Tag Archives: Canadian TV

Less Than Kind’s Kim Coghill on her WGC Award

Kim Coghill WGC pic 2013

Last week the Writers Guild of Canada handed out their screenwriting awards, including the TV Comedy award to Kim Coghill for the “Jerk Chicken” episode of Less Than Kind. TV, eh?‘s Rachel Langer quizzed her on the award, the episode and lessons learned.

What does the WGC Award win mean to you? 

I’m honoured that my fellow writers have judged me not only funny enough, but also strong enough to lift this award, which I believe weighs 175 pounds. Because a lighter award wouldn’t mean nearly as much. I mean, you could actually kill someone with this thing. I’m not saying anyone did. Or would. Or thought about it. I’m just saying you could. It’s just a fact. Facts aren’t illegal.

What was it like to be nominated alongside your then-fiance, now-husband Denis McGrath (Congrats!) and the showrunner of LTK, Mark McKinney? Did that change the experience of winning for you? 

I was thrilled to be nominated, but not really sure how they’d take it when I won. Denis seems fine so far – he cries, but mostly at night. Mark sends hate mail scrawled on old Slings & Arrows scripts, but that’s cool too, because it’s kinda like being threatened by Shakespeare, which is pretty flattering… So, um, I think they’re fine with it.

Tell us about your episode of Less Than Kind, and what the best and worst parts of writing it were? 

In this episode, Sheldon, the awkward teenaged son, tries to turn himself into one of the “jocks,” best friend Miriam tries being a coquette, and pal Danny wonders why everyone’s turning into someone else. It all spirals out of control when Sheldon throws a jock party, and Danny and Miriam crash with a vengeance.

Worst part: reliving my adolescence.

Best part: reliving my adolescence through these incredibly complex and funny characters, especially with a show set in my hometown of Winnipeg.

If you had to share the award with one other person, who would it be and why? 

Just one? All the other writers on LTK, rolled into one enormous aggregate individual containing tiny pieces of each person’s funniest bits. And if I couldn’t do that, I’d share it with my new husband, because he already has one, so now we have matching bookends.

If you could pick one lesson from working on LTK to bring with you to your next writing room, what would it be?

That “comedy” and “drama” aren’t opposites; a show doesn’t have to be one or the other. Good comedy is most powerful when it plays out against real emotions – anger, sadness, fear – because that’s how we experience humour in real life.

Also, when you need a cheap laugh, there’s nothing like the word “boogers.”

Speaking of your next project, could you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on now? 

I’m writing a couple of new pilots that are in that ‘comedy-with-drama’ vein.

If you could step into the writers room on any past Canadian Comedy, what would it be, and why? 
My smart-ass side would pick Made in Canada, because it was so wonderfully snarky. But my playful side would pick SCTV – I adored those characters, ever since I was a kid. There’s nothing like watching a great character, written and performed with love.


Flashpoint’s Mark Ellis & Stephanie Morgenstern on Winning the WGC Showrunner Award

On Monday, the Writers Guild of Canada held their annual awards ceremony and handed the prestigious Showrunner Award to Flashpoint creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern.

What does winning the Showrunner Award mean to you, coming off the heels of Flashpoint’s final season?

Five years of working on a show you love, that’s like five giant scoops of ice cream.  Having the luxury of ending a show on your own creative terms, that’s like getting whipped cream on top.  Seeing so many colleagues rewarded with nominations and awards for the bar-raising work they did on the show – work that made the rest of us look great just by association – that’s covering the whole thing in sprinkles.  And we couldn’t imagine a sweeter cherry on top than this very unexpected award … the most prestigious thing a TV writer can hope for.

When you started Flashpoint, did you ever think the series would get to the level it did, and find the audience reach that it ended up with?
Not at all.  Especially as the show was originally a two-hour MOW about a sniper dealing with the traumatic aftermath of his first kill … a very different project than the 75-hour episodic series it turned into.

From the beginning, we aspired to the white-knuckle suspense of 24 and the succulent, saturated production values of CSI Miami – which we explicitly referenced when we first pitched our ideas to CTV.  But the transformation from the slightly darker original premise into a more commercial “action procedural”‘ happened fast and smoothly, once CTV reconsidered it as a series.  That groundwork was laid in intense creative collaboration with EPs Anne Marie La Traverse and Bill Mustos, as well as our original executives from CTV – and when CBS joined up early in the process, they obviously brought a lot to the table as well, based on their strong track record in sustaining procedurals over many years.  What emerged from this was a formula that we hoped would welcome new viewers every week with a self-contained story, while rewarding the more committed fans with “loyalty points” – those story moments that add up to the more complex, slow-burn, (ideally) addictive character arcs where you have to keep coming back to find out what happens next.

We had ambitious hopes of course, but from where we stood, the level of success the show eventually hit wasn’t even on the landscape of realistic possibility at that time.  Especially for a show so firmly resolved not to pretend to be American.  But these were (and are) changing times in TV.  And the mountains that our EPs moved to make it happen, the way they pushed for the highest standards from every technical and artistic department, and the awesome, visionary talent of our signature director David Frazee launched the show with a level of polish and unapologetic swagger we didn’t often see then on homegrown shows.  US and international audiences aside, what we’re proudest of is that Canadians watched it in serious numbers, and (from what we hear from the fans) that they felt it was theirs.

What was the biggest challenge that you faced as showrunners in making this series?

When the pressure hits – and pressure is pretty much a constant on a speeding train like a TV show – it can feel overwhelming.  There’s so much time-sensitive business to stay on top of.  The toughest thing to remember, even in the darkest times – when you’re sure this is the episode that’s going to break you, when you literally don’t know how you’re going to keep breathing – is that it’s just a show.  It’s just TV.

Your blank computer screen may not fill fast enough, you could fail to find a brilliant yet diplomatic compromise between all the creative voices needing to be heard, you could disappoint everyone and never work again.  But there are human beings out there who risk a heck of a lot more every day than a missed deadline, some who are busy facing life-threatening danger in fact, not in fiction.  So you get over yourself and get back to work.

We learned the best way to do that is to step back, breathe deeply, and remember why you love what you do.  Re-read your original pitch document, the one that was so full of passion and ambition.  Remember that your dream to have a shot at making a show actually came true.  The risk of a long-running show is that in the chaos and storm of its practical demands, you forget why you began, the fire you once had to push this boulder up the hill.  In our own case, every time we reconnected with the real people from our fictional world, every time we dipped back into research, the inspiration came back stronger than ever, which made the struggle feel manageable and (ultimately) worthwhile.

Tell us about the experience of being honored in front of your friends and peers at the WGC Awards.

We were very, very moved hearing Larry’s heartfelt introduction, and Denis McGrath’s fiery followup.  It meant the world to us to be embraced this warmly by the community – especially given that we’re relative newcomers who’ve been blessed with a nearly obscene amount of good fortune.

We’ve heard that you may have a new series in development – is that correct, and if so what can you tell us about that?

We actually have two – one with CBC, one with CTV, both dramas – and we wish we could tell you more but we’re going to have to wait…

If you could step in to a “guest showrunning” position, past or present, on any Canadian show, which one would it be and why? 

There are definitely shows whose writing rooms we’d have loved to hang out in and observe from the inside – not as “guest showrunners,” more for the great company, and to watch and learn.  Like The Eleventh Hour for the dazzling convergence of talent in the room.  Bomb Girls for the great female-fuelled stories set in a fascinating time.  Slings and Arrows because of its smart and subversive take on classical theatre, a world we’ve both known from up close as actors.  Among the shows in the works right now … the rooms of Orphan Black and Played have some Flashpoint alums on their staff and both sound like a lot of fun.

In the meantime, we’ve been many reading scripts from emerging TV writers and we’re struck and inspired by what a huge wave of great material is coming down the pipes …

What are you watching these days? 

We try to keep up with all our Canadian shows.  Orphan Black is audacious and exciting.  Our daughter likes Modern Family, Stephen Fry’s QI and The Office, so we watch those shows with her.  LovingHomeland, Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead.  Also … a ton of spy-themed films, docs and series.

Todd & The Book of Pure Evil’s Ian Malone on his WGC Screenwriting Award Nomination

IanMaloneThis year’s Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award winners will be announced on April 22. We’ve been catching up with many of the writers nominated in the comedy and drama categories. Todd and the Book of Pure Evil‘s Ian Malone is nominated (along with Craig David Wallace and Charles Picco) for their episode “B.Y.O.B.O.P.E.”

Can you describe the episode “B.Y.O.B.O.P.E.” and how it fit into the Todd & the Book of Pure Evil season?

The episode started out as a chance to see what our heroes are like after hours.  What do they like to do when they’re not fighting monsters?  How do they relax?  We thought a great place to take them (a quintessentially high school place) would be a house party.  I think this was the longest period of time we got to see our kids outside of the high school, so it was exciting if you were a fan of the show.  It opened up the world a bit.  We also knew that this was always going to be a mythology-heavy episode, with some big answers to lingering questions, so that stuff was serviced.  Those reveals launched the story toward the events of the finale (an awesome episode written & directed by Craig).

What was the biggest triumph in this particular episode?

On top of getting all the mythology stuff into the story and making it surprising and satisfying, it’s an episode about a house party, and a house party needs to look and feel like jam-packed non-stop good times. Usually it’s one kid a week using the book, but we thought, “If the house is packed, let’s have a million kids use the book!” That’s hyperbole. But we did end up having the book fall into three or four different hands. I’m particularly proud of how we kept the various story threads intertwined. There’s everything going on with our gang, and everything going on with the kids at the party, and all the stuff with Atticus pretending that he’s a teenager named Scooter. And it all tracks! I hope.

What does this recognition mean to you?

It means a lot to me. A couple years ago I was a sweaty, nervous story coordinator trying to find the courage to pitch lines in a story room. Now I’m a sweaty, nervous WGC Award nominee for my second produced script ever! It’s nice to be recognized by other writers, and if nothing else it’s a pat on the back that says, “Hey you, you’re alright.”

If there was one Canadian show that is no longer on the air that you could see honoured at this year’s awards, what would it be? (If you have a specific episode, even better).

How about a show that’s still on the air? Degrassi has been running for thirteen seasons and they’re still finding compelling character-driven stories to tell. I think people probably take it for granted because it’s been on for so long, but they shouldn’t. Ramona Barckert wrote two amazing episodes in season twelve (“Bitter Sweet Symphony” 1 & 2) that are up there with the most riveting hours of drama.


Heartland’s Leila Basen on her WGC Screenwriting Award Nomination

LeilaBasen2psThis year’s Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award winners will be announced on April 22. We’ve been catching up with many of the writers nominated in the comedy and drama categories. Heartland‘s Leila Basen is nominated for her episode “Life is a Highway.”

Can you describe the episode “Life is a Highway” and how it fit into the Heartland season?

“Life as a Highway” marks the return of Chase Powers, a charismatic but incorrigible cowboy who makes an unexpected visit to Heartland and puts Amy and Ty’s relationship to the test.

What was the biggest triumph in this particular episode?

Showing the human side of a basically unredeemable character.

What does this recognition mean to you?

Heartland has been going strong for six years on the CBC, and it’s great that this year we got two WGC script nominations.

If there was one Canadian show that is no longer on the air that you could see honoured at this year’s awards, what would it be? (If you have a specific episode, even better).

My vote would be Mental Block, a tween comedy that ran two seasons, 2002 to 2004 on YTV. (Full disclosure – Mental Block was a show I co-created and wrote with David Preston.) It was a WGC Awards finalist twice in the Youth Category, but didn’t win either time because (according to one of the jurors) it was too funny for Youth and should have been in the Comedy Category. It would be great if it could win an award, even posthumously.


Todd & The Book of Pure Evil’s Craig David Wallace on his WGC Screenwriting Award Nomination

CraigDavidWallaceThis year’s Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award winners will be announced on April 22. We’ve been catching up with many of the writers nominated in the comedy and drama categories. Todd and the Book of Pure Evil‘s Craig David Wallace is nominated (along with Ian Malone and Charles Picco) for their episode “B.Y.O.B.O.P.E.”

Can you describe the episode “B.Y.O.B.O.P.E.” and how it fit into the Todd & the Book of Pure Evil season

In case you haven’t figured it out, “B.Y.O.B.O.P.E.” stands for Bring Your Own Book Of Pure Evil. For the longest time it was just called the House Party Episode, but then Ian came up with the most excellent title. We always wanted to do an episode that takes place entirely at a house party, especially since the show pretty much always took place at Crowley High. This was a pretty big episode in the mythology of the show: It’s where Todd loses his virginity, and where the gang find out that the only thing keeping Todd from becoming Pure Evil is him losing his virginity, so of course, hilarity ensues. It was also really unique in that the Book Of Pure Evil affects all these people in the background, but the gang is so caught up in their own stuff that they never even realize it, which was a real challenge to write but really satisfying. But the real memory of this episode is that it was one of the few that we shot on location – we took over a family’s house in Winnipeg, and it was a total blast for all of us to shoot.

What was the biggest triumph in this particular episode?

Oh so many things. But what I will always remember is being on set and needing a real button on the scene where Wanda is watching a dude chug down a beer and asks him “What else can you do with that mouth?” Literally, all the writers were on the back porch arguing about what it could be, and Charles kept pitching “I can suck my own dick.” He would not back down. Eventually, I said “Fine, he can say ‘I can suck my own dick’ but then the crowd has to cheer.” Charles went in to tell Warren Sonoda (the director of the episode), and he gave Charles a puzzled look and asked “Seriously?” Charles insisted, so Warren told the actor, who looked at Warren and asked “Seriously?” Warren shrugged, and they shot it, and it was AWESOME. At that moment I realized that I was working on the best show in the entire universe, and I would never have it this good ever again. So yeah, it’s bittersweet. Oh, and I get to say I was nominated for an episode where I wrote “It doesn’t count if he puts it in her bum, everyone knows that.” Now that is a once in a lifetime achievement.

What does this recognition mean to you?

Well, I won this award last year, so to be nominated again is mind-blowing. But even better this year, my co-writer on this episode Ian Malone is nominated along with me, and also Charles Picco who broke the initial story with us. And there’s so many contributions from the other writers from the show (Max and Adam Reid, and Garry Campbell), the producers, and the cast and crew that it feels like we threw a big party and somehow got nominated for an award for it. But really, overall, it just makes me really proud of the work that we did on the show as a whole. It was such a great experience and such a great show, and I really miss working with everyone involved.

If there was one Canadian show that is no longer on the air that you could see honored at this year’s awards, what would it be? (If you have a specific episode, even better).

It’s a bit of a trend that ONLY shows that are no longer on the air are nominated in the Comedy category at the WGC awards. Last year there were five shows nominated and they were all off the air, and this year only two shows (Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil and Less Than Kind) are nominated and both shows are over. But as much as I’m proud and excited to have an episode which I co-wrote be nominated this year, I really feel that our musical episode this year “Two Girls One Tongue” was unfairly passed over. It is by far the most jaw-dropping piece of crazy daring and just plain out there writing I have ever seen on television. The writer of the episode Charles Picco is sheer genius, and you put him together with Shawn Pierce, our amazing composer who wrote the music and James Genn who directed the episode, and it’s magic. MAGIC!