There are harder realities to navigate, but one imagines that it can feel like a lot when the time comes to decide on closing out a successful TV show. You’re weighing the needs of a crew (like, the mortgage and keeping babies fed needs), the need to chase down other creative goals, money concerns, and the want to find the right story (and timing). Oh, and you’re likely filled with angst about making the wrong decision.
Schitt’s Creek co-creator and star Dan Levy is on the other side of that process now that shooting has wrapped on the sixth and final season of a show that, for a large part of its run, you and me either slept on or were unaware of. But people are aware now, falling deeply for the charming comeback story of a delightfully dysfunctional family of snobbish elites as they try to survive life sans amenities in a quirky small town. And now, as quick as they said hello, they’re gearing up to say goodbye, with just ten episodes left [Schitt’s Creek airs Tuesdays on Pop].
Levy is not insensitive, at all, to the emotional connection that his show has forged with its fans. He feels it too, in fact his love for it seems to be at the heart of why the show is ending. Uproxx recently met up with Levy in New York where we discussed the joys of creating in relative obscurity, the special collaborative environment at the heart of Schitt’s Creek, resisting the cult of momentum, and both the (compelling) case for not riding Schitt’s Creek until the wheels fall off and his want to keep his work family (which, of course, includes members of his real family) close.
I’d read that the intent was to end after last season, and then you got the two-season renewal. Looking back, are you happy that you had that fuller flight to wind this down?
I am. I think, you know, for us, budget plays such a part of all of it. And it’s when you’re working with a really tiny budget, and you’re trying to stretch it as far as I feel like we’ve stretched it every season… [it] is a challenge. And in terms of storytelling, I really wanted the best for the show. If it were a personal thing, I could do this with our characters… I mean, I could spend time with these actors and our production team forever. There are ton of crew members that I want to pluck and utilize in everything that I do. So the whole process was really fun. But I was almost hyperaware, I think, of making sure that we never overstayed our welcome. I think that’s one of the biggest things that disappoints me when I watch shows. I feel like somehow either for the sake of… they’re making big money, or you’re into syndication or you’re doing all these things… I mean, there’s a ton of variables that explain why and how shows get into eight, 10, 12, 15 season runs. This was a really small story and I didn’t think that it lent itself to that kind of extreme… Like, we’re not doing 22 episode seasons. I don’t think we possibly could, to save our lives, uphold the kind of quality that I wanted for the show in anything more than what we did.
It feels like some of these characters are closing a chapter, but some of them — David and Patrick, Stevie — are in the process of going into a new chapter. Was there ever a thought to maybe shift the focus to certain characters and move off of other characters, or was it always on the whole ensemble?
I think each season [has] focused on a character in a larger overarching way. I look back to, I think season five, which I really feel was David and Alexis’ (Annie Murphy) season. I feel they had such huge character growth, and there were big changes that happened in their life. I think Moira (Catherine O’Hara) has had some big moments in different seasons, and Johnny’s (Eugene Levy) had a season where he’s trying to build this business. And I think as an actor on the show too, I’m always aware of challenging our actors, and making sure that they come to set excited and interested in the work that they’re doing. So that’s why I feel, even in the course of a season, we’ll take a few episodes where you’ll notice that certain characters are in the background, and then suddenly they come into the forefront.
To preface that, I also feel like certain characters require a little bit of runway. For example, with Stevie (Emily Hampshire), what we got to tell with Stevie’s story in season five leading up to the Cabaret number at the end of the season, that could not have been done… I don’t think we would have earned that, had we done it any earlier than we did.
Yeah, I’d agree with that. I think that’s definitely true.
I think part of it is, the show has always been a slow burn, particularly with different characters. Obviously I know where I want them to end up, but in order to really earn that, from the audience perspective, in terms of believing it and getting behind it in a really impassioned way, sometimes it takes a little longer. So Stevie as a character was a slower burn in terms of revealing certain things about her, then say, Alexis or David or Moira and Johnny. Just because they were in the forefront. What’s been great about the gift of time, and the gift of having 80 episodes to tell our story, is that we’ve also now had the room, and been able to pave the way to tell stories about Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson), and to tell stories about Roland (Chris Elliott) that are beyond what they first appeared to be. Ronnie (Karen Robinson), for example, has some really great stuff this season, and really great stuff last season, and slowly but surely we’ve been revealing sides to her character as well. But I’ve always been aware of the fact that you have to earn those moments, and they can’t just be thrown in. They have to be carefully peppered over the course of, in our case, 80 episodes.
I think for a last season, you have to pay attention to every character and make sure that everyone gets their love. And in the writers room we had a long list of questions that we had, just throughout the season; things that we thought the fans might be interested in in terms of throwbacks or little Easter eggs that we could plant and tying up loose ends from other episodes way in the past. That was our way of keeping the fans in the writers room. Obviously when it comes to telling stories, we don’t think about our fan base because I don’t think you could write based on other people’s expectations.
You’d get handcuffed. I think people try.
They do try! And it’s interesting because I feel like we’re now in a time where social media plays such a strong part of making or breaking shows. And fan bases… I’ve witnessed shows become almost too aware of their fans and suddenly the show almost feels meta. As it continues on, you’re aware of the fact that they’re aware of certain things, and that feels sort of strange. So for us, it was like, close the door to fan expectations, close the door to anyone’s expectations, let’s continue to tell the stories with the level of purity and authenticity that we’ve always done. Fortunately, the show broke, I think in the mainstream, two-thirds of the way through the breaking of our last season.
I was going to say. If the show had broken right away, if you’d been an instant hit…
I don’t know where we’d be. I do think there was a freedom of knowing that no one was really watching our show. And by that I mean, we had a very cult-like following. Our fans were so enthusiastic, but we were not on the lips of the mainstream media. We were not making huge headlines. We certainly were not taking up the kind of real estate that we have been fortunate enough to take up in the New York Times, for example. We were able to just focus on what we were doing, and we did it for ourselves, and we did it because we were having fun.
I’ve never encountered the kind of genuine creative collaboration ever in my life. I think a lot of that has to do with Catherine and my dad headlining a TV show, and really checking their egos at the door. And not that they have any, but it is quite remarkable to work with actors who are the ones and twos on your call sheet, and they are right in there with you. They have incredible ideas. We’re not wasting time because there’s drama on the set, which you read about all the time in terms of stars. They’re about the work, and they’re about doing good work. And I think the trickle-down of that, for all of us, has been amazing. I mean, it’s been inspiring, really. Because you realize, you can do this in a way that feels artistic, and feels creative, and feels like we’re all doing something fun and great and we’re making something. As opposed to tiptoeing around somebody, or showing up to work with a sense of dread. So the whole experience has been unbelievably collaborative and fulfilling and enriching from just an artistic standpoint too.
Is not knowing if you’ll have that [in the next thing] the scariest part about what’s next? Or do you feel confident that, from what you’ve experienced with this and also the cache you’ve gained from this, that you’re going to be able to make that situation occur again?
I mean for me, I was working at a video store before I got a job at MTV, and I loved it there. So I have told myself, particularly with this show and then now that the show has become successful… I don’t think you can ever be in competition with yourself. So for me, yes, 100%. I’ve been very lucky that my first show out of the gate was a success. I was very lucky that I have been shown the ropes by two of the greatest voices in comedy, and that those voices are so humble and so focused on just doing good work. I have no interest, nor do I have any patience or time for people’s bad attitudes. The people who are trying to get me work might not be thrilled about it, but I just don’t have any patience for it. If we’re not going to have fun, if I’m going to show up to work and be bummed out, it’s not worth it.
Hollywood can be so dazzling in the perks that people are driven in a way by what those perks provide you and not driven by creative fulfillment. And for me, at least what I’m telling myself as I move forward through this and figure out my next show, and piece that together and really take time to figure out what it is I want to say and where I want to go with it… I don’t want the pressure of maintaining a lifestyle. I don’t want the pressure of maintaining a name for myself. I just want to have fun on the day to day. I just want to show up and play around with a group of people that are all feeling the same way about the work that we’re doing that I am. And if that happens next year, or in three years, so be it. It’s an intense industry in terms of success because I feel, particularly in the media, there’s this thirst for, what are you doing next? When is it happening? We got to keep your name. If I hear the word momentum one more time, I’m going to just throw a brick through a window. It has nothing to do with momentum. I know that it does in Hollywood, because it’s like, “you’re hot baby, let’s capitalize!” But I think a lot of times when you try to capitalize on momentum, you become impulsive.
You’re enslaved by it or driven by it.
Yeah, you’re making decisions that are based on keeping your status within an industry, and not based on what you really want to do. I have a really amazing team at ABC studios that I’m working with, and they’ve been really supportive of the time that I want to take. We have some great ideas that we’re working on, but it’s going to take time. And they’re going to have to just be okay with that, which they are, fortunately. And that’s why I went with them, too.
So that was part of the conversation?
Of course. I don’t want to feel pressured by this industry to do something. And I feel like, when you’re making something creative and hopefully something artistic, even though it is a business, you want to feel good about what you’re making. And you want to feel like you’re making the right choices, even if those choices don’t necessarily hit in the same way that Schitt’s Creek did. I have no expectations that the next show I’m going to do is going to be as big, or touch people as deeply. All I can do is continue to tell stories that inspire me, and hope that they inspire other people too.
Is the decision to walk away from this easier because there’s a little bit of a fail-safe built-in now where shows come back and, if you wanted to, you could just turn it back on in three years or four years?
Sure. I think in a way you tell yourself that those things are around, mainly to ease the sting of knowing that you don’t get to see the family for a while. I mean, I get to see my family physically, literally…
We almost broke a story.
Could you imagine? We’re estranged… [Laughs]
But I consider my work family to be a family. We’re very close, and I love them dearly, and I’ve had so much fun with them. And working with the younger cast as well, working with Annie and working with Noah [Reid, who plays Patrick] and working with Emily, getting to play around with these talented young actors. Working with Noah in particular, getting to do the kinds of scenes that we’ve been doing, and exploring the kinds of relationship ins and outs that we’ve been exploring. Working with all of these people has made me a better actor. And then on a personal level, getting to explore a queer love story on television with Noah… And I feel like, I mean we’re friends offset as well, but getting to experience what that means to other people with someone, and he’s been so, excited and open to really be raw.
There’s a definite vulnerability, I would say.
It requires a vulnerability. It requires an understanding that the person I’m doing this scene with has my back and that nothing we can do is unsafe. And so I’ve learned so much in playing this character, and playing this character opposite him, and playing this character opposite Annie. The sibling dynamic has taught me a whole bunch as an actor. And then with Emily, getting to watch her and all the brilliant work that she did in season five, and continues to do in season six. I think it’s made us all better people and better actors and made us appreciate what we do with a depth that we didn’t necessarily have going into it.
So to say goodbye to that is always a tough thing, which is why I think the looming idea of like, well sure we can do something… I don’t have an idea yet. There’s nothing that’s actually going to happen. But I do hope that something comes to me that feels of substance. I think at the same time too, these ideas of reboots, some of them have been great, some of them I feel like have been a cash grab. And again, if we’re going to bring this show back, something that I love so much, we’ve got to treat those fans with respect and not just throw something out that felt easy or done for the wrong reasons.
Listening to you, it’s feels like it’s done, but still, you’re talking about it with this press tour, and the show hasn’t come to its end yet [for viewers]. Does it feel done? And are you looking forward to that empty space where you don’t have to think about the show for a little bit and you can just be?
I feel like I’ve been living in that empty space for a while. It sounds kind of ominous.
I can see it being exciting too. A chance to reset.
It’s exciting in a really melancholic way, to be honest. I got my first house, and the show’s ending, and I’m starting to develop something new, and I just feel like I’m in the middle of such a state of flux to such a profound degree at a time in my life that is so… I’m in my mid-thirties, I feel like what’s coming is the next chapter. And that’s scary and that’s exciting, and all of that.
But getting to the wonderful thing about the success of the show and the fact that we have been lucky enough to receive award nominations and all of that… Aside from just how thrilling that is, for me it’s always like, well, I get to see my friends, we all get to come back together and find an excuse to hang out because we love seeing each other. And that’s part of what the tour was about too. We wanted to see our fans. We don’t have a huge budget to advertise our show. We can’t get out there and blast cities all across North America with our faces. So what we wanted to do was go out and actually meet people, and that’s where the tour started. But then in the process of doing that tour, we realized, Oh, we get to see each other all the time, even if it’s just four dates over the course of a long weekend, once a month. That was better than not. So I hope that, now that the sixth season is wrapping up, that maybe we can do something, continue that tour in a different capacity or continue to get to meet people. Because meeting people and hearing their stories, and hearing how the show has affected their lives or has changed the way they feel about themselves or other people, their kids, particularly when it comes to the LGBTQ community, it’s been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. And I think we’ll always have the show around us in some capacity. It’s just what happens when something hits like that. And in a way, that’s comforting as well.
‘Schitt’s Creek’ airs Tuesdays on Pop at 9:30pm EST.