Move over Veronica Mars, there's a new super sleuth in town.
Freshman TV series "Open Heart" finds rebellious 16-year-old Dylan Blake (Karis Cameron) struggling over the fact that her father has vanished without a trace. Some bad behaviour on her part leads to a community service sentence at Open Heart Hospital, where her mother and grandparents are hot-shot doctors. When the police cease searching for Dylan's dad, she begins her own investigation, and soon discovers a web of lies surrounding her family and the hospital.
HuffPost Canada TV visited the Toronto-area set in November, where Episode 11, "Trust Fund," is underway. Today's scene, an Open Heart Hospital fundraising event, involves a ballroom full of characters mingling and schmoozing. The band Gold Complex pumps out music. A dapper tux-wearing Wes (Justin Kelly) quickly surveys the event before descending down the stairs into the main area. Out of the corner of her eye, Dylan catches him approaching her. Seconds later, the two exchange words before Dylan storms off into the crowd. The public display is merely a ruse to distract people from their true agenda -- a daring heist.
During multiple breaks, executive producer Ramona Barckert and cast members Cameron, Kelly and Cristine Prosperi sat down to talk about the genesis of "Open Heart," their characters and playing detective.
Once Upon A Time...
In some respect, "Open Heart" has been in the developmental stage since 2008. Executive producers Linda Schuyler and Stephen Stohn shot a pilot for a half-hour youth-volunteers-in-a-hospital series. Unfortunately, the pilot never moved beyond that. Flash forward a few years when YTV was still interested in doing a half-hour teen drama. Schuyler and Stohn dusted off the concept and gave it a fresh, modern take.
"They brought me on board and we added a mystery element to it," says Barckert. "The general idea was the youth volunteer in a hospital and focusing on one main character and her family. In the original pilot, her mother was the chief surgeon, and we still have that character in the reboot of the series. We also added her older sister, who's a first-year resident. It was sort of introducing the three levels of family in the hospital and adding the missing dad, which gave it that genre feel."
Rebel With A Cause
"Open Heart" kicks off three months after the disappearance of Dylan's father. The police have no leads and she's struggling with him missing. As a result, Dylan falls in with the wrong crowd and starts spinning out of control.
"They are these bored rich kids that break into houses and vandalize and steal stuff," explains Barckert. "When we see Dylan in the pilot, she gets arrested. Her punishment for that break-in is to be sentenced to community service at the hospital."
"The police have been handling my father's case, but it gets to a certain point where they stop," says Cameron. "They come up to us and go, 'We're closing the case.' That kicks Dylan into overdrive. She's like, 'If you're not going to do anything, I'm going to.' From that point on, she really focuses on trying to find her dad. She finds her family has been lying to her about certain things."
Dylan might be good at observing and snooping around, but even she needs help. Enter Wes and Mikalya, two volunteers at the hospital who click with Dylan. The trio initially unites in true Dylan fashion -- by breaking into her grandparents' luxurious home and taking a swim in their indoor pool.
"When you're a sleuth, sometimes it helps to be a little sleuthier," says Barckert with a chuckle. "Mikalya moves through the halls of the hospital and knows a lot of people. She can talk to them in a nicer manner and get the information Dylan needs. Wes is a charmer and can help with distraction. Dylan needs her Scooby Gang, but she's very smart and reads people well. That's one of her great qualities. She can tell when someone is lying and figure out a strategy to get around them."
"Dylan's never really had friends before," offers Cameron. "She's had her gang that she's hung out with, that she's been the leader of, but she's never had good solid friends. When she's introduced to Wes and Mikalya, it's a very big bonding. It takes a while for her to get her accustomed to them and open up and trust them, but once she does, it's a forever thing."
"Mikalya is fun and energetic," says Prosperi. "She's a girly girl and the best friend of Dylan. We get in trouble, but balance each other out a little bit. We are there for each other and have each other's backs. I also have a love interest. She's just a fun character to play."
As for Wes, "He's been at the hospital for a while," explains Kelly. "He's grown up in an unfortunate situation where his uncle had to raise him. He really wants to be a doctor, so he's there to get his life on track. Then he meets Dylan and falls for her right off the bat. They become good friends and he's there for her. He's her rock in a way.
"However, there's that whole question of, 'How much can I do to be there for her without risking my job and position at this hospital?'" says Kelly. "He's a really smart guy, but knowing what Dylan is going through, he can't help but cave and help her.
"In the first two episodes, he's already fully invested," Kelly adds. "Wes is sneaking around the hospital. He gets himself into a little bit of trouble. He's by Dylan's side the whole time."
A female lead with an attitude who solves mysteries? It has a familiar ring to it, certainly in the same vein as a famous Neptune High student. Barckert modeled Dylan after Veronica Mars and Buffy Summers, so any comparisons to the two empowering characters are welcome.
"'Veronica Mars' is one of my favorite shows of all time," reports Barckert. "But, it was a three-season show. We haven't seen a teen girl sleuth in a while. That's a trope on television. I don't think that character exists on TV right now. Veronica Mars is an adult now. We don't see her going through teen experiences, which is what we find Dylan going through. I think it's really important to say Buffy or Veronica Mars is a template for Dylan Blake. Finding a strong, complicated teen heroine on TV is something we should have more of."
"My homework was to go watch the first season of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' and 'Veronica Mars,'" recalls Cameron. "Ramona was like, 'Go home. We have a bit of a break. Go watch it and work it into your character a bit.' I definitely think it helped. Veronica Mars is so present in who she is and what's she doing. For Buffy, she's super awesome. She's sweet and super-strong and super-tough. She's not scared of anything, so that's what I took from that."
Not Always Elementary, My Dear Watson...
"Open Heart" promises plenty of drama, OMG moments and twists. The cast hopes every piece of the puzzle keeps viewers guessing ... especially since it had them mulling over theories as well.
"We definitely guessed stuff at the beginning," states Cameron. "None of us were anywhere close. I thought it was somebody totally different. We were reading the final four scripts and at one point, I look up. Kevin McGarry, who plays Dr. Hudson, looks up at me and I put my hand over my mouth and was like, 'No.'"
"We're reading the scripts as we go," says Kelly. "I'm asking the same questions a lot of other people were asking. I had a few hunches on what could happen and a few ideas where it could go, but I was totally wrong."
Endings And Beginnings
"Open Heart" isn't "Lost." Despite the show's serialized nature, the producers structured the show in terms of seasons. Dangling plotlines and questions will be resolved by the end of this year's arc.
"Even though there are lots of turns and reveals, we get to Episode 12 and pretty much know what happened to Dylan's father," concludes Barckert. "But, we then also start a new mystery. I've sorted of modeled it on the 'Buffy The Slayer' model, where every season had a big bad. They always had that one villain that we discovered half-way through the season and by the end of it, you were out of that situation, but starting a new one. Next season, should we get one, would have a brand new question that has to be answered."
"Open Heart" premieres Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on YTV in Canada and TeenNick in the U.S.