I caught up with Andrew Orenstein last week. He’s the creator and showrunner of Package Deal, which is back for a second season starting Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on City.
Orenstein was at a downtown Toronto hotel and I managed to trick him into buying lunch. We had a good catch up over a couple of hearty salads.
I was curious to get his take on the whole four camera, studio audience mini-trend in Canadian television. In Canada, if two shows do it, its a trend. Spun Out, based in Toronto, is the other show being shot in the traditional, very American, four camera system.
I had the good fortune to enjoy live studio tapings of both these shows, having also sat in on a Package Deal performance in Vancouver. I enjoyed and recommend both. It`s three hours of fun, a comfortable chair, free show and pizza.
But does it translate into successful television? Neither Package Deal or Spun Out broke out in their first seasons. There are all kinds of arguments to be made as to reasons why. Did enough people even know these shows were on? Don’t comedies just take longer to build? Did they get whammied by something on Netflix, AMC or Sportsnet?
All a fella like Orenstein can address are the creative concerns. Was the show funny enough? I remember wondering, as I sat in the bleachers, if the warmth and laughter I found in some of the giggle moments at the taping would translate to the small screen at home. You begin to wonder if the show is playing to the wrong room, despite the best intentions of all involved.
Both Spun Out and Package Deal have seasoned veterans in charge who can call audibles and make adjustments. Orenstein told me big changed were made this season in the approach to his show, which is produced by Thunderbird Films. Season One was shot without a pilot and that doesn’t always help when a comedy is trying to find its feet.
Season Two, shot in May and June in Vancouver, saw the new order of 13 episodes cranked out under the same hurry up conditions as the 10/90 system used on U.S. comedies such as Anger Management and Kelsey Grammer’s Partners. (Should have been done this way for years Grammer told me in July, although I doubt he’ll get to make the other 90 to confirm that early impression.) Two episodes were shot each week, with half of each show done in studio without a live audience. The bleachers were filled once again for the Friday live studio day, although folks saw just parts of two episodes instead of one coherent show.
Besides the obvious total time-related cost savings, Orenstein says there were creative advantages. He felt the network was more connected to each step of the process ans less inclined to drop all their notes in one swoop. Cast members had plenty of lines to memorize but by the time they got their sides, scripts were fully approved, meaning fewer pink pages dropped in as last minute additions. The accelerated schedule also meant less time for second guessing on the floor, more go-with-your-gut first takes and on with the show.
The result should be a more sure of itself show. It will be interesting to see how that translates on Friday nights on City this season.
As for the numbers, while Orenstein admits they weren’t exactly robust last season, the network is not simply making judgments based on the raw, aggregate tally. Typically last season, Package Deal (and Seed) seemed to be the weak link on otherwise solid comedy nights on City. How I Met Your Mother would set the bar at a million viewers a night, Package would sink to around 300,000 and 2 Broke Girls would vault back up over a million.
Factor out, however, the American side of the simulcast numbers–as much as half the total–and the night typically went 500,000, 300,000, 500,000. Rogers was looking at retention of around 66% to 70% most nights, considered a fair take when comparing rookies and established shows.
City’s new schedule finds Package Deal opening a less competitive night–Friday–followed by imported comedy The Middle. That’s a whole other numbers game, but look for the stakes to get higher.