One of the great surprises of this year’s Emmy Awards nominations was the Television Academy’s recognition of Schitt’s Creek, Dan and Eugene Levy’s sleeper-hit comedy. Perhaps no one was more elated than Pop TV’s president, Brad Schwartz, who told the Hollywood Reporter, “I’m sweating, I’m so excited.” He added, “We hoped, but we also realized that for an emerging network like Pop that’s only been around for four years, that it was a long shot.” Schitt’s Creek has attracted a cult following in recent years, gaining traction among off-kilter comedy fans and positive attention from critics. The show’s rising profile is due in no small part to its availability on Netflix, where older seasons have been available for streaming since 2017. Despite the show’s popularity, Pop TV has remained a relatively obscure cable channel, but Schitt’s Creek’s four Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Lead for Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara and Outstanding Comedy Series, may be about to change that.
Beginning as a joint venture between CBS and Lionsgate Entertainment, Pop made its debut in 2015 as a rebranding of the TV Guide Network, offering “fun, comedy-leaning programming for Modern Grownups®, engaged fans who came of age in the ’80s and ’90s raised on network TV.” Schitt’s Creek, produced in association with Canadian network CBC, was the network’s first original scripted series, appearing in a slate of programming aimed at millennial and late Gen X audiences. But since 2015, Schwartz has quietly been positioning the network as a bastion for original programming, particularly “niche” comedy, including the Will Arnett–produced Hot Date, the Anna Paquin drama Flack, and Florida Girls. The network is also “saving” the Netflix comedy One Day at a Time, which was canceled by the streaming giant because of (allegedly) disappointing viewership.
Schwartz, speaking to Variety, said that the network’s purchase of the show “wasn’t really about” the ratings, but rather its “extraordinarily passionate fans,” hoping to attract Netflix viewers to Pop’s own digital and cable platforms for the show. With One Day at a Time, as with Schitt’s Creek, Pop TV relies on a strategy that profits symbiotically from its streaming rival, using Netflix as a platform to gain an audience that it can direct to its own network of streaming services, like the Pop TV app channel. This barnacle-like approach to business fits into a larger pattern for CBS, which has made a strategy of making shows for its rivals and then feeding off their success.
If there is anything good about the era of corporate consolidation, it’s that the mad dash to find, produce, and develop unique content helps make shows like Schitt’s Creek possible, if uncommon. There’s reason to look forward to more great television as the streaming overlords duke it out to distinguish themselves from one another. For Eugene and Dan Levy, the father-and-son stars and creators of Schitt’s Creek, the Emmy nod comes as the series is about to air its final season, and, if we’re lucky, it will allow the creative team to look forward to future projects (though I’ll always dream of a full film release of Moira’s The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening.) What set Pop TV apart from other networks was its willingness to stick with the show through its admittedly shaky first season, allowing it to find its narrative footing.
Whatever comes next, expect Pop TV to continue to gamble on new content as it tries to transform itself into more of a prestige network. Perhaps Schitt’s Creek is a good sign of things to come for television production in the new era of conglomeration … or maybe it’s a fluke. Hopefully Pop TV will continue to serve as an incubator for oddball comedies and niche programming—just don’t be surprised if the next time it has a hit on its hands, it skips Netflix in favor of a brand-new CBS-Viacom-Paramount content distribution service. Brad Schwartz has a lot to be sweaty and excited about.