The latest big North American cop drama Flashpoint comes with a difference - it's Canadian. SCOTT KARA reports
It takes a while to click why new TV cop show Flashpoint is unique from other shows of its kind. Although there are guns of all shapes and sizes, a bit of backslapping bravado, and tense, wild-eyed action, you finally realise the Canadian show is more real than glitzy American cop shows such as CSI: Miami or Bones. It's a refreshing change.
"Right on," agrees Toronto-born actor Enrico Colantoni, who plays Sgt Gregory Parker. He's on the phone from his adopted hometown of Los Angeles after finishing shooting the first season of Flashpoint a few days earlier.
The show follows the lives of elite cops in the Strategic Response Unit - based on Toronto's Emergency Task Force - who take on high-risk jobs like rescuing hostages and defusing bombs.
Colantoni says husband-and-wife writing team Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern wanted to bring out the humane side of the characters and show the effects and price these elite cops pay for their actions while on the job. "They don't pull any punches as far as sentimentality and emotional attachment goes. It's television and it's dramatic but you want to feel for these people. I think in the last few years we've gone away from that and into the clinical shows where we don't really know a lot about characters. But boy, oh boy we find out lots of stuff about these guys.
"And I think the Canadian element is important because I think we do see the world as a world. Canadians don't see themselves as superheroes and saviours of the world, we see ourselves as part of the world and of the world."
With this sort of formula, Flashpoint is taking a big punt in a market where TV viewers are hooked on the glamour of shows such as CSI. But so far audiences are tuning in in his homeland and he's "tickled pink" that even American viewers are watching in big numbers.
"There's something subtle about it that makes people come back. It's not just about storming the castle, and cops without a conscience. They are real, they're breathing and they want to save peoples' lives and these people they want to save are not lifetime criminals, they are real people having bad days. That's got to be more accessible," he says.
The first episode, where a disturbed man who doesn't speak English takes a woman hostage in the crowded downtown business district, was inspired by a real incident that happened in Toronto.
"There was only one solution. You have to take him out and if you have the shot you take it," says Colantoni. "Mark and Stephanie were fascinated with how everyone else went on with their lives but what happened to the one individual who pulled the trigger and how is his life different now? There are consequences to being a hero, consequences to killing somebody, which is just fascinating."
You might remember Colantoni as dad Keith Mars on cult hit Veronica Mars, or more famously as Elliott the womanising fashion photographer on long-running sitcom Just Shoot Me.
He enjoyed comedy - "I always thought my career would be made up of bad guys, the fact I got to be on a sitcom for seven years still surprises me because I never thought I was a funny guy" - but for his new role he's happy to swap his camera for a more lethal style of sharp shooting. Although, as Parker, the leader and head negotiator of the SRU team, he spends more time talking people round than staring down the barrel of a gun. And, he jokes, working on Flashpoint has meant he's fulfilled a lifetime dream of playing cops and robbers. He also says his role is a homage to his brother who was a policeman for 30 years.
"I always wanted to be a cop but my brother always discouraged me because he knew my heart was a little more open and I wore it a little more on my sleeve than him, so he told me I'd make a lousy cop. So this is my chance to be cowboy cop," he laughs.
With all the time he'd spent around cops he hardly needed to research the role apart from spending time with members of the Emergency Task Force and speaking with negotiators.
"They talk to you like they're your buddies. You'd never think that that is the best way to disarm somebody. 'Let's put the gun down, put the gun down because we all want to go home.'
"But I didn't need to read any books to play this guy. After all, acting is about bringing out the humanity in people and I know a lot of people don't think cops are human but they really are, so that's my job and that's what I like to do."