'Schitt's Creek': Pop TV President on How the Show Defined the Network (Guest Column)

Ahead of the series finale, Brad Schwartz recalls his decade-long relationship with Dan Levy and how it helped an underdog cut through the clutter.
Pop TV Network/Photofest; Inset: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
"Schitt's Creek" with Pop TV president Brad Schwartz (inset)

I remember the day Dan Levy said he was leaving the company. I was the GM of MTV Canada, which we had launched from scratch just a few years earlier. Dan was the host of The Hills After Show and he was arguably the biggest star on the network. In this business, it is always hard to lose your star.  His aim wasn't the clichéd simplicity of "I'm going to L.A. for pilot season." It was a deeper creative yearning and far more purposeful. After years of being on red carpets for MTV interviewing celebrities, he told me that he didn't know exactly what he wanted to do, but he knew that he wanted to do something important. Something that was worthy of people asking him the questions. 

And here we are.

When The New York Times recently wrote that Schitt's Creek "rose from humble origins to the pinnacle of TV acclaim" it hit me deeply. It played back the years, the days, the hours of love, passion and focused attention that went into Schitt's Creek. It captured just how far we've come. Our heads were down, working tirelessly, but we knew something special was happening. Pop was the underdog against the world. And by "world," I mean the media industry. Launching a new cable network in 2014, the same year that cord-cutting became a thing, was a David versus Goliath task. So, as much as that quote defined the show, it also defined the network. What registered with me was just how much happened between the two parts of that sentence — and that you can't separate the story of Schitt's Creek from the story of Pop TV.

Would the story be the same in another time or on a different network? No. This happened exactly the way it was supposed to happen. A meet-cute of sorts: fledgling network and fledgling show, together, against the world. Fighting the giants of our industry. Dan crafted a perfect show for these current times, but also one that will stand the test of time. The writing: sharp, funny and heartfelt. The performances: fully formed and one-of-a-kind.

At Pop TV, we work hard to create emotional attachment every day.  It wasn’t about marketing a premiere, it was about long-standing belief.  A commitment not to rest until everyone knows what we know…that Schitt’s Creek is a beacon of goodness and deserves your attention. Emotional attachment is everything in our business. When you are emotionally attached to something, be it shoes or computers or coffee, you spend more time with it, you come back more often and you tell other people about it. In other words, length of tune, frequency and new viewers; the very definition of a ratings point. Schitt's Creek's ratings grew season after season, for six straight. In fact, it is still growing. The current season is pacing 70 percent ahead of last season. The most recent episode was the most-watched ever.

The big, long-tenured networks stay big. The small, underfinanced networks stay small. Rarely does one make the leap. Many would argue that in today's environment, it is impossible to make that leap. But when the forces of show, culture, passion, patience, hard work and talent all crescendo together in harmony, odds can be defied.

We live in very divisive times. A cultural civil war of sorts. But when times get tough, the importance of doubling down on family is essential. And every Tuesday night, you can get away from it all and visit this amazing family, in this amazing little town, filled with indelible characters, filled with heart and laughter, filled with love and acceptance. At its best, that's what TV does. It transports you. It's an escape to somewhere wonderful. It allows you to feel seen and heard. Schitt's Creek is a special place and it means something very personal to the audience that found it. They became emotionally attached.

The show was pitched as a character-driven comedy, and it's the characters that will stand the test of time. Like in life, every character in Schitt's Creek learns from the people and situations around them. They literally change and grow from episode to episode, from season to season. Sam Malone is Sam Malone. Think of Alexis, David, Stevie, Moira, Johnny. They learn, they win, they lose, they love, they accomplish, they fold in the cheese, they try and they try again; and all of this impacts who they become next week and how they do unto others. They leave as very different people than when they arrived, and the audience got to go on that very personal journey with them, and in turn, it became personal to them. I sincerely want to know what happens next for all of them. I want to know what happens to Stevie. Do Rose Apothecaries pop up all over the country? Does Alexis find love again and become a powerful PR executive? Do Johnny and Moira find an even more personally rewarding second act? I want to see the life David and Patrick make for themselves. And Twyla, oh dear Twyla. And Roland? I'm starting to cry again.

In the end, it is a master class story of love. One that the world needed. I have loved this experience dearly. It's amazing to be a part of something that you'll be proud of forever, and I'm exceedingly proud of the entire team that pulled it off. We built a network. We put joy into the world. We discovered brilliant new talent and we learned from comedy legends. We told stories that deeply resonated with people.

So, as I think back to that day a decade ago when Dan walked into my office and left for larger purpose, I realize that sometimes it's OK to lose your biggest star because he just may become an even bigger one who makes the world a brighter place. 

I thank everyone out there who was a part of it. You know who you are. I thank Dan, Eugene, the cast and crew for inviting us into their world. Best wishes, warmest regards, indeed.

Brad Schwartz is the president of Pop TV. The series finale of Schitt's Creek airs Tuesday on Pop.