Over the years, Toronto has quietly become a major player in film and television, to the tune of a $2 billion production spend in 2017—an all-time high for the city, which has been nicknamed Hollywood North. And if you use cultish adoration as your measure, one of its greatest exports is Schitt’s Creek, a quirky comedy about the Roses, a wealthy family that is forced to move to a middle-of-nowhere town after being defrauded by its financial manager.
The show—which shoots at Toronto’s Pinewood Studios—is a family affair, created by Best in Show star Eugene Levy and son, Daniel Levy, who also play father and son in the series, and co-starring Eugene’s daughter, Sarah, as Twyla, the friendly diner waitress. (The series’ matriarch is played by Canadian comic legend and Eugene’s fellow SCTV [Second City Television] alum Catherine O’Hara.) Daniel took over as showrunner since Season 2, and praise for the comedy has been consistent, with Vulture calling it “a Canadian gem of a sitcom” and Vanity Fair wondering, in its January 2019 issue, why it overlooked the series for so long. (“Yes, Schitt’s Creek Really Is That Good,” read the headline.)
Schitt’s might have remained a Canada-only sensation, but in 2017 Netflix began airing past seasons of the show, which was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Company and is produced by both CBC and Pop TV, with international distribution by ITV Studios Global Entertainment. And now Schitt’s Creek is one of TV’s unlikeliest hits. On Pop TV, its linear ratings have doubled since its 2015 premiere. It’s also the first Canadian show to be nominated for the best comedy prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Riding the momentum, the cast last fall embarked on a U.S.-Canada tour called “Schitt’s Creek: Up Close & Personal” that continued through last month and featured a stop at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.
Last month, with the show in production on its sixth and final season, Eugene and Daniel took a break from filming at Pinewood to chat with Adweek about watching their “little engine that could” become an international phenomenon.
Adweek: Film and television production in Toronto has been booming. What’s it like to shoot in that hub?
Eugene Levy: This town is as busy as it’s been. There are some years when it’s very hard to find a crew because just about every crew member who’s working is on a job. The fact that we’re shooting this show in Toronto is really quite amazing. We’re employing a lot of Toronto people, and it’s nice to be able to contribute to the town that gave me so much.
I started my career here and did a lot of work here in Toronto for seven years of SCTV, most of which was shot in Toronto. That the show ended up in Toronto is really delightful for me.
Daniel, what role does Canada play in the show, and what does that mean for you as a Canadian actor and a showrunner?
Daniel Levy: We are an entirely Canadian production, minus our dear Chris Elliott [who plays town mayor Roland Schitt], so it goes without saying that Canada is coursing through the veins of this show on all levels. There is a kindness to Canada that I think can be felt in the show, and I’m drawing upon my life in Canada for a lot of stories.
The show has had tremendous success, not just in Canada but outside of it as well. What’s that experience been like, to watch it really explode?
E.L.: We used to dub this “the little engine that could.” It’s pretty remarkable in our eyes, and we were developing a nice fan base. But, honestly, I think in the last couple of years, it has really exploded in terms of awareness. When the show started to air on Netflix, people could actually get it in much bigger numbers.
D.L.: But we’ll always hold a special place for our Canadian fans. They were the first cheerleaders of the show and helped a lot in getting the word out.
How has being Canadian, and making a Canadian show, shaped your experience in the industry?
D.L.: Canadian projects rarely have the kinds of budgets U.S. productions do, so we learn to be scrappy. I started my career as a host at MTV in Canada. I was allowed to write, produce and edit my own stuff. That opened my eyes to the idea that you don’t have to be just one thing in this business.
E.L.: The Canadian entertainment industry has grown by quantum leaps over the past 20 years. We are producing movies and television that can certainly compete with any shows made in any country around the globe. You just feel so proud to be Canadian when you look at the quality of work that has been done now.
Family is at the core of Schitt’s Creek the show, both on-screen and off. What’s it like working with your family, and how does that translate when you’re working on a show about a family?
E.L.: It’s always been surreal. When I’m doing scenes with Dan, there are times when it’s almost like I’m kind of, you know, back home in my living room talking to my son. There are sometimes a lot of similarities in terms of a dialogue and certainly in terms of scenes that he’s writing, he borrows a little bit from real life and brings that into the mix.
D.L.: The familiarity forces you to figure out boundaries in terms of trying to not let the personal affect the professional. But ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s quite a thrill to know that we’ll always have this six-year chapter of our lives together documented.
Dan, have you leaned on your dad for advice or counsel at all? What’s that been like, to have him there as a part of this experience?
D.L.: I never turned to my dad for help, at all, until this show. I was too scared of being accused of nepotism. The truth is, my dad is the ultimate pro. He sets a high bar and treats everyone from the top down with care and respect. Watching the way he’s conducted himself and the positive ripple effects of prioritizing professionalism and kindness has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve learned from him.
Eugene, you took a step back after the first season and allowed Dan to take over as showrunner. What’s that been like?
E.L.: It became apparent to me that he was developing so quickly as a producer and a writer, that the two of us didn’t need to go through this together. He was very capable of handling a lot of this responsibility on his own, which was wonderful to me because I frankly didn’t love spending 12 hours in a writer’s room, trying to crack stories. And it gave him more freedom to follow through with his creative direction. It’s been really fun to watch him take over the reins.
You recently announced that the show will end after Season 6. Why did you make that decision? And what can fans expect to see from the final season?
D.L.: You always want to leave people wanting more. I have known how this show was going to end for quite some time, and this was the inevitable last chapter. Few shows get the privilege of deciding when they’re going to end, and I’m glad and grateful that we’ve been afforded that luxury.
E.L.: Each season seems to be stronger than the last, and this next season will be the strongest season that we’ve had so far. Creatively speaking, we could not be going out on a greater high.
What’s next for the both of you?
E.L.: I don’t know know what’s really in store for me yet. What I’d like to do is just take a little time off and spend a little more time on the golf course. I don’t know if I necessarily want to jump back into another series, but maybe try getting back into the movie world for a little bit and see what happens there.
D.L.: I have a few prospects I’m hoping to pursue once the show is over, but until that happens, my focus is on making sure our sixth season is as good as it can possibly be. It’s a love letter to our fans, and I’m taking it very seriously.