TORONTO, ONTARIO: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - One of the creators of CTV's sitcom Spun Out, Brent Piaskoski, speaks during a sit down interview at Pinewood Studios in Toronto, Ontario on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. (Laura Pedersen/National Post) (For Arts & Entertainment story by David Berry) //NATIONAL POST STAFF PHOTO
Photograph by: Laura Pedersen , Calgary Herald
It’s ironic that an old-school, eager-to-please workplace sitcom such as Spun Out would be stung with so much controversy. Even more so considering it’s a comedy about a wacky public relations firm that can solve any wacky PR crises but its own.
When it first arrived on CTV’s mid-season schedule last year, it seemed the least likely candidate to cause a stir. Starring former Kid in the Hall Dave Foley as the zany head of a big-city PR firm, it seemed to operate in a universe quite removed from the strain of TV comedy that has been drifting toward edginess ever since Seinfeld went to air.
But CTV’s announcement last Monday that the multi-camera sitcom’s second season would finally air the next night came after more than a year of off-screen controversy and turmoil for the series and its Calgary-born co-creator Brent Piaskoski.
“People would see my Spun Out bag and say, ‘When is it coming back? When is it coming back?'” says Piaskoski, who was back home in Calgary last week. “(It was) just nice to have an answer: Tuesday, July 14, 8 p.m.”
With a hasty news release coming only a day before it was set to air, it was a quieter sophomore-season debut than what had been envisioned before controversy struck. At one time, a sneak preview of the season opener — which featured comedian Russell Peters as a guest star — was slated to air after CTV’s Feb. 1 broadcast of the Super Bowl. That plan apparently survived the first round of high-profile controversy, which Piaskoski himself was behind. Last July, only a month after CTV announced Spun Out would be picked up for second season, the former standup comedian caused outrage by tweeting racially insensitive and curiously unfunny observations about Asian passengers on his Los Angeles to Calgary flight (“I bet there is no Chinese character for Eat with your mouth closed,” he said in one of the tweets). He quickly, and profusely, apologized. But, sadly, it was not the final or worst scandal that would hit the show. In late January, cast member J.P. Manoux was charged with voyeurism after two women who rented a condo unit owned by the actor claimed they discovered a hidden camera on the premises. When the news hit, CTV pulled Spun Out and put it on indefinite hiatus. While many assumed the second season, which had already been shot, would never see the light of day, CTV president Phil King assured fans it would eventually be broadcast.
“It was not fun,” says Piaskoski about the Manoux scandal. “You don’t know. You hear it and you feel bad and you’re worried and concerned and confused … But at the end of the day, even at the beginning of the day, there’s really nothing I can do about it. You just wait for the process to work itself out and just be glad that, it prolonged (the wait), but it eventually came.”
Piaskoski admits he would have loved to have had the plum post-Super Bowl spot, but is grateful that King and CTV decided to go ahead with the season at all. It represents the hard work of a very large cast and crew. It also represents the culmination of Piaskoski’s own career and ambitions. As a writer, the former William Aberhart High School student had worked on series such as According to Jim and Canadian tween comedies Naturally, Sadie and Radio Free Roscoe. But Spun Out was the first adult sitcom he had worked on from the ground up, designing it to recall the laugh-tracked tone of series he loved and studied such as Family Ties, NewsRadio and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It followed a tried-and-true sitcom formula. Foley provided the obligatory familiar face as Dave Lyons, while attractive leads Paul Campbell and Rebecca Dalton, as failed-writer-turned-PR-man Beckett and Dave’s spoiled daughter Stephanie, provided the will-they-or-won’t-they romantic tension as co-workers attracted to each other. Season 1 was also chock full of Canuck cameos, including Albertan Tricia Helfer, Jason Priestley and Foley’s fellow Kids in the Hall.
“We’re not edgy, we’re just doing what (co-creators) Jeff Biederman, Brian Roberts and I love: Good old-fashioned comedy,” he says. “I think we did well in numbers, not great. We were on a Friday night and we held our own. I think the reaction from Canadians is terrific. If you love Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays, that’s great. But you may not love our show.”
Piaskoski said he found out when Season 2 would begin airing the same time as the public did. But he said he “trusts and thanks” CTV for the decision. As for his own brush with controversy, he seems sincerely apologetic about the whole episode. It has certainly followed him around. Weeks after the incident, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and the Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council were still demanding CTV publicly apologize for the tweets, which Piaskoski had crafted under the Spun Out logo.
“Here’s the thing, I did something stupid and irresponsible and I truly thought I was making a joke,” he says. “Then when I saw them laid out there, I felt embarrassed and, more than anything, as contrite as a person can be, from the bottom of my soul. I don’t want to talk too much about it because it sounds like I’m defending what I did and I’m not. But I did talk to people in the community to apologize. That’s not who I am. I had a bad day, or I just made a judgment error. I think about it every day, honestly, with nothing but regret.”
Spun Out airs Tuesdays on CTV.