'Schitt's Creek' Boss Dan Levy on Dealing With Fan Pressure and Planning His Own Backyard Emmy Party

Schitt's Creek - Publicity Still - H 2020
Courtesy of POP TV

Dan Levy balanced the roles of co-star, co-creator and showrunner of the little Canadian sitcom that could, which slowly built a massive following and earned 15 Emmy nominations for its sixth and final season.

Schitt's Creek — the Canadian comedy that, thanks to word-of-mouth and an ever-increasing Netflix fan base, became a smash hit by its sixth season — aired its series finale in April on Pop TV (it's the network's highest-rated show). Four months later, the sitcom landed 15 Emmy nominations, including for comedy series and all four of its main castmembers. Having followed the eccentric, out-of-touch Rose family in their move to the small town Schitt's Creek after their fortune dries up, the series wrapped with a wedding, a return to the high life (for some) and more fanfare than ever. Dan Levy, the series' 36-year-old co-creator, showrunner and now Emmy-nominated star (he plays David Rose), spoke to THR about writing those last episodes, dealing with fan pressure and planning his own backyard Emmy party.

What did you want to accomplish with this final season?

Emotionally speaking, for me, it was really important to do everything we could to make sure that every character's emotional arc was handled really carefully. It was a lot of research back to all the shows that I loved; I watched the series finales of those shows and really examined what I liked about them and what I found effective about them. All the great last episodes that I love aren't backlogged; the seasons really lay the groundwork for a final episode that doesn't feel too heavy in having to wrap up everyone's stuff in one episode. That was the big takeaway from my research, just making sure that we peppered that last season with big moments, and that we could really use that last episode as kind of a celebration rather than an intersection of having to say goodbye to 10 different characters.

What were some of the shows you researched?

I went back to I Love Lucy, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Friends — all big classic shows. Six Feet Under is my all-time favorite television show, and I think their series finale was so iconic and to this day is still talked about. It's such a daunting idea of wrapping up, in our case, 80 episodes of storytelling. What I took away from it was this idea of "tell a great episode of your show." That's all people really want at the end of the day. They don't need the song and dance if the groundwork has been laid — it really should be the cherry on top.

Did you ever consider having the whole Rose family stay in Schitt's Creek, or did you always know some of them had to leave?

It was a tough conversation. As more people found it and the fan base grew, it was harder to look away from the fact that people were wanting the entire family to stay. It is important to be aware of fan expectations, and part of the fun of the last season was getting to throw little Easter eggs to give them what they want. In the room we made a list of fan expectations and then the expectations and thoughts and the desires of our characters, and sort of cross-referenced them.

When it came to who would stay and who would leave, David felt like the only person who could stay and not have it feel like he was, in some way, settling. As much as Moira [Catherine O'Hara] and Johnny [Eugene Levy, Dan's father in real life] and Alexis [Annie Murphy] have grown by way of being in Schitt's Creek, they have bigger lives ahead of them. David was a character that felt like he had spent his whole life trying to have this big life, when in actuality he just wanted companionship and the safety of a community. Once we made that choice, it really came down to laying the runway for the rest of the family to leave, and to really make sure that we were communicating that to the audience.

After all these seasons of being the creator, star, writer, producer, director — what was the key to balancing it all? Did it get easier as you went on?

I think it got harder. I'm inherently a perfectionist, and the more people watched the show, I was aware that there was a certain level of expectation and that people were responding really positively to it. For me, it's like, "How do we keep that momentum going and how do we continue to raise the bar, even though our budget never changed?" It went up in very small increments, year after year, but how do we communicate growth to our audience? They are expecting a more polished, glossy show from season to season, because that's just inherently how things tend to work in America. You get four seasons of a show, you're working with a much bigger budget than you were in season one. For us, the budget stayed the same, so it was really about working extra hard to squeeze as much out of it as we possibly can. How do we keep expanding a small town when we don't have the budget for location shoots? The challenge just became harder and harder, but I think it was all the more rewarding. I have talked to people who just assumed that we just kept getting bigger and bigger budgets, and I have to kindly remind them that that's not how it works. We have a very small Canadian show.

How was it to have the show be a slow burner and grow in popularity every season like that?

It's an ideal situation, to be honest. The last thing you want is to debut to really high expectations. It's always good to kind of slip in the back door when nobody's noticing and try to convince people to watch what you're doing. Getting this kind of recognition now is an incredible thing, but it's also kind of scary because there is a tipping point. I think if we hear too much about a thing, or we feel like something is getting a little too much focus, it is in us to say, "That's not that good anymore. Eh, I never liked it." It was a lucky window that we caught, slowly easing people into what we were doing and then getting out before it became completely mainstream.

What would you say is the biggest pro or con about this Emmy season, which is so different this year because of the pandemic?

For a tiny show out of Canada that never saw it coming, and then to actually not be able to go to the Emmys, is an incredibly Schitt's Creek way of winding this whole thing down. So on one hand I'm like, "This tracks." It's our crew that would have been so fun to see all dressed up and there. I would have loved for our team to get to have that "pinch me" moment. My dad and I have already been talking about potentially doing a socially distanced event in his backyard in Toronto, so maybe we can all dress up and pretend, 6 feet apart, that we're there.

Interview edited for length and clarity.


And the Odds Are...

In the battle of final seasons, this Canadian import does seem to have an edge over lone broadcast nominee (and fellow swan-songster) The Good Place. The comedy, which aired on Pop TV in the United States, shocked many with multiple first-time nominations in 2019. It went 0-for-4 but almost quadrupled its fortunes for the sixth and last run with 15 nominations, trailing only The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in its genre. The fact that Schitt's Creek received two writing nominations, in addition to acting mentions for the four central castmembers, speaks especially well for the series' wide appeal among the TV Academy's voting pool. Working against Schitt's Creek is Pop's nearly nonexistent footprint among viewers. The show catches a lot of eyeballs when it hits Netflix, and this season doesn't arrive on the streamer until October. — MICHAEL O'CONNELL

What THR's Critic Said...

"The Schitt's Creek ensemble brilliantly navigated the clashes that gave the show its unique feel. The Roses were caricatures of out-of-touch extravagance, but they were also human beings who gradually learned how to give back to the only community that would have them at their lowest point. Moira and David's austere designer garb always contrasted wonderfully with their shabby environs and the show's ubiquitous belching horns. And over the years, the Roses learned how to reconcile their confounded reactions to the eccentric townspeople of Schitt's Creek with their genuine affection for them." — INKOO KANG, APRIL 8

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.