PASADENA, Cal. – For Dan Levy, it was a big (and uncharacteristic) step: He asked his dad for help.
The result is “Schitt’s Creek” (shown here), which has just started its final season, amid praise and nominations.
And yes, his dad was surprised. “He never came to me for anything,” Eugene Levy told the Television Critics Association. “I would say, ‘Do you need me to help you read lines?’ ‘No, no, I’ve got it.’”
Dan was turning 30 and doing fine, hosting shows for MTV Canada. But now he wanted to create a scripted show; that’s the turf of his dad, a star of “Second City” TV shows and “American Pie” films.
“I had long admired my dad’s work,” Dan said. And his series idea “had the potential, in the wrong hands, of being really broad.” Still, he worried about “that nepotism thing.”
As it happened, Eugene said, he wasn’t needed in the writers’ room. “I realized very early that he was way ahead of where I was …. You can take this mentoring thing and just stick it in your back pocket.”
The basic plot: A rich family (as this photo shows) loses everything, except a tiny town it bought as a joke, because of its name. These are people, Eugene said, who were used to “bandaging their problems with money.”
He plays the dad, with Catherine O’Hara as his wife. They both found fame (and frustration) on the “SCTV” shows, O’Hara said. “We’d do a season and then we’d disappear for a while. Then our producer would get another deal and we’d do another couple of seasons. …. We were in Toronto, Edmonton, all over the place. We’re 90 minutes, we’re a half-hour, we’re 15 minutes, we’re 45.”
“Schitt’s Creek” also scrambled, needing Canadian and American outlets. Pop, newly transforming from the TV Guide Network, stepped in. “It seemed so right,” Eugene said, “because Pop was kind of a fledgling network … and we were just a fledging show, trying to find a home.”
Dan cast himself as the son, David, with Annie Murphy as his sister Alexis, once an Internet star. She even had a theme song, “A Little Bit of Alexis,” which Murphy wrote and sang. “I was like, ‘I’m going to do it myself,’” she said, “forgetting that I wasn’t a musician at all.”
Sarah Levy, Dan’s real-life sister, plays a local waitress. Other townspeople are played by Chris Elliott and Emily Hampshire – who juggled playing the low-key Stevie on “Schitt’s Creek” and a high-octane genius in the “12 Monkeys” series.
For all of its extremes, “Schitt’s Creek” also found warmth. “It’s about the opportunity to reset yourself,” Dan said. “It is about what it means (to) truly and deeply and wholly love without the remedies of what money can provide.”
Alexis finally found a good boyfriend. So did David.
“There’s just an otherness to the way that queer characters are often depicted on television,” Dan said. “For me, it was really important to represent my life, to represent my friends, to represent my family.”
A small show on a small network, “Schitt’s Creek” was noticed slowly. Last season (its fifth), it finally drew best-comedy nominations from the Television Critics Association and the Emmys – which also had nominations for O’Hara, Eugene Levy and the costumes.
Brad Schwartz, the Pop president, said this is only the second time (after FX’s “Atlanta”) that a basic-cable show has drawn a best-comedy Emmy nod. He’s scrambled to build a comedy collection.
When Netflix canceled “One Day At a Time” (another TCA best-comedy nominee), a deal was set up: Pop will get the new season first; CBS (its sister network) might carry summer reruns.
The final three “Schitt’s Creek” episodes will pair with the season’s first three of “One Day at a Time.” Also, “Florida Girls” will be back for a second season … “Best Intentions” (from the “American Pie” creator) will soon start filming its first season … and “Mother Mary” is filming its pilot.
That last one is from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” creator Rachel Bloom. It poses a fresh question, Schwartz said: “What would happen in today’s world, if the most irresponsible and lazy human on Earth was impregnated by immaculate conception.”
Shows like that may or may not propel Pop into its post-”Schitt’s” era.
– “Schitt’s Creek,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Pop
– The Jan. 21 episode is the third of 14 in the final season; all three rerun at 11 p.m., Jan. 22