Ottawa Citizen: Republic of Doyle still a homegrown hit

Posted by on Feb 3, 2014 in News



It may be the wind, the fogbound coves and the proximity of the sea. It may be the folk music, with its Irish and Cornish influences. It may be the Rock itself, and a look that feels vaguely familiar and Canadian, and yet is strangely unfamiliar to anyone who doesn’t live there.

More than likely it’s the characters, salt-of-the-earth father-and-son private investigators Malachy and Jake Doyle, played with an honest forthrightness and good humour by Sean McGinley and Allan Hawco.

Whatever the reason, viewers from St. John’s, N.L., to Victoria have embraced Republic of Doyle in a way few homegrown TV dramas ever experience. Each winter, for five seasons now, Doyle has charmed and enchanted with its weekly tales of mystery and private investigations.

Doyle ends its current season Wednesday with back-to-back episodes, before making way for CBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics.

It will be back in the fall for a sixth season, a testament to the resilience of Atlantic Canada’s nascent drama production industry and the persistence of vision of Hawco, Doyle’s co-creator, one-time head writer and present-day leading man.

In person Hawco’s hands are steady, his step quick and light, unencumbered by the weight of showbiz hustlers and their schemes. Republic of Doyle was once again denied a nomination for best dramatic series at the Canadian Screen Awards, but Hawco has bigger fish to fry. He has the satisfaction of knowing Doyle beat the odds and has stood the test of time.

More important, he has the satisfaction of knowing that people watch — hard-working folks who earn a living and simply want to kick back at the end of a long day.

Hawco’s ambitions reach beyond Doyle. He’s an admirer of Paul Gross, who’s managed to write, act in and produce his own projects, while remaining true to his Canadian roots — but for now he takes pride in creating a program families can watch together, that his mother can watch and not feel embarrassed or humiliated.

Just as important, he says, with a flash of both pride and humility, he was able to do it in the place he was born, the place he grew up in and still calls home. Republic of Doyle has brought Bell Island and Goulds in St. John’s to life for a generation of Canadians.

“The idea had been percolating in my head since I was 19 or something like that,” Hawco said quietly. “Everybody said, ‘No.’ Every time I pitched it to directors I knew or producers at my theatre school, I kept getting the spin, ‘No, this won’t work because …’ It seems like that’s what everybody says about everything. The lesson I learned from all that is that ‘no’ is not an option. About anything. Anything is possible. You may find out eventually that something won’t work, but at least you learn that yourself. People are so afraid of disappointment they’re afraid to take that first step. We have a rule in our writers’ room: Don’t shoot down an idea before it gets any legs. People can get combative about what you’re trying to get done, but what it comes down to is you’ve really got to go with your gut.”

Hawco is no cultural snob. He watches TV as time permits, and is unafraid to admit it. The rigours of writing, producing and acting in a weekly, hour-long drama mean he can’t binge on Breaking Bad or Mad Men at will, but he finds time when he can and sometimes makes time when he can’t. He was profoundly moved by Broadchurch, even though its quiet, elegiac tone and serialized story are at odds with the lighthearted, self-contained mysteries that drive Doyle’s weekly stories. For Hawco, everything’s a learning experience. There’s much he doesn’t like — don’t get him started on the past few seasons of Homeland — but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from studying the best.

Hawco is succinct when it comes to describing Doyle. From his point of view, he says brightly, he mostly interested in “doing cool s—.”

It’s become harder over time, though.

“In the beginning, you’re going after this thing. Your ambition fuels you. Your faith in your ability to accomplish anything fuels you. You can’t see how difficult it’s going be. You don’t know how impossible it is, because you don’t have time.

“Over five years, though, you start to realize that you can’t do it all, even though you’ve been doing it all. Writing and acting at the same time has become much more difficult for me. Writing on set, while we’re in the middle of a scene that’s really important acting-wise, it’s hard. Writing demands a lot of your energy and your creative thought, and it’s hard to separate them. You can’t stay up until five o’clock in the morning for six years, writing every night. I had to restructure things this past season. But it wasn’t easy. Because I love writing as much as I love acting. And I love acting as much as I love writing.”

Doyle will not last forever, but it will be back for a sixth season in the fall, Hawco confirmed. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Hawco hinted, however, that the end is in sight.

“It’s all I think about, really. Particularly now. After you go through five seasons, the first three seasons you’re thinking to yourself, ‘We have to do this. It has to be the greatest. We have to make sure we get it through.’ And then you get past Season 3 and you’re like, ‘holy s —. We’re past the threshold of is it possible to even do this. Now we have to decide how long we’re going to keep doing it.’

“Our plan all along was not to keep doing it just for the sake of doing it. We don’t want to drain of it of life. I don’t want it to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.

“This was my first real shot. It became everything I wanted it to become. There’s no reason for us to overstay our welcome.”

Hawco believes seven seasons would be a good fit.

If true, that means Doyle will end in 2016.

“It’s fair to say that Season 7 would be a drop-dead date,” Hawco said quietly. “Or even six.

“We’ll see.”

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