Flashpoint’s stateside success pressures audio team

The success of CTV’s Flashpoint on CBS’ summer primetime schedule is putting extra pressure on the series’ sound team.

The reason: the Toronto-based 13-part series produced by Avamar Entertainment and Pink Sky Entertainment started shooting only in April 2008 (although the pilot was already in the can) to meet a July 11 premiere date on CBS and CTV. The show ‘effectively doubled the size of our audio production unit to meet the short turnaround,’ says Adam Roberts, Flashpoint’s post-production supervisor.

Flashpoint tells the tale of the Strategic Response Unit, an elite police team that deals with hostage-takings and other extreme situations, inspired by the Toronto Police Service’s Emergency Task Force. The series features Enrico Colantoni as SRU Sgt. Gregory Parker and Hugh Dillon as sniper Ed Lane.

The production has five sound editors and two assistants handling its audio post work. Some are dedicated specifically to ADR, dialogue or sound effects. Normally a series this size would have two sound editors and one assistant, Roberts tells Playback. Had Flashpoint premiered in CTV’s fall lineup as originally planned, this would have been sufficient. But once a distribution deal had been signed for CBS’ summer schedule, things changed.

‘We aired two to two-and-a-half months sooner than we would have normally,’ Roberts explains. ‘In fact, we are now delivering a show a week for 13 weeks.’

And that’s not all. In an e-mailed response, Flashpoint executive producers Anne Marie La Traverse and Bill Mustos wrote ‘we also increased our picture-editing team from two to three editors, we added a music editor and hired…two composers [Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner]‘ to meet CBS’ accelerated schedule.

They wouldn’t specify how much the extra crew is adding to the series’ production costs, but did say that ‘the accelerated cost of delivery was part of the negotiated licence fee and is included within that figure.’

For CBS, the extra expense has clearly been worth it. Flashpoint’s premiere garnered 8.13 million viewers for CBS and 1.1 million (all numbers 2+) for CTV, easily winning both timeslots. And the networks have moved the simulcast from Friday to Thursday, one of the most-coveted programming slots of the week.

If Flashpoint continues its ratings-winning ways, CBS could renew it past its original 13-episode run. ‘We’re in the ratings game, so if it does well, we would consider it,’ said CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler during the Television Critics Association tour on July 18.

Despite the rushed schedule, Roberts says Flashpoint’s expanded audio team is keeping up. Right now you can find them mixing away at Technicolor Toronto.

‘We have an excellent crew and everyone is keeping pace,’ says Roberts. ‘It’s moving along as well as it can be expected, and we are getting great results.’

‘CBS knew that they were asking us to do something that was very unusual for the Canadian marketplace,’ say La Traverse and Mustos. ‘That said, they were confident we could make this happen. This kind of turnaround is routine in the U.S.’

Similarly, Shaftesbury Films has seen its series The Listener, also developed for CTV, catch the attention of the Americans. Starring Craig Olejnik (In God’s Country), The Listener profiles a young urban paramedic with the gift of hearing other people’s thoughts. NBC has ordered 13 hours for primetime in summer 2009.

Because of this later delivery schedule, Shaftesbury isn’t feeling the same pressure that Avamar and Pink Sky are, says Shaftesbury founder, chair and CEO Christina Jennings. She also says that the experience of working with NBC is ‘pretty much the same’ as working with CTV. ‘NBC is not asking us for more action or different casting,’ she says.

Jennings concedes that there is one key difference in producing for the U.S. primetime market – namely the deep pockets of those American-produced shows that The Listener will be going up against on NBC.

‘You’re up against shows with budgets a lot bigger than ours,’ she tells Playback. ‘Our show can’t look like the ‘poor cousin’. We have to work harder on every level; we must have as interesting stories, good casting and production values.’ And that goes for audio as well.

Even with its increased licence fee, Flashpoint’s production team is also feeling the squeeze of producing for U.S. primetime on a Canadian budget.

‘The challenge for us as Canadian producers is to accomplish this accelerated timeline on a much smaller budget than what American shows are typically made for,’ say La Traverse and Mustos. Although they refused to divulge the budget on the show, it reportedly costs $1.6 million to $1.8 million per episode.