Saving Hope Writer Patrick Tarr on Bringing the Holidays to Hope Zion

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Bell Media
Bell Media

The holiday season is officially upon us and this year, for the first time ever, the gang at Saving Hope is getting in on the festive fun with an official holiday episode airing this Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on CTV. It’s Christmas Eve and while an ice storm threatens to derail plans outside the hospital, the holiday spirit is alive and well for the doctors and staff stuck inside Hope Zion. Charlie (Michael Shanks) experiences a unique take on the three ghosts of Christmas, Alex (Erica Durance) and Dawn (Michelle Nolden) try to bring about a Christmas miracle while Shahir (Huse Madhavji) and Dana (Wendy Crewson) find themselves unexpectedly swept up with the Christmas spirit.

Saving Hope writer and producer Patrick Tarr, who co-wrote the episode, “Shine a Light,” with Fiona Highet, talked exclusively with The TV Junkies to preview this special episode and the unique challenges it posed to the writing staff. He also explains the decision behind pairing certain characters together and gives a little peek into what’s to come on the rest of Saving Hope in Season 4.

The TV Junkies: Saving Hope has never done a holiday themed episode before. How did the opportunity for this one come about now in Season 4?

Patrick Tarr: Because of the shifting nature of prime time TV scheduling, we’ve never really had the opportunity to do a holiday-themed episode before. In fact, last season we attempted a Halloween show, but in the end it became about the night of the Blood Moon–even though it ended up airing the day before Halloween. It was CTV who suggested we do a Christmas episode this season, they’re great supporters of the show and wanted something special out of this season. Fiona and I were both pretty excited when we were assigned to write it.

TTVJ: This serves as a standalone episode. Why was that decision made and what unique challenges did that present for you and Fiona in writing it?

PT: By the end of this season, 67 episodes of Saving Hope will have aired, which means it can be shown in reruns for years to come. The network wanted the Christmas episode to be “evergreen,” meaning it could be slotted in almost any time in the life of the show and still make sense. With the exception of Charlie being out of his coma, it really could drop in just about anywhere. We don’t even really state whether or not Alex and Charlie are a couple in the episode. It seemed like a big challenge going into it, but there was so much Christmas business to handle that Fiona and I found it pretty easy to focus on the episodic stories and leave the serialized elements aside.

But really, I think the biggest challenge was getting through pitching the stories without crying. I’m not a big crier in general but some of the stories really hit home for a few of us and there were a lot of tissues going around the room by the time we finished talking them through. Maybe don’t print that last part.

TTVJ: You guys do a take on the 3 ghosts of Christmas through Charlie and the spirits he gets visits from this episode. Was that something you knew right away that you’d want to play with when you heard “holiday episode?”

PT: Funny enough, we talked about doing that right off the bat, and then dumped the idea. Charlie was supposed to have only one ghost, the young boy Aidan (Percy Hynes White) who’s waiting by the Christmas tree for his mom. But after the first draft of the outline went around, people were feeling like they wanted to know more about the character of Laverne (Rookie Blue‘s Melanie Nicholls-King) in order to really feel the emotion of that storyline. It was a great note and introducing Spirit Laverne really broke open that story for us and made it so much more emotional. And, well, once we had two ghosts, going back to the idea of bringing in a third seemed like kind of a no-brainer. But because the first two ghosts are quite emotional stories, we decided to make the final one a light moment about alternative December 25th traditions.

TTVJ: Dawn and Alex, who’ve had their share of issues in the past, are forced to work together. Why did you decide to throw those two together and can you preview how that goes?

PT: I love the Alex/Dawn relationship and how it’s changed over the seasons. The timeless nature of the episode meant we could maybe backtrack a bit to more of a contentious dynamic between them. We took some inspiration from the real-time episode of Season 2 called “42 Minutes,” in which Alex is the hopeful optimist fighting for a patient against all odds, while Dawn is the realist who knows a lost cause when she sees one. Ultimately, though, I think those characters are more alike than they’d care to admit. It was perhaps a little dark, but we liked the idea of having Alex throw all her hope behind the possibility of a Christmas miracle, only to have it come in a much different form than she was expecting, and to see both her and Dawn affected by that.

TTVJ: We’ve really seen Maggie [Julia Taylor Ross] and Zach’s [Benjamin Ayres] friendship being explored a lot more this season and that theme is continued here. What do you enjoy about their relationship and will we continue to see more of this as the season goes forward?

PT: Ben and Julia are so great together, they remind me of all those classic comedy duos where you have the “straight man” and the “banana man.” Zach is clearly the straight man, but still gets a lot of laughs with his deadpan delivery. For me, they have the most realistic and interesting friendship on the show. We wanted to highlight that, as Maggie does her best to cheer Zach up after his Christmas plans go awry. While this episode isn’t part of the serialized season, it does highlight a relationship that definitely comes into stronger relief by the end of the season.

Bell Media
Bell Media

TTVJ: Dana and Shahir have some great scenes together, why did you choose to pair them up for this episode?

PT: Huse and Wendy just have great chemistry and are individually so funny, but I don’t think they’ve ever played an entire storyline together. Our intern, Aaron Bala, threw out the idea of toy surgery and I think we broke the story together in about five minutes after that. We liked having Dana and Shahir represent the point of view of two people who aren’t necessarily drinking the Christmas kool-aid, but for different reasons. It suited the Dana/Shahir dynamic so well to see them both put their big brains to a toy O.R., because even though they might not agree on how to do it, the children definitely win when Hope Zion’s top neuro and plastic surgeons decide to save Christmas.

TTVJ: As just a general note, which is your favorite Saving Hope character to write for and why?

PT: That’s a tough one. Usually it’s whoever’s story I’m having the easiest time writing at any given point. For me, it’s the eccentric humour of the show that makes it fun to write and we’re very lucky to have a cast who can all turn on a dime from really intense drama to some pretty goofy comedic moments.

TTVJ: Are you writing any more episodes this season and is there anything that you can preview for us about what’s to come from Saving Hope in the new year?

PT: I wrote one more this season, Episode 416, “Torn and Frayed,” which was Erica Durance’s first time directing the show. She had so much contagious energy and enthusiasm, she made the episode a ton of fun for everyone in the cast and crew. While a lot of the big arcs of the season come to fruition in the final two episodes, there’s one very pivotal scene for two characters at the end of 416 that I felt very lucky to be able write.

There are some big revelations and some turning points to come, for sure. They’re shooting the second last day of the finale right now. Obviously I can’t say anything about that, but I can’t wait for people to see it. I think our fearless leader Adam Pettle, director James Genn and everyone else are going to have your jaws on the floor by the end.

TTVJ: Anything else you’d like to add?

PT: Just a shout-out to the Christmas episode director, Peter Wellington, and to all the series regulars and guest cast who really gave it all for the episode. It’s not easy to do heartfelt Christmas stories without veering into schmaltz, but they all toned their performances so well that we think the show came out great.

Are you excited for Saving Hope‘s holiday episode? Sound off in the comments below!

Saving Hope airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.

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