Interview: Matt Watts on the life and death and life of Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays

Except that the official announcement got scooped by a tweet, one of the biggest surprises on CBC’s 2015-16 schedule was the return of Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays, cancelled a few years ago amid low ratings. Created by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and “based on the neuroses of Matt Watts,” the show featured Martin and Watts as maladjusted therapist and anxiety-ridden patient.

The news of its return was met with joy and puzzlement, particularly on the heels of low-rated Strange Empire‘s cancellation. Co-star and co-writer Watts offered some answers to pressing questions like “WTF?!” in an email interview:

How did the revival come about? Did you guys approach CBC, or did they approach you?

I think Sally Catto [CBC’s general manager of programming] approached the producers … I’m not entirely sure how it happened, really. All I know is I got an phone call from Bob one day saying, “We’re doing Michael again!” I was never really consulted.

Given it was based on your own neuroses, you co-wrote and co-starred, it was critically acclaimed but cancelled, now revived … it seems like the cancellation/revival has the potential to be even more of an emotional roller coaster than if it was less tied to you personally? How do you feel about it? Are you approaching this season differently?

Well, I think I made a huge mistake by getting so attached to the show in the first season. The truth is, MTT was never really my show, it’s always been Bob’s. I allowed myself to get sucked into the whole whirlwind because I play Michael, and yeah, it’s based on me. The line got blurred. The cancellation hit me really hard. I took it way too personally… and it wasn’t even my show, really.

So, this year, I’m going to throw myself into the writing and performing, but as soon as we wrap, I’ll just go back to working on my own projects.

I’m really excited to see everyone again. When we wrapped season one, I arrogantly assumed I’d get see the crew again the following summer. That was actually the biggest heartbreak: not getting to see the crew again. I loved the crew on MTT.

Will the show be retooled for the reboot?

We’re going to take advantage of the five year gap. I think that’s the part of the relaunch that really intrigues me, because I don’t think a TV show has ever really done it before.

Maybe there should just be one season every five years. That’d be cool.

Actually, as I write this, I realize that the first episode has a line about Michael and David working together for 15 years. So this would be 20. It’s almost like we could make it look like the show has been designed to come back every five years for one season. Like the 7 Up series.

There you go. How’s that for a premise? A co-dependent relationship between a therapist and his patient, over a long period of time, seen at various intervals. (I’m drunk as I write this btw, so this may be ludicrous … again, it’s not my show.)

As for the show itself, within the season we’re going to stick to a serialized story that plays out over the course of the season. It’s not going to become an episodic sitcom or anything. Although Don and I often talk about bringing the show back as a time-traveling farce, just to blow the audience’s minds. Bob hates the idea though.

Will it be set in Ottawa or Toronto or both?

That would be spoiling the fun!

How far into planning and writing the season are you already?

Not that far. We had developed a second season when the show was cancelled. We’re trying to salvage what we can from that (a lot of it doesn’t work because of the time gap) and then we’ll go from there.

Do you know if all/most of the cast will return?

Right now we have it so most of the characters will return, yeah. But it’s tricky since no one is under option and they’ve moved on to other projects. For example, Tommie [Amber Pirie] is on Bitten now. That could be a conflict. Technically, I’m not even signed on. Maybe the show will end up just being Bob talking to an empty chair for a season. Every five years.

It got what you called “boutique ratings” the first time around. Do you think there’s an opportunity to grow the audience? Obviously there’s been a change in management but what’s different now about CBC’s programming that makes it ripe for Michael to return?

The support is there. Michelle Daly [CBC’s senior director of comedy], Sally Catto and Heather Conway [executive vice-president of English services] are all fans of the show and want it to do well. I think they plan to advertise this time — that might help. There wasn’t a single poster anywhere in Canada the first year. Even if the CBC puts up one poster somewhere, that’ll be 100% more advertising.

I hope it does better. It’d be disingenuous to say ratings don’t matter. They should, because why else do we do all this if it isn’t for the work to be seen?

That being said, I’m keenly aware of the possibility that after all this, it could get cancelled again.

How crazy would that be?