Toronto finally takes centerstage

City gets to play itself for a change in 'Flashpoint'

TORONTO — So often the generic backdrop in films and series, Toronto finally gets top billing this year.The city’s sleek glass towers, graffiti-sprayed back alleys and even lake-front beaches are featured in two Canadian-made drama series under production this summer. “Flashpoint,” following the ops of an elite police unit, and “The Listener,” about a telepathic paramedic, are destined for primetime on Canuck broadcaster CTV as well as CBS and NBC, respectively. First out is “Flashpoint,” which preemed at 10 p.m. July 11on the Eye, the first series since Paul Haggis-created “Due South” to “reverse” simulcast in the U.S.

“Toronto is a big, beautiful, sophisticated urban world,” says exec producer Anne Marie La Traverse, whose Pink Sky produced the pilot in 2006 after CTV’s development phase with co-creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern (who have since penned five of 13 episodes).

“CBS’ involvement reflects its desire to find new business and visual models, so we’re showing the city’s splendor with high production aerials and shooting six out of seven days on location,” says La Traverse on location at the U. of Toronto. “Not only is the cast all Canadian, we are attracting the creme de la creme of Canadian talent for guest stars.”

The debut season’s guest roster includes Henry Czerny, Chandra West and Erik Knudsen (“Jericho”).

“Flashpoint” locations and guests are key creative elements, says Bill Mustos, co-exec producer and a former CTV senior drama veep whose Avamar shingle is co-producing with Pink Sky.

“The center of each episode is a critical incident the unit comes out to diffuse,” he says. “You find an amazing location, and the guest gets a meaty role as the person who has been pushed to the flashpoint, whose story we follow to the location.”

“The Listener,” meanwhile, preems this fall in Canada with a 2009 airdate on NBC. Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo (“Rude Boy”) directed the pilot and will helm more than half the shows.

The “telepathic procedural,” as Shaftesbury (“ReGenesis”) CEO and show exec Christina Jennings jokingly calls it, began as an MOW by Michael Amo and is now a 13-episode series poised to be an international hit. ShineReveille (markets outside North America) and Fox Intl. (cable and satellite right in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Middle East) have close to 200 territories signed up.

“This all happened not off hype but from buyers seeing the pilot, liking the premise and our lead Craig Olejnik,” Jennings says. “We’re showing our islands, Greek town and Chinatown — we’re not pretending to be anywhere else and broadcasters like that too.”

As for Toronto native and “Flashpoint” co-star Enrico Colantoni (“Just Shoot Me,” “Veronica Mars”), who plays head negotiator Sgt. Parker, he’s falling in love with the city he left 25 years ago.

“My older brother was a Toronto cop for 30 years and I grew up infatuated with the Toronto ETF,” says the actor, dressed in full SWAT gear. “Being so close to my brother’s skin makes it feel like I’m seeing Toronto for the first time — it’s so beautiful and sexy.”

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