Canada Invades Chicago
by Erik Arneson
April 26, 1994 to May 11, 1998
Paul Gross as Constable Benton Fraser
David Marciano as Det. Ray Vecchio
Callum Keith Rennie as Det. Stanley Raymond Kowalski
Beau Starr as Lt. Harding Welsh
Camilla Scott as Inspector Margaret Thatcher
Gordon Pinsent as Sgt. Robert Fraser
Lincoln/Draco as Diefenbaker
An unfailingly polite Mountie, a cynical Chicago cop and an
allegedly deaf wolf -- not the likeliest of crime-fighting
partnerships, especially when you add the Mountie's dead father to
the mix. But it worked for "Due South," and it succeeded to such an
extent that fans rallied around the show when it was cancelled after
two seasons, prompting the producers to resurrect it without help
from an American network.
In the U.S., "Due South" debuted on CBS, marking the first time a
Mountie had a regular spot on an American network's prime-time
schedule since 1955's "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon." The show also
was the first Canadian-produced series to win a prime-time spot on
an American network.
However, the untimely exodus of a key CBS executive meant that "Due
South" lacked a strong advocate at the network, virtually ensuring
that the quirky program wouldn't last long. CBS cut it once, brought
it back for several months and then dropped it a second and final
time; the last cancellation took place a few weeks after CBS sent a
release to critics which indicated that it was "exceptionally proud
of 'Due South'" and noted improving ratings.
The opposites-attract relationship between Constable Benton Fraser
and Detective Ray Vecchio had won over enough fans, however, that
Toronto-based Alliance Communications found a way to finance a third
season. With help from CTV (a Canadian television network), the BBC
and Germany's Pro Sieben Media AG, "Due South" became the little
show that could for another 26 episodes, bringing the total to 66
episodes plus the two-hour pilot movie.
Alliance originally planned to air the new episodes in Canada and
the many other countries that had come to enjoy the show's
irreverent pokes at American life, and not sell them to the American
market. But the president of PolyGram Television happened to be a
"Due South" fan. He negotiated a U.S. syndication deal, securing
spots in 49 of the 50 largest markets and covering 87 percent of the
country. Most remarkably, he did so despite starting more than four
months after most syndicated programs already had deals inked with
In addition to the interplay between Fraser and Vecchio, later
between Fraser and Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski, "Due South"
inspired strong viewer loyalty for several reasons. Music, mainly
from Canadian artists like Sarah McLachlan and Crash Test Dummies,
was used effectively, and there were numerous in-jokes that only
Canadians and dedicated fans could fully appreciate.
The creative (albeit sometimes implausible) plots added to the
charm. In one episode, Diefenbaker, Fraser's half-wolf, half-dog
companion, chased after a car thief. With the animal's scent serving
as his only aid, Fraser tracked Diefenbaker through the streets of
Chicago and located the stolen car. Another case called for Fraser
to toboggan down an escalator.
Fortunately, the show's writers never took themselves too seriously.
Fraser once got himself committed to a psychiatric hospital (to
solve a crime, of course) simply by telling the truth -- that he was
a Mountie in Chicago being assisted by a lip-reading wolf. Another
investigation required Fraser to learn how to steal; it took quite a
bit of work from two detectives to pull that off. And when Fraser
joined the cops for a few hands of poker, they were baffled by his
There were plenty of serious moments on "Due South," however. Fraser
initially came to Chicago on the trail of his father's killer. At
one point, he had the murderer in custody and chose to save the
man's life when renegade federal agents tried to end his life.
Vecchio's true love, Irene Zuko, was killed during a shootout
between the detective and a mob boss.
After the second season, David Marciano (Vecchio) left the show and
was replaced by Callum Keith Rennie (Kowalski). The new "Ray" wore
blue jeans instead of Armani suits, but his take on life was similar
to that of the man he replaced. Both actors served as enjoyable
foils to Gross' straight-laced Fraser; the strong cast is one reason
that "Due South" won a number of Gemini Awards, including Best
Drama, in Canada.
The support crew included Diefenbaker, who ignored Fraser's commands
so often that the Mountie believed his wolf was deaf and often
played an important role on the show. The ghost of Fraser's dead
father appeared regularly, in full dress uniform, to give his son
advice and support. Sgt. Buck Frobisher, a friend of Fraser's
father, appeared in three episodes, played by Canadian actor Leslie
Nielsen (known for his work in films like "The Naked Gun").
Fraser's love life on the show centered around two characters, most
notably Inspector Margaret Thatcher, his superior at the Canadian
consulate in Chicago. Thatcher, whom Vecchio referred to as "The
Dragon Lady," fired Fraser before falling in love with him. Since it
would have been inappropriate given their work relationship, the two
never acted on their mutual feelings.
Fraser also had strong feelings for Victoria Metcalf, an accomplice
to a bank robbery that Fraser helped solve. After being released
from prison, Metcalf tracked Fraser to Chicago in order to seek
revenge. He still harbored feelings for her, but it's safe to say
they were unrequited. She framed Fraser and Vecchio for murder, shot
Diefenbaker and caused Fraser to be shot before escaping Chicago.
Vecchio's sister, Francesca, made many flagrant attempts to win
Fraser's romantic attention, but her overtures were never returned.
Among Vecchio's co-workers in the Chicago P.D. were detectives Jack
Huey, Louis Gardino and Thomas E. Dewey (Huey, Louis and Dewey), as
well as his commanding officer, Lt. Harding Welsh. Welsh
periodically voiced his disapproval of Fraser's influence on Chicago
police business, although he did have a grudging respect for the
It is worth noting that Vecchio held special feelings for his car, a
1971 Buick Riviera. Actually, three 1971 Buick Rivieras; alas, all
three were blown up in the name of police work.
Although its run on network television ended prematurely, "Due
South" made at least one important contribution to the field of
television mysteries. In an era where gritty, reality-based shows
like "NYPD Blue" and "Law & Order" dominate the ratings, it proved
that a show with an unabashedly good-natured lead character can
still draw an audience. Besides, there's no good reason to go 40
years without a Mountie in prime time.