Mark McKinney on a Dying Canadian Sitcom's Final Curtain
TORONTO – When the death of a series lead brings tears and heartbreak to fellow cast and crew, it's often left to the writers room to scramble with rewrites to cope with the loss.
So former Kids in the Hall cast member Mark McKinney recalled as HBO Canada’s Less Than Kind ends its fourth and final season.
American-born Canadian actor Maury Chaykin (Dances With Wolves), as the patriarch of the Blecher family on Less Than Kind, was also the comedic lynchpin on the Canadian series that McKinney executive produces and directs.
So when Chaykin, known to Americans as the TV detective Nero Wolfe and a movie studio exec in Entourage, died in July 2010 just as Less Than Kind was headed into a third season, the Canadian comedy was left in the lurch.
“We fell into this real-life place with the comedy,” McKinney recalled.
Chaykin had long been dogged by poor health during his career and became ill at the beginning of the second season, so earlier script rewrites already had Chaykin’s character in declining health. But heading into the third season of Less Than Kind, there was no portent of future tragedy.
“We’d met him a few months earlier and he was hopeful,” McKinney said of Chaykin’s ongoing heart condition.
It turns out the mainstay of Canadian film and TV died at age 61 of a heart valve infection caught in the hospital while under care.
In paying tribute to Chaykin, HBO Canada put up extra money to explore tragedy overshadowing the funny in Less Than Kind.
“We were ready to take on the death,” McKinney said.
What’s more, McKinney and Less Than Kind lead Wendel Meldrum, who was to fill the void left by Chaykin's death as an onscreen widow, had both in the year before personally lost their own mothers. The result was their own life-changing grief found its way into scripts and performances.
“It was a very liberating thing. It was life meets art,” McKinney said.
It was also to produce the best episodes of Less Than Kind, as the third season had Meldrum, Jesse Camacho and other members of the Blecher family struggling in a world without Chaykin’s character.
And now, with Less Than Kind nearing its final curtain, McKinney is eyeing a possible Less Than Kind TV movie from producers Breakthrough Entertainment and Buffalo Gal Pictures, now in the early stages of development.
“It’s gone from a rock to being a snail crawling across the floor,” McKinney insisted.