In the beginning, says Orphan Black executive producer David Fortier, there was a mental image of a subway suicide.
"John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, the two creators, came up with this idea of a woman on a subway platform, looking across and seeing her spitting image throwing herself in front of a train."
They held onto the disturbing scene for years, Manson using it as an exercise for budding screenwriters during his stint as an executive-producer-in-residence at the Canadian Film Centre.
"They went through a process of writing a number of scripts. And when we came across it, it was actually a pilot script they'd been shopping around," says Fortier, whose Temple Street Productions also created CBC's Being Erica.
Taken as they were with the story, Fortier and producing partner Ivan Schneeberg couldn't have envisioned the paranoid made-in-Toronto fantasy Orphan Black breaking out into one of the biggest critical hits of this past season.
The series has made a star out of Tatiana Maslany, a Prairie girl who is called upon to play fully-realized "clones" of herself, who are variously British, Canadian, American and Ukrainian.
It's a weekly tour de force that got noticed by critics. Maslany received best actress nods from the Television Critics Association and the Critics Choice Awards.
All this from the inconspicuous perch of BBC America and Space in Canada.
And Friday, in an unusual twist, this cable hit makes its debut on network TV, when CTV kicks things off with the Orphan Black pilot.
It makes writing about the show for its wider network audience fraught with spoiler peril. But in the premiere, viewers will meet Maslany as Sarah, a streetwise young British con artist with a foster mother, foster brother and daughter. When she witnesses the death of her "clone," a police officer named Beth, she arranges to take on her identity and offer up Beth's body as her own.
Also in the mix, a straitlaced "soccer mom" named Alison (also Maslany).
And the clones just keep on coming.
Suffice to say that there are forces, nefarious and otherwise, behind the Sarahs/Alisons/Beths of the world, and their various movements do not go unnoticed. Some of the clones are unfriendly, homicidal in fact.
Says Fortier: "The first question people would ask was ''Who are you going to get to play the lead, 'cause good luck.'"
Fortier was familiar with Maslany's work from a part she'd played on Being Erica. "She saw it as a huge opportunity. I think any actor would actually, any actor who believes in themselves would look at this role and say, 'I can do this - watch me.'
"And from the first episode, putting on the English accent playing Sarah, then just taking on each clone and making them a character and a real person, we knew right away. She was just a rock star from the start.
"Even as a producer who pores over the cuts and edits, you do kind of forget you're watching the same person. She's that good."
As for the arc of this increasingly complicated show, Fortier insists they know where they're going.
"There is a definite arc. That said, it can be stretched out. It was never planned to be just a two season show.
"Our intent is to keep people guessing. And as soon as you figure something out, or it looks resolved, a whole new can of worms is opened."
The best clones in movies
In honour of our favourite clone of the moment, Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany, here's a roundup of more genetic replicas. Send in the clones!
1. The 6th Day
Memorable Ah-nold Schwarzenegger quote: "You should clone yourself ... so you can go f--- yourself!"
2. The Boys From Brazil. Would you believe Gregory Peck - yes, noble Atticus Finch! - as Dr. Mengele, engaged in a scheme to clone Hitler? Me neither.
3. Jurassic Park
What I never understood was, if they used the DNA from frogs to complete the dino strands, why didn't any of them hop or roar "RIBBIT!!!"
Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger in another cloning plot - this time sharing genetic material with Danny DeVito. Nobody said science was perfect.
5. Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Not a clone himself, but Jango Fett provided the DNA for the Clone Army. Next thing you know, war breaks out and Anakin and Padme are kissing by the lake at Naboo.