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Show of the week: Mary Kills People

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Mary Kills People is both a cable series and a free TV series, and comes from both a newcomer and from one of Canada’s best-known producers. Tonally, it manages to be both light and dark, as it explores the world of assisted suicide.

The Mary of the title is Dr. Mary Harris (Hannibal’s Caroline Dhavernas), a single mother of two and emergency room doctor. By night, and with the help of a partner, (Vinyl’s Richard Short), she helps terminally-ill patients who want to end their lives achieve that aim.

Shot in Toronto and set in the fictional town of Port Denver, the show sees Mary’s life and after-work assisted suicide work become complex when she is attracted to a man (The Lake’s Jay Ryan) she is trying to help, and as the police close in.

It’s the first show from Cameron Pictures, the fledgling Canada-based prodco set up by Rookie Blue’s Tassie Cameron, and her sister and former CBC producer Amy Cameron earlier this year. The series is for Corus Entertainment’s broadcast network Global in Canada and A+E’s female-skewed US cable net Lifetime, with Entertainment One Television also producing and handling international sales.

The project came out of a spec script from Tara Armstrong, who came to Global’s attention after winning the Shaw Media Writer’s Apprentice Program last year. Holly Dale (The Americans, Dexter, Castle) directs and the show was block filmed, allow her to work on the whole series.

The Camerons say their US cable and Canadian broadcast partners played nice with them, with the worst niggles minor issues over language and the showing of a bare bottom.

Tassie Cameron says: “It’s credit to our Canadian broadcaster that it took the risk and was supportive of keeping a cable tone.”

For a North American net, the six-episode order falls into the limited, or event series category. “They are positioning it as event TV,” Amy Cameron says. “We’re seeing Canadian broadcasters do this to touch on more cable-type content.”

In terms of that look and feel, the producers say a lot of decisions ended up being influenced by the theme of water. “Early on we identified that, so it’s a big theme of the piece,” Tassie Cameron says. “It influenced the colour palate, wardrobe choices and a lot of creative decisions about tone and feel.”

The series clearly deals with a dark subject matter head on, and throws up questions about life and death. However, “It’s not preachy,” Tassie Cameron says. “Mary has a position on the right to die, but as creatives we don’t align ourselves with one or the other, and there are alternative positions shows in the series.

“We hope it starts a conversation, but that said it is entertainment. This isn’t an ‘issue’ show.”

The show: Mary Kills People
The producer: Cameron Pictures, Entertainment One
The distributor: Entertainment One
The broadcasters: Global (Canada), Lifetime (US)
The concept: Limited series for both free and pay TV about a single mother and emergency doctor who helps terminally-ill patients to die