Everything about Sunnyside, eh?

Link: The top 10 most irritating Canadians of 2016 (TV-related)

From John Doyle of The Globe and Mail:

Link: The top 10 most irritating Canadians of 2016 (TV-related)
Here we do the annual chore and name the bothersome people, the irritants. The top 10 most irritating Canadians, TV-related. It’s all very well to spread solace – knock yourself out. But you know you like this kind of list, too. Herewith, an attempt at listing the worst offenders. You can add more on your own time. Fun for the whole family, guaranteed. Continue reading.

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Gary’s written another novel? Blame Canadian TV.

By Gary Pearson

I’ve written a lot of TV, for shows like MadTV, This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Corner Gas. I’ve had a hand in creating shows too, like That’s So Weird, and Sunnyside, which I created with Dan Redican. Sunnyside was the show that was “as brilliant as it was canceled,” as in “completely.” I’ve won some awards too. Check it out on IMDB. I look at my page there about twice a day.

Where do I get my ideas for TV shows? I have no clue. What I do know is, I have no shortage of them. I have ideas in the shower, I have ideas when running, I even have ideas when watching other TV shows—although sometimes those ideas are like, “I know—how about an ad agency in the 1960s where the lead character is a handsome alcoholic womanizer with a mysterious troubled past?”

Watch, I’ll come up with an idea right now: The Burger Burgher. The private life of the A&W commercial spokesman—there’s much more to him than telling people his meat doesn’t have hormones! And that’s just what I was able to think of while sitting in this A&W restaurant.

Now the problem is, Canadian TV simply isn’t big enough to contain all my brilliance. Or, frankly, the brilliance of dozens of other writers and creators I know. You’ll be surprised to learn that I have had literally dozens of ideas turned down by networks and production companies over the years. Pitch after brilliant pitch. Some of them were even better than that pure gold A&W idea you just read.

So, what’s a writer to do if you can’t convince a TV network that it is worth spending a million bucks a half-hour on one of his poorly-conceived whims? Write it as a novel and put it out yourself. Some people will read it and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your idea saw the light of day—if not actually in the form it was originally intended. I have now done this three times.

My first book started as a pitch to CBC, that I crafted along with Geri Hall. You probably are familiar with Geri, the hilarious red-head best known for her stint on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. At the time, she was hot on the heels of being arrested by the RCMP for approaching Prime Minister Stephen Harper while armed with her wit. She was the most famous handcuffed Canadian since Conrad Black. Geri had a development deal with CBC and somehow I convinced her that I should create a show with her.

Geri and I threw many ideas at CBC, but the one that stuck was called “Slapshot of Love.” I had just watched the reality TV show, The Bachelor and frankly hated everything about it. I wanted to peel the artifice back and see what really went on with so-called reality TV. I wanted to see what it would be like if a smart and funny woman, modelled after Geri Hall herself, were to be on a show like that, instead of the usual air head TV wannabe models.

CBC loved it … at first. Then the executives at CBC changed. The new regime didn’t want to do an idea that was developed before they came in the door. Here’s a hint for you aspiring TV creators out there: try to get your TV show made before the executive in charge of your development moves on. It has happened to me twice.

web-book_marooned-in-space

So, I had something I really liked and nowhere to go. So, I wrote the planned 13 episodes of TV, as a novel instead, and put it out myself through Amazon. Anyone can put a credible-looking book out now, for not too much money. I plugged the hell out of it on Facebook as anyone who used to be my Facebook friend will tell you. Something weird happened—a lot of people bought the book. Turns out “sports romance” is a hot category for Kindle eBooks from Amazon. Who knew?

This all happened between 2010 and 2013. Now there is a backstage at a reality dating show drama on TV called Unreal. Maybe the writers had the idea before me, but I doubt it. CBC could have been there first. But I suppose they are doing fine without the likes of me.

Then, later in the midst of the Rob Ford crack scandal, I wrote another TV pitch called “Me and the Crack Mayor.” It was about a young speech writer who gets entangled in the world of a corrupt Mayor of Toronto who blatantly smokes crack, drives drunk, speaks profanely, fondles women, lies constantly and hangs out with gun-toting gang members. You know, fiction. Canadian networks wouldn’t touch it. Too dangerous. So that became book No. 2.

Now Canada lately has done some great science fiction shows, and I’m supposedly a comedy expert, so my next pitch was for a sci- fi comedy. I wanted to do a story about real, average people, not the Captain Kirks of the world, but the regular joes, getting marooned in space. I called it “Marooned in Space!” The exclamation mark makes it more exciting. I pitched that one to a few production companies but they assured me that no Canadian network would be interested in such a show. Nobody makes science fiction comedies. How about movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, or Deadpool? How about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the new Supergirl, or Dr. Who—they certainly go for comedic moments in those ones. And anyway, shouldn’t we do something original, as opposed to stuff that everyone else is doing? “Not in Canada,” they said.

So that became my third book—Marooned in Space! If you’re out there TV network types, I’d still happily adapt it to TV. When you read it, you’ll see it has a nice open ending, perfect for an ongoing television adventure—you’d get 100 episodes out of these funny and relatable characters, without breaking a sweat.

“When you read it!” Ha! I certainly do have an active imagination.

Before you get too far into your novel, I should tell you, I didn’t get rich, from any of this, but I did have artistic satisfaction. And there is always the hope out there that your book will be like Fifty Shades of Grey or The Martian, the billion-dollar properties that began life as modest self published books.

Hold on to your dreams, folks! People are always knocking the Canadian TV network system for not producing enough original content to reflect our great writers and creators, but in this case, you have to give Canadian TV the credit, or the blame, for making me a three-time novelist.


All of Gary Pearson’s novels, including his new one Marooned in Space! are available all over the world from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Ancillary rights to Marooned in Space! for film, television, streaming and merchandise are currently available.

 

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The Sunnyside of Diversity

By Gary Pearson

Diversity in showbiz has become a hot topic this year, no doubt because the Oscars were whiter than the Oakville Yacht Club Conservative Party fundraiser. As Chris Rock pointed out, the problem goes deeper than some talented performers being snubbed on any given year. It is about opportunity. Are people of colour getting interesting roles to play? Are stories centered on non-white people being produced at all? How about behind the camera, is the machine that makes TV and film also mostly white? And to go further, what does diversity even mean? Does it mean championing African Americans, while making tired old jokes about Asians in the same Oscar telecast?

Just over two years ago Dan Redican and I set out to make Sunnyside, a sketch comedy series set in a downtown Toronto neighbourhood, similar to Parkdale. I was thrilled to be teamed with Dan who had made his comedy mark with The Frantics, Kids in the Hall, Puppets Who Kill and a million other projects.

We liked the idea of a whole bunch of different characters, living in close proximity, crossing paths with funny stories and situations that affected everyone. It was sort of a “we’re all in the same boat” kind of idea. No matter what the age, gender, orientation, body type, income, ethnicity, these characters all lived together in one place. And we added a dollop of dark weirdness and magic. We had an Alternate Reality Store, a local baby fighting ring, a Talking Hole, a barista who thought he was Satan, and so on. And we threw in commentary on contemporary social trends like a guy getting a tattoo to impress a girl, a businessman nearly dying because his phone does, a stalker from Twitter, a couple that has a baby — but only on Facebook. And at the suggestion of writer Jan Caruana, we wanted ponies everywhere in Sunnyside. Cute little huggable ponies.

The main goal of the show was to be funny. The secondary goal was to tell good stories, that weaved through the neighbourhood, showing how everyone was connected, whether they knew it, or not. A third objective was to have our TV community be as diverse as the one it was based on. We wanted reflected on screen, what you’d see on the King St. streetcar at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday. Everyone is there. Typically, you just don’t see everyone on TV. I should probably point out about now that Dan and I are white. Dan was raised in Etobicoke, Ont. I grew up on a farm near Tilbury, Ont. With close proximity to Detroit, I did hear a lot of Motown music growing up, but the Jackson Five would have had a hard time blending in at my high school.

The show starts with writing. There is no way around this fact — our initial group of five writers, including me and Dan, were an all white group. Alastair Forbes is so white, he had to grow a beard, just so we could see his face. I will give us some points for near gender equality, as Kathleen Phillips and Jan Caruana were strong voices in our little room. They came up with all kinds of stuff for the show. I’m not going to tell you everything they did, or you’d ask “so, did YOU write anything?”

Patrice

Later, after we got picked up to go into production, we did get some diverse voices into the writing. Rupinder Gill, Darryl Hinds and Kevin Vidal all joined us at different times. In addition to Rupinder, we also had more women come in, like Sara Hennessey and Alice Moran. All accomplished, all talented people.

From the outset, imagining a cast of six to eight performers, who in sketch comedy tradition would play multiple roles, we knew we didn’t want an all white ensemble. And while we didn’t have a specific breakdown in mind, one performer from a diverse community also wouldn’t be enough. With Dan and I being in comedy forever, we had lists of performers we were interested in. Like most of the comedy community, most of those names were white. We also didn’t want tokenism. We didn’t want a person for the sake of their race. They had to be really good. I still cringe sometimes when I think of the original Saturday Night Live with Garrett Morris having to be “the Black Guy” in the cast. There have been a lot of shows guilty of that.

Getting back to what diversity means, we also wanted to have a wide age range in our cast. Some young people in their 20s, stretching to some over 50. If we could avoid it, we didn’t want to do the old sketch show thing where you put a 20-year-old in a white beard to play an older guy.

We tried to see everybody. If you’re an actor who does comedy, especially in Toronto, and you have an agent, and we didn’t see you, fire your agent. We even saw some who didn’t have agents. Since there weren’t so many diverse people doing comedy, we went beyond, asking to see dramatic actors of colour as well. Good acting was a must for our show. We asked people from ethnic backgrounds to read the same parts we gave everyone.

As a side note, while the showrunners pick the cast, the production company and the network always weigh in on the choices. We didn’t have ultimate power. You make your case but don’t have carte blanche. Ultimately, if a network really dislikes an actor that you like, you are probably going to lose. Not always, but often.

A strange thing happened when we submitted names to the network for the show. We couldn’t get approval for any of our actor picks that were over 50 years old. We presented top people in that age group, really funny, accomplished actors (you’d recognize them), but the network kept saying things like “she just doesn’t excite us” or “he doesn’t seem like a fresh choice.” I can’t pin them on ageism; they never said anyone was too old. Just that they weren’t “excited by our choices.” After multiple names were rejected, we gave up on casting anyone over 40. That aspect of diversity died in the casting process. My revenge was to write a story about Sunnyside having an Old Peoples’ Picnic where the elderly were all rounded up and tricked into getting on a bus and taken away, never to be seen again.

Kevin

We got our cast of six, which included Kevin Vidal and Patrice Goodman. Kevin came from a strong Second City background and Patrice had done a lot of serious TV drama. We wanted them to be equal players with Pat Thornton, Kathleen Phillips, Alice Moran and Rob Norman. In this I think we succeeded. Kevin and Patrice played every kind of character in our show and were the key people in many stories. For instance, Kevin was a tech-obsessed business knob, a gay superhero who was bad at it, a modern artist named Brando, and so on. Some of Patrice’s characters included a serious cop named Donna, meth girl Kimmie, a yoga instructor, and real estate agent Bernadette. Coming from a dramatic background, a lot her work grounded our sketches in reality.

Patrice and Kevin, like the rest of our cast had to carry tons of comedy. Because we just saw them as talented performers, sometimes we had to stop ourselves and ask about the implications of how we were casting them. Our very first scene in our very first show, we had a crook shooting out of an apartment window at some cops below. In our first draft, we cast Kevin, as we thought he’d play it very well. We had to rethink that, not wanting our very first shot of our first show, to have a black man with a gun shooting at police. It’s tricky in Sunnyside, because there aren’t very many “good” people. The show explores the dark side of most everything. However, we recast that thug as Pat, and gave Kevin lots of others things to do instead. Kevin would eventually play another drug dealer on the show, but only after he played about a dozen other characters first.

On Sunnyside, we didn’t really deal with race much. We felt Key & Peele did an excellent job with that area and Dan and I weren’t coming from an authentic place when writing about it. We wanted the show to be largely colour blind. We did some comment on prejudice by having “Clowns” as a misunderstood ethnic group living in Sunnyside.

We had every combination of romantic couple on the show, from mixed race couples, straight and gay. We’d have white parents with a kid of a different race and so on. In other words, we had today’s Toronto.

When we got to Winnipeg to shoot Sunnyside, we needed many other smaller roles filled by local actors. This gave us the opportunity to show more non-white faces. We relied heavily on talented actors we found there including, Glenn Odero, Ernesto Griffith and Melissa Dionisio. They did a lot of work and did it well. The same goes with extras casting. We pushed our friends in Winnipeg to make sure that every ethnic group was represented. When it came to the crew, Dan and I didn’t have a lot to say about who was called for the many positions, though we had diversity in our camera men, lighting and were lucky enough to hire Dawn Wilkinson, a talented director for two episodes.

So in the end, how did we do with diversity for Sunnyside? If you want to compare to the industry at large, I think we did very well. Patrice and Kevin were stars in our show, equal to all the rest. This was the opposite of tokenism – we relied on them to pull off great characters with believable emotions in the midst of the insane circumstances we came up with. With that in mind, feel free to stack one of our episodes against just about any other show being produced in Canada right now. But was it good enough? Not even close. Canada is a much more diverse place than it is on our screens. What about differently abled people participating in the comedy, playing well thought out characters? We talked about it, but it never happened. What about having older or rounder women in the show? Nope, we didn’t really achieve that in a significant way. And of course Dan and I, as I pointed out, are a couple of white guys. There should be show runners from diverse communities doing their own shows too.

The Sunnyside experience and the artistic rewards it brought, have made Dan and me all the more into the idea of featuring diversity in whatever project we do next. We really wish the show wasn’t cancelled so that we could continue down this road of attempting to do great comedy that reflects today’s Canada. We are kind of like characters on Sunnyside. I don’t know if you noticed, but in that neighbourhood, no good deed went unpunished. In one episode, aspiring geologist Eugene sincerely warns everyone that a deadly volcano is coming to Sunnyside. He’s laughed at for his efforts, and eventually is thrown in the volcano as a human sacrifice. Me and Dan, well, we did our best, and now find ourselves up to our butts in lava.

All 13 episodes of Sunnyside can be seen at Citytv.com.

Gary Pearson is an actor, writer and showrunner with credits on Corner Gas, MadTV, 22 Minutes, That’s So Weird and Sunnyside. His romantic comedy novel, Slapshot of Love is available at Amazon.ca.

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Link: Sunnyside: a fine madness on the wrong channel

From Bill Brioux of Brioux.tv:

Sunnyside: a fine madness on the wrong channel
A few days after I razzed Rogers to make a call on Sunnyside, they did. The show, as expected, was officially cancelled.

The sketch-uational comedy, shot for all the right tax reasons in Winnipeg, pleased fans dying to see some of Canada’s best comedy performers romp through a half-hour of unbridled madness. Here was a show where no idea seemed too far-fetched–an infestation of ponies? Sure. An open manhole version of the Internet? Log it on. Continue reading.

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Comments and queries for the week of March 18

Sunnyside cancelled by City

So confused. It seems somebody had the vision to greenlight the show, then someone with no nurturing supportive vision stepped in to red light it. Sheesh. Apparently a similar decision was almost made after the first season of Seinfeld. —Chris

How can great new shows like Sunnyside possibly achieve the coveted audience numbers if networks don’t invest in sufficient advertising and promotion for them? They are competing against the juggernaut of American shows and American ads; why aren’t our country’s broadcasters supporting great Cancon like this?
What a sad day. And what an ominous sign for the future of Canadian television: Great show. Great cast. Adored by critics. Award- winning. And cancelled?!? Yikes. —Dave

Sunnyside was the best. Too bad the higher ups didn’t feel the same way as everyone who watched it. Very funny and inventive. Finally we had a good Canadian comedy show and now it’s gone. I’m very disappointed in City. —Matt

I’m disappointed and will miss this show. It was hilarious and I found it amusing how different the actors looked when they dressed up as different characters. I’ve enjoyed Sunnyside while it lasted. —Iris


Orphan Black and Schitt’s Creek capture key Canadian Screen Awards

Norm McDonald did a GREAT job IMO. Overall, a pretty good show … just a few clunky presenter moments. Jacob Tremblay shows incredible poise for someone his age and the interaction between he and Christopher Plummer was fun. Great to see Schitt’s Creek do so well. And I don’t know if it was really scripted or not, but I liked how so many of the presenters and award recipients quickly jumped on the Candy bandwagon. While the late John Candy may not have had an extensive enough career to actually deserve such an honour, it does make for a catchy and fun name as Norm Macdonald mentioned, so, let’s hope there is plenty more Candy for Canada’s screen industry for many more years to come! —Byron

 

Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? greg@tv-eh.com or @tv_eh.

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