Comedy sketch troupe returns to TV after 15 years

Sketch troupe Kids in the Hall, one of Canada’s premium comedy exports, blasted primetime for the first time in 15 years with the preem of limited series “Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town” on Canuck pubcaster CBC last week.

Over 1 million viewers tuned in Jan. 12 to the series debut, which sees original Kids Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson introduce an array of outrageous new characters.

A million is a very good number for a Canadian comedy series debut (60% in the 25-54 demo) and much higher than the Kids’ shows drew back in 1989, when the first season bowed on CBC.

By comparison, CBC’s new comedy “18 to Life” bowed last week with 800,000 viewers, while returning favorite “Little Mosque on the Prairie” opened with more than 2 million, buoyed by huge media coverage.

The Kids’ comic small-town murder mystery — unfolding over eight half-hours — was co-written by the Kids, helmed by Kelly Makin (“Mickey Blue Eyes”) and shot in filmic style by Atom Egoyan’s regular lenser Paul Sarossy in North Bay, Ontario, last summer.

Death” airs at 9 p.m. following CBC’s long-running hit topical comedy series “Rick Mercer Report” and “22 Minutes.”

But U.S. fans are going to have to wait to catch up with the Kids’ irreverent, surreal humor — best known from their eponymous TV series that ran from 1989-95 on HBO and CBS and discovered by younger generations via syndication, DVD and YouTube.

American buyers are now getting a first look at “Death,” says series producer Susan Cavan of Toronto’s Accent Entertainment, which is creating an international version. Accent is handling foreign sales and partnering with 3 Arts Entertainment’s David Miner (“30 Rock”) to nab the right U.S. broadcaster.

Cavan believes “the online frenzy from America fans and the positive response from people who love the Kids are the main factors U.S. buyers are looking at it.”

The Kids — whose members have worked steadily behind and in front of the camera in the U.S. and Canada since the original series ended — hatched “Death” during their 2009 North American reunion tour and pitched it to CBC in June.

Cavan tapped federal and Ontario funding incentives for productions shooting in northern regions to make the skein.

Given our quick production turnaround, and to retain the creative integrity of what the Kids wanted to do, it was better to finance the show completely in Canada,” says Cavan.

McCulloch, who exec produced with Cavan, adds, “The beauty from an artistic and producing point of view is that the whole thing is conceived before you start shooting. Our characters get more real estate, and we’re not sweating ratings points.”

Working in what McCulloch calls a “visually interesting, weird little town” also provided unexpected benefits.

We shot Mark (playing Death) on a mustang bike, wearing a codpiece and his cape flowing in the wind for days, and no one ever said anything,” he laughs.

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