You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

From ‘Schitt’s Creek’ to ‘GLOW,’ Why TV Comedies are Embracing Meta Workplaces

Workplace environments such as traditional corporate offices, branches of the government and even bars have provided colorful characters for decades, but as of late, half-hour formats have increasingly embraced the setting of television productions. It is a unique world, full of specific details about which a storyteller in the space must often educate its audience, in addition to entertaining them.

“Very few people have access to pulling back the curtain,” says Dan Levy, showrunner and star of “Schitt’s Creek,” which, in its fifth season, followed Moira (Catherine O’Hara) as she attempted to revive her acting career with a movie and then ended up directing a local stage production. “Our mandate with handling Moira’s entertainment background is that it should feel accessible, even if it is referential.”

“Schitt’s Creek” spent four seasons referencing Moira’s past credits first. “The people who understand those jokes and references will understand and smile, and the people who don’t will find the absurdity funny,” Levy says. But when it came time to do a deeper dive, focusing scenes on local theater auditions, rehearsal, and an ultimate opening night, it was imperative to make the environment feel “joyful and sophisticated,” not a joke itself.

It should come as no surprise that in a time of peak storytelling and great political unrest, the light is being shone on television writers’ own industry. In addition to the element of “write what you know,” the ideas of “performance and putting on larger-than-life personas is speaking to people,” says “GLOW” co-showrunner Carly Mensch.

Also, adds “GLOW” co-showrunner Liz Flahive, “It used to feel like I chose a path that was incredibly destabilizing, but right now there’s a lot more upheaval. I feel like telling a story about the creative process and about a creative person and it being a rocky road, there’s more there for people now.”

“GLOW” centers on the women (and few men) who bring to life a local cable access television series about female wrestlers. Although Flahive and Mensch make sure not to have their characters walk around spouting jargon, key facets of the industry from camera crews to editing bays to smarmy network executives still pop up. One pivotal Season 2 episode was devoted solely to the show-within-the-show, as well. But, Mensch points out, because the characters are “misfits that don’t really know the industry too well, it’s a point of entry” for the audience.

The same is true for series such as “Barry” and “The Kominsky Method.” The former follows a hit-man who decides he wants to retire from murder-for-hire and be an actor instead, joining a group of thespians at different levels of the craft led by an aging performer, while the latter centers on a formerly famous actor who now teaches a class of up-and-comers. And for “Kidding,” about a public access puppet show, much of the charm of the setting comes from the sense of smaller-town nostalgia than big Hollywood bucks, according to showrunner Dave Holstein.

Such environments also attract colorful characters and heightened interpersonal drama as they struggle to succeed both personally and professionally.

In the case of “Kidding,” Holstein created characters who aren’t just colleagues, but also family. This elevates the stakes, especially when watching Jeff Pickles (Jim Carrey) interact with his boss and father (Frank Langella). “It infuses things with a real draconian subtext that this is someone who is a boss first and a parent second,” he says.

Similarly, “The Other Two,” which centers on the older, professionally struggling siblings (Drew Tarver and Helene Yorke) of an overnight teen pop star sensation (Case Walker), balances scenes of making music videos, meetings with managers, and auditions with simpler family moments on the couch.

“We don’t mind going small and specific on things that might be ‘inside’ because they’re real. But we also try and check ourselves,” says “The Other Two” co-showrunner Chris Kelly.

Adds co-showrunner Sarah Schneider: “I still want my mom, who runs a bed-and-breakfast in Maryland, to watch the show and laugh and not be wondering every minute, ‘Who is that?’”

More TV

  • Prince Albert II of Monaco (C),

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union's 'L.A.’s Finest' Opens Monte Carlo TV Festival

    Prince Albert II of Monaco opened the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival on Friday at a glittering ceremony at the principality’s Grimaldi Forum attended by Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. The Hollywood actresses presented the French premiere of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest,” which has just been renewed for a second season. “You typically [...]

  • Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba'L.A.'s Finest'

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union Speak About Horrific 'L.A.’s Finest' On-Set Accident

    Actresses Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba spoke about how the horrific accident on the set of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest” affected them and the crew at the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival Saturday. They also paid tribute to the main victim of the incident, executive producer/co-showrunner Brandon Sonnier, whose leg was amputated below [...]

  • Emmys: How a Social Media Campaign

    How a Social Media Campaign to Game the Emmys Led to This Week's 'Block Voting' Scandal

    The Television Academy’s “block voting” controversy has quickly become the talk of Emmy season — and that appears to have been the org’s point. According to multiple insiders, the number of people disqualified from voting in this year’s competition is believed to be small, only around three members (out of nearly 25,000 members overall). But [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Drops Trailer for 'Veronica Mars' Revival (Watch)

    In today’s roundup, Hulu dropped the official trailer for the “Veronica Mars” revival and HBO revealed more cast members for “Lovecraft Country.” FIRST LOOKS Hulu has dropped the official trailer for its revival of “Veronica Mars,” set to premiere on July 26. The series will bring back most of the original cast, including Kristen Bell, Jason [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Viacom CEO Bob Bakish

    Bob Bakish Talks Pluto TV, Netflix and CBS-Viacom Merger Rumors

    Viacom CEO Bob Bakish knows that a lot of his peers are in the original content space in streaming, but he believes the company’s ad-supported free service Pluto TV is better off relying on Viacom’s library of content. “We can debate a lot of things about the future, but in the near term, the opportunity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content