When we sit in front of our TV to watch our favourite series, we rarely think about how much work it took to bring it to the screen. Production itself is a gigantic undertaking — but even before the cameras can roll, teams must navigate the bureaucracy involved in creating and distributing a TV show. Because of that complexity, most ideas never leave the development stage. Like many other shows before, the Canadian drama television series Coroner could have died several times during the process. Michael Prupas, founder, president and CEO of Muse Entertainment, tells us what happened.
Artists creating impressive props for the show - Photo : Steve Wilkie
The TV series Coroner is based on the book series by British author Matthew R. Hall. It tells the story of recently widowed coroner Dr. Jenny Cooper, who investigates suspicious deaths. Michael Prupas, with executive producer Jonas Prupas and their partners at Back Alley Film Productions, Adrienne Mitchell and Janis Lundman, saw great potential in this story: “It was an incredibly strong book, which we felt was a page turner and one that kept you on the edge of your seat… Of course, we ended up adapting it for the Canadian public. We changed quite a bit the way the story was presented.” Therefore, in 2014, the book was jointly optioned by Muse and Back Alley. The producers attracted well-respected television writer Morwyn Brebner and the team went into development for the show with CTV (Bell Media). At one point, the team also had a subsidiary from Groupe TF1 as a co-producer.
So far, business as usual. But it’s rarely a walk in the park when it comes to big productions. By some unexpected turn of events, both CTV and TF1 had to back away. This could have meant a sudden death for Coroner. But in front of this challenge, people at Muse and Back Alley rolled up their sleeves to figure out a way to replace the previously committed financing, only a month away from shooting.
Serinda Swan as Dr. Jenny Cooper - Photo : Steve Wilkie
Michael Prupas, executive consultant on the show, together with Jonas Prupas, Adrienne Mitchell and Janis Lundman, were in charge of putting together all the pieces of the puzzle — rights, casting, finances, etc. A former lawyer and veteran of the entertainment industry, he focuses on a certain angle of the business: “In any production, it is always a big task to get the scripts right, to get the stories well told, and to get it cast properly. But for me, financing was the biggest challenge.” Indeed, up until May 2018, TF1 was committed to distribute Coroner internationally and was an active supporter of the show. But in compliance with governmental guidelines, producers needed to cast a Canadian actress in the lead role. Over this, and above all the usual requirements (availability, age, a certain look, credibility), TF1 additionally required an actress who had previously appeared in a primetime television series on TF1. Very few actresses fit that category. The team ended up going with Serinda Swan as the lead but she did not fit TF1’s requirements. This situation created an issue in the financing of the show.
The Muse team, with executive consultant Janis Lundman and director Adrienne Mitchell, did everything they could to prevent the demise of the project. Fortunately, they got the support of Cineflix who agreed to take over international distribution. The show was still alive. But Back Alley and Muse had to invest a lot of their own money in order to make the show happen. They also had to find another network; Coroner started at CTV and ended up at CBC, who normally does not take other networks’ shows.
Scary work! Serinda Swan is having fun on the set - Photo : Steve Wilkie
Finally, after years of preparation, hard work paid off. Coroner premiered on CBC on January 7, 2019. Amongst the top Canadian programs, it attracted more than 1 million viewers per episode throughout the first season. When asked why the show has such a great response, Prupas gives all the credit to the actors and the writers: “I think because Serinda is very successful at conveying her character. She expresses the insecurities that many people feel, and yet she struggles to do the right thing, all the time. Always fighting for justice, if you will, even if she, herself, is insecure and vulnerable. And it helps that she has a certain love interest in Liam Bouchard, played by Éric Bruneau.”
And this great response crosses borders: “We were able to take a show that was set in the present time, in Toronto — a Canadian city — and attract an audience both in Canada and across the ocean. An audience that was not only larger, but stronger, and younger than the networks usually get, by a substantial amount.” Indeed, Coroner is also broadcast in the UK, France and Spain. It sets the record as the highest ranked show in the history of Universal Television in the UK.
Actors Serinda Swan and Éric Bruneau - Photo : Steve Wilkie
One of the things that Prupas is very proud of is the show’s success in Quebec: “It is broadcast not only on CBC but also on Addik TV, and it did incredible numbers for them. It’s the first time that an English Canadian show, dubbed into French, did that well in Quebec. Being born and bred in Montreal, I know from personal experience that there have been two solitudes in this province. So if we can have a program that can have success with both English and French Canada, it’s remarkable for me. I am very proud to be Canadian and I agree with the values that Canada has tried to promote; a desire to create an open country that respects differences and human rights, and accommodates the differences between cultures and languages.”
In a way, Michael Prupas has hopes to bring people together, one episode at a time. Not only in his country, but also south of the border: “Cineflix had some very positive reactions in the United States but the process will take some time. The fact that the show takes place in a Canadian city can be a negative thing to the eye of the Americans. But we believe that Toronto is as a modern of a city as any city in the United States. The stories that we tell are universal in their appeal and there has been interest from American buyers.”
Michael Prupas, founder, president and CEO of Muse Entertainment
Even if Coroner’s success has only just begun and the future looks pretty bright, Prupas does not take anything for granted: “It’s a very competitive business. We take things one year at a time. There are many components to our business and it’s always a challenge. We certainly try to do our best to succeed where we can. We are very proud of the work we’ve done.” And they have every reason to be.