‘Schitt’s Creek’: So How Did an Obscure Canadian Sitcom Win Nine Emmys, Anyway?

(Image credit: Pop TV)

Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek, suddenly a global sensation and a newly minted Emmy record holder, is now also the prime example of what can happen when a well-crafted, albeit initially obscure series gains exposure on a digital platform.

On Sunday, Schitt’s Creek took primetime Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, as well the top prizes for comedy writing and directing. It swept all four lead actor categories, with former SCTV castmates Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara winning “Actor” and “Actress” Emmys, and Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy taking the “Supporting Actor” and “Supporting Actress” statues. Before Sunday night, the series won “craft” Emmys for costumes and casting. 

Also read: Netflix and Other Streaming Services Come Away with Only 4 Primetime Emmys

Say what you want about the declining relevance of the Emmy Awards, particularly in virtual format. This kind of sweeping, record-setting feat was never pulled off by M*A*S*H or Cheers or Friends or Seinfeld. (Read more about the show's night at the Emmys in this Mike Malone recap.)

Schitt’s Creek joined All in the Family, The Golden Girls and Will & Grace as only the fourth comedy series in which all the lead and supporting actors were recognized by Emmy. 

Based on Schitt's Creek and Schitt's Creek alone, Pop TV ranked third among all networks and platforms at the Primetime Emmys (behind only giants HBO and Netflix).

Where did this show come from?

Debuting in January 2015, Levy and his son Dan, the creative team behind Schitt’s Creek, envisioned some interest in this tale of a super-rich family who lose their fortune and are forced to move to a dumpy dead-end town they once purchased as a joke.

The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) commissioned the series. Then, after pitching the comedy at Mipcom in Cannes prior to its launch, ViacomCBS-owned TVGN, soon to be rebranded as Pop TV, decided Schitt’s Creek would fit its goal of attracting the “modern grownup,” specifically those viewers in their 30s and 40s who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pop TV touted the immediate merits of Schitt’s Creek. There was no real historical programming model for comparison, after all. Launching on Pop TV in 2015, the sitcom experienced consistent double-digit ratings growth via the traditional Nielsen ratings. At the same time, the accolades started mounting, including Canada’s ACRTA and Canadian Screen Awards. It was the first Canadian comedy to be nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award. 

Word of mouth spread; from Mariah Carey to Elton John publicly espoused their praise; even former First Lady Michelle Obama touted the merits of the fictional Rose clan. And then came Netflix, which began streaming the series’ repeats in 2017 and turned the cult favorite into a mass appeal hit.

Upon accepting the Series Emmy Sunday night, Eugene Levy included a shoutout to Netflix, citing the streaming service “for the spark that seemed to, you know, start everything.”

Eugene Levy and Chris Elliott in Schitt's Creek.

Eugene Levy and Chris Elliott: 'Schitt's Creek' evolved beyond fish out of water slapstick. (Image credit: Pop TV)

As the seasons progressed, the series evolved beyond a fish out of water comedy, and as the characters in the ensemble developed, so did the relationship between David (Dan Levy) and Patrick (Noah Reid). At the beginning, Schitt’s Creek immediately attracted attention by featuring David as an openly pansexual character, where his sexuality is simply accepted by all in any given relationship. When Patrick enters the scene in the middle of season three, there is an attraction between the two and their first kiss by season end. By season four, David finds himself navigating his first long-term relationship. And, in the series finale, the two wed in an emotional ceremony.

In what could not be better timing, meanwhile, Schitt’s Creek will launch into national syndication across the country beginning Monday, Sept. 28. Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury owns the domestic broadcast syndication rights to the series, which produced 80 episodes (six seasons). And the final season of the comedy, which concluded on Pop TV in April, will be available for streaming on Netflix on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Schitt’s Creek can also be seen on the free CW Seed service and IMDb TV, while Comedy Central will air five consecutive episodes every Friday beginning Oct. 2 at 8 p.m. ET.

Marc Berman

Marc Berman is editor-in-chief for media-centric The Programming Insider (programminginsider.com), which pioneered the email newsletter format at its inception in 1999. Marc has written for a wide range of publications including Broadcasting + Cable, Next TV, Forbes, Newspro, Campaign US, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Known as “Mr. Television” at Mediaweek (now Adweek), Marc has appeared on camera on Entertainment TonightExtraInside Edition and CNN and MSNBC, among other series and outlets. He is a member of The Television Critics Association and The Broadcast Journalists Television Association. And Marc put his TV historian hat on as author of desk calendar Today in TV History