Tag Archives: Leah Gauthier

Jann co-creators Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier on the success of the show and writing Season 2

CTV’s sitcom Jann is an undeniable critical and ratings success. Its first season garnered rave reviews, millions of viewers, and a 2020 WGC Screenwriting Award for Best Comedy Series.

However, there was a time when the show’s co-creators and executive producers, Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier,  were unsure if the series—which stars singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a highly fictionalized version of herself—would work.

“It was a real act of faith at first,” says Harper, explaining that Arden “was very funny and very talented” but unproven as a comedic lead. There were also some concerns about the show’s unique blend of tones: part entertainment industry satire, part slapstick comedy, part family dramedy.

“It’s not a comedy in the conventional way, it’s a little bit more cable, I think,” says Harper, who also acts as the series showrunner. “There’s a bit more of a blend of very silly comedy right up to, hopefully, poignant, dramatic moments. We’re trying to kind of have our cake and eat it, too.” 

Harper and Gauthier got their cake and more when CTV quickly greenlit the series for Seasons 2 and 3. But having a hit show creates new worries.

“You immediately put pressure on yourself,” Gauthier says. “Like, ‘Can we do it again in the second season?'”

The answer to that is a resounding yes. The first four episodes of Season 2 have provided some of the series’ funniest moments as chronically narcissistic Jann works to win back her family after ditching them to go on tour last season. Her hilarious quest has featured a wrestling match with Sarah McLachlan (who guest-starred in the first episode of the season), some bizarrely unconventional couple’s therapy with girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), and a disastrous camping adventure with sister Max (Zoie Palmer) and mom Nora (Deborah Grover).

On Monday’s new episode, “Drop the Single,” Jann is in for more uncomfortable situations when Cale (Elena Juatco) pushes her to record an electronic dance track and she shares a talk show couch with a very unimpressed k.d. lang. The instalment also features some of the show’s patented family drama as Dave (Patrick Gilmore) brings the baby to visit his mom.

We recently chatted with Harper and Gauthier about their approach to writing the new season and what to expect in the show’s second half.

Season 2 has been excellent so far. Did you find it easier or harder to write than the first season? 
Jennica Harper: Easier. When we were breaking the stories for Season 2, I was just so excited because it became clear who the characters are and we had the casting. When we wrote those [Season 1] scripts, we hadn’t cast anybody yet, other than Jann, of course, and now that we know those actors and those characters, it was a lot more playful. 

Leah Gauthier: For sure. And as we watched [the actors] as we were making Season 1, we were like, ‘What are these characters naturally great at that we can pick up on in seasons following? Is this character really good at panicky situations? Has this person come up against Jann as a buddy or as an enemy? Where can we expand on what organically happened on its own and lean into it?’ Because the Charley character, she becomes sort of a social influencer in Season 2, and that was because we were watching Alexa [Rose Steele] in real life, and were thinking, ‘This woman is very interesting and her social media following is huge’. That’s the kind of thing that we sort of lean into and pull from real life, that’s kind of what we’re doing in these later seasons, and I feel it’s more fun to write. 

JH: Another example was with Nora, Jann’s mom, who’s played by Deb Grover. There are these moments where she’s kind of sassy, not just this sort of sad person going through her early stages of memory loss, and we loved that.

How does an episode of Jann begin in your writers’ room? 
JH:  We essentially develop a story arcs document for the season, and that’s something that Jann, Leah, and I do together. Traditionally, that would be the three of us going to Jann’s house in Calgary for a few days and just talking about the shape of the season, because it’s serialized, and what the theme is before we figure out what some individual funny story would be within that. For example, in Season 2 it was about whether Jann could make things up to the people she pissed off and also Cynthia and Jann giving it a go and her relationship with Cale, with Cale being someone who has a lot of ideas that Jann is uncomfortable with.

The three of us developed a road map for the season and some story ideas that could go with that and had them fleshed out. So when we get together with the rest of our writers, we’re presenting our thoughts for the whole season, ‘What do you think?’ Then we ask them to respond and help us refine that and start talking individual stories. That’s not necessarily typical on other shows. Sometimes you just show up and there’s a blank page and you kind of have to figure out one by one what the episodes are going to be. But we kind of come in with some of that work done, so that we can really be running when we have the writers together.

Where do you come up with some of the crazier situations that Jann gets herself into? 
JH: We pull from Jann’s personal stories for sure, anytime we’re chatting about something that kind of works. For some of the family storylines, we have more relatable stories [from our own lives] that apply. But there’s also a lot of what-ifs. You know, ‘What if Jann and Cynthia went to couple’s therapy and maybe this person isn’t even a therapist?’ There’s a lot of just pitching jokes and story ideas in the writers’ room. 

LG: Our writers’ room is a really comfortable space. Everyone feels really comfortable to pitch any idea, even if it’s crazy. Sometimes people will start with, ‘OK, this is a bad pitch, but what if Jann is hanging from her crotch on a barbed wire fence?’

And Jann is game for doing whatever. She understands that the physical comedy lands really well. She’s really helpful because no one is scared to say, ‘I was thinking we’d put you in boxer shorts and you drag garbage cans out the front’ because she’s not ever gonna shut it down. 

JH: She actually pitches it sometimes. She’s the one in the camping episode that really ran with the idea of having an emergency situation in the woods. She went all the way. She went, ‘What if I use a sock?’ That was in the script for a little while, and then we thought this is bizarre for even us. But I think the show works because she is fully committed to looking ridiculous. 

LG: And she’s such a good sport. In the last episode, when she’s on that inflatable pink couch, she was flipping around upside down and sideways on that thing, and she’d just had her gallbladder removed about 15 days before. That’s how committed she is to doing whatever it takes to make people laugh. She’s a true hero. 

Speaking of the inflatable pink couch, how much of the physical comedy is specifically scripted and how much of it is just finding funny situations that allow Jann Arden to be Jann Arden?
LG: For the pink inflatable chair thing, it was scripted that she was stuck in it and she couldn’t reach her pop and she knocks the pop over and says, ‘What a waste.’ But then she kept going, like flipping up and back. That was just her going for it. 

JH: We try to create the space, like you said, for her to run with it. And sometimes we realize later and add it. Like in Episode 3 with the fall out of the rickshaw, Charley pulls up outside the school and Jann is texting and she gets out and she falls, and it’s very funny. 

LG: That was her own stunt. We put a pillow underneath the black mulch, and then we [told her], ‘You’re good.’ 

JH: Yeah, ‘Just fall like you mean it!’

LG: And she did. 

I love Jann’s relationship with Cynthia. I’m a woman of a certain age, gay, and in a relationship, and it’s rare to see characters and humour representing my demographic.
JH: When we were recently talking about Season 3, Leah said how important it is that we feel we are writing a woman in her 50s and living her best life. I mean, obviously, Jann is not actually living her best life yet, but there’s sort of an aspirational quality to it. You know, we want to see women in relationships, we want to see women in sexuality. That’s really important to us and we feel it’s really underrepresented. I think people who haven’t watched the show maybe don’t know how progressive it is.

LG: We’re writing Season 3 now, and in one of our Zoom writing rooms, I said to everyone, ‘As we’re wrapping up our first drafts, can we look back at them with an eye for the moments where Jann can be very proud of herself. ‘ She’s a woman in her 50s that is not done. She’s not over, we haven’t forgotten about her, she’s still excited about stuff, she still gets to do really cool shit, the game’s not over. I want people to watch this and go, ‘I can still do lots of stuff. I have so many days ahead of me that I can do some great things.’ 

And Jann is so helpful in those rooms, too, because she’ll just tell us a story from her real life and we’ll just be like, ‘Got it. Hot flash, girlfriend, laying on the bathroom floor. Cool, it’s in the show!’ 

You’ve had great guest stars this season, including Sarah McLachlan, and in the next episode, k.d. lang. How was it to work with them?
JH: Intimidating. I was very excited, but there were definitely moments where I couldn’t believe this was happening.

LG: Jennica was freaking out. 

JH: I was, in my calm way, freaking out. No, it was very cool, and they were so different. Sarah was really like, ‘Let me do the silly stuff, I’m totally excited about this,’ and k.d. was more reserved, but I thought it was hysterical how she, just with her facial expressions, absolutely nailed the ‘I can’t, this woman is ridiculous,’ vibe. 

LG: She’s very cool and calm, that k.d. lang. She drove herself there and dressed herself, nailed it, and then drove home. 

What can you preview about the second half of the season?
JH: A big thing that’s ramping up is Jann and Cale’s adversarial business relationship. It’s going to really come to a head.

LH: I’m excited about [an episode where] the sisters go on a road trip. I really like the sister dynamic, so putting them in a car together and sending them off was really fun. That’s Episode 207, and I’m really looking forward to that. 

Can you tell me anything about Season 3?
JH: We plan to shoot after the new year, so a little later than normal. We’d normally be shooting now. We’ve already scripted the whole season, we’ve got drafts of the whole thing. We’re revising and punching them up a bit, but we have a story to tell, so we’re pretty excited. 

Jann airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

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.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Jann Arden is unabashedly herself—sort of—on new CTV comedy Jann

When CTV hosted journalists on the Calgary set of its new comedy Jann in October, series star Jann Arden noted that she was just 17 days into her acting career. The Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter has oodles of experience in front of live crowds and has flashed her wicked wit on shows like The Social, but acting in front of a camera—and being No. 1 on the call sheet—is new. And nerve-wracking.

“I’m scared the entire time,” Arden admits during a press conference with the show’s cast and creators. “I think you have to do things in life that scare you.”

Showrunner Jennica Harper (Cardinal, Motive) confesses that she had last-second jitters about her star’s ability to crossover to television as well.

“We obviously were thrilled to be jumping into this project and also knew that it was going to live or die by Jann,” says Harper. “This is who people were going to be coming to see. And so on Day 1, there was sort of a moment where we were all like, ‘Oh, my god….”

“Can she f–king act?” Arden cuts in, causing the room to erupt in laughter.

Once everyone regains their composure, Harper continues, nodding toward Arden, “Then there was the answer, and it was ‘Oh, my god, she’s fantastic.’ It’s gonna be great.”

As that exchange proves, no one had anything to worry about. Arden has natural comedic timing, and as one of the day’s scenes—which journalists were invited to watch on monitors—later demonstrated, she also has impressive dramatic chops.

In Jann, which premieres on Wednesday, March 20, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, Arden plays a largely fictionalized version of herself. She’s a recording artist who, unlike the real-life Calgary native, is a bit of a has-been, forced to rent out her beautiful country house to Airbnb guests who are more famous than she is. Her sweet but hapless long-time manager Todd (Jason Blicker) is endlessly supportive and books her all the gigs he can, but the payments are inconsistent at best—unless you’re looking to stock up on cheese wheels.  

On the home front, younger, more responsible sister Max (Zoie Palmer) is raising three kids and caring for their mother Nora (Deborah Grover), but her surprise fourth pregnancy shakes things up and soon mom is moving in with Jann. Meanwhile, Jann’s ex-girlfriend (Sharon Taylor) is moving on with another woman, and a younger, hipper music manager (Elena Juatco) is trying to push Todd out of the picture and resurrect Jann’s career—situations that are skillfully mined for laughs and cringe-inducing moments of second-hand embarrassment throughout the season’s six-episode run.

Harper and series co-creator Leah Gauthier (Motive), who set up their writer’s room in Arden’s kitchen, readily acknowledge shows like Episodes and Curb Your Enthusiasm—where Matt LeBlanc and Larry David played extreme versions of themselves—were heavy influences. And fictional Jann is certainly a narcissist who seems allergic to introspection and good decision making. However, she has a good heart and always manages to remain likable.

“You’re still rooting for her even though she’s making the wrong decisions,” says Gauthier.

And Jann also has a softer centre than those aforementioned shows, which is most evident in the tender and realistic way it deals with Nora’s dementia. Arden’s real-life mother, Joan Richards, suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away in December, just weeks after filming wrapped. Arden wrote about her mom’s struggle with the disease in her best-selling 2017 memoir Feeding My Mother, and some of those experiences appear in the series.

Following the press conference, Arden returns to set to film a scene with Grover that involves an increasingly confused Nora wandering out to the car to find her missing purse and Jann realizing that something may really be wrong with her mom. The pair performed the scene over and over and over again, some takes ending stoically and some ending with Jann in tears. It is here that Arden and fictional Jann seem to merge, and the moment is quietly devastating.

Part of the blending between real and fiction may be related to Grover’s resemblance to Arden’s mother.

“I think she felt I had the right feeling, a certain sensibility, and that seemed to work for her vision of her mom,” Grover says.

As for any emotional toll that filming such scenes may take on her, Arden is matter-of-fact about it.

“I don’t mind tackling the hard stuff,” she says. “That’s life. It’s not a beer commercial, you’re not running down the beach all the time.”

Besides, Arden says living with her mother’s disease made her a better person—something that one presumes might happen to fictional Jann as well.

“It’s a devastating disease, but I don’t think I’ve ever been a better version of myself because of my mom’s illness,” she says. “You know, she put me in a position where I got sober after a lot of years and didn’t hide behind a lot of stuff. I’ve changed so many things about my health and well-being and got out of a really shitty relationship that went on far too long. And I think it gives you a lot of bravery because my mom is like, ‘You gotta be where you are.’”

It also helps to be who you are.

“I’ve made a living being myself, and just being unique to myself,” Arden continues. “That’s how I’ve made my money. That’s as simple as it is. I’m not the best singer, I’m not the best actor, I’m not the best anything. I do what I do, and it’s indigenous to me. So yeah, it’s great for me to have people see that, to have women see someone like me on television that’s not 5’10” and 100 pounds. There are lots of scenes where I’m in f–king boxer shorts and my hair is in a weird ponytail and people laugh before I even open my mouth, and I’m like, ‘Well, that’s reassuring.’

“Just be yourself.”

Or a version of yourself.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail