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Montreal's Peter Lenkov rides 'Hawaii Five-O' wave as executive producer

Peter Lenkov, executive producer of the CBS drama Hawaii Five-O, participates in a Television Critics Association Studio Day event on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CBS-Monty Brinton

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Peter Lenkov, executive producer of the CBS drama Hawaii Five-O, participates in a Television Critics Association Studio Day event on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CBS-Monty Brinton

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Book 'em, Danno.

That's what CBS did when they hired Montreal native Peter Lenkov to be the executive producer and showrunner of "Hawaii Five-0." The series, in its fourth season, airs Friday nights on CBS and Global.

The high-action detective series shoots in Honolulu, but the writers work in Hollywood, right on the storied Paramount Studios lot.

Last week, several TV critics were shuttled to the writers' room, located on the second floor of Paramount's Mae West building. There, Lenkov and his team of nine writers, along with directors and editors, walked reporters through the process of building each week's episode.

They all require eight days of prep, eight shooting days and then several days of post-production. More than 200 people, in L.A. and Hawaii, work on the series.

The walls of the main writers' room are lined with classroom-size white boards. They are usually filled with highlights to a main storyline — called "beats" — that are broken down into acts.

This particular episode, No. 418 (set to air in April), is a little trickier than usual. Fans were given the opportunity to decide plot lines via the Internet, including choosing the murder weapon and even wardrobe details. "Hawaii Five-0" generally shoots 22 to 24 episodes a year.

A writer's assistant has carefully written everything down on the boards. "You don't want to have penmanship like that in a room like this," says Lenkov, "because then every writer goes to you and says, 'Can you write all this down on the storyboard?'"

The main room also has a large flatscreen to conference in the various department heads in Hawaii, including location scouts, set designers and wardrobe people.

On this day, Australia-born actor Alex O'Loughlin — who plays Hawaiian special forces Lt.-Cmdr. Steve McGarrett — crashes the Skype call to wave and banter long distance with critics. Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim and Canadian-American actress Grace Park also star on the series.

Downstairs in the windowless "dungeon," director Jerry Levine walks critics through the post-production process. The episode he's assembling features guest stars Melanie Griffith and Tom Berenger as the bickering parents of Danny Williams (Caan).

Lenkov flies to Oahu every two weeks to supervise and other writers take turns steering through their specific scripts. He and his team start building stories in June.

"Shooting a show in Hawaii, you need a lot more lead time," he says. "The resources aren't the same as you would have here in Los Angeles, so some stuff has to be shipped over."

The series is shot on the same Hawaiian sound stages as the original "Hawaii Five-O," which starred Jack Lord and aired from 1968 to 1980. "It's super cool — we actually have some crew members that worked on the original show," says Lenkov.

CBS had tried to reboot the series several times before Lenkov came along. One attempt in the '90s was going to star Gary Busey as McGarrett.

When another reimagining failed to get past the scripted stage, CBS turned to Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who worked on the 2009 revival of the "Star Trek" movie franchise. They teamed with Lenkov and "Hawaii Five-0" finally caught a wave.

Lenkov says he wanted to write for TV and film ever since he was a kid growing up in Montreal. "I just, you know, didn't believe I couldn't do it," he says.

He was too young to really be in to the original series, but his dad "was a massive fan. I was very young, but I remember sitting by his knee when he watched the show. So I wanted to do it partly because of that."

Lenkov was studying at McGill University when he dropped out and switched over to study film at Concordia, also in Montreal. A friend he went to film school with went on to study at UCLA in California and urged him to take the school's advanced screenwriting course, feeling Lenkov was better suited to the U.S. market.

"I went to UCLA for a couple of courses and just started writing," he says. "I got very lucky. Sold a movie very early on and I've been writing ever since."

He thinks being na�ve at first may have helped him succeed in a tough business.

"When everybody said you couldn't do it, I just didn't listen," he says. "So I just kept pushing and pushing and I didn't take no for an answer and maybe I'm here today because of that."

It's the same with any profession, he believes. "You've got to be passionate about it, and you gotta believe that you can't do anything else. I actually believe I can't do anything else but this."

Prior to "Hawaii Five-0," Lenkov wrote episodes of everything from "CSI: NY" to "24," receiving an Emmy nomination for the latter. He also wrote the script for the feature "R.I.P.D.," starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds. An interest in comic books has led to involvement in a few animated projects, including "Kung Fu Dino Posse."

He's more than happy, however, to ride the "Hawaii Five-0" wave as long as it lasts.

"I gotta tell you, anything that I do after this is not gonna compare."

———

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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