The Secret of Shirley's Appeal

Vancouver Sun
Monday, February 24, 1997

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Why is the Vancouver-produced Adventures of Shirley Holmes so popular? Elementary, my dear, Watson. The children's mystery series shows life as an experince worth exploring.

As mysteries go, this one's easy to solve.

The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, the Vancouver-produced, Winnipe-filmed kids' series about the great detective's great-grandniece, begins its second season on YTV as one of the most popular programs in Canadian children's television.

Shirley Holmes is seen on BBC-TV in England, has just been sold to Italy and Germony, and is about to find a home on the Family Channel in the U.S. As if this weren't enough, YTV has expressed interest in picking it up for another season after this.

This is all elementary to Helena Cynamon, the Forefront Entertainment Group producer who, along with Forefront partners Mickey Rogers and Teri-Woods McArter and Credo Entertainment president Derek Mazur, orginally devised the idea of a 13-year-old school-girl who solves mysteries.

Cynamon notes that Shirley Holmes is one of the few live-action mystery shows geared to 9 to 12-year-olds.

It has found a niche, she says, because it is filling a void in kids' TV. It stands out in a glut of animation, much of it action-oriented. And while there is plenty of programming geared toward pre-schoolers, 9 to 12-year-olds are, by and large, neglected by network programmers.

"There're more ways to get kids interested in thier lives and how they can outsmart adults and go out there and deal with the real world than in animation," Cynamon says. "I like animation, but so often it's extreme. It isn't real, and it doesn't speak about kids' lives."

Cynamon believes Shirley Holmes' strength lies int he quality and labyrinthine detail of its mysteries.

"I just love that idea about something lying around the corner that's just a little bit different, that is going to tell you something that you don't already know." she says.

"[Children] liek the power of knowing things, of being able to say, 'Hey, I found that out', or 'Hey, I understand how I found that solution.' Shirley Holmes doesn't know the mystery, the whodunnit, at the beginning of a show. She has to figure it out in a very meditative way."

Shirley is played by 13-year-old Ottawa actor Meredith Henderson, a girl Cynamon describes as a real find.

"We had to look high and low for someone who just felt really comfortable in the role of knowing things," Cynamon says. "The ingredient I wanted to see was curiosity. There was nothing in this world that that person could look at and not be curious about.

"I love that spirit, and I see it reflected in Meredith. She has that passion for descovery."

The supporting players are all Canadian. Sarah Ezer, who plays Shirley's nemesis Molly (for Moriarty), hails from Vancouver, while the class clown, "Stink", is played by Courtenay's Brendan Fletcher.

Shirley Holmes is filmed in Winnipeg, Cynamon says, because financing was easier to come by in Manitoba than in B.C., which was committed to other productions. Forefront's partner on Shirley Holmes, Winnipeg's Credo Entertainment, is western Canada's largest independent producer of entertainment programming, with the TV movies For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down, and Heck's Way Home and the series My Life As A Dog on its list of credits.

In its first season, Shirley Holmes was filmed in mid-winter. This year, Cynamon says, the production was moved to summer, both because of the weather and so that the 10-week production wouldn't interfere with the young cast members' schooling.

Even in that first season of filming in Winnipeg's winter cold, Shirley Holmes was an exhilarating, life-affirming experience, Cynamon says.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to blow up the bathroom witht he chemistry set. I wanted to see, if I put this in, and this in, what happens.

"I would've loved to have been a Shirley Holmes. It's about being in the know without being seen. Knowing that you have a secret that you know that somebody else doesn't think you know. I guess you could say that I'm getting to live my childhood dream all over again."