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Canadians Excited for MLS Playoffs, New Dramatic Soccer Series on TV

TV audiences and sports fans alike are expected to be a bit surprised, certainly intrigued, by the creative and dramatic look at soccer promised by producers of a new TV series about turning hopefuls into professional athletes and star players.


Canadians Excited for MLS Playoffs…

It’s a fiercely competitive, cutthroat world, filled with people willing to risk it all for success.

Their quest is punctuated by love, sex, crime, race, and sporting glory.

Yes, it’s footie!

soccer RJ Fetherstonhaugh (Nolan Gallard) stars in 21 Thunder

RJ Fetherstonhaugh (Nolan Gallard) stars in 21 Thunder

TV audiences and sports fans alike are expected to be a bit surprised, certainly intrigued, by the creative and dramatic look at soccer promised by producers of a new TV series about turning hopefuls into professional athletes and star players.

It’s called 21 Thunder, and the original eight one-hour episodic commissioned by the CBC comes from two top Canadian companies partnering on the project, PMA Productions and Generic Productions.

The series follows the players and coaches at an under-21 soccer academy. Production started in late August and it’s just wrapped in Montréal, where the sports drama is set.

(Good timing, of course, what with Montréal, Toronto and a lot of Canada excited about those two cities’ Major League Soccer teams battling in the MLS Playoffs and a first-ever chance to grab the MLS Cup!  UPDATED: TFC has made it to the Championship match, and will host the MLS Cup on December 10 in Toronto)

Along with the powerful storyline and steamy off-pitch action of 21 Thunder, there’s a solid commitment to realism for the on-pitch practices and game action sequences, all produced for the screen with the assistance of a team of soccer consultants and support from the Montreal Impact and the MLS.

The series was co-created by Riley Adams, Kenneth Hirsch and Adrian Wills; they’re executive producing, along with Michael Levine and Malcolm MacRury, who’s also serving as showrunner.

In an email exchange with Sportscaster Magazine, Riley Adams described the importance that all the producers put on conveying and maintaining an accurate sense of soccer play, style, rules and on-field activity.

(Riley is a self-described big footie fan, and it’s not hard to see why he fell in love with ‘the beautiful game’  —  he spent several years living in Barcelona in the ‘90s, the era of Ronaldo, Luis Enrique, Figo and Pep Guardiola as captain! Easy to appreciate good football, ¿no?!)

“It was very important for us to make the games and practices we see on 21 Thunder feel as authentic and real as possible,” he began. “But we needed to strike a crucial balance.

soccer RJ Fetherstonhaugh (Nolan Gallard)

“We also wanted hardcore soccer fans to watch it and say, ‘Yeah, these guys are serious about showing the truth of life on the pitch!’”

“We wanted to be sure that viewers who weren’t necessarily soccer fans would be excited by and understand the key dramatic moments on the field. We also wanted hardcore soccer fans to watch it and say, ‘Yeah, these guys are serious about showing the truth of life on the pitch!’”

So the soccer is shot with realism and true grit, and scenes on the pitch are designed to be clear, punchy moments in the overall story, with its surely colourful and dynamic narrative.

Acclaimed film and television actor Colm Feore stars (also RJ Fetherstonhaugh and Ryan Pierce) in 21 Thunder as a powerful, big-city crime boss — imprisoned for life. His son plays for the under-21 soccer academy, the all-important training ground that’s feeding a fictional pro soccer team.

Also there is a former Olympic soccer hero forced on the team for PR reasons, and an international soccer superstar who’s on the run from both the paparazzi and his past. The striker’s a former gang-member; the coach is described as “notorious”.

In order to marry the story and the soccer, Riley added that “[a]nother key part of our authenticity strategy was to hire great actors who could play soccer! We were also lucky enough to find a very talented and passionate group of college and pro soccer players who were our background performers and made us all look good on game day.”

soccer drama on CBC

Ryan Pierce (Davey Gunn) in 21 Thunder; production wrapped in November.

Before that, the production team had applied “a comprehensive system of choreography” to ensure sports accuracy and soccer integrity in the series by first identifying all the “soccer moments” in the scripts.

“We would sit down with our soccer technical advisors — a team of nationally accredited coaches and former pro players — who would then help us plot out on a whiteboard the X’s and O’s of the soccer action, exactly how the play would work, who would run where, who would pass the ball, who would receive it, etc. Then the episode director and director of photography would weigh in about the best way to actually shoot the scene.”

He explained how the actors and crew rehearsed the soccer scenes well ahead time so that on shooting day, everyone would know exactly what the choreography was, where the greatest technical challenges lay and how long the sequences would take.

Describing the input received from the Montreal Impact and the MLS as invaluable and instrumental in making sure that the soccer looked right, Riley noted that it ranged “from breaking down the soccer plays into step-by-step choreography the crew could shoot; to suggestions about soccer-realistic dialogue for the script; to coaching some of our actors on how to shoot, tackle, even run like a soccer player.”

Canadians Excited for MLS Playoffs, New Dramatic Soccer Series on TV

Film and TV writer, producer and program co-creator Riley Adams (Crossing the Rubicon: The Journey, Flashpoint) on the set of 21 Thunder in Montréal.

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CBC is set to premiere the series next summer, so if you’re intrigued and waiting to see the realistic action in 21 Thunder  ­̶  and the love, sex and crime of course  ­̶  Riley, in a way, has a soccer suggestion to tide you over with his personal football favourite:

“FC Barcelona is still my team, although now that Guardiola has moved on to coach at Manchester City I have also become a big fan of his new team and, increasingly, the EPL.”

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…New Dramatic Soccer Series on TV

“We are excited to be working with the team at PMA and Generic to pull the curtain back on the thrilling and high pressure world of elite sports,” Sally Catto, general manager, programming, CBC Television, said when the show was announced. “This riveting drama will offer audiences a fresh and diverse perspective on the world’s most popular sport, and what it takes to play ‘the beautiful game’ at the pro level.”

Commissioned by CBC, 21 Thunder is produced by PMA Productions and Generic Productions, and executive produced by Kenneth Hirsch (Extraordinary Canadians, Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague), Michael Levine (Republic of Doyle), Adrian Wills (The Surrogacy Trap, All Together Now), Riley Adams (Crossing the Rubicon: The Journey, Flashpoint) and Malcolm MacRury (Republic of Doyle, Saving Hope).

“We share CBC’s commitment to delivering an adrenaline-fuelled series that will appeal to viewers across all platforms, and attract the attention of new audiences eager for gripping, serialized dramas featuring the stories of millennials with big dreams,” added executive producers MacRury and Hirsch.

Headquartered in Montréal, PMA Productions Inc. was founded in 2004 by Kenneth Hirsch, and has since gained an international reputation for the production of prestigious film, television, and digital media content. PMA Productions is currently in production on two series for CBC television: the first season of 21 Thunder, and the second season of Extraordinary Canadians, which will launch in the spring of 2017 as part of Canada 150 celebrations.

Generic Productions Inc. is a Toronto-based production company, helmed by Michael A. Levine. Levine and Generic have executive produced and co-produced dozens of iconic productions, including The Terry Fox Story, first made for HBO.

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