Michael Cram (aka Kevin “Wordy” Wordsworth) has left Flashpoint and its fanbase is all atwitter about it. It is the culmination of a narrative set in motion at the end of the third season. The path has been deliberate.
When Wordy left the team at the end of “The Better Man” (#4.05) reactions ran the gamut from love, to sadness, to grief, to relief, to depression, and even hate. Some fans talked about how much they cried and some said they were too mad to cry. But what brought us to the point where real tears are shed over fictional characters and their fictional troubles? That’s not the right question, really. The question is who brought us here?
In The Beginning
If you’ve read my episode preview articles, you’ll remember I looked at the people behind the camera who bring Flashpoint to life. Starting with writers (and co-executive producers) Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, through creative force David Frazee and visual maestro Stephen Reizes, to the regular cast and stellar guest stars, and supported by the top notch crew, Flashpoint (like any good production) is an award-winning team effort.
How did we get to this point where a character’s departure upsets people to this extent? How did we ever get this show on the air to begin with? Again, it’s really not how so much as it is who.
Years ago, our intrepid show creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern took note of a real-life critical incident which occurred in a hub of downtown Toronto — a very public and very dramatic standoff which ended in a fatal shot fired by a police sniper. It is well-documented Flashpoint lore that Mark and Stephanie set out to explore what happened from that police sniper’s perspective and how living with being the public executioner takes its toll on the human soul. Thus the idea of Flashpoint was born.
- Document (PDF): ➤ Express, issue #64 (Sept/05) // Canadian police magazine issue highlighting the ETF Team (also “Team 1”) involved in the 2004 Union Station hostage incident.
Originally, the story of Ed Lane was conceived as a television movie. So, at some point, they went to CTV and spoke to a man named Bill Mustos. You may have seen his name somewhere before.
Forging The Four
Bill Mustos was then the Senior Vice-President of Dramatic Programming at CTV (the Latin term for this position is: honchum maximus teledramatis) and someone who had been in ‘the biz’ for years, overseeing over a dozen television movies and a few series, including Cold Squad, as the “Executive In Charge of Production” (I prefer the Latin title above). Bill liked the project and arranged to put them in touch with The Right Person to help them develop it. The Right Person not only had considerable TV movie experience but also knew how to successfully run a show as evidenced by their time on the aforementioned Cold Squad. But, more on that later.
The movie, which had the working title of “The Sniper” at the time, got the coveted green light from CTV while Mustos left for France for a year-long sabbatical. Whatever happened in France is unknown and, likely, private. Such walkabouts are personal affairs and I respect the inherent integrity of soul-searching. Plus, they have fabulous wine. Nonetheless, when Bill Mustos returned to Canada, he decided to leave CTV and start his own production company, Avamar Entertainment. He went from honchum maximus teledramatis to independent film & television producer. One of the first things he did was reconnect with the Ellis-Morgenstern project. It was to be Bill’s first executive producing project. As Sharon Mustos (sister-in-law and also associate producer on Flashpoint) remarked, “How lucky is that?”
At the same time, The Right Person had already begun their own devotion to this new project. You may also have seen her name. In fact, unless you switch away the very second the screen goes black, you’ve seen her name every single time you’ve watched Flashpoint. And well you should. Her name is Anne Marie La Traverse.
Her backstory is a bit more of a mystery to me. She drove the engine of the show’s pilot, “Scorpio”, and you can even hear David Frazee reflect in the DVD commentary on just how much of the episode’s quality is directly attributable to her. Anne Marie has been producing television since 1993 and her experience includes Cold Squad, which was a critical darling in Canada and a success in its own right. According to her IMDb profile, she executive produced eight TV movies between 2001 and 2007 alone. Eight. And, y’know, because spare time is so overrated, she also produced three episodes of a television show in that stretch.
So, one would suspect she knows her stuff. Before I knew the first bit about her career, I would have guessed the same thing when I had the chance to meet her based solely on the way she carried herself. Every now and again I get it in my head that I have a decent ability to ‘read’ people. The day I was generously invited to tour the SRU set during the filming of episode #4.06 (coincidentally the first episode after Wordy’s departure) (and, yes, I will finally publish my experience of that day in the coming weeks), I was struck by her presence. She instantly came across as the quiet commander with sharp eyes taking in all the activity around her. And, to be frank, it was rather intimidating but not necessarily through any fault of her own. For any delusional notion I may have of being able to read people, I was sure she could teach a course in it — and I was afraid she’d see right through my attempt at being urbane and calm as I walked their hallowed halls and know that I was just a giddy fanboy one sneeze away from bursting at the seams.
Anyway, I digress.
Anne Marie and Bill quickly became one of the most dynamic duos in Canadian television. From what I understand, their tandem of producing wizardry coupled with the vision of Mark and Stephanie were the core of the genesis of this new dramatic series. This was no small feat, I imagine. Building a team, creating a show, and seeing it through to the level of fruition which begets a shot at broadcast on a major network is a task few can fully appreciate. Doing so in the spirit of collaboration is an ordeal in and of itself. It may be a pleasurable experience because it’s something you love but it is still an ordeal. Those who do not respect that will find themselves defeated by the process.
Clearly, the producers respected the process, for Flashpoint was created.
Organizing The Chaos
The job of a producer is not necessarily a walk in the park, either. Often, when portrayed onscreen, The Producer is shown as an aloof, creatively-devoid, suited narcissist. Or, the role itself is halved and the callous portion is rolled into the Heartless Studio/Network Executive and the sympathetic portion is absorbed by the Inspired Director (or the entire creative paean is transferred solely to the Beleaguered and Suffering Writer) (frickin’ self-involved writers!). This is often done to parse the complicated microsociety of film/television production into a more palatable dynamic for the average viewer to ingest.
However, in reality, the culture of the producers is a diverse landscape unto itself. For the moment, I’ll pigeonhole them into some archetypes, though I know full well that no one fits solely into an archetype (and if you enjoy Flashpoint, you already understand that people are far more complicated than fiction often portrays). They are: The Moneybag, The Tag-Along, The Auteur, The Scumbag, The Entrepreneur, The Dreamer/Fool, The Sage, The Name, The Matchmaker, and The Workhorse.
I speculate that this show’s producers are a combination of The Entrepreneur and The Sage and, most of all The Workhorse. Avamar Entertainment formed an alliance with Pink Sky Entertainment and Bill and Anne Marie forged ahead with multiple levels of commitment. They had a commitment to seeing Mark and Stephanie’s vision fulfilled. They had a commitment to seeing that vision buoyed by major distribution. They also had a commitment to more than just an efficient and successful production but also one which strove for a great level of quality (many series claim this but the proof is always in the pudding). They coordinated the assembly of the senior production team (in conjunction with the other primaries). They also had the initiative to pursue the extraordinary goal of creating a very Canadian series which has broad appeal across the borders and the oceans.
And I keep saying “They” for two reasons. First, it’s because I can’t tell you who did what and when but I know it was done. Well, we all know it was done because Flashpoint is well into its fourth season with a fifth season already ordered. So, obviously they did their jobs. And secondly, word in the camp is that Bill and Anne Marie work so closely hand-in-metaphorical-hand that they not only oversee just about all phases together, they also have a nickname.
The ongoing courtship of Jules and Sam has been dubbed “JAM” by the fans. Interestingly enough, the ongoing collaboration of Bill and Anne Marie has been dubbed “BAM” by the production team. I suspect there is no division of labour when it comes to the creative direction of Flashpoint nor the production mandates behind the scenes. This may not be how it’s done south of the border (which really supports the idea of a single ‘showrunner’) but it seems to work just fine. And really, if it ain’t broke…
Nonetheless, it is a real accomplishment of camaraderie and fellowship that four people can work in such a fashion to drive a show with a clear creative vision.
We’ve Only Just Begun
The show was pitched to multiple markets, including but not limited to the lucrative American arena and CBS. It was a timely venture due to the travails of the WGA strike at the time but you can rest assured that the Americans weren’t just taking everything which was offered. However, CBS was sold on the series. Thus, Flashpoint had survived inception, incubation, and delivery, and the exploits of the Strategic Response Unit’s Team One came to life on our screens here in Canada and the United States and beyond.
The struggle did not end there. The reality of television is that it is a What Have You Done For Me Lately? environment. Words like ratings, demographics, market reach, distribution, and home viewing sales are some of the continual spot checks which the show must pass to stay on the air, in addition to simply maintaining the quality of everything from scripting to casting to post production to marketing.
That’s the job producers face, in a very simplified form. To the producer who cares less about custom-fitted Armani suits and power lunches and more about the quality of the product, it is the life they gladly take on and the world they happily breathe in — every day — for it is also the measure of their success.
Home Is Where The Heart Is
I think of the senior production team as a family. Again, this is an oversimplification of a complex organism but I look at Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern as the wonderkids. And I see Anne Marie La Traverse and Bill Mustos as the hardworking mother and father, lending their life experiences to the family business. This is no simple nuclear family of The Fifties. It is an extended family of aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, in-laws, nieces and nephews. Rest assured, though, these four are the heads of the household. There is very, very little in that production which doesn’t cross all of their tables at some point before it ever hits the screen.
Then, in this metaphor, you may ask, what is Flashpoint itself?
It is the golden child. It is the babe for whom all this toil is wrought. And so far, this baby is the toast of the town. It takes a village to raise a child but now that it is walking and talking we can emphatically state that the future looks bright. This kid is going places. Mom and Dad and big Brother and Sister are doing a fine job at the helm of this family. With the jump from CBS to ION in the United States, the ongoing international distribution, and of course its continued success here at home, Flashpoint is not just surviving, it’s thriving.
Though tears have been shed over the loss of Wordy, it nonetheless is further proof of how the investment of Anne Marie La Traverse, Bill Mustos, Stephanie Morgenstern, Mark Ellis, and the extended family they have gathered, has paid off. The love they have for Flashpoint is now magnified exponentially in the hearts of its viewers. I really wanted to festoon these four people with easily identifiable archetypes and discover how each person engineers the choices we see made onscreen but, in truth, even my clumsy familial metaphor is far too simplistic.
The analytical part of the human brain (which I think mine is) always wants to know exactly how things work but sometimes it is best to just accept that it does work, especially when it works beautifully. Whatever it is which makes these four dedicated people operate in conjunction to bring Team One to life may just be a thing of mystery which, though it is admired by millions of Flashpoint fans, will never be fully explained. And that’s alright with me.
Regardless of the vagaries of their leadership, at the end of the day, whenever a new episode of Flashpoint starts I feel like I’ve just come home.
My Heart With Pleasure Fills
Over the course of all my articles, I’ve been building up to one thing — a piece of footage. And it isn’t a scene from Flashpoint. Now I get to show you a simple acceptance speech and, if I’ve done my job correctly, you may have a new-found appreciation of why such speeches are emotional affairs. You may also better understand why it seems there is never enough time to pack all your thanks to so many people for working so hard to make so many pieces of the mechanism work and why, in retrospect, it takes more than a team to produce a television show.
It takes a family.
I’ll end with a poem. It was possibly the first poem by one of the great poets which I learned in grade school. As it turns out, it was written by William Wordsworth. In it, he expresses what it is like to sit at home (on a couch, no less!) and imagine what it is to be part of a greater unison. That, in essence, is what I’ve done throughout my Flashpoint articles and what we, as viewers, do when we watch an episode.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
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Flashpoint is produced by Pink Sky Entertainment and Avamar Entertainment, in association with CTV and CBS Television Studios, and airs on Fridays at 8:00 PM. The fourth season continue on Fridays at 8:00 PM (or check local listings). Speaking of the producers, join them on facebook.com/FPTOne or follow them on Twitter @FlashpointTeam1) to get news, insights, and more directly from the best source of all things Flashpoint.