Tag Archives: Eugene Levy

Jann: Co-creator Leah Gauthier and showrunner Jennica Harper on developing the series and Jann Arden’s star power

During the same week that Daniel and Eugene Levy broke our hearts by announcing the end of their genius mega-hit comedy Schitt’s Creek, another stellar, and very Canadian, comedy debuted.

CTV’s Jann stars iconic singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a mostly fictionalized version of herself. In this alternate universe, Jann is a self-absorbed, down-on-her-luck musician who is desperate to claw her way back into the spotlight—and to get the best of her musical nemesis, Sarah McLachlan. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing (quite badly) with her recent split from long-time girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor) and her mom’s (Deborah Grover) increasing forgetfulness, a situation that echoes Arden’s real-life experiences with her mother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in December.  The show is sharp, genuinely funny, and at times, deeply moving. It’s also a show fans of Schitt’s Creek might want to check out to help ease their anticipatory grief.

During a visit to Jann‘s Calgary-based set in October, we spoke with series co-creator Leah Gauthier (Motive) and showrunner Jennica Harper (Cardinal, Motive) about developing the comedy—which airs its second episode, “Go With the Flowga,” on Wednesday—pitting Jann against Canada’s sweetheart McLachlan, and Arden’s immense star quality.

Leah, you co-created the series with Jann Arden. How did that come about?
Leah Gauthier: I’ve worked in television for 10 years, on the factual and reality side of TV, and between two shows, I went on the road with Jann as part of her production team. So we met through work but became fast friends. I did three tours with her, and we’ve always talked about one day when we were both ready, we would pitch a show. It’s changed a lot over the years, and she’s been approached a lot to do television, but it was never the right format. Everyone always wanted her to be like a version of Ellen [DeGeneres] and do a daytime talk show. But we knew we wanted something scripted.

So about three years ago, we sat down in her kitchen and we just wrote it out. It started weird. She was very different versions of herself—she lived in a trailer park or she ran a strip mall—and we kind of pared it down to what it is now. We wrote it together on her kitchen island, and then we flew to Toronto and pitched it, and here we are. It’s almost insane. It took a long time, but now it feels like it happened overnight. It took three years.

What were some of the biggest roadblocks you experienced over that three-year period?
LG: I knew I had obviously something super special with Jann because the country really loves her, so I had a foot in the door because of her. I’m aware that this opportunity would have never have happened for me if not for her being my champion. So my biggest roadblocks were all of the things. Jann busted the roadblocks down, and now I get to do this, and I’m eternally grateful.

You and Jann chose Jennica as your showrunner. What was it about her that really stood out to you?
LG: We interviewed a bunch of different people for the position of showrunner and talking to her on the phone, it was just immediately apparent that she had all of the things that we were lacking. You know, together we made just a perfect, complete human. And she also came into the interview pitching great ideas, like there’s a whole rivalry with Sarah McLachlan that was Jennica’s idea. When she came up with that, we were like, ‘This woman gets us.’ She has the right sense of humour for us, she’s clearly talented and very smart and professional, ‘You’re hired.’

Jennica, you have worked on dramas like Cardinal and also have a background in kids comedy. How has it been working on a primetime comedy aimed at adults?
Jennica Harper: I was very grateful to be working in kids comedy for many years and then I had been developing a number of comedy shows, but it’s hard to get one going here. So I sort of interviewed and pitched my take on the show idea and sort of helped flesh it out. I know very well how lucky I am to be one of the people getting run an adult comedy, a primetime comedy in this country. There’s been very few. So I have no illusions about why I’m here. I’m here because I have the experience and because Jann got us a greenlight. Like, I know how our show got greenlit. I did my best with the scripts, I did my best with the story, but we’re here because we have a star and everyone was like, ‘This is a no-brainer. Let’s put this on TV.’ So I got to sort of ride the train, and now I’m sort of steering the train, but the train belongs to Jann.

I think Jann’s rivalry with Sarah McLachlan on the show is hilarious. Why does fictional Jann hate Sarah? 
JH: Right from the beginning, when I understood that the proposal was to do a fictionalized version of Jann and that she is super flawed and jealous and imperfect and a blurter who thinks about herself first, that immediately came to me. I was like, ‘This is going to be so much fun.’ Because that’s where the comedy is going to come from, it’s going to come from the conflict of her against the world. And sometimes that’s her versus her work, and sometimes it’s her versus her family. So I thought she needed a nemesis, and who is a better Canadian nemesis than, honestly, one of the most hard-to-criticize human beings in the world? Someone who is beautiful with an incredible songwriting ability and a beautiful voice and works for charities and creates music schools for children, that that would be somebody who—if you’re really having fun with a flawed person—you’re like, ‘I hate that perfect person. She’s terrible. How does she get everything and I get nothing?’ That kind of vibe.

The series is very funny, but it also has a serious side, particularly in its treatment of Nora’s dementia. Was it at all difficult to strike a tonal balance between those two elements?
JH: I know it’s going to be a big part of the conversation, so I’ve tried to think really hard about all of the aspects that go into finding that tone, but I think partly what’s helped us has been not to worry too much about it, to accept that we’re going to allow for some more serious moments and to not fight it, to embrace them.

We did know that we were kind of starting in a more comedic place and the season’s going to grow and build into more serious moments, and that was really helpful because we felt we were really earning some of them later, as opposed to trying in the pilot to start with really serious things. We’re not really doing that. We’re keeping it light up front and then hoping we’re bringing the audience along for a journey and that they’re going to come with us to a point where they really love these characters, they’re invested in their lives and they want to see what’s going to happen to them that’s not so perfect. And I also think that, even with the more serious moments in the show, we do allow for those responses that are imperfect and flawed and sometimes even funny. Life takes you to those places and you’re still yourself, you still respond the way you respond.

What has it been like working with Jann?
JH: On Day 1, we were kind of bracing ourselves: Is this going to be good? Is it going to work? It’s such a hard job. Can Jann do the job? And then there was a moment on Day 1 where I was watching and I almost cried because realized that it was so far beyond that. I looked at Leah and said, ‘Oh, my god. I think it might be really good. She’s really good.’ It was really exciting in that moment to realize that you were going to be a part of something special. It is an amazingly collaborative group, and we happen to have top-notch people, and I’m really proud of the scripts. I think that all of our writers have done a great job, they’re really strong scripts. But it would live or die with Jann—and it’s going to shine. She’s a star.

Jann airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Schitt’s Creek: Annie Murphy promises more heart and Ew, David’s in Season 5

It was almost a year ago that Schitt’s Creek jumped from a show slowly growing in popularity to an overnight smash. It was last winter, during Season 4, when Patrick—played by Noah Reid—sang “Simply the Best” to David Rose (Daniel Levy), publicly professing his love during an open mic night, bringing worldwide attention to the comedy and donations to LGBT Youth Line in Canada and The Trevor Project in the U.S.  via iTunes and Spotify downloads.

Since then, Schitt’s Creek—which airs on Pop in the U.S.—was nominated for Best Comedy at the Critic’s Choice Awards. The cast will be attending the January 13 event. A special Christmas episode brought further attention to the program, ensuring it remains a holiday staple. Next, a theatre tour through February, culminating with a stop in Toronto.

But while awards shows and tours beckon, Annie Murphy says the focus of the series remains the same.

“Each season peels back a layer on the family and the people of Schitt’s Creek,” she says over the phone. “This season is no different. There is a lot of love, a lot of heart and lot of the goofy, wonderful laughs that we’re used to. And a lot of ‘Ew, Davids.’”

When viewers tune in on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBC, they’ll see a family that has truly become a part of the community. David and Patrick’s store, Rose Apothecary, is still in business, Alexis (Murphy) and Ted (Dustin Milligan) are still together and the Rosebud Motel is still standing thanks to Stevie (Emily Hampshire), Roland (Chris Elliott) and Johnny (Eugene Levy). Only Moira (Catherine O’Hara) is absent but that’s because she’s in Bosnia filming a movie. David, worried things are getting stale between he and Patrick, agrees to accompany Alexis and Ted on a double date that involves nature and heights, two things surely on David’s Must Avoid list.

“[We filmed] in a ropes course that I never knew existed,” Murphy says with a laugh. “I was feeling very confident going into it because I’m not afraid of heights. But once they strapped us in and we were up there on the platform with no barrier around it, we all had a bit of a moment up there. It was way higher than it looked, I can assure you of that.”

Murphy hints that changes are in store for Alexis in Season 5. Aware of what she’s put Ted through over the past few seasons—including cancelled wedding engagements—the fashionista realizes she has to devote more to their relationship than before. She puts herself into a scenario we haven’t seen her in.

And though the actions by Milligan, Murphy, Reid, O’Hara and Daniel Levy are all great in Tuesday’s return, it is Eugene Levy’s scenes that grabbed my attention. Levy has made a career out of being the straight man and leaving it up to his co-stars to grab the spotlight. He turns in the most sensitive performances I’ve seen from him, making for a commanding presence. They actually carry over from “Merry Christmas, Johnny Rose,” an emotional storyline in which Johnny tried to bring his family together for the holidays. It brought a tear to my eye. Turns out I wasn’t alone.

“Eugene really, really grounds all of the characters that surround him,” Murphy says. “In the Christmas episode especially, watching him play such a sad guy. When he’s releasing the tree and when he goes off to the café by himself, I had a hard time holding it together when we were shooting. I looked over and saw Dustin wiping away a tear. He’s such a wonderful human being and that really comes across in his acting.”

Agreed.

Schitt’s Creek airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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CTV partners with Netflix to premiere milestone SCTV reunion event special to Canadians

From a media release:

CTV announced today it is joining Netflix to become the exclusive Canadian broadcast partner of the upcoming, yet untitled, SCTV comedy special, which explores the enduring legacy of the iconic, EMMY® award-winning Canadian series SECOND CITY TELEVISION (SCTV). As previously announced, Academy Award®-winner Martin Scorsese directs and pays homage to the iconic Canadian sketch series that reunites past SCTV members Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Dave Thomas and, confirmed today, Rick Moranis.

The reunion special is set to make its debut in 2019. Under the partnership, Netflix will premiere the title globally in all territories, with the exception of Canada, where it will premiere exclusively on CTV. Following CTV’s airing, the SCTV comedy special will be available exclusively on Netflix in Canada and worldwide.

This Sunday, May 13, the original SCTV cast members will gather in front of a live audience at Toronto’s iconic Elgin Theatre. Dubbed “An Afternoon With SCTV”, the taping features Jimmy Kimmel moderating a panel conversation, as the comedic actors recount their various experiences about the making of the influential and legendary series.

Dubbed by Entertainment Weekly as one of the “100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,” SCTV aired for six seasons between 1976 to 1984, becoming a pop culture touchstone. With 13 EMMY AWARD® nominations, SCTV was one of the first television series to consistently skewer television itself and chronicled the characters – both in front of and behind the camera – of a critically underfunded television station in Melonville.

The SCTV reunion special is produced by longtime SCTV Producer Andrew Alexander of Second City Entertainment, Emma Tillinger Koskoff of Sikelia Productions and in partnership with John Brunton and Lindsay Cox of Insight Productions (THE AMAZING RACE CANADA, THE LAUNCH), and is directed by Martin Scorsese for Netflix and CTV.

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Martin Scorsese to direct SCTV special for Netflix

From a media release:

Netflix today announced that Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter Martin Scorsese will direct an untitled Netflix original comedy special exploring the enduring legacy of Emmy-winning sketch comedy show SCTV.

Scorsese will reunite comedy legends and former SCTV co-stars Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and Dave Thomas in front of a live audience for An Afternoon with SCTV, moderated by Jimmy Kimmel. To be held at Toronto’s historic Elgin Theatre on Sunday, May 13 at 3 p.m., the filming will be part of the Netflix special, produced by longtime SCTV Producer Andrew Alexander of Second City, Emma Tillinger Koskoff of Sikelia Productions and Lindsay Cox of Insight Productions.

Canadian classic SCTV aired for six seasons between 1976 and 1984, quickly becoming one of pop culture’s touchstone comedies. The series’ stars include some of the most beloved and celebrated names in laughter, including the late John Candy and Harold Ramis.

Photo credit: Cara Howe for Netflix

 

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CBC renews Schitt’s Creek for Season 5

From a media release:

CBC has renewed the critically acclaimed hit comedy series SCHITT’S CREEK, created by and starring Eugene Levy and Daniel Levy, for a fifth season (14 x 30). Returning winter 2019, season 5 sees an increased order from 13 to 14 episodes.

Airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC, the SCHITT’S CREEK season 4 finale airs April 10 in Canada.

Currently in its fourth season, SCHITT’S CREEK is one of the top 10 Canadian entertainment programs, drawing a total reach of more than 1.4 million weekly and an average audience of 742,000 (2+ AMA) on CBC so far this season, with 41% of viewers in the 25-54 demographic.*


Related: Read our interview with Noah Reid regarding David and Patrick’s relationship


Since its debut in 2015, the series has been recognized with more than 50 award nominations and 18 wins to date, including Canadian Screen Award wins for Best Comedy Series (2016), Best Writing in a Comedy for Daniel Levy (2016), Best Comedy Performance for both Eugene Levy (2016) and Catherine O’Hara (2016, 2017) and Best Supporting Actress, Comedy for Emily Hampshire (2016, 2017).

SCHITT’S CREEK is a half-hour, single-camera comedy starring Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, Annie Murphy, Chris Elliott, Emily Hampshire and Jennifer Robertson. The series follows a wealthy family who suddenly find themselves broke and forced to live in Schitt’s Creek, a small town they once bought as a joke.

Commissioned by CBC, SCHITT’S CREEK is produced by Not A Real Company Productions Inc. and created by Eugene Levy and Daniel Levy. The executive producers are Eugene Levy, Daniel Levy, Andrew Barnsley, Fred Levy, David West Read and Ben Feigin. SCHITT’S CREEK is produced in association with CBC and PopTV and distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

 

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