When Harry met Rose, and the anxiety of Canadian sitcom chemistry

In the vast emotional gulf between young male donors to sperm banks and the young women they help, Adam Korson and Carrie-Lynn Neales are wringing laughter on a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia TV set.

It’s a sun-filled afternoon in mid-November, and the Canadian actors have finished shooting a scene from Seed, the upcoming Citytv sperm donor sitcom from indie producer Force Four Entertainment.

Korson is playing Harry, a romantic rogue ill-prepared for fatherhood, while Neales is Rose, a beautiful, yet neurotic and single woman who thinks she can find Mr. Right after visiting a sperm bank.

As Korson and Neales high-five one another over how they delivered their last lines, technicians haul cameras and monitors to prepare for the next scene, while Seed creator Joseph Raso and fellow executive producer Mark Farrell huddle with episode director James Dunnison, before he gives more directions to Korson and Neale.

The will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry between Harry and Rose on screen is best described as adversarial.

And undeniable, and potentially the kind that could have Canadian TV viewers swooning to see two people whose first kiss may deliver Citytv a primetime hit.

Adam Korson

“What they saw with Carrie and I was chemistry. That’s general, but that’s what it was. I was Harry and she was Rose and we clicked,” Korson remembered of his first script reading with a quirky Neales.

Neales, who studied musical theatre at Sheridan College and performed extensively on stage in Toronto before jumping to TV work in Nikita and The LA. Complex, also recalls Korson being openly playful as they improvised and clowned during their screen test.

“When I walked into the test with Adam, I knew there was chemistry. We could take the piss out of each other. We worked well together,” she remembered.

Polar opposition

Their palpable energy wasn’t lost on Raso and Rogers Media director of original programming Claire Freeland, who weren’t casting love interests for the Seed leads, as much as polar opposites who get together because a sperm donor keeps bumping into his progeny.

Freeland said she knew they had their Harry when Korson one day left the casting room with Neale after one chemistry read, and she turned to Raso to trade knowing smiles.

They’d just discovered comic gold.

Of course, this being Canadian TV, Citytv faces a few more accelerating bends and curves before it can catch up and overtake hit sitcoms on its schedule like Modern Family, 30 Rock and 2 Broke Girls.

But that’s exactly what Citytv has in mind as the stakes for Seed keep rising ahead of its early 2013 primetime bow.

The network needs Canadians to root for Harry and Rose, even if Raso’s eternal teenager is more a fool and a nuisance than someone likely to comfort and love Rose like Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

Freeland said Citytv had to be on the money casting Seed‘s leading man, a bachelor bartender who becomes entangled in the lives of his offspring from sperm donation, and their less-than-thrilled families.

Carrie-Lynn Neales

The Canadian comedy’s producers and broadcast execs had seen a lot of Harry and Rose wannabes before they settled on Korson and Neales to headline the blended family comedy.

“Adam wasn’t square-jawed, he had no sandy hair,” Freeland observed of a sitcom world dominated by catwalk models-turned-actors.

Neither did Korson come cold to the leading man role.

The Toronto native graduated top of his class from the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts in acting, singing and dancing.

And Korson did theatre roles and worked as a creative director for Sole Power Productions as he pursued film and TV work in Toronto, eventually to include guest roles on Degrassi: The Next Generation and The Jon Dore Show.

Then, like so many young Canadian actors before him, Korson decided to strike out for better opportunities in Los Angeles.

Once in Hollywood, he took quickly to the role of a struggling actor, one that also needed to get his working papers in order before diving from audition to audition.

So Korson kept busy, writing scripts and rehearsing scenes with fellow actors into the wee hours of the night, all the while hoping to wake the next morning as the next Keanu Reeves and Ryan Reynolds, or a Canadian star in Los Angeles.

Korson also worked with a Hollywood drama coach, Lesly Kahn, while more film and TV gigs came his way, including guest roles on 2 Broke Girls, Normal and The Protector.

Hungry for work

But if you ask Korson, he’ll tell you he’s been hungry for work in Hollywood, to get known, to get paid and to get self-respect as a working actor.

And for a time he drained his bank account, only to be forced to live out of his car.

Korson remembered one morning at 7 a.m. parking at Mel’s Diner, a popular tourist trap on Sunset Boulevard that fed stars like The Rolling Stones and Andy Warhol.

“I was up for a part, and I had a big beard and long hair and a ratty t-shirt on. And I was brushing my teeth with a water bottle in the parking lot,” he said.

Korson tells the story not for pity, but to show he’s paid his dues as an actor, not least to avoid being washed up with the tides of Canadian actors that each year go south to make it in Hollywood, only to return home empty-handed after a short dalliance with elusive fame and fortune.

“This is not ‘I’m going to go down and try it for a year.’ It’s not ‘I’m going to have a back-up plan,’” he insisted.

And Korson is also acknowledging that, in Seed, in front of cameras and set lights in a non-descript office/retail space-turned-TV studio in Dartmouth, he’s making a possible career-making leap to mainstream TV success as a leading man.

And not without an emotional roller coaster ride as the Canadian actor emerges from a coal mine in L.A. to possibly reach the top of the mountain in Canadian TV.

“I was in L.A. and my agent in Vancouver rang me about Seed and asked me to put something on tape, and I did,” Korson said, recalling first hearing of the Canadian comedy gig.

It wasn’t long before he forgot about Seed to complete a guest star role on CW’s Emily Owens, M.D.

Then he got a call-back and met with Raso, himself a Canadian ex-pat in Los Angeles who had been been developing Seed with John Richie, executive producer and partner at Force Four Entertainment, since 2007.

That five year genesis for Seed, while frustrating for Richie and Raso, is revealing because the sitcom mirrors, in some ways, another Canadian sperm donor comedy, Ken Scott’s Starbuck movie.

It’s just luck for Citytv that Raso’s sperm donor comedy took far longer to get to the screen than Starbuck, as it encapsulates a pop culture phenomenon in sperm donations, while attempting to generate laughs.

And that delay was lucky for Korson, whose screen test for Seed he recalled with fatalistic bravado.

“I thought, ‘if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, you move on,’” he said.

In the end, it did happen for Korson, and for Neales.

“It is a dream come true, to be given such a beautiful role: my first lead,” Neales said with a broad grin.

And there’s good fortune for Raso, who developed the Disney pilot for Zombies & Cheerleaders in Los Angeles, but has never seen his vision for a sitcom turned into a 13-episode series, until now.

“For me, it is a dream come true. I’m getting to tell the story I want, and for the network and the audience I want,” he explained.

As insurance, Force Four Entertainment, which has little direct experience in comedy, brought Mark Farrell and his ability to muster up funny Canadian sitcoms like Corner Gas on board as an executive producer, alongside Raso.

“I don’t know if they were looking for a Mark Farrell as someone to fill in the gaps in Joseph’s knowledge, which have been filled in. I’ve actually made myself unnecessary,” Farrell said while on set in Dartmouth, with self-deprecating wit.

Together, Farrell and Raso are attempting to fashion a Canadian sitcom in Seed that can play on well on a Citytv schedule filled with popular American comedies.

“When we first met with Claire, she would always refer back to what was working from the States,” Richie said of pitching Seed to Freeland and her Citytv team at the Banff World Media Festival in 2011.

In fact, Citytv not only commissioned 13 episodes of Seed.

The network also hired Force Four Entertainment to produce The Bachelor Canada, another original Canadian series from Rogers Media.

Two successful pitches out of one Banff festival: an unheard of achievement for a Canadian indie producer.

“And Joseph was excited because that was his vision, to make a show along the lines of a Modern Family, to aim high and have that edginess and break some new ground,” Richie added of Seed debuting on a comedy-heavy Citytv schedule.

Here Raso insists Seed brings less of a Hollywood feel and look to Citytv as a comedic voice that has resonated with an American audience and is where the Canadian network wants to take its schedule.

“It’s more a Joseph Raso sensibility that worked in L.A. and that they appreciate,” Raso said of Seed, which will debut on Citytv in early 2013.

“Joseph is a real emerging talent, and he’s funny and his material resonated,” Freeland agreed.

And Malcolm Dunlop, executive vice president of programming at Rogers Media, agrees Seed will complement the strong lineup of American comedies on Citytv.

“It’s a nice companion piece to Modern Family. If I was in Los Angeles, and there was an American show (like Seed), I would buy that show. It’s funny,” Dunlop said.

Besides Korson and Neales, Seed also stars Amanda Brugel, Vanessa Matsui as Irene, Harry’s best friends and employer, Stephanie Anne Mills, Laura de Carteret, Matt Baram, Abby Ross and newcomer William Ainscough as Billy.

Sizzle reel

As it happens, Americans could yet see Seed on their TV sets. Entertainment One is developing a sizzle reel, ahead of shopping the homegrown Canadian sitcom to U.S. broadcasters.

“What the distributor is saying is there’s quality acting, the elements are there for U.S. and international success. It’s original as well,” Richie insisted.

And for Korson, an actor Citytv is eager for Canadians to get to know, a U.S. deal for Seed would let those around him in Los Angeles know what he’s doing.

“I think it would be extremely special because the people I’ve been working with in the States will appreciate it,” he insisted.

“Getting a U.S. sale would boost everything. It’s such a fun show and a relatable show, and it should be seen in the U.S.,” Korson added.