Mr. Young is a rarity in Canada: a multi-camera sitcom filmed before a live studio audience.
“We’re emulating the American sitcom model which has been around for eons since the I Love Lucy days,” said producer Victoria Hirst in an interview last summer at the converted warehouse studio in Burnaby. Season two premieres March 12 on YTV.
Is it genetic, the Canadian industry’s lack of affinity for the multicam format? An additive in our maple syrup? Or is it just too expensive for our bare-bones budgets?
Hirst claimed it’s little more than a historical bias. “It hasn’t been the norm in Canada because people like to make carte blanche statements like ‘you can’t make romantic comedies in Canada, you can’t make this in Canada, you can’t make that in Canada,’ so multi-camera sitcoms fell under that umbrella.”
She pointed out CBC used to do more, and some have been in development recently. However, “it isn’t a format that our broadcasters embrace as indigenous product.”
Hirst said multicam isn’t more expensive than single-camera comedies, the format most often used in Canadian television, but “it’s a different way of spending money.”
Reading between the lines, it’s a way that would seem to allow for less network or studio input. “It’s not that it’s more expensive than single-camera format, but it’s intimidating in the sense of having a quick schedule and two days to shoot an episode, so it hasn’t taken off as a format people think Canadians should do,” she explained. “So we’re proving them wrong.”
YTV, which was thriving on a diet of American tween shows like The Suite Life of Zach and Cody and The Suite Life on Deck, wanted their own series based on that model. So Thunderbird Films, the production company behind Mr. Young, approached creator and showrunner Dan Signer, a Canadian producer on The Suite Life shows. Mr. Young went on to be YTV’s most popular show, and was sold to Disney XD in the US and other channels around the world.
A typical week at Mr. Young, which just finished shooting season two, starts with a table read and ends with the taping before a live studio audience. In between come rehearsals, rewrites, more rehearsals, and more rewrites, plus a Thursday preshoot of more complex scenes involving special effects, elaborate wardrobe changes, and the like.
The immediacy of the Friday taping “is really gratifying for the performers because it’s more like theatre,” said Hirst. Laughs are the highest form of instant gratification. And if the laughs don’t come when they should, the adjustments can be made on the fly.
Hirst objected to the premise that single-camera sitcoms are currently in greater favour with US networks. “You get the intellectual discussion, is single camera smarter, is it cleverer, is multicam more popcom, more situation, you don’t have to think about it.”
“This format is perfect for wrapping up the jokes,” she said of the multicam process. “You get your two days of rehearsals and you’re constantly working on wrapping up the jokes. On single cam you don’t do it that way: the writing is done earlier on, it’s prepped earlier on.”
No matter the format, “it’s all comedy, and it’s all about the funny.”
By Diane Wild of TV, eh?