Make no mistake, Little Dog is not just another show about a white male protagonist down on his luck. Thanks to a wide array of female voices in front of and behind the scenes, CBC’s new comedy series, premiering Thursday, March 1 at 9 p.m. ET, puts a female lens on what could’ve been just another boxing tale. That female perspective adds a variety of layers to the story of welterweight Newfoundland boxer Tommy “Little Dog” Ross (Joel Thomas Hynes) as he begins a quest for redemption. After quitting a fight against rival Rico “Havoc” St. George (Dwain Murphy) five years ago, Tommy has lived with the fallout ever since, especially from his family, but a chance for a rematch may put Tommy back in the spotlight.
In addition to being its star, Hynes created Little Dog and brought the project to showrunner/producer Sherry White and the team at Cameron Pictures, Inc. production company. White, a writer and executive producer on shows such as Ten Days in the Valley, Frontier, The Catch and Rookie Blue, not only helmed the show, but also was one of a several women the show had direct episodes in Season 1. She recently spoke with The TV Junkies about why Little Dog is telling a very unique boxing story and the effect of having so many women’s voices behind the scenes.
White also shared why she feels that the cast of characters that make up Little Dog is so unique, and what they were looking for when casting roles such as Tommy’s sister Ginny (Katharine Isabelle, Hannibal) or Tommy’s ex and Rico’s current girlfriend Pamela St. George (Saving Hope’s Julia Chan).
The TV Junkies: It’s interesting to have a show about a white male protagonist, with so many women behind the scenes — showrunner, directors, production company. What does that female gaze bring to the show so it’s not just another story about a white dude?
Sherry White: It was very deliberate for that reason. I was drawn to the project because I have a long relationship with Joel, we have a kid together, I love his writing and I always knew he needed a vehicle for himself as a performer. At first I was like ‘a boxer? Hmmm… I don’t know.’ But what I loved is the boxer who wimps out and how do you recover from that? It’s all about digging in at the vulnerability of a fighter, his family dynamic and what that means about who the person is.
I said the same thing though, ‘this is another white male protagonist in a boxing story. Do we need another?’ But with a female lens on it, and exploring that vulnerability and broken masculinity in the hands of women telling that story, I feel it’s quite interesting. Joel had full faith and trust and totally gave over to that. He didn’t want to tell a typical macho story, even though he has all that armour, he’s aware that it’s hiding a vulnerability and it’s part of why he wanted to tell this story. That’s why I’m excited by it too. Some of the stories that are typically male stories, in the hands of women, we can start to reshape how we see those characters.
TTVJ: Even though it’s billed as a comedy, the tone of Little Dog is quite different from other comedies out there. How would you describe the tone you guys were going for?
SW: It’s not your typical network comedy for sure, but I do think there are some other shows out there that have the melancholy or poignancy. I’m thinking like an Atlanta, SMILF or Insecure. There’s a lot of other half hour comedies that are exploring tones, trying to get at truths or taking different perspectives. We were not wanting to do a comedy, but instead just let the character, their emotion and the family dynamics set the tone. We wanted to make sure it was still fun for people though.
TTVJ: Other than Joel, can you talk a little about the process of casting the other roles?
SW: We knew that the other actors had to fit into Joel’s world since he was the center. The next actor we found was Stephen Oates, who plays his brother, and he’s also from Newfoundland. When we put them together we realized that they were both alphas and that was part of the fun. We then realized when it came to the sister Ginny, that we needed her to be alpha too. So we had to be careful when casting that even though the character was written as strong that the actor wouldn’t give over the space. Women tend to give over the space easily anyway and then when you add people like Joel and Steve, with big personalities that take up space, it’s harder. Katharine Isabelle is a woman who has a major presence and doesn’t apologize for it. She will outshine those boys easily, get in the ring with them and take over. We were really lucky to get her and she works well with them.
As for their mother Sylvia, Joel had mentioned Ger Ryan really early on as he had seen her in The Family. He loved her and she was his dream character. It’s sometimes difficult to cast a woman with the right amount of hardness and softness and Ger just has that magic. She loved the material and we were able to make that work.
I think the hardest character for us to cast was Pamela (Julia Chan). She was the one character that was written to be a little bit of a stereotype — the trophy girl, arm candy and typical ring girl. The one thing I said early on was ‘we are not casting women as objects on this show.’ So it was really important to me that the character had complexity, but there wasn’t a ton of room in the scripts to make her more complex. We didn’t have the opportunity to really dig in on who she was a lot, but we wanted to find an actress that would inherently bring that and it’s how we found Julia. I had worked with her on Saving Hope and Rookie Blue and was always a fan of hers. She was able to have that charm and bring the intelligence and ambition. She just brought a lot of layers that make you ask questions about her. It’d be really easy to cast that character as just gorgeous and feisty, which Julia is, but she’s also intelligent, complicated and soft.
TTVJ: These are some very colorful characters for sure and I already know that my complaint is going to be that I only have seven episodes and want more.
SW: It really doesn’t go in typical ways either. We’re telling a satisfying story and working towards a fight at the end, but nothing in the journey is typical. It’s all very unique and coming from part of Joel’s history and family dynamic, or comes from us pushing ourselves to tell really unique stories.
TTVJ: There’s some pretty big boxing scenes throughout the show. What kind of challenge did those pose to shoot and ensure that you were being authentic and true to the sport?
SW: We had fight coordinators and had some stand ins and doubles that helped. Joel and Dwain Murphy also worked their asses off. But the stories in the show aren’t about boxing. There’s plenty of Rockys out there. We’re not talking about heavyweight champions of the world but more mid level. When you see those fights they are fun, but you’re seeing them get tired and how challenging it is. It doesn’t look like Rocky. These guys are struggling to stay on their feet. So there’s an authentic quality to what we shot and it’s not super glamorized. Each time there is boxing in our show there’s some other story that’s going on. It’s not just about who is going to win.
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Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.