TV, eh? interview: Dan For Mayor’s writers

By Diane Wild

d4m gal 0773(1)I’m selfishly grateful for the six-week gap between Dan For Mayor episodes, since it gave me time to write up more of my months-ago interviews with the co-creators (some quotes were included in an earlier article). Mark Farrell, Paul Mather, and Kevin White are the writers behind the successful CTV series, which just got a second-season renewal, and all also worked together on Corner Gas and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Dan For Mayor returns Monday night.

During the CBC strike of 2005, the three colleagues pitched show ideas to CTV. One was Dan For Mayor, and that’s the one CTV put into development. “It was one of those anxious falling asleep moments where I was thinking, oh God, I have no show to pitch,” White said. “I was thinking of an Australian series called The Games , about the preparation leading up to the Sidney Olympics. I thought, what if you did a small scale version of that, a guy running for mayor, and it was leading up to election night.”

“We continued to develop it, and wrote three scripts over period of three years. They weren’t going to move on it until Corner Gas was done, if they were going to move on it at all.”

Farrell explained how the three writers’ careers entwined starting with 22 Minutes , the show that launched his own successful writing career. He credits “a lot of being in the right place at the right time. I don’t have some sort of Tony Robbins plan – wish for this and visualize it.”

A former stand-up comic, Farrell has a supporting role in The Newsroom and caught the eye of 22 Minutes producer Michael Donovan. “I was such a good actor, he wanted to hire me as a writer,” he quipped. Farrell ended up running the satiric news show, hiring Mather and White along the way.

“It’s a place where you can break into the industry,” Mather said of 22 Minutes. “There’s a lot of gifted comics, but half of it is showing up on time. If you can get people in a place where they can work within a system, there’s so much talent out there. There are so many professional entertainers and I wish we could tap them for TV — it would really help Canadian TV. 22 Minutes helps people make the transition and Mark was always good about going out and finding people instead of just hiring his buddies.”

When Farrell joined his friend Brent Butt to write for Corner Gas, he brought White and Mather to that show as well. At some point in its run, each of them acted as showrunner. With Dan For Mayor , they’re sharing that duty.

“Maybe we’re not friends after this, but before this we were,” joked Farrell. “We have the same sensibility so that part hasn’t been hard at all.”

“We managed to run it by consensus, which is different,” said Mather. “This is the first time I’ve co-showrun and I was a little worried about that.”

“Before I was in comedy troupes so this is a little like that, or being in a band,” continued the former Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie member. “You have to put egos aside a bit and come to a creative decision. I think what you get out of that is more than what any individual would come up with. We’ve worked together before, but this is the first time where it’s not one guy in charge and the other two contributing.”

“We’re all fairly assertive and picky so we don’t shy away from letting each other know what we think,” said White, who also started in sketch comedy – his partner back then was Mark Ellis, the co-creator of Flashpoint . “We’ve had some pretty big battles,” he said of sharing the boss duties three ways, “but they’re always good battles. We’re always on the same page and we’re fighting over the important things, which is getting the stories right.”

White revealed that the last episode of season one is election night, and Dan is not leading going into the vote. Mather pointed out why the audience is rooting for the hapless candidate. “It’s a guy who’s let life pass him by and he’s decided to reinvent himself, ostensibly to impress an ex-girlfriend, but I think really he’s trying to prove to himself that he’s worthwhile. You root for him because you want to see him do that. Comedy still comes out of it, but the characters are vulnerable.”

Because of the long development process, Farrell, Mather and White wrote all season one episodes, but “knock wood – knock asbestos filled walls – we’ll get more writers if we go on,” Farrell said before the show’s premiere. “We like writing scripts. I don’t know if we’ll like writing them next year.”

With CTV’s announcement this week that the show would see a season two, they’ll now get to test that theory.