In America, ‘daytime dramas’ have always been called ‘soaps’ and largely said with a bit of a snicker when talking about them to others. More often than not, ‘soaps’ are considered guilty pleasures in the States where viewers find it difficult to admit that they know that Tracy Quartermaine’s life was saved by Dr. Marcus Byrne on General Hospital earlier that day. Or, that they find themselves tired at work because they were watching their DVR recording of The Young and the Restless past midnight the night before so they can find out if Victor would be heading back to jail.
Not the case, however, in the UK with daytime drama, more often than not, standing up in quality to their older siblings funded out of the BBC primetime unit. While Father Brown has raised the daytime drama bar since coming on the daytime scene in 2013, the newest entry on Exec Producer Will Trotter’s CV enters its second series on Monday at 2:15p on BBC1 will definitely not disappoint.
Like Father Brown, The Coroner shows the high standards of professionalism on both sides of the camera. The team assembled by Trotter and writer/creator, Sally Abbott (Eastenders, Casualty) is clear from the outset showing a level of pride to make the most of what, in many instances, are much smaller budgets, limited crew and accelerated production schedules.
Tellyspotting had the great good fortune to sit down with Trotter and the two main stars of the series, Claire Goose (solicitor/coroner, Jane Kennedy) and Matt Bardock (DS Davey Higgins) leading up to Monday’s second series premiere. Today we’ll chat with Will and then check back with us tomorrow as we sit down with Claire and Matt less than a day before the series returns to BBC 1.
Tellyspotting: How did the idea for The Coroner come about?
Will Trotter: We had a big success with Father Brown in the UK and abroad which was set in the beautiful countryside of the pretty Cotswolds in the Midlands where my set-up is based. I wanted to do something along similar lines with a crime drama which had a lighter tone (what we would call pre-watershed over here) to where families could tap in to but also still had a gripping, compelling story.
I wanted it to be contemporary as well given that Father Brown was period. I also wanted it to have a female lead. So getting all that together and pulling in Sally Abbott, our lead writer, we sat down and worked out an idea as to how we could get a show where she was a lead in a crime series but it was something a bit more original rather than just procedural. We needed a procedural as well so I needed a detective to deal with the crime element. I didn’t want two detectives but I wanted, sort of, a private investigator.
I know you have in the States a coroner who’s main function is medical examination. Our coroner’s over here have both legal and medical expertise so they can deal with the crime side as well as the medical side. We looked at a location to set it, which is in Devon, as we wanted to show off the beautiful aspects of the UK and that coastline is particularly fantastic, offering us a lot of visuals.
We wanted a relationship drama as well…a bit like Moonlighting…and, a spikey one sort of a Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn like thing. So, putting all that together, this new element of ‘the coroner’ seemed like the way to go. I was very lucky to get both Matt and Claire on board. You never know whether or not the chemistry is going to be right with artists you’ve never really worked with. We’re very lucky to have the two of them because they bring the screen to life. It’s amazing.
TS: Do you try to help actors to understand and/or create a backstory of their character or do you try to make one up so that it gives them a sense as to how to portray the character you envision?
WT: Particularly with the back story, I take on board the actors notes and thoughts. In the upcoming second series, we’ve given them more serial background where they’re still standalone episodes which is really important, I think, so we don’t want to be tied down to run in any particular order. In nearly all episodes there are elements of their character that come through that you start to tease the audience with about their background, their previous love and what happened to Jane when she went away and came back.
Things like why she’s the person who had changed from when she was a teenager when they were in love and how we see through Claire’s family, her daughter and her mother, we see the sort of challenges that a single mother has to deal with even if she is in a high-powered position. She still has the everyday things a Mom has to do and she’s a good Mom. At the same time, she’s missing the love of her life and its right there in front of you all the time. And, the audience is going, hopefully they’re going, “Get together”! But, they can’t because of all the various reasons and the history. We’ve dropped little bombs about their history as we go along through the series.
TS: It has to be an amazing daily argument in your head knowing that they can’t get together even though the audience at home is desperate for them to rekindle their relationship.
WT: The unresolved sexual tension like we’ve seen it in Moonlighting, it is something we know the audience thrives on. I do as well. You want to have those little moments where they’re stuck up in a hay barn, the perfect place for young lovers to be and, now, they are detecting. The next minute they’re in a very close clinch because someone’s attacking them. So, you’ve got sexual energy, you’ve got danger, all the pieces together. You don’t expect to work with your partner, you try not to, really, because you want to keep your private life private. They are thrown together and their private life becomes their working life so it’s a really exciting situation.
TS: The strength and importance of the ensemble cast is very evident. The chemistry between the two leads is wonderful but the chemistry of the entire cast is equally as exciting. Talk about that if you would.
WT: For me in putting these shows together, I have one eye on ‘the gang’ and when I say ‘gang’, you have your leads but you also have your satellite characters around them and they have to play an important role. But, also, I wanted it to be cross-generational so you have Grace, who plays young Beth, she’s 15, you have Clint, he’s the surfer dude, the assistant, he’s in his early twenties, you’ve got the Mom, she’s in her 50’s, her boyfriend, so you get this kind of range of people and we cleverly see their little stories then and how they support the leads in trying to solve the crime or whatever. They also play their roles in there. They have little roles on top of the fact they are supporting the two leads.
TS: What’s great about that is you can play to a much broader audience because different ages are going to see themselves and recognize themselves in the storyline.
WT: Definitely. So Mom has to deal with daughters problems, but she also has to deal with her mother’s problems and her mother’s having an affair with the local barman who a bit of a dodgy geezer. All those sort of things that we can relate to. It’s not just about the crime of the day but, of course, that’s what ultimately the show is about. You have to define your plot and then you have some juicy stuff to play with. I think that’s what makes it so lovely. For Matt and Claire, their characters can play off of all those other bits as well as just doing the crime story, beating the villains of the day or the perpetrators.
TS: The series comes out of the BBC Daytime Unit. Other than the significant differences in the budget, does being in the daytime unit give you greater flexibility or allow you to take more risks?
WT: You’d be surprised. You’d think it would be risk adverse but unlike American daytime TV, our daytime TV is certainly different with drama. We do very serious storylines. Every episode there is some compelling story which touches someone’s nerve or, quite often, is about accidents that happen and they are quite brutal. We totally manage it in a way with humor to not make it too dark so that people get put off. Because of that, it can go out anywhere in the world pre-9:00p. Our daytime here is like early evening for the rest of the world. We’ve only got the BBC here and it’s so chock o block full of shows, you’ve got to find a place for something like this and Father Brown. Daytime audiences are huge here. They watch live or on the iPlayer and you get an audience of around 2 million people which is a very good audience for a daytime show.
TS: In your available spare time, what do you watch? What do you enjoy watching?
WT: I’m catching up on Westworld at the moment. In terms of American drama, I really loved The Jinx, which is the real life story of Robert Durst. I found the way they put that together from the procedural side was brilliant also because it’s a documentary and it was made like a drama. In terms of comedy, I thought Channel 4’s Catastrophe was so hilariously funny.
TS: Finally, looking back at series 1, any ‘executive producer secrets’ come to mind that you can tell Coroner fans while they wait (im)patiently for the premiere of series 2?
WT: Well, don’t tell anyone but in one of the episodes, “Napoleon’s Violin”, Benedict Cumberbatch, whom you know as Sherlock and Doctor Strange, his Dad, Timothy Carlton is in an episode and, well, we killed him off. The idea that we killed Sherlock’s dad kind of appealed to me, I don’t know.
And, one of the episodes called “Capsized”, we had all these containers that wash up on the beach from a capsized container ship. So we put the containers down there on shore. The idea of the show was that the people raided the containers. Off course, life imitates art with real towns people coming out overnight to raid the prop containers!
The Coroner S2 begins Monday at 1415 on BBC 1 with S1 coming to a number of public television stations in America in early 2017. Don’t forget to come back Sunday as we chat with Claire Goose and Matt Bardock from The Coroner.