YTV’s ‘That’s So Weird’ back for 2nd season, boosted by award noms
By Bill Brioux
TORONTO _ Which age group is the most elusive target for TV networks?
Most would say it is youth or tweens; young people in the 10-to-16 age range.
They’re too old for “iCarly” or “Hannah Montana,” too young for “30 Rock” or “Saturday Night Live.”
Last season, YTV built a bridge to that group with “a made in Canada sketch comedy aimed at kids who grew up with ”SpongeBob“ and moved on to ”The Simpsons.“
Shot in a converted Toronto school gymnasium, the series and its seven-member troupe quickly found a following with their parodies of films, TV shows and commercials, including spots for various outrageous “Jamco” products.
The seven performers are all back for the second season, which premieres Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. ET on YTV. Hailing from across Canada and ranging in age from 19 to 27, they are Alana Johnston (originally from Orangeville, Ont.), James Hartnett (Caledon, Ont.), Hannah Hogan (Peterborough, Ont.), Kayla Lorette (British Columbia) Joey Lucius (Edmonton), Alex Spencer (Toronto) and A.J. Vaage (Edmonton).
This season they’ll be seen in “Glost,” a parody of “Glee” and “Lost” which finds a glee club marooned on a mysterious island. The Jamco product “Pizza Pants” promotes pants conveniently made out of pizza. There’s also a visit to “Shoutback Steakhouse,” where the waiters yell out the menu.
Look also for goofs on such teen idols as Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.
The cast and series garnered plenty of respect from the comedy community in season one, scoring three nominations for the upcoming Gemini Awards, including Best Youth Show, as well as a Canadian Comedy Award nomination for Johnston.
“Youth programs never get that,” says executive producer/showrunner Gary Pearson. “We were recognized more on a level ’22 Minutes’ or ‘Rick Mercer’ would be recognized on.”
This season, 13 new episodes of “That’s So Weird” have been produced out of the same Halifax studio where “22 Minutes” is shot. It’s familiar turf for Pearson, who worked five seasons as a writer/producer on “22 Minutes” and has also penned episodes of “Mad-TV,” “The Ron James Show” and “Corner Gas.”
The move east has meant improved resources for the show. The costume and props departments are staffed by the same people who work “22 Minutes,” which saw its run cut back to 13 episodes this season. Some of the props and sets stored at the studio date back 20 years, to the east coast comedy “CODCO.”
Fortunately, very little ever gets thrown away. When a gargoyle costume was needed for a Harry Potter spoof, Pearson recalled something similar being used once on “22 Minutes.” A prop man remembered that buddy down the street had it in his garage and the outfit was quickly retrieved.
Even sketches don’t get thrown out. Pearson and his five member writing staff crank out more than they need each week. Any sketches that don’t quite fit that week’s format go online to provide content for the web.
There’s more emphasis this season on the show-within-a-show aspect of “That’s So Weird.” Pearson estimates a third to a half of each episode now focuses on the troupe and how their characters interact, much in the same way the old “SCTV” cast would portray Guy Caballero and the staff getting along at that fictional Mellonville TV station.
This gives the show’s young audience, raised on sitcoms like “iCarly,” familiar characters to relate to, says the producer. The move seems to be paying off. Young fans arrived for the second season tapings with “Marry Me A.J.” signs and other cast member shout outs.
Pearson doesn’t have to look far to find his test group. He and his wife have three children, ages 9, 12 and 14, or as the producer in him says, “all in the demo.”
They tell him what they like and dislike on TV. When the recent Jonas Brothers movie “Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam” aired, for example, Pearson says it was watched at his house three times in one weekend.
He also uses them for inspiration when it comes to writing the sketches, or as he says, “I steal blatantly from them.”
He cites as an example a conversation he had with his son.
“Why don’t you want your sister to tell me what happened?” Pearson asked. “She’s just going to tell me the truth.”
Said the son: “She might tell the wrong truth.”
“That,” says Pearson, “went right into Logan and Wilf.”
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
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