Dear Louie and Marge:
Oops. I’m sorry. You probably get that a lot. Let me try again…
Dear Louis and Martha:
This is likely the strangest fan letter you’ve ever received (if, indeed, either of you even “receive” it), but I figure now is as good a time as any to tell you what I was too nervous to tell you 25 years ago, when you were actually living in my part of Atlantic Canada.
Specifically: Your weekly series Seeing Things was one of the funniest, most creative TV shows ever produced by the CBC or, for my money, any network anywhere in the world, and it made my ’80s adolescence a lot more interesting and entertaining.
It took me a couple of years to catch on to Seeing Things – I wasn’t watching it during its initial three-episode trial run in the fall of 1981 or in its first full season the following year. But by the time I stumbled onto it, at the age of 11 in 1984, I was just old enough to appreciate your unconventional approach to a weekly detective series, with its engaging cast, generous dollops of slapstick and real-world humour, and a loving-yet-realistic portrayal of the multicultural milieu that is Toronto. (Louis, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, given your partnership with series co-creator David Barlow on the writing staff for King of Kensington, which I’ve saluted earlier in this blog.)
Now, for clarity’s sake, I should point out that Seeing Things never won me over for the plot-driving “psychic visions” of harried newspaper reporter Louie Ciccone. (I’ve never put any credence in psychic phenomena, partly because of my Christian beliefs and largely because of my underlying belief that psychic phenomena is, in layman’s terms, a big load of hooey. But I digress…)
No, what kept me tuning into Seeing Things for the last five years of its eight-season CBC run (and the reruns that arrived on Showcase in the early 2000’s) was the fact that Louie Ciccone wasn’t even remotely a typical TV crime-solver. With all due respect, Louis (perhaps I should be calling you Mr. Del Grande at this point), no TV viewer was going to mistake you for Tom Selleck. Or those Simon and Simon dudes, or Mr. T. Beyond the basic looks department, you and David Barlow and the rest of the Seeing Things crew wrote Louie as a lovable bumbler, incapable of gaining even the respect of his editor at the fictional Toronto Gazette, who mispronounced Louie’s surname (“Chick-CONE”) throughout the entire run of the series.
You were fun (and funny) enough to watch, Louis, but you surrounded yourself with a terrific cast. That’s where you come in, Martha. (I hope you’ll forgive me for not using your full name.) Even as a preteen-turned-teenager, I loved the conceit of an on-screen husband and wife acting duo, playing a separated couple that spent the entire run of Seeing Things trying to sort out their feelings for each other and eventually finishing up in love. It was unlike anything being shown on TV – Canadian or otherwise – in the ’80s and I was delighted to discover that a couple that shared such on-screen chemistry, even putting the likes of Moonlighting’s David and Maddie or L.A. Law’s Grace and Michael to shame, were actually married with children in real life.
Besides, Martha, you always seemed willing to take one for the Seeing Things team, rather than let Louis do all the pratfalls himself. I still vividly recall the 1985 episode “Seeing The Country,” where Louie and Marge were enjoying an idyllic fishing trip in Ontario cottage country before Louie reeled in a human skull that triggered one of his visions. In a scene that still astounds me to this day, Marge volunteered to dive into the lake and search underwater for more clues. (Conveniently, Louie couldn’t swim.) In the next scene, with a surly police officer next to Louie on the shoreline, Marge emerged from the depths with another piece of evidence (the bones of a human arm and hand) and hollered triumphantly to Louie; she was dubbed “The Mermaid of Turtle Lake” by the townsfolk later in the episode.
I guarantee the two of you: My wife loves me – and we’re happily married, not separated – but if I took her on a fishing trip, did all the fishing myself, and then insisted that she hit the water to dredge up pieces of a crime scene, it would be an extremely short TV episode. Also, an extremely short marriage.
Another smart move: Casting Janet-Laine Green as Crown attorney Heather Redfern. A character like that could have been a one-dimensional thorn in the side of a guy like Louie Ciccone (and vice-versa); in Green’s hands, she showed impeccable comic timing, and seemed as willing as the two of you to drop in a double-take or slip on a banana peel for the good of a scene.
Considering Redfern’s outward toughness, Green also showed incredible vulnerability as a Yuppie legal eagle trying to find love in the Big Smoke. Few episodes of Seeing Things displayed this more effectively than the series finale, “A Vision In White”; I don’t know whether I smile more at the fact that Redfern’s klutzy hockey-player boyfriend showed up to save the day in the episode’s closing minutes, or the knowledge that she was playing Bruno Gerussi’s tough-as-nails love interest on The Beachcombers only a few months after Seeing Things wrapped, further cementing her versatility.
By that time, it was clear that Seeing Things wasn’t just a hit in Canada but around the world. I was thrilled to read magazine stories that talked of a letter from Australia finding its way to the two of you with an envelope marked only: “Louis Del Grande, CBC, Canada.” Martha, I was tickled to hear of the entire staff at a swanky New York City boutique (Bloomingdales?) serenading you with the Seeing Things theme song, one of the snappiest bits of set-up music for any TV show inside or outside of Canada. And when I started taking classes at the University of King’s College in Halifax during the early ’90s, I was delighted that one of the longtime friends that I made during that period turned out to be a huge Seeing Things fan. (He’s now an Anglican priest in Toronto; he still sends me the occasional e-mail asking me if I remember specific details of individual Seeing Things episodes.)
However, the early ’90s also brings me to an embarrassing admission: By that time, the two of you were living in St. Peter’s, not far from my own Cape Breton community of L’Ardoise. Your daughter, Tina, was even attending high school with my sister, Colleen. So I should have had the courage to find you and thank you for all the entertainment you delivered during the height of my CBC fandom in the ’80s.
But I didn’t.
Somehow, I convinced myself that people who had gone to the trouble of relocating to a small community on Canada’s East Coast wouldn’t take kindly to fanboys like me gushing all over them. So that means I not only avoided actively seeking you out (or asking my sister to use whatever pull she might have had with your daughter), I completely whiffed on the only two times you and I were ever in the same room together.
The first time was when I spotted Martha during an event at the St. Peter’s Lions’ Hall, likely during the community’s annual Summerfest. I can’t even remember whether it was in 1991 or 1992, or whether or not I was playing music on stage that evening. All I know is that, suddenly, about a dozen feet away from me, there was this marvellous actress whose work I had so enjoyed only a few years earlier. I could swear you even smiled at me, Martha. And then I lost my nerve and turned away. I have no idea why. As the theme song went: “I’m seeing things, believe me, I’ve never seen before – but little things deceive me.” Like why I didn’t say hello that night.
Or, even worse, why I didn’t thank Louis for bringing us Seeing Things during an actual face-to-face conversation with him while I was doing my summer job at a tourist bureau just outside the St. Peter’s Canal.
I was helping a visitor to our area find information about nearby accommodations when you walked into our tiny visitor centre, Louis. I remember seeing you out of the corner of my eye, wondering if it was really you, quickly convincing myself that it couldn’t possibly be the real Mr. Del Grande, and turning my attention back to the visitor on the other side of my counter. And then, somehow, we got to chatting, after you inadvertently shocked me with the casual compliment, “Nice place you got here.”
I remember very little about that conversation, except that you were cradling what appeared to be a paper sack of groceries, nibbling on what appeared to be a small submarine sandwich, and that we were engaging in general chit-chat about the present and future of the CBC. I will absolutely never forget your prediction for the network’s forthcoming weekly talk show, Friday Night With Ralph Benmurgui: “That Benmurgui kid, he’s going to be a star.” (I’ll discuss that ill-fated project, a sentimental favourite of mine, in a future blog post.)
The conversation ended far more quickly than it should have, possibly with the arrival of someone else looking for a hotel room. And at no time did it include me overcoming my thin veneer of bravado and finding a way to compliment your work on Seeing Things and tell you how wonderful it was that the Del Grandes were calling St. Peter’s home. I regret that to this very day, Louis and Martha, and that’s part of the reason I’m writing these very words.
I hope you’ll make it back to Nova Scotia someday – I was heartened to hear that you performed at Festival Antigonish in 2009. Or perhaps I’ll bump into you when my wife and I finally make it to wherever you now call home. Either way, I hope a warm handshake and a true expression of my gratitude will replace the swing-and-a-miss that greeted my first, and thus far only, opportunities to salute you a quarter-century ago.
Thanks, Louis. Thanks, Martha. Sincerely, Adam.