CSAs ’20: TV’s new contenders on their paths to nomination

The producers of six of Canada's newest Canadian Screen Awards-nominated series share the journey from development and production to the Academy ballot.

Canadian Screen Award veterans such as Schitt’s Creek, Cardinal, Anne with an E and Letterkenny dominated headlines when the nominations were first announced on Feb. 18. Coming in under the radar were some of the new TV voices that broke through to land multiple nominations. Playback Daily heard from the producers and creative minds behind six new series in the categories for best comedy, drama, sketch, reality/competition and lifestyle to see their journey from development to the Canadian Academy ballot.

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Coroner

(Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films, Cineflix Studios)

Series premiered Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, on CBC

Number of nominations: 5 (Best Drama Series; Best Achievement in Make-Up; Best Original Music, Fiction; Best Lead Actor, Drama Series; Best Lead Actress, Drama Series)

How long did it take to bring the series from development to the small screen?

Morwyn Brebner, creator, EP and showrunner, and Adrienne Mitchell, lead director and EP, Back Alley Films: Two years. Back Alley Film Productions and Muse Entertainment optioned a series of U.K. novels written by M.R. Hall called The Coroner and then Morwyn came on to transform the premise, characters and world and set it in Toronto. After developing the series with a first round of broadcasters who eventually fell out, we finally landed with CBC who totally bought into our hybrid procedural where the main characters’ personal stories had as strong screen time and significance as the case stories.

How does the original pitch compare to what’s on screen?

MB and AM: Coroner really came into focus during the first season of production. We kind of honed our off-kilter tone and cinematic look. Adrienne block shot the first four episodes, which gave the whole season an energy.

What was a difficult or unexpected challenge during production?

MB and AM: Everything. Our series is very location-based and the cost of shooting out of studio in Toronto due to the onslaught of American productions is skyrocketing. So it was beg, borrow and steal and it turned out that a lot of people really wanted to support a Canadian show and were thrilled we were shooting Toronto for Toronto.

Where were you when you heard the nomination news and what was your reaction?

MB and AM: We were both at home, I think, texting each other. We were really blown away and honoured. Thrilled for Serinda [Swan] and Roger [Cross] and really excited to see Tom Third nominated for his gorgeous music and Dorota Mitoraj and Traci Loader for their incredible makeup. It takes a lot of talented artists to make our show.

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Island of Bryan

(Si Entertainment)

Series premiered Sunday, April 7, 2019 on HGTV Canada

Number of nominations: 4 (Best Lifestyle Program or Series; Best Direction, Lifestyle or Information; Best Photography, Lifestyle or Reality/Competition; Best Host, Lifestyle)

How long did it take to bring the series from development to the small screen?

Annelies McConnachie-Howarth, series producer and director, Si Entertainment: Bryan and Sarah [Baeumler] decided to buy the hotel in September 2017. After months of wrapping our heads around that insanity, we started official pre-production in 2018, with filming starting June 2018. Season one premiered April 2019.

How does the original pitch compare to what’s on screen?

AMH: Pretty similar. Bryan and Sarah jumped all-in to this project. The story and stakes have always been real and amazing. We knew that we could give the viewer complete access to this epic family adventure, with all of its highs and lows. One thing we originally didn’t anticipate was multiple seasons as the timelines for the project changed.

What was a difficult or unexpected challenge during production?

AMH: Even filming in the GTA, build shows present constant scheduling and logistical challenges. Some setbacks make for good TV, but many don’t. Put that on an undeveloped island in the Bahamas that’s entirely dependent on boat deliveries and you have a beast of a show. Thankfully, we always had various projects on the go and could rely on the Baeumlers to give us gold to shape our days around.

Where were you when you heard the nomination news and what was your reaction?

AMH: I was walking to work when I started getting texts. My favourite part is that our crew is being celebrated.

Blown Away

Blown Away

(marblemedia)

Series premiered Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 on Makeful

Number of nominations: 3 (Best Reality/Competition Program or Series; Best Direction, Reality/Competition; Best Production Design or Art Direction, Non-Fiction)

How long did it take to bring the series from development to the small screen?

Matt Hornburg, Co-CEO of marblemedia and EP, and Donna Luke, VP of production: The initial idea for Blown Away was presented internally at marblemedia in January 2017. It launched on Blue Ant Media’s Makeful in February 2019 and on Netflix globally in July 2019.

How does the original pitch compare to what’s on screen?

MH and DL: While it was tonally the same, the format beats, reveal and serialized nature of the series are quite different from the original pitch. The biggest change was that early on we decided to move from an episodic series structure, with new contestants in every episode, to one where the same contestants were in competition throughout. This gave us an opportunity to better showcase the wonderful characters – and their skills – that we found at casting, and in turn, we believe this helped the show gain greater traction as viewers got to know the contestants and identify with their individual stories.

What was a difficult or unexpected challenge during production?

MH and DL: Most of the key challenges related to our Hot Shop. We found an empty warehouse we thought would work and then basically built it from the ground up – from hand-painting each individual brick to kitting it out with equipment. We managed to get two furnaces and an annealer from an existing business, but we needed to build the 10 glory holes, as well as all the other substantial infrastructure you see in the shop. We couldn’t have done any of this without the support and help we received from the faculty, students and glass blowing alumni at Sheridan – who worked round the clock to get everything up and running.

We completely underestimated just how hot the Hot Shop would actually be too – and it wasn’t helped by the fact that we were having an Indian Summer during the first few days of production and the building was well over 100 degrees. We quickly had to put some holes in the roof and up the air conditioning.

One final challenge was certification. We needed TSSA certification – basically a permit to comply with stipulations around the use of gas, electricity and the major equipment we had – however, the TSSA had never had a project like ours and were scratching their heads about how precisely to certify us. Long story short, the permit arrived only two hours before we had to switch the glory holes on – so it was a close-run thing and could have thrown the whole production schedule.

Where were you when you heard the nomination news and what was your reaction?

MH: I’d just got out of an elevator on the way to a meeting. I was so pleased, and proud of everyone involved, not just because we’d produced a great programme – but because we’ve created our own idea, from the ground up, and that we are the only original idea on the Best Reality Series short list. Our competitors are all brilliant shows made in Canada, but the IP for those ideas sits overseas.

DL: Blown Away is such a labour of love for everyone at marblemedia and we’d all had our fingers crossed for some award recognition ever since we started getting great press reviews from around the word. I was sitting at my computer at 8:30 a.m. in anticipation, waiting for the nominations to drop at the promised time. Needless to say, I was thrilled Blown Away received three on the list – and may have let out a very loud cheer.

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JANN

(Project 10 Productions and SEVEN24 Films)

Series premiered March 20, 2019 on CTV

Number of nominations: 3 (Best Comedy Series; Best Lead Actress; Best Guest Performance, Comedy)

How long did it take to bring the series from development to the small screen?

Jennica Harper, co-creator and showrunner: From initial pitch to airing on CTV was about two and a half years. So, breakneck speed.

How does the original pitch compare to what’s on screen?

Leah Gauthier, co-creator: In the original pitch Jann [Arden] was a much bigger, more outrageous version of herself. Initially in the pilot we were introduced to her character after she had crashed her Lamborghini through a liquor store window. Once we began developing her character in the writer’s room, we started to imagine how we would like her to evolve over time and hopefully multiple seasons. We realized that Jann playing a somewhat more accessible and relatable version of herself would make for a more authentic story, and as a viewer we hope you feel like you know Jann, and however misguided at times, understand her motivations. Needless to say, we got rid of the pet tiger that was in the original pitch.

What was a difficult or unexpected challenge during production?

LG: As a writing team we work hard to have all of the scripts finished before we head to camera, hopefully negating most of the challenges that may arise. That being said, you can’t prepare for spontaneous summer snowstorms and highly contagious laryngitis. Our cast and crew facing both at the same time was challenging to say the least.

Where were you when you heard the nomination news and what was your reaction?

JH: I’m on Pacific Time, so I was in my PJs drinking coffee while my daughter watched Octonauts. I followed the announcements on Twitter. While I was thrilled to see our place up against heavy-hitter comedies, I was most excited that Jann herself was nominated for Best Lead Actress. Despite being relatively new to acting, she is so good, so funny, and absolutely nails this fictionalized version of herself. I was very happy to see her work recognized. Overall, it’s an honour for the show to be nominated and it’ll be an honour to lose to Schitt’s Creek.

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TallBoyz

(Accent Entertainment)

Series premiered Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019 on CBC

Number of nominations: 2 (Best Sketch Comedy Show & Ensemble Performance; Best Writing, Variety or Sketch Comedy)

How long did it take to bring the series from development to the small screen?

Susan Cavan, president and EP, Accent Entertainment: Not long, as it goes. It was about 18 months from the time we optioned a pitch to the series’ actual launch on CBC in the fall of 2019. Bruce McCulloch and Accent were excited by TallBoyzllMen’s performance at Sketchfest in 2017. Accent optioned a pitch from them in early 2018 and we went straight into development that spring. The CBC gave us a production order based on two scripts in the fall of 2018 and we were shooting in the summer of 2019.

How does the original pitch compare to what’s on screen?

SC: The original pitch was much closer to a sitcom format with some integrated sketch material. Bruce was very encouraging of the TallBoyz exploring what they were passionate about throughout the creative process. The series evolved into a sketch comedy without the organizational principles of a sitcom.

What was a difficult or unexpected challenge during production?

SC: How many of our production personnel had minor car accidents, which cost us a lot – really! Sketch comedy is hugely challenging, given it is block shot with multiple characters and multiple locations. We did a lot of rehearsal and planning, so really most of our challenges were anticipated. Other than the fender benders, of course.

Where were you when you heard the nomination news and what was your reaction?

SC: My first reaction was relief, then excitement, especially for the TallBoyz as these will be their first television nominations.

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Mary’s Kitchen Crush

(Proper Television)

Series premiered Sunday, April 28, 2019 on CTV

Number of nominations: 2 (Best Lifestyle Program or Series; Best Host, Lifestyle)

How long did it take to bring the series from development to the small screen?

Allison Grace, VP of content, Proper Television: From the beginning, we knew Mary Berg was an exceptional talent as evidenced by her triumphant win on MasterChef Canada season three. We were eager to create a show based on her bubbly personality, not to mention her exceptional culinary skills. With the support of Bell Media, we worked to create a unique cooking format inspired by Mary’s love of cooking for friends and family. That process took us about a year to hone the right tone and feel.

How does the original pitch compare to what’s on screen?

AG: We first envisioned a traditional cooking show featuring Mary’s delicious and simple-to-make recipes. But we felt that any series featuring Mary needed some heart to better reflect her personality. That wasn’t hard to do because Mary’s joy of cooking is rooted in sharing food with friends and family. So we merged the two ideas and Mary’s Kitchen Crush evolved into a series about cooking great food inspired by those you love most. That’s why viewers have really connected with her and the show. Every aspect of the show has so much heart.

What was a difficult or unexpected challenge during production?

AG: Mary is always coming up with new and delicious recipes. The biggest challenge was narrowing down the recipes to choose from and feature in the show.

Where were you when you heard the nomination news and what was your reaction?

AG: When I called Mary to tell her she’d been nominated for Best Host, Lifestyle and that Mary’s Kitchen Crush had been nominated as Best Lifestyle Program or Series, she was on the streetcar on her way to shoot The Marilyn Denis Show. She started screaming with excitement and I’m pretty sure everyone on the streetcar got to share that moment with her.