In the writers’ room: McGrath vs. Coghill

In this Valentine's Day edition of In the writers' room, Playback talks to engaged screenwriters Denis McGrath and Kim Coghill, who will compete in the TV comedy category at the WGC Awards on Apr. 22.
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Denis McGrath and Kim Coghill are both nominated in the upcoming Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Awards for different episodes of Less Than Kind. The writers, who are engaged (and getting married two days before the awards on April 22), met several years before they worked together (and got together) on the third season of Less Than Kind. In honour of Valentine’s Day, Playback asked them about their best taglines – in screenwriting and in courtship – and what you should never do in the writers’ room.

PB: You’re both nominated for WGC awards in the same category. As a nominee, what’s your winning tagline?

DM: Mmm. I don’t think I can possibly campaign against my soon-to-be-wife.

KC: Four more years!

PB: What are some standouts – scenes/lines/plot developments? – in the episodes for which you’re nominated and how do you think they/it give(s) you a competitive edge?

 DM: The nice thing about the WGC Awards is that they’re based solely on the script. I reread mine before submitting and went with my first draft, because after that, I was heavily rewritten by the room because, tragically, Maury [Chaykin] passed. It still made me laugh almost two years later. That’s a good sign. There’s a run of cruel taunts of which I’m very proud.

KC: I love it when Danny crashes a Christian jock party as “Redneck Jesus” and says something I can’t actually repeat here. That line alone gives me a huge edge with the Redneck Jesus freaks.

PB: What should you never do in the writers room?

DM: Probably start a relationship with someone else in the writers room. Especially the person who’s taking all the notes that you have to write your episode from. Especially if you spend a lot of time thinking of ways to distract her and stuff.

KC[LTK exec producer and writer] Mark McKinney taught me to never be afraid to go back, take apart the idea, and push for more. Also, don’t let some weird goofball distract you.

PB: What are some challenges you’ve experienced in the writers room, and how did you deal with them?

KC: Finding the best way to pitch for this room. When you work with Mark, you work with a lot of pros who’ve been doing this for a long time. These guys don’t just pitch funny notions – they pitch fully-formed ideas: beginning, middle and end. It’s amazing and hilarious.

DM: McKinney has a very circuitous process, and I was a little starstruck – I mean, hello, Kid in the Hall – but I’d like to think I was effective by helping to keep things moving. A room like LTK isn’t like work. You laugh ’til you can’t breathe. I still miss it.

And the other challenge? Probably keeping the whole romance under wraps so as to avoid the merciless avalanche of mockery.

PB: What would be the storyline for your fantasy Canadian TV crossover/mashup episode?

DM: I have the greatest Canadian Legal Show never made, developed at the CFC with some very gifted residents. I’d like to do an EP of that featuring the Trailer Park Boys as clients. And if not that, then a really gritty reboot of The Littlest Hobo – you know, like the new Battlestar Galactica? With new Blue Jay Mark Buehrle’s pitbull as Hobo. That would be sick.

KCMr. Dressup Zombie Apocalypse. Come on, it writes itself.

PB: What’s your best pitch that didn’t make it?

KCMr. Dressup Zombie Apocalypse.

DM: The CFC show. Nine scripts and a bible, people. Call me, maybe.

PB: How did you meet?

DM: We got together working on Less Than Kind. She posted on Facebook she was having boy trouble. I called her and asked her about it and only realized five minutes into the conversation that she was talking about me. Writer instincts: awesome. Human instincts: pathetic.

KC: I hate boys.

PB: What was your winning tagline in that situation?

DM: I think I told her, “sometimes you have to ask for the cookie.” It was really way more romantic in context. Honestly, I’m surprised I got through buying the ring.

KC: Have you met Denis McGrath? I didn’t get a word in for six months.

PB: How will you celebrate if you win?

DM: I will console my beautiful wife, gently wipe away her tears, tell her that she was robbed, and hold her close in front of the cream of Canada’s screenwriting talent. And then I shall retire to our Honeymoon Suite for an idyllic night of sleeping in the bathtub.

I will probably get eye-rolls aplenty from the cynical Canadian Writer Mafia for this, but what happens at the awards doesn’t matter because I wake up every day and I feel like I’ve won already.

What’s that look, Kim? I mean you. YOU’RE the win in this metaphor.

KC: I will thank Mark and all the very talented people I worked with because I am a gracious professional and that’s how we do things, Dear.

PB: What are you working on and what’s up next?

DM: Just freelanced an episode of Bitten, finishing up three spec pilots for a big development push. Also keeping busy working for Canadian writers on the WGC council.

KC: I pitched a half-hour at the Banff World Media Festival last year and got great feedback, and I’m just finishing up the script.  And like every other Canadian screenwriter, I’m on the hunt for the next gig.