God, we need nine more," added Cameron.

"So I was calling writers (asking,) 'Is anybody available tomorrow to sit in a room with me for two weeks to start writing this thing?"

A short time later, 10 episodes were in front of the cameras.

Each one pulls inspiration from real Toronto crime headlines and reimagines them as fictional investigations led by detectives Henry Graff and Frankie Bateman, played by Aden Young and Kathleen Munroe.

The first episode revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a cryptocurrency investor. Other storylines this season involve leaders at Toronto's city hall, a car-theft ring, retail price fixing, and crimes in fine art and hockey circles, a publicist for the series confirmed.

Many "Law & Order" hallmarks are here, from the famous dun-dun sound and its accompanying title cards to familiar visual cues, such as tracking shots of the detectives wandering around Toronto while intensely discussing the crimes.

These pieces fell into place without resources the Canadian creators would've been able to tap into any other year. Since the strikes had shut down production of the U.S. versions of the show, their access was more limited than usual.

"Normally ... we would have gone to New York and walked through their sets, met their team and spent time with the writers," Haskett said.

"But we didn't get to do that because we were really respectful of the labour situation."

In the rehearsals, the all-Canadian lead actors discussed how to bring the conventions of the series to life, while still keeping their performances "fresh," Munroe said of playing detective Bateman.

For instance, when the characters she and Young play were engaged in conversation, both of them couldn't have their arms crossed in the same moment.

Instead, they'd negotiate who would get to hold that pose — one of the tropes of the series — and who would slip their hands in their pockets. They'd throw in someone writing in a notebook, clicking a pen or adjusting their jacket to spice it up.

"There's only a certain number of ways these detectives can do things in this world," said the actress, who previously had small roles in other spinoffs of the series.

"Many times while rehearsing, (one of the actors) would try something — as we should always be doing — and then we'd go, 'OK, it's great, but is it 'Law & Order'?"

All of these intricacies were ironed out on a tight timeline, Young said, with the cast spending about eight days in rehearsals as they found their performances.

"I always saw my character as an ex-smoker," said the actor, who garnered acclaim for playing a wrongfully convicted murderer on the TV series "Rectify."

"So I just walked around smoking an invisible cigarette all the time. To me, that was where I found his body language."

Karen Robinson, who plays Insp. Vivienne Holness, credits the diversity of Toronto's neighbourhoods and its citizens as giving a unique flavour to the homegrown spinoff. The actress previously starred as town councillor Ronnie Lee on "Schitt's Creek."

"It's the world in a city," she said. "There are all kinds of accents here, including my own, and I love that."

"We're being very true to our system and not just trying to be a carbon copy, but carrying on the incredible genius of what Dick Wolf created while making it something that is all our own."

"Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent" is a co-production of Cameron Pictures and Lark Productions, in partnership with Rogers.

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