INTERVIEW: ‘It has to be the most authentic cop series going’

‘It has to be the most authentic cop series going’
By: Michael Posner
Date: March 3rd, 2010
Interviewees: Craig Bromell, Alan Di Fiore and Aaron Douglas
Source: The Globe and Mail


Former officer and Toronto police union leader Craig Bromell says The Bridge captures the complicated nuances of a cop’s life


[From left, Frank Cassini, Paul Popowich and Theresa Joy in character from The Bridge]


It’s hard to think of a new Canadian TV series that has generated as much preliminary buzz as CTV’s The Bridge.

Billed as a hard-hitting take on life inside a major urban police force, it comes with an impressive creative pedigree, including lead actor Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica), five-time Gemini Award-winning writer Alan Di Fiore (Da Vinci’s Inquest) and producer Laszlo Barna.

But everyone associated with the production –- it premieres with a two-hour pilot on Friday night and continues for another 11 episodes – knows that its soul belongs to former Toronto police officer Craig Bromell, who is executive producer for the series.

A constant thorn in the side of the force’s leadership, Bromell led a brief wildcat strike in 1995, protesting a decision to charge two constables with mistreating black citizens. Later, as president of the 7,500-man Toronto police union (1997-2003), he spearheaded a campaign to tackle crime and corruption – not just on the street, but inside higher command. He became a powerful and polarizing figure, adored by much of the rank-and-file, feared and detested by many senior officers and local politicians.

It’s that internecine element Bromell and his team are trying to inject into the popular, but crowded, genre of cop drama. The show’s central character, Frank Leo (Douglas), is largely based on Bromell. The title comes from the actual bridge that separates the verdant lawns of Toronto’s upper-crust Rosedale neighbourhood from its hard-core crime zones south of Bloor Street – an area Bromell patrolled for part of his 26 years on the force.In the series, the physical bridge becomes a metaphor for other dualities, including the gulf separating commanding officers from the rank and file.


[Aaron Douglas as Frank Leo in The Bridge. The character is based on former police-union head Craig Bromell]


“Few institutions are as political as a major metropolitan police force,” says Bromell. “Cops hate drug dealers, that’s true. But they hate brass even more. The tough part of the job is inside the building. And it’s the same everywhere.”

As a TV project, The Bridge was born shortly after Bromell left the police force in 2003. He made a segue into radio, hosting a talk-show on Toronto radio station AM640 (where he still serves as a part-time consultant on police issues).

One day, at his favourite watering hole, Toronto’s upscale Bistro 990 – “all of my important union decisions were made there, over fish,” says Bromell – he met TV producer Adam Shully (Blood Ties, Odyssey 5). Both thought the Bromell story had series potential and took the concept initially to Barna and, with him, to CHUM, which commissioned 10 episodes. When CTV acquired CHUM in 2006, the project was temporarily shelved, but later revived. CTV ordered a two-hour pilot, shot in the summer of 2008. Later, they ordered the rest of the series and sold it to CBS. The U.S. network has yet to announce an American launch date.

“It’s actually better that we had that delay,” Bromell explained in an interview on the set. “It needed more time. And it gave us a chance to get Alan Di Fiore on board. The key thing is it has to be real – every little detail. You have to really believe that you’re with the cops out there. It has to be the most authentic cop series going, because everyone will be coming after us. Because of my background, this thing will be picked at, picked at, picked at.”


[A scene from The Bridge’s premiere episode, Red Door / Paint It Black. Star Aaron Douglas is shown standing on the right]


Bromell grew up in Oshawa, the son of a city employee. Influenced by the writing of Joseph Wambaugh, the former Los Angeles policeman turned novelist, and by TV cop shows, which he consumed voraciously as a teenager (The Rockford Files, The Mod Squad, Police Story, Dragnet), he joined the force at 18.

Di Fiore was an obvious candidate for the writing assignment, having been a key part of the team responsible for Da Vinci’s Inquest, CBC’s long-running series about a cop turned crusading coroner, and CBS’s short-lived FBI series The Handler.

He’d always wanted to write and, convinced that writers should write what they know, hit the road after college to gain life experience. He worked as a union organizer among Mexican-Americans, and then came to Canada, employed variously as a fish-packer, as a herring fisherman, in a dog food factory, as a log salvager and finally as part-owner of a jazz club, Pagliacci’s in Victoria.

It was a visit to the club by actor-director Stuart Margolin that led to Di Fiore’s first TV credit – Vendetta, a miniseries shot in Rome.

When The Bridge was in development, Barna, who produced Da Vinci, recommended him to Bromell. “I’d never met him or even known about him,” says Di Fiore. “But when Craig told me the bones of his story, I was riveted. Except for Wambaugh, in prose, no one has ever done the story of the ordinary street cop.”

Approaching the pilot script, Di Fiore said he had a brief chat with Bromell, but cut him off at a certain point. “I felt if I knew too much about his particular story, it would limit me creatively. So most of the storyline and most of the other characters are invented.”

He wrote the first draft in 21 days. “I wanted to contemporize the story, because the truth is, rank and file cops today are still battling the brass as much as they’re battling the drug dealers on the street.”

Lead actor Douglas, a Vancouver native, didn’t try to model the character directly on Bromell. “I just wanted to make Frank Leo a real guy. It’s a fictional character based on Craig’s life. I don’t put a lot of forethought into the scene. My approach is to say the words as simply as you can. Don’t try to act. Just be naturalistic.”

Ultimately, naturalism is also Bromell’s ambition – to accurately depict the true, hugely complicated nature of a cop’s life.

“No one,” he promises, “will be able to come back to us and say: ‘That’s not how it is. It’s not that way.’ No, I’m sorry. It is that way and that’s how we’re going to show it.”


The Bridge premieres Friday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, then moves to a regular Friday, 10 p.m. ET/PT timeslot on March 12.