Canada Targets U.S. Networks With Hollywood-Style TV Comedies

10:33 AM PST 02/04/2013 by Etan Vlessing
Canadian cross-over.

Look who's laughing now: after selling scripted dramas like "Rookie Blue" and "Flashpoint," Canadians are now looking to sell Los Angeles on homegrown comedies.

TORONTO – Hours before the TV premiere Monday night of Seed, the Canadian sperm donor sitcom he carries in the lead role, Adam Korson feels as much relief as opening-night jitters.

“Here we are, this is us, the comedy is out there,” says Korson, who guest starred on 2 Broke Girls and The Protector in Los Angeles before returning to Canada to play a romantic rogue ill-prepared for fatherhood in the City comedy.

Korson and fellow Canadian jokers have good reason to get suddenly serious.

Canadian comedy has a powerful brand, with homegrown talent like Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Michael J. Fox having long ago conquered Hollywood.

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But a look at U.S. primetime reveals no Canadian sitcoms on the dial, even after homegrown one-hour dramas are a staple of U.S. network summer schedules.

Now Seed and a host of other new local laughers aim to buck that trend by using Canadians with Hollywood experience to create shows entirely different in look and feel to Canada.

“What’s really interesting about Seed is it’s a Canadian comedy, it’s born and bred in Canada. But there’s nothing necessarily Canadian about it,” Korson explains.

The sitcom comes from the pen of Torontonian Joseph Raso, who labored in the studio trenches in Los Angeles, including executive producing the Disney Channel pilot Zombies & Cheerleaders, before City gave him the chance to make his first 13-episodes series back home.

“For me, it is a dream come true. I’m getting to tell the story I want, and for the network and the audience I want,” he insisted.

Series producer Force Four Entertainment is betting Raso’s cross-border sensibility will pay off as it shops the Canadian-made comedy to U.S. network programmers stateside.

But will American and other international broadcasters buy into this brave new world of Canadian comedy as other upcoming shows similarly blur the line between the local and American sitcom?

There’s the multi-camera comedies Package Deal from Thunderbird Films for City, which includes guest-starring roles for Pamela Anderson and Eugene Levy, and the Spun Out comedy pilot from Project 10 Productions for CTV that stars Dave Foley (Newsradio).

The Canadian pipeline also has the single camera Satisfaction comedy from DHX Media and Los Angeles-based scribe Tim McAuliffe for CTV, and the Eva Longoria-starring animated comedy Mother Up! from Breakthrough Films, again for City.

Like Canadian-made dramas on American TV, the Canuck sitcoms could prove an inexpensive way to get a workhorse comedy on a U.S. network schedule and a show horse on a Canadian network.

City is using CBS’ all-things-Canadian How I Met Your Mother episode tonight at 8 p.m. as a premiere launch-pad for Seed at 8:30 p.m.

The hope is the sperm donor comedy will stand-up well with companion sitcoms on the City schedule like Modern Family and 2 Broke Girls to burnish the Canadian network’s brand with audiences and advertisers.

“It’s always about characters, people you want to invite into your living room every week,” said Claire Freeland, director of original programming at City-parent Rogers Media.

It’s also ground-breaking for an industry that long relied on Hollywood to bring the funny to Canadian primetime.

Broadcasters traditionally waited for the U.S. networks to offer the next Seinfeld or The Big Bang Theory as part of bulk buying at the annual Los Angeles Screenings.

But Canadians with Hollywood experience are now being given the Herculean task of getting local producers and broadcasters a piece of the action.

“I don’t feel like I’m coming back at all,” Toronto-raised Andrew Orenstein, whose credits over two decades in Los Angeles include 3rd Rock From the Sun, Everybody Hates Chris and Malcolm in the Middle, said of shooting Package Deal in Vancouver.

“And I wasn’t setting out to do a Canadian show. This is just a show I’m passionate about and I’m fortunate to have found a home for it,” he adds of a comedy about three brothers and the woman who comes between them that he wrote mostly in a Los Angeles Starbucks.

The main starring roles in Package Deal go to Harland Williams, Jay Malone and Julia Voth, Los Angeles-based Canadian actors at home on a Hollywood soundstage, and Randal Edwards, a veteran of U.S. shows lensed in Vancouver and Toronto.

But whether the latest slew of Canadian comedies make it into the U.S. market may well be down to Brian K. Roberts, a veteran American comedy director and writer (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Drew Carey Show) who moved his family up to Canada in the wake of the 2008 Hollywood writers strike.

Besides directing a host of Canadian series, Roberts has produced two multi-camera comedies here: the Memory Lanes pilot for the CBC, which never made it to series, and the Family Channel kids sitcom Really Me.

The veteran Hollywood player said he was puzzled early on over why a country that long exported top comedic talent to the U.S. has failed to make comedies that travel beyond its borders.

“Everyone talks about the brain drain. My view is they’re all here. You just have to know where to find them and how to find them,” Roberts said of local comedic talent.

His latest project along with co-creators Jeff Biederman and Brent Piaskoski is Spun Out, a CTV multi-cam comedy about a dysfunctional public relations firm where staff spin everyone's problems, but not their own.

Roberts did an American-style pilot for Spun Out, rather than go direct to series, and has a writers room with a studio regimen, including a five-day week of rehearsals and rewrites.

“A lot is based on my knowledge of comedy and knowing how to find talent, going back to Los Angeles,” he said.

The goal is to make sitcoms that connect with audiences at home, while being sold into the world market.

“If we get a (CTV) pick-up, now Canada, instead of relying on the crack pipe of American programming, can ... start to develop and create its own programming that Canadians will watch, because they’re obviously watching the American shows,” Roberts said.

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