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Texas theme in Canadian Hart Hanson's career

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Hart Hanson should have been thrilled. He should have floated to the stage to receive his Gemini award (Canada's Emmy equivalent) for best TV show in 1997 for "Traders." It was a night anyone working in Canadian television would have relished.

Though he appreciated the recognition, the man who this weekend will receive the Outstanding Television Writer award at the Austin Film Festival, couldn't allow himself to simply enjoy the moment.

"I was climbing the stairs, and I was thinking, 'Really? This is the top Canadian show? We have like one-third the viewers that 'ER' did," the creator of Fox's "Bones" said recently by phone. "I was climbing up to get this great award with the completely wrong attitude, a very skeptical attitude. So that's where my head was, that's what I was thinking."

It could be argued that were it not for Texas, Hanson never would have had a career in the entertainment industry in either country. The witty and self-effacing writer had aspirations of being a novelist. A phenomenal TV mini-series changed everything.

"The first show I saw on TV that made me want to be a TV writer was 'Lonesome Dove,' " Hanson said. "I loved the book. I was going to be a novelist, and I thought that was just the greatest book. I approached it very trepidatiously on TV, but I loved it. I thought, if you could make TV like this, not that I do, it would be absolutely awesome."

Texas inspired his first steps toward TV writing, and a Texan would be there when Hanson, mid-career, made the ambitious leap to the States. Austinite Rob Thomas hired Hanson to work on his romantic comedy "Cupid" in 1998. The move to the States also meant a move from executive producer to writer. The new position allowed Hanson to learn about American television without the responsibility of running the show.

"I got to learn the ins and outs of dealing with a powerful studio and a powerful network, so that was absolutely essential that I learned the notes process and working within the much more complicated American system," Hanson said. "I got to stand behind Rob and watch how that works."

He proved to be a strong study. Hanson would follow Thomas to "Snoops," in 1999, where he formed a relationship with producer David E. Kelley, who championed Hanson to Twentieth Century Fox. The studio signed Hanson to an overall deal, a relationship that would lead to an opportunity for Hanson to run his first show on American television, "Bones." The relationship with Fox endures 10 years later, "which is like 100 years in TV," according to Hanson.

Loosely based on the life of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, "Bones" follows the work of Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel), who offers clinical analysis of human remains to help FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) solve cases. There are murders, official-looking badges and jargon-filled findings, but "Bones" generally deviates from the tone and feel of the plethora of similar shows on TV.

"I had no interest at all in writing a procedural," Hanson said. "I said 'Look, you know me, I wouldn't do a straight procedural. I'd do one with quite a bit of character and, I hope, humor in it. If you want CSI, I'm not your fella.' "

Hanson centered the show on the personal relationship and ongoing flirtations of Brennan and Booth. The network originally seemed to balk at the idea of Hanson's particular take on the procedural drama. But, despite less than enthusiastic network support and a time slot that bounced around more than a bubbly contestant on "American Idol," the show built a loyal following. By the second season, the show seemed to have found its footing.

"Our slogan, I think, in the first year was, 'There are 207 bones in the human body; any one of them can feel a murder.' Very procedural," Hanson said. "And our poster in the second year was 'It takes chemistry to solve a murder' and featured David and Emily in a more romantic comedy pose instead of the skeleton and the forensic stuff. And that seemed to sell everybody on the idea of 'Bones' as a, I kept calling it in my very clever way, 'a romantic crimedy.' "

"Bones," which will see its seventh season begin in November, has become one of Fox's current longest-running programs. The show also has given birth to another Hanson creation, "The Finder." The main character of the new show was introduced during an episode of season six of "Bones." "The Finder" will air on Fox mid-season, after the first six episodes of "Bones," a move dictated by Deschanel's maternity leave.

Juggling characters and plot lines from two separate shows, along with the hopes and expectations of network executives, should keep Hanson more than a little busy during the coming months. But it certainly beats the alternative.

"When I was told I was going to get this honor, I thought. 'Oh that's just great,' " Hanson said. "Except right in the middle of it all we were having business discussions about the future of 'Bones' and the 'Finder' had not been picked up, and I was terrified I was going to come to Austin and get this award when I had no job and had no show. And I thought that would be so embarrassing."

Hanson can take the stage to receive his award Saturday without any mixed emotions.

modam@statesman.com; 912-5986

A Conversation with 2011 Outstanding Television Writer Awardee Hart Hanson