Hart Hanson blends crime and comedy on his hit Fox TV show
“I am a popular entertainer,” says Hart Hanson, creator of the hit Fox TV show Bones, now in its sixth season. “I tap dance and fart, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.” That peculiarly Canadian knack for self-deprecation has stuck with Hanson (BA 1981 UC), even as his big-shot credentials have bloomed in Hollywood. And the same comic sentiment pervades the show he created – even if it is about grisly murders.
Outwardly, Bones is a straightforward police procedural: each week, improbably glamorous forensic anthropologist Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) must study the remains of long-dead murder victims so that FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) can crack the case. But Bones’ whimsical characters and sly humour set it apart from other body-of-the-week shows such as CSI, Criminal Minds and Cold Case. Hanson half-jokingly calls the show a “crimedy,” in which the characters kibitz over the corpses and the one-liners are scalpel-sharp.
Hanson originally aspired to write “serious” novels, but the realities of supporting a young family soon crowded out his literary ambitions. “As a struggling novelist, I had to do something for money,” he says. “I had heard if you wrote a Beachcombers script, they would pay you $8,000. And I thought if I wrote one or two of those a year, I wouldn’t be a bad father.” Sure enough, Hanson sold his first script to the CBC show, and later wrote and produced many others, including Street Legal, Road to Avonlea and North of 60. In 1996 he created the Bay Street drama Traders for Global TV, set in the pressure-cooker world of investment banking. He decamped for Hollywood in 1998, writing for several Fox shows before the network asked him to develop a new crime drama. Bones premiered in 2005.
Hanson flexed his comedic muscles early, as editor of University College’s satirical newspaper, The Gargoyle, and served as vice-president of the college’s literary and athletic society, UC Lit. He took his first creative-writing workshops at U of T (he majored in political science and minored in English), and won UC’s Norma Epstein Foundation Award for Creative Writing. “I had the greatest university experience,” he says. “It was life-changing for me to go from being a hair-down to-my-ass metalhead to actually working hard at school.”
Today, Hanson talks about his career as if he still can’t quite believe it. “I think I was booked to be a college English teacher,” he says. “Instead I ended up writing a murder show for Fox and living in Malibu. It’s very odd.”