DETECTIVE SERIES PREMIERES Sunday, February 11, 9/8c PM
If you’re like most of us, you probably have a Pavlovian reaction when you hear the name Jason Priestley. It can’t be helped. Though it’s been eighteen years since “Beverly Hills 90210” defined 90s television, many articles about the actor who starred as golden boy Brandon Walsh for most of nine seasons still mention his heartthrob status.
While Priestley fully acknowledges what “90210” and Aaron Spelling did to launch his career, when things exploded for the star, he didn’t implode. Instead, he realized something many teen idols past and present don’t seem to understand: nothing, including red-hot fame, lasts forever. That prescience led Priestley to exactly where he is today. To borrow a hockey term, when one player scores three times in hockey, it’s called a hat trick, and Priestley has accomplished something equally impressive on the entertainment side. He currently stars in the original drama “Private Eyes,” as the ex-pro hockey player-turned-private eye, which premieres Sunday, February 11 (9/8c PM) on ION Television, in partnership with Entertainment One (eOne). He’s also credited with finding, optioning and developing the series, based on the mysteries by Canadian author G.B. Joyce. He also serves as one of the drama’s executive producers.
So, how did Priestley get so smart at such a young age? He says he began directing plays in high school, and he recognized the opportunity to expand from the front of the camera to behind fairly early on in the “90210” experience. “I knew that taking control and having the ability to guide my career myself was going to pay dividends down the road.” He adds: “I really just looked at what was happening with our show. I think I understood that the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. I was concerned with longevity of my career following an experience like that…I didn’t want my carcass to be thrown on the funeral pyre of last year’s teen idol, which was a very large pyre…I wanted to do everything I could to secure my position beyond the rise and fall of that television experience.” To that end, Priestley wound up directing fifteen episodes of “90210” before he left early in Season 9.
Priestley, who was born in Vancouver, also credits what he calls “my humble Canadian upbringing and that blue collar work ethic instilled in me from very early age,” for providing the ballast he needed. But he adds, “I also I think I had a slightly different perspective on what was happening at the time because I was Canadian…you sort of spend your whole life looking at the spectacle of America. You’re part of it but you’re also a little bit removed from it. Like ‘90210’, I was part of it and a little removed from it, and I could step back and see the spectacle for what it was.”
One of the hands-on creators of “Private Eyes,” Priestley says that fans of the five Chase mysteries will note two significant departures from the book: the character he plays is renamed Matt Shade (for legal reasons), as well as the invention of his feisty partner in crime, played by Cindy Sampson. Priestley explains, “The one big change we had to make in developing the material was the addition of the Angie Everett character. In books it’s easy for a character to remain singular and convey his thoughts to the reader. We struggled with how to do that in a dynamic way for television, so we came up with another strong female character for Shade to interact with, to complete the female triumvirate in his life—his teenage daughter, his ex-wife and the addition of this new partner and romantic foil. Surrounding him with all these strong women leads to difficulties…and makes him a relatable character and a lot to fun to play.” Shade and Everett’s snappy and snippy relationship, abetted by sharp writing with just the right blend of mystery and humor, works for the show, and should appeal to viewers who gravitate toward mainstay procedurals and loved and miss the repartee of dramas like “Castle.”
Two seasons of “Private Eyes” have been completed and have already aired in Canada, and season three is set to begin production in Toronto in April and continue through the summer. It’ll be a nice change from the previous schedules that saw the company shooting in less-than-balmy Hollywood North winters, where cameras—and hard-working crew—have been known to freeze. Priestley looks forward to new audiences discovering the show on ION, the exclusive U.S. television home for current and future seasons of the drama series. “Hopefully, people will respond to the show, and we’ll get to make more.”
But before he goes back to work, he’ll take his kids skiing. And yes, like Matt Shade, he’s been known to play some hockey, but says he finds it increasingly difficult to find the ice time, given the upcoming demands of completing the next twelve episodes of “Private Eyes” and his directing schedule. “When I’m not working on my show, I’m directing other people’s,” Priestley says. “I’ve been doing a lot of science fiction.” He recently completed two episodes of the paranormal action series “Ghost Wars,” and next up, he’ll be helming another episode of the fantasy horror series “Van Helsing.” Which, come to think of it, is exactly how Jason Priestley planned it.