HALIFAX – When casting the lead on a new sitcom, nothing is left to chance.
There’s a careful screening process involving many auditions and callbacks. Everybody has to sign off on the deal.
It’s sort of like choosing a donor from a sperm bank.
Which brings up the new comedy “Seed.” The all-Canadian half-hour premieres Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET on City.
Toronto-native Adam Korson plays Harry, a 30-ish bachelor bartender who doesn’t quite live up to the Princeton resume he submitted to the clinic where he’s a regular sperm donor.
Turns out Harry has sired many, many offspring and a few are already old enough to look up their DNA dad. This brings about awkward encounters with anonymous moms, none too wild about Harry.
Carrie-Lynn Neales plays Rose, a single woman who dodges a one-night stand with the dude only to become pregnant with his donor sperm. In Monday’s opener, Harry also meets Billy (William Ainscough), the nine-year-old son he never knew he had, along with Billy’s two moms (Amanda Brugel, Stephanie Anne Mills). He’s also confronted with a 15-year-old daughter named Anastasia (Abby Ross) and her neurotic, yuppie parents (Matt Baram, Laura De Carteret).
The seed for the story began with creator/executive producer Joseph Raso. The Toronto native studied literature at McGill but decided he’d rather make TV shows. He graduated with an MFA film degree from Columbia in New York, made a few shorts, found an agent and ended up developing shows for Disney and Sony in the States, including Disney Channel’s “Zombies and Cheerleaders.”
“I was developing ideas and selling them, which is great,” says Raso. Still, he was frustrated that many of the series seeds he planted did not take root.
He first pitched “Seed” six years ago at Disney. There was interest, but no deal. He took it to CBC. Again, officials got the joke right away, but weren’t sure the tone was for them and passed.
Raso was told his edgy comedy sounded like a better fit over at City, home of such cheeky imports as “How I Met Your Mother” and “2 Broke Girls.”
City’s parent company, Rogers, happened to be ramping up their search for the next great Canadian comedy. On Monday, Raso’s show slips between those two U.S. hits.
Teaming up with Force Four Entertainment, the writer/producer was paired with veteran Canadian comedy showrunner Mark Farrell (“This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” “Corner Gas”) and the two hit it off immediately. “Our sensibilities are very close,” says Raso.
They quickly turned to the key area of casting. As Farrell says, the trick was finding an actor who could be a comedy series lead and “be a little creepy and incredibly likable at the same time.”
A wide net was cast, with actors scouted in the usual hotbeds. Raso says they saw hundreds of Harrys. “Canadians living in L.A. Canadians from Toronto and Vancouver. Tapes from everywhere.”
Finding Korson proved to be a challenge. He was living in his car at the time.
“I had a place that I could crash at in Malibu,” he says. “But living and working and doing a lot of stuff in Los Angeles, it’s kind of a far drive, so all my stuff was in the car.”
It’s a Canadian comedy tradition made famous by Michael J. Fox in the ’80s. Fox lived out of his car, taking business calls at phone booths before his break on “Family Ties.” Korson says his Toyota was his home and office. He would head to Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood every day at 7 a.m. to use the washroom and brush his teeth.
The actor was picking up work on shows like “2 Broke Girls” and in Los Angeles stage plays. He was in Vancouver shooting an episode of the short-lived “Emily Owens” when his agent passed along the “Seed” request. A tape was quickly dispatched. There was a callback in L.A. and a meeting with Raso.
“I knew he was Harry,” says the producer. “I thought, ‘He’s got the timing, he’s got the look. Women can find him attractive. He has charisma. Guys would like him. He’s very warm, welcoming.’”
Still, as Farrell says, a lot of people had to sign off, including the network. Korson at one point found himself in contention for lead roles on two Canadian comedies, “Seed” and City’s other new sitcom, “Package Deal,” which will premiere later this year. (One of the lead actors on that show, Jay Malone, almost landed the “Seed” part.)
Korson had to pass one more two-day audition test in Toronto opposite co-stars Neales and Vanessa Matsui (who plays Harry’s “Pour House” bar boss Irene). The actor barely slept the night before, not from nerves, but because his hotel gave him the creeps. The sleepyhead look probably helped.
Says Farrell: “It became more and more obvious to everybody that Korson was our man.”
Production began in the fall in Halifax on 13 episodes. On Monday, after six years of fertilization, “Seed” will finally be planted. Now everyone waits to see if a star will be born.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in Halifax, Bill Brioux was a guest of Rogers Media.