LOS ANGELES - When Dan Levy first went to his father Eugene Levy to ask him to work on the pilot of "Schitt's Creek" with him, the senior Levy admits he was shocked, excited and panicked.
"He never came to me for anything in his life — when he was in school doing plays, [I'd say], 'Do you want me to help you read lines?' 'No, I got it," Levy recalled at the Pop TV Television Critics Association press tour panel for the show Monday. So when he finally came and said, 'I have an idea for a show, do you want to work on it?' As a dad, it's like, 'This moment finally came, thank you; it doesn't matter what the idea is, I'll work on it, we'll try to get it going.'"
The panic, though, edged in because when they first started writing, Eugene Levy said he did think, "What if he doesn't have the talent to do this as a writer? Do I tell him that he doesn't have the talent, or do we go [ahead] knowing nothing's going to happen with it? And you think Sophie had a choice! That was my dilemma and it turned out right away there was nothing to worry about."
Finding a home at Pop TV felt apt to Eugene Levy because the network, then, was "just a fledgling, little network," and they were "just a fledgling, little show."
Dan Levy noted that when he first had the idea for the show, he realized it "had the potential to, in the wrong hands, be really broad." He had long-admired his father's work — "particularly in co-creating the Christopher Guest anthology — [and] felt like it needed that kind of comedy: it needed sophistication, it needed care, and it needed a heart."
Over the course of six seasons and 80 episodes, Dan Levy said what the show grew into "surpassed all my expectations," mostly because "we have such an extraordinary cast." He shared that 80 percent of the story arc came from his initial plan for the show, while 20 percent was just "magic," and many ideas came out of "just day-to-day shooting."
"I was always aware of the challenge of keeping our cast excited to come back and do the show," Dan Levy said, adding that he would "seize the opportunity, knowing the caliber of actors we had" to take the characters in new directions that were often "slightly foreign for a comedy. You don't often have the kind of vulnerability and sentimentality that we explore on the show. I think part of that, other than just servicing story, was being aware that our actors are talented and multifaceted and have so much more to give to these characters outside of the realm of just comedy: There's music, there's dancing, there's performance."
Annie Murphy was one cast member who stepped up to such a challenge more than she had to. Dan Levy shared he always had an idea for a song called "A Little Bit Alexis" that Murphy's character would have put out, but it was Murphy who went to him and asked if she could take a stab at writing it. She was inspired by Noah Reid, who had performed "Simply the Best" in the previous season. When Dan Levy "generously said yes," Murphy said she got help from two of her friends who are actually musicians. "I wrote the lyrics and they did all of the hard stuff."
The final season of "Schitt's Creek," Eugene Levy said, is "a natural culmination in how things naturally work themselves out in terms of relationships and character growth and it all kind of points to a very satisfying ending."
Dan Levy pointed out that the show started with the "opportunity to reset yourself" for "four people who had previously become so accustomed to bandaging their problems with money." The show has been "ultimately this show is an exploration of love," he continued. "What do the relationships look like when there is no money, and what does love look like when there is no money?"
When depicting such love onscreen, he wanted to "treat these characters completely equally across the board." His character, David, is pansexual and got engaged in the penultimate season (with wedding planning being a big part of the final season storyline). He recalled how on network television in the past LGBTQ characters were often used in stories to "teach a lesson of be a butt of the joke — there's just an otherness."
"It was really important to represent my life, my friends, my family," he continued. "My life is not a lesson to be learned. My life is my life, and we're going to depict it as effortlessly as we can. That's the philosophy."
Dan Levy pointed out this includes as much intimacy as they felt comfortable with, without being scared about audience reaction. To CBC and Pop TV's credit, as the networks that air "Schitt's Creek" in Canada and the U.S., respectively, "we have nobody in the network level asking any questions about this," he said. "Rather, they are putting three-story billboards of Noah and I kissing on Sunset Blvd. And I had never seen that before in my life. Love is love, and that's how it goes. What I am most proud of is that the show promotes [that] when people are free to love safely and outwardly, joy is the recipe and that is multiplied."
Dan Levy has an overall deal with ABC and admitted he has ideas for comedies, dramas and all things in between. Above all else, though, he wants to write shows that will spark emotion in the audience the way "Schitt's Creek" has.
"I want people to feel seen and loved and appreciated and safe -- that's really of great interest to me," he said. "To continue to tell stories of underdogs, to continue to tell stories of people who are trying to find their way."
"Schitt's Creek" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Pop TV.