Mummy unearths classic comedy format

The sets for I Love Mummy are so bright you gotta wear shades. The color palette of rooms in the home of the Barnes family, whose misadventures are the focus of the teen/tween sitcom, incorporates yellow walls and red couches, giving it a style quite apart from your average Canuck series.

‘We’re trying to get away from the moody ‘Canadian colors’ and give it more of a comic book look,’ says impossibly young-looking supervising producer Mark Iddon.

The coproduction between Toronto’s Breakthrough Films & Television (80%) and the U.K.’s Winklemania Productions (20%) has taken over a substantial amount of real estate in a converted warehouse on Toronto’s Lansdowne Avenue.

In its third week of production on 26 season-one half-hours, budgeted at $250,000 per ep, the show centres on 12-year-old James (Reece Thompson) and his working-class family who inherit Prince Nuffratutti (Elyes Gabel), a 3,250-year-old pharaoh who returns to life and drives the others crazy with his snooty regal ways.

A faux Egyptian tomb swing set is being used on this day for an episode about a film crew coming to town to make a cheesy B movie about Nuffratutti – not much of a stretch considering the show’s T.O. setting. Of course, they don’t realize the real Nuff is alive and well and a stone’s throw away. Incognito, Nuff auditions to play himself but is relegated to a supporting role, although he’s sure to let the lead actor know when he’s not getting it right.

Iddon explains that the cast does a minimal amount of rehearsing. This is due largely to time restraints – the crew has already completed four episodes, and will continue at this frantic pace over 72 shooting days. But on the plus side, the freedom of shooting on Digi Beta allows the producers to capture a spontaneous energy from the cast. Iddon is particularly effusive about Gabel, the 19-year-old British stage actor who plays Nuff, of whom he says, ‘He’s just like Peter Sellers.’

And then there is blonde actress Kelly Turner, who plays James’ older sister Stephy. The producers aren’t shy about dressing her in tight hot pink outfits, which is sure to get the hearts of pubescent boys racing, as Christina Applegate did for years on Fox’s Married…with Children. James’ dad Ed, a fan of subs, the Leafs and fixing things, is played by Neil Crone (Hybercube: Cube 2), and no-nonsense nurse’s aid mom Nancy is played by Gina Sorell (Common Ground).

Steve Wright (Ace Lightning and the Carnival of Doom) is directing the episode in question, with Gail Harvey (Breakthrough’s Paradise Falls) due for the next. DOP Don Purser lenses the series, carrying over his crew from Paradise Falls.

Time-tested genre

The producers proudly liken the show to a forgotten genre that has traditionally done well – the fish-out-of-water sitcom, as typified in the 1960s by Bewitched, in the 1970s by Mork & Mindy, and in the 1980s by Alf. There is no live studio audience for I Love Mummy, but the show will be accompanied by a laugh track. The producers hope to get additional yuks out of flashbacks to ancient Egypt.

‘It’s really gag-driven,’ says Peter Williamson, Breakthrough president and executive producer.

Breakthrough is a coventure of British-born Williamson and company chairman and executive producer Ira Levy. The pair met at the London International Film School in the mid-1970s and went on to make a documentary called The Breakthrough, about the use of bliss symbols among those with cerebral palsy. From the kids’ series The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon to the medical reality of McMaster, the comedic magazine format of Real Men and the international sports info show Kidsworld Sports, the company’s production slate has been strikingly diverse.

This conscious business strategy has enabled the prodco to partner with a variety of coproducers, including Winklemania.

‘We’ve been wanting to do a show with [Winklemania] for a few years, and this one finally got off the ground with [the broadcasters],’ Williamson says. The show will debut domestically on YTV and in the U.K. on BBC in September. BBC will likely air the program in the wide-screen format, which accounts for the sets being 20 feet wider than usual.

After show creators Winklemania pitched Breakthrough, or ‘got us drunk,’ as Levy puts it, the series was developed in Canada by writer Jackie May (Riverdale), with executive story editor Alex Galatis (Paradise Falls) subsequently coming on board.

Bad news from Britain

Production on the series coincides with the recent U.K. budget, which stipulates that only projects intended for British movie screens qualify for tax breaks in sale and leaseback transactions; series and MOWs no longer apply. Since the first season of I Love Mummy was financed prior to the announcement, it is not affected.

‘It would affect future seasons, and when you think that Canada’s biggest coproduction partner is the U.K. – about $500 million worth of coproduction in Canada last year – it’s not positive news,’ adds Levy. ‘Hopefully there will be some sort of replacement mechanism, but it’s tough on television.’

Although looking for foreign partners and sales has always been an important part of Breakthrough’s business, Williamson insists that he doesn’t want the Canadian elements of the prodco’s projects to be watered down in an attempt to satisfy the global market.

‘Canadians spend millions of dollars on television and film, and a lot of it goes to watching American product,’ he says. ‘But that’s an opportunity for Canadian producers to create product for their home market. I think the fixation on the international market is not good for Canadian producers. It gets you away from where you live, and yet it’s where you live that you know the most about.’

This proud-to-be-Canadian philosophy filters down to everything from the Raptors shirt James wears in I Love Mummy to Little Miracles, Breakthrough’s reality show which is set in Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and which is broadcast in the U.K. and the U.S. A sign of its continued success is the fact that for season four, recently in production, it has moved from the half-hour to the one-hour format.

Breakthrough is also working on the war doc series For King & Empire, the similarly themed one-off Forgotten Victories, and a pilot for the gardening/cooking show Manic Organic. Swap TV, a reality show for kids, is currently in production. Breakthrough has also recently launched a new media division that will create program tie-ins as well as service outside clients.

-www.breakthroughfilms.com

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NFB75Anniversary

NFB75Anniversary - (Left to right) Denise Donlon (Governor General, Performing Arts Foundation) and guests