What Schitt’s Creek’s success could mean for Canadian creators

By Brett Kelly

The Rosebud Motel’s facade has etched its way into the Canadian entertainment ethos through six seasons of Rose family shenanigans. The final season of Schitt’s Creek broke records with 15 Emmy wins this year including Outstanding Comedy Series. Its impact on future generations of creators is not yet clear, but some are cautiously optimistic.

Justin Gray, 32, spent over three years writing and developing a web-based miniseries. Queens, a short comedy-mystery following local drag queens on their way to a pageant, premiered on CBC Gem earlier this year. The Toronto-based writer said shows like Schitt’s Creek could be a sign of more risk-taking from CBC executives, but audiences may not see the outcomes for some time.

“TV shows need time and space to lay foundation, to develop, and to grow,” Schitt’s Creek series creator Dan Levy wrote in a tweet. “In the wrong hands, this show would have been yanked off the air in season one for ‘underperforming.’”

“Producing a web series is like having parents that trust me a little too much,” said Gray. “But (CBC) has a fixation on broadcast media.”

“Fisher Price,” Justin Gray’s drag persona, won Toronto’s Bent Beauty Supreme contest in 2016. At the time, Gray was developing the concept for Queens. Many characters in the final version were inspired by working drag queens in Toronto./BRETT KELLY (2016)

Gray said the freedom CBC allowed him on Queens was surprising and, at times, frustrating. 

Producing a web series “is where you find your space, but CBC tends to play it safe,” he said. “It felt like (CBC) was scared to appeal to people in cities.”

Co-productions tend to be more successful although there are some resources like the CBC Creative Relief Fund for solo Canadian creators. Canadian-produced series like Orphan Black and Schitt’s Creek garnered international attention because of partnerships with non-Canadian networks, broadcasters, and producers.

Schitt’s Creek’s success would have a bigger impact on foreign distribution for Canadian products,” said Winnipeg-based assistant director Patrick Gratton. “To have a Canadian show sweep in its genre on the Emmy telecast might help other shows get traction in the states.”

Levy and the Schitt’s Creek creative team have also carved out a new niche in queer storytelling. The show received countless praises over its portrayal of David Rose’s character and his relationship with on-screen love interest Patrick.

“We’re not teaching (the audience) a lesson; we’re showing them what life could be like,” Levy said in an interview for Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt’s Creek Farewell.

In December 2017, Justin Gray directed a proof-of-concept pilot for his series QUEENS. Although this version never aired, Gray used the finished product as part of his pitch to CBC./BRETT KELLY (2017)

Gray said it’s too early to see what impacts Schitt’s Creek’s success might have on the Canadian entertainment industry. Although he said most Canadian television has the same aesthetic, he’s glad CBC Gem hosts original content. 

Gray is in the development stage for season two of Queens.