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May 16, 2016

Paddle Up!

Comedy veteran Eugene Levy and son Daniel find common ground on Schitt's Creek.

Robin Roberts
  • Caitlin Cronenberg for Pop TV
  • Steve Wilkie for Pop TV
  • Steve Wilkie for Pop TV

When Toronto-born actor-producer Daniel Levy came up with the idea for a comedy called Schitt's Creek, he knew his short resume would make for a tough sell.

So he did what he'd resisted doing for years: he turned to his well-known dad.

Daniel had previously cowritten, coproduced and hosted The Hills After Show for MTV in Canada, in addition to other hosting and acting jobs. But once his father, actor-comedian-writer-director Eugene Levy — known for such films as American Pie, Cheaper by the Dozen and Best in Show, as well as series including SCTV — came on board, the CBC quickly green-lit the series.

That was 2015. The show - about a family that suddenly loses their fortune and is forced to live in a  backwater town they'd bought years earlier as a joke — was picked up soon after for U.S. distribution by Pop TV (formerly the TV Guide Network).

Now, having wrapped season two, the father and son — co-creators, executive producers and stars of Schitt's Creek — are casting an eye to the third, expected in 2017. They chatted recently with emmy contributor Robin Roberts about their quirky comedy, their family dynasty and the pitfalls of stunt-casting Brad Pitt.

Daniel, your dad has long wanted to work with you, but you resisted. Why now and why this?

Daniel: I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it takes to make a mark on the industry. I was [finally] sure enough in my own skill set to turn to my dad and say, "Here's an idea I have; I think it could benefit from your sensibility and your comedic touch." I felt like what I was going to contribute to this project was above and beyond any sense of nepotism.

Eugene, what were your thoughts about working with your son?

Eugene: I was thrilled. I thought, let's see how far we can take it. But when we started shooting, I honestly didn't know whether he could sustain this on a weekly basis. Creating characters that the audience can get an emotional hold on is tricky. Sometimes it takes a lot of experience. But from the first show, he created this character that was insanely funny and unique. I'm totally impressed,

How has the show evolved from concept to production?

Daniel: In the first season, you set up the premise. Now that we know this family is stuck in the town, you can really get into the characters — who they are, how they handle crisis. We had a lot of fun playing around with how they adjusted to living in a small town — or chose not to adjust.

Eugene: The show is turning out the way we hoped. It's a great, character-driven half hour where the audience can get emotionally involved. That gives you the leeway to take the comedy in different directions and still have the audience in your pocket.

Eugene, you were in the writers' room for the first season, but you stepped back a bit in the second. Will you write more at some point?

Eugene: I have very happily let Dan take the reins. We set out in the first season to shape the shows, and I'm [now] involved looking at the daily notes coming out of the writers' room. If I see something going off the tracks, then we have a little discussion. But he's done a great job.

Daniel: It's a lovely partnership — I handle a lot of the creative, whether it's choices for production design or costume, and my dad is the facilitator of all things business, steering the whole team as an entity.

Your dad has so many famous friends. Will Steve Martin or Martin Short check into the motel at any point?

Daniel: The fear is that if you involve someone recognizable, you're essentially removing the audience from the story. That said, Tony Hale tweeted about the show in our first season. I almost passed out. And I got a lovely email from Zachary Quinto, who said he really liked it. If people are interested, you do what you can.

Eugene: Because we've established these characters and the setting as real, in a way, if you bring an actual star into the mix, it can really jolt the focus. People will then be going, "Oh, look, it's Brad Pitt! Brad Pitt is playing a taxi driver!" Next thing you know, you're right out of the show.

What can we expect in the third season?

Eugene: The family is going to be in [Schitt's Creek] longer than they thought, so they have to get more involved. There's more interaction with the townspeople. Ultimately, it becomes much more interesting, rather than just a rich family living in a depressed little town,

Daniel: This family has been so disconnected for so long, that even if they wanted to leave, there's something holding them there. What's fun to write is this underlying tension, of them not really wanting to admit that they find comfort in one another.

The second season explored that dynamic in a deeper way. There was such an emotional thread through it; you saw these characters discovering one another and finding their place within the family. It would take a lot to get them to move at this point, because this motel is such a safe place for them.

Daniel, this family affair goes beyond father and son. Sarah, your sister, also has a part (as Twyla, a waitress), and your Uncle Fred is a an executive producer. What's that like?

Daniel: Sarah's been great. It's been amazing to write for someone you know so well. She has such a great time on the show; she's really shining. And my Uncle Fred is a business manager. He helped get the show off the ground, facilitating a lot of the financial details. It's really nice to show up to work every day and see people you trust and love.

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