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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: O Canada! (part 4)

Written By:

Alan Boon
Charlie Jade, 2005

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

O Canada!

Although the odd European show occasionally slips through the net, a massive percentage of the shows featured in The Telephemera Years originate from North America, and almost exclusively from the USA. Canada, though, has a thriving film and TV industry – including providing locations and supporting cast members for many of those American shows – and even has its own range of TV channels, including CBC, CTV, Global, and Space. To celebrate those gems made north of the border – some of which enjoyed three- or four-season runs but little acclaim outside their native land – we’re giving over four weeks of this column to our Canucklehead friends.

Some of the shows produced in Canada that have enjoyed wider acclaim include telefantasy schlockbusters Lexx and Relic Hunter, while the beloved Due South also falls into this category. Viewers of children’s BBC in the 1980s will no doubt have fond memories of The Raccoons and Degrassi Junior High, while Kids in the Hall rewrote comedy in the early nineties with a decidedly surreal touch. But those are the shows you’ve heard of and probably watched… what about those that didn’t get much reach beyond the provinces and territories of the Great White North? This is the story of five Canadian shows that don’t feature ice hockey…

Adventure Inc (2003, Global): In 1984, Barry Clifford became the first man to discover an authentic pirate shipwreck when he found the Whydah, a gully captained by “Black Sam” Bellamy during the golden age of piracy. Clifford’s life story is full of such chapters – he has an ongoing mission to find the wreck of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’s flagship – and it inspired his close friend Gale Ann Hurd, screenwriter and producer of both The Terminator and Aliens with then-husband James Cameron, to create a show based on his exploits, her first project for TV.

Adventure Inc starred Michael Biehn (who had appeared in The Terminator and Aliens, as well as several other Hurd productions) as Judson Cross, a professional explorer who travels the world finding things – “things that are priceless, dangerous, sometimes even unexplainable,” – with the help of his assistants, Mackenzie (Karen Cliche) and Gabriel (Jesse Nilsson). Their ship, Vast Explorer, was named in honour of Clifford’s vessel, although their exploits were not confined to seagoing expeditions.

Adventure Inc, 2003

Debuting on Global on September 30th 2002, and shown in syndication in the US, Adventure Inc hit the blocks running, its opening episodes featuring Mayan artefacts, ghosts of the Vietnam War, prehistoric man, and treasure ships, with the rest of the season no less strange or varied. The likes of Relic Hunter’s Christien Anholt, Andromeda’s Steve Bacic, Earth: Final Conflict’s Jayne Heitmeyer and Alan van Sprang, and British actress Eva Pope popped up as guest stars but all in all the show was probably too similar to carve out its own niche.

The twenty-two-episode first season concluded on May 12th, seventeen days after Jesse Nilsson died of pneumonia-related heart failure at just twenty-five-years old. There was no second season and Hurd returned to the movies, producing several comic book adaptations, including Hulk for Ang Lee. Barry Clifford is still involved in exploration, although he takes a more hands-off role now that he is in his late seventies.

Train 48 (2003, Global): Soap operas are nothing new and, given the haphazard way TV was made in the 1940s and 1950s, it’s probably true to say that some of them featured a large amount of improvisation. What if that was your stated aim, though? What if you created a soap opera – perhaps set aboard a train? – that was, after its basic story beats were established, was entirely improvised?

That was the BIG IDEA behind Train 48, a daily soap that ran for over three hundred episodes between June 2003 and July 2005 on Global, aired weeknights at 7pm. Filming for each episode was done the same day, using a replica train coach as a set, and usually wrapped by 1.30pm. The episodes would then be edited and delivered for broadcast, a schedule more often used for news or sports broadcasts than dramatic fare.

Train 48, 2003

Based on Going Home, an Australian show with an almost identical concept, Train 48 was created by Eric Lunsky and Duncan McKenzie, who had met while working on The History Network’s History Bites, an attempt to show how historical events would be reported if TV were around at the time they occurred. They encouraged actors to flesh out outline scripts of just a few lines per scene, based on detailed character bios provided to the cast.

Train 48 dealt with some hot button topics during its run, including gay adoption and euthanasia, and occasionally introduced some high-drama events such as the death of a passenger, a shooting, and sexual congress between passengers. In June 2005, it was announced that the show was being cancelled in order to make room in the schedules for the launch of Entertainment Tonight Canada. The months’ notice given allowed Lunsky and McKenzie to wrap up ongoing storylines and the final shots showed the last day’s passengers disembarking at their station, the only time the outside of Train 48 was ever seen.

ReGenesis (2004, The Movie Network): Founded by Christina Jennings in 1987, Shaftesbury Films is probably best known for Murdoch Mysteries, a detective show set in Victorian Toronto that began its seventeenth season in Fall 2023. Their slate, though, is full of oddities such as Houdini and Doyle, Good Dog/Good God, Life with Derek, and ReGenesis, a show that puts the science in sci-fi created by Jennings herself.

ReGenesis was set at the fictional NorBAC (the North American Biotechnology Advisory Commission), a lab based in Toronto that investigated crimes and other problems that have a scientific angle. Season one dealt with deadly viruses, cloning, mad cow disease, and bioterrorism, all coming under the remit of molecular biologist David Sandström (Millennium‘s Peter Outerbridge) and his team.

ReGenesis, 2004

The ReGenesis writing team was headed up by Avrum Jacobsen, an experienced Canadian scripter who had gotten his start on Degrassi Junior High in 1987. Jacobsen worked in conjunction with consultant Aled Edwards, also a molecular biologist, to ensure that the science on the show was as close as possible to real science, albeit within the bounds of a science-fiction TV show. ReGenesis was also at the forefront of using new media to enhance viewers’ experience of the show, including the first successful game made in partnership with a TV show in ReGenesis Extended Reality, which won numerous awards between 2004 and 2007.

After a successful first season, ReGenesis was renewed a further three times for a total of fifty-two episodes over four seasons. Besides first run episodes on The Movie Network in Canada, the show was also later broadcast on Global, and sold internationally to more than two dozen countries, including the UK (where it aired on SciFi) and the US (syndication).

The Collector (2004, Citytv): Brimstone was one of the greatest TV shows never to reach its potential. Indeed, it never even reached the end of its first season, but there’s a touch of Brimstone to The Collector, a Canadian series about a servant of Hell given the chance to help those who’ve sold their souls to the Devil find redemption.

Created by Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson, a Canadian writing team probably best known for working on Rugrats, The Collector was the first starring role for Chris Kramer, a Canadian actor who had previously had occasional roles on shows like Dark Angel, First Wave, and Stargate SG-1. His Morgan Pym was a fourteenth-century monk who had bargained his own soul with the Devil for a cure for the woman he loved, only to be cheated by the terms of the deal.

The Collector, 2004

In return for being spared eternal suffering, the Devil offered Pym the job of The Collector, retrieving those souls traded for infernal deals, but as the show begins, he’s convinced his satanic majesty to allow him to work with his targets towards redemption rather than damnation. All the while a disdainful Devil – played by a different actor in each episode – waits for him to fail.

With backing from reporter Jeri Slate and her autistic son (who has his own relationship with the Devil), Pym helps a rapper, a lawyer, a model, and an ice skater in the first four episodes alone, all damned by their deals unless he can help them undo the benefits their bargains provided for them, and all without them knowing who or what he is. To the dismay of its dedicated fanbase, The Collector was cancelled after three seasons, but not with enough notice to conclude Pym’s story. Presumably he’s still out there, doing what he does, but don’t count on him turning up if you make your own deal with the Devil…

Charlie Jade (2005, CTV 2): Filmed in South Africa as part of a co-production between Canadian studio CHUM and the South African Industrial Development Corporation, Charlie Jade starred Jeffrey Pierce as the eponymous detective, his first lead role after a handful of small parts and a recurring role in the legal drama For the People.

Jade finds himself thrown into the Betaverse – our reality, basically – when scientists working for the evil Vexcor from the dystopian Alphaverse he calls home try to open a wormhole into the utopian Gammaverse. It all sounds very involved but it’s a simple story of a man trapped in a world he never made, trying to make the best of a bad situation while also trying to find a way home and fight against Vexcor agents.

Charlie Jade, 2005

The show was co-created by Chris Roland, a Californian who gave up acting in the 1990s to travel round the world before settling in South Africa and working in film production, and Robert Wertheimer, a Canadian producer best known for his work on Due South. Roland and Wertheimer were heavily influenced by Blade Runner for the look and feel of the show, paying homage to Ridley Scott, especially with the character of 01 Boxer, an enigmatic and possibly artificially created man who can travel between the universes.

Funding problems on the South African end caused production to halt after season one was completed and, despite a fan campaign to ensure that Charlie’s story continued into season two, the show was quietly cancelled. The producers did have a blueprint for a second season and ended things on a cliffhanger but were also happy that the arc of season one was satisfactorily completed. In 2009, the Charlie Jade Podcast released a fifteen-page PDF written by Wertheimer four years previously, detailing what would have happened if the show had continued.

Next on The Telephemera Years: Back to timehopping and onto 1981, where we enter… the Darkroom!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: pre-1965 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1970 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1974 (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1978 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1983 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1989 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1998 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2002 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2006 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

The Telephemera Years: O Canada! (part 1, 2, 3)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: DIC (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

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