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Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara on How the NSFW TV Show Title ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Came to Be

Eugene Levy & Catherine O'Hara on How the NSFW TV Show Title 'Schitt's Creek' Came to Be

Since their early days working together on the classic Canadian sketch comedy series “SCTV,” Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara have been comedy delights; the only thing better than the two of them working together is when they’re joined by some of their frequent collaborators. Today, that includes not just another comedy icon — Chris Elliott — but Levy’s own son: The series “Schitt’s Creek,” about a family who loses everything, was co-created by Levy and his son Daniel. 

During a quasi-chaotic sit-down at the TCA press tour last month, Indiewire found out the importance of international production to make working in TV feasible and how this show got its quasi-NSFW name.

Let’s start by talking about the name. I was wondering where it came from, exactly.
 
Eugene Levy: Well, it actually came from some joking around [between] me and my wife and some friends of ours who would go to dinner quite often. And this came up in a conversation/premise/jokey kind of way. It actually came out of an idea that my wife had for a show. We would joke about it every time we went to dinner: Schitt’s Creek, living in Schitt’s Creek, and it was funny — kind of funny. When we hit the point in our kind of storyline, about this wealthy family that loses their money, and we came up with the idea that they bought a town — which was actually based on a real incident, that Daniel brought in. And we said, “Oh, they bought a town,” and I thought back to Schitt’s Creek, and wondered if that would be a — I think that would be a funny thing, that it would be called Schitt’s Creek. Anyway, we stuck with it.
 
Daniel Levy: And the humor — I mean, for us, when we started talking about the title of the thing — was that if you treated it very seriously, and actually downplayed the joke of the actual name, and treated it like it was a legitimate town with a legitimate name, and these were legitimate ancestors of the Schitt family who settled the town, that’s when we started laughing.
 
[group laughs]
 
Catherine O’Hara: When it got serious!
 
DL: When it got serious!
 
[laughs]
 
EL: Yeah. And then we realized, and kind of did a little research — in the sense that “Schitt” is a name, a legitimate name that families do have all over the world — you look up a phone book and you’re going to find “Schitt” as a name.
 
Approximately how many Schitts per…
 
EL: I would say four or five —
 
DL: Don’t quote us on that. But there were definitely enough for us to have photocopied and sent to —
 
A handful of Schitts.
 
DL: …our network executives that might have been a little concerned
 
Chris Elliott: Are there any Schitt families actually spelled the way you would spell “shit?”

DL: S-H-I-T?
 
CE: Yeah.
 
DL: Didn’t check. But now I need to check it. That would be even more unfortunate.

That leads to my next question: What was the network reaction to the name?
 
EL: The network reaction was… Well, initially, in Canada, with the CBC, was… It came up in about the second or third meeting, where they said, “Okay, now let’s talk about the name.”
 
DL: Yes. Except it was slightly more passive than that. It was, “If we could discuss the name for a second… Um, a potential alternative that might be a little…” And we’re like, “We’re not changing it.” Pop, on the other hand, had no problem with it, and it was just — we were good to go.

So CBC was concerned, but…
 
DL: I wouldn’t call it “concerned…”
 
EL: It wasn’t even a concern, but it was something they knew would have to be addressed because they would have to sell it to their people and whatever…
  
DL: …And that’s when we photocopied the phonebook, saying, “We need to be inclusive!”
 
EL: So, that’s when we photocopied them, and showed them that this was a legitimate name. You know, you know if this is a legitimate name, are you saying you wouldn’t show this name? If someone was being interviewed on a news broadcast, you wouldn’t show their name because it happened to be “Schitt?” And they said, “You know what? Good enough for us.”
 
DL: It played out like a “Law and Order” episode.
 
[group laugh]
 
EL: Yeah.
 
DL: And we won.
 
[Someone does the “Law and Order” “chung-chung” sound effect. More laughs.]
 
So would you say this is primarily a Canadian show? In terms of the fact that it comes from the CBC? Despite that it’s now other places as well?
 
EL: It was commissioned by the CBC. And we shot the show up there, and then we got a distributor, and long before the shows were actually finished, we came down to pitch the show to find an American broadcaster, and Pop was incredibly enthusiastic.
 
DL: They were the last piece! Ultimately.

Would the show have not happened if Pop hadn’t been on board?
 
EL: It would have been considerably more difficult for Dan and myself…
 
DL: Yeah, it’s — that was a dark path not even worth thinking about!
 
EL: Scary to think about…
 
A scary, less money-filled path?
 
EL: Not that we don’t like working for nothing, but it was going down that route, until we got — until ITV came on board.
 
So there was always the idea that it would be a larger production across different networks.
 
DL: Yeah. I think in terms of the ambiguity of the name of the show, part of that is just so anyone who watches the show feels like it could be in their backyard. And that was accessibility… especially in Germany. We’ve found a really nice family to support the show.
 
A lot of critics today were trying to get you guys to say where the show is set, but it wasn’t even an international thing. It was “We want to know if you’re making fun of rural Illinois versus rural Florida.”
 
CO: We’re not making fun of them at all. Wherever we are; we’re not making fun of them.
 
DL: And that’s the thing. I think from the writers’ room, our big thing was, “We don’t want the town to be the joke. We don’t want these people to be butts of jokes, we want these people to be the ones judging the family.” And that’s the humor of it. So, I love Schitt’s Creek. I feel like it’s an incredibly open-minded, very open-minded town. Very accepting —
 
Lady: Stylish, and fun —
 
DL: Very progressive.
 
CE: That’s what I — as mayor — I like to think of it as a progressive, shit town.
 
DL: It really is.
 
So for you guys as a group, coming together, what do you guys do as an ensemble to get going?
 
Annie Murphy: We do the acapella thing, most days… [laughs]
 
EL: I don’t do a lot of that, I don’t do a lot of prep work.
 
AM: That’s why it doesn’t sound right. It’s always missing just that one…
 
[laughs]
 
CE: I must say, it does feel like you walk on the set, and everybody is bringing it, and bringing their own thing to the table. For me. 
 
CO: It starts with great scripts. That really helps.
 
CE: Some of them are really great.
 
CO: And that puts you in a good mood. And, then there’s a very lovely, open, collaborative kind of vibe on set where we’re allowed to give ideas, and play with things, and it’s just being part of something good makes you feel good.
  
DL: There’s an electricity, I think, when you’re creating something together. And to take the scene and play it out, and then turn to someone and say, “This doesn’t seem to be working, what can we do?” And then when you come up with that line, or come up with that action or whatever it is, there’s something — I mean, for me, not having the experience that they’ve had — I found it to be so inspiring. And that’s really what I thought what so exciting about the show — is whether it’s someone from the art department who’s pulled in to change a set piece so that we can build a joke around it, or whether it was a line that needed to be twerk — tweaked —
 
AM: Twerked! [laughs]
 
CO: I twerked my lines! [laughs]
 
DL: [laughs] Annie coming to me saying, “I’m gonna push you in this scene.”
 
AM: Yeah, that happened a lot.
 
DL: …And say, “Well, what can we do with that?” I think the collaborative effort of what this show was, really created an energy on set that everyone felt. 

“Schitt’s Creek” airs Wednesdays on Pop. 

READ MORE: Your TV Is A Lot More International Than You Think (And That’s A Good Thing)

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