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Why Canadian Comedy ‘Workin’ Moms’ Is Seeking the ‘Netflix Effect’

In terms of accolades, “Workin’ Moms” is at the top of the Canadian food chain. In two-and-a-half seasons the half-hour scripted comedy has garnered an International Emmy nomination, a dozen Canadian Screen Award nominations, and a 20% higher audience retention rate than the average series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Meanwhile in its 2017 debut, the show also pulled in wins as the New York Festival’s World’s Best Comedy Television Program, and as the Most Innovative Canadian Production at the Banff World Media Festival.

With Canadian audiences locked up and a third season currently airing, the series is now looking to capitalize on the international market when the first season drops globally on Netflix Feb. 22, following in the footsteps of other CBC series like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Kim’s Convenience.”

“Being a strong supporter of Canadian creators and producers we are thrilled when our series are seen around the world. There’s no denying that [streamers] like Amazon and Netflix have that incredible platform,” CBC’s general manager of programming, Sally Catto, says. “They allow audiences outside the country and even perhaps within Canada that haven’t had an opportunity to see these series or weren’t aware of them be exposed to them.”

“Workin’ Moms” revolves around a quartet of women who return to work following a maternity leave. The dark humor tackles subject matter like postpartum depression and abortion, while also highlighting the realistic challenges of breastfeeding, body image, bonding with the baby and mom guilt.

“This isn’t just a show about flawed women trying to reclaim their ambition. There’s a repression against mothers where we’re expected to be full-time workers and pretend we’re not mothers, and then expected to be full-time mothers who pretend we’re not working. Simultaneously, within the hours of the week that exist,” says show creator Catherine Reitman. “It felt like, OK we can’t just tell the story of women trying to be ambitions and those challenges, we have to show the darkness that we face all the time.”

Reitman began creating the series after a rough Mother’s Day away from her six-month old as a result of an indie flick she was shooting. She and her husband Philip Sternberg sold what they envisioned as a premium cable project under their newly created production banner Wolf + Rabbit to FX, which then developed the pilot. Eventually FX passed on the project around the same time Pamela Adlon’s single-mom comedy “Better Things” was greenlit (FX declined to comment on its decision) and Reitman, whose Canadian father director Ivan Reitman always brought the family back to Toronto where they kept an apartment, sold the project to CBC.

“I didn’t even know at the time how empowering it is to make a show in Canada because you become a partner in your own product as opposed to an employee,” Reitman says. “Unlike FX where I could technically get fired from my own project like most people at my level, at the CBC I had partners in it. I was equally invested as they were. So it was a spectacular place to end up. We made this show with very little restraints and we were really creatively supported there.”

In addition to producing and showrunning the series, Reitman stars and directs, ensuring her vision was fully developed from all angles. She went on to create an all-female writers room, hired the first ever all-female A-camera team in Canadian primetime history, put females in key positions like DP, PD, casting, props and lead camera operator, and created a 13-episode first season in which seven episodes were directed by women. Meanwhile, CBC research revealed 44% of the show’s first-season audience was male.

“Workin’ Moms” is so unique and appeals to a younger demographic but it also speaks to a wide demo,” Catto says. “It has that unique voice that sticks out among the hundreds of shows available to audiences today. It’s a wonderful blend of comedy and drama, with a unique point-of-view that I don’t think we’ve seen before in terms of approaching that subject matter.”

In addition to its first-season global release, the first two seasons of the series dropped on Netflix Canada at the end of January (Season 2 is scheduled for global release sometime this spring). Immediately, Reitman noticed an increased interest on social media and other channels.

“There was this rebirth of the show where our social media got flooded and people started stopping me in the streets more than usual,” she says. “People were talking about what was happening in Season 1 as Season 3 was airing. It was wild. There really is such a thing as the Netflix effect.”

For CBC, it’s that effect that keeps series — even accolade-ridden series like “Workin’ Moms” — in existence. While the broadcaster’s mandate is to create content that engages and speaks to Canadian audiences, financially it relies on partnerships either through product acquisition or the co-pro model.

“We’re in a time in which financially we need partners. We need partners for all of our productions. Immediately you have to think about whether a show has the potential for an audience outside Canada in order for it to be financed,” Catto says. “That fact alone makes it an absolute necessity. We’re in a global marketplace and we know our audiences are watching content from around the world, so it’s a completely different environment than it was even 10 years ago. First and foremost we are always creatively driven, but the reality of our world today is that you have to have partners and we absolutely need our global partnerships.”

“Workin’ Moms” launches Feb. 22 on Netflix.

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