The network exec who greenlit Schitt's Creek opens up about how he knew it was something special —and how Dan Levy has proven he's one of the industry's greats
Catherine O'Hara, Executive Producer Eugene Levy, President of Pop TV Brad Schwartz, Executive Producer Dan Levy and Annie Murphy from SCHITT'S CREEK
Credit: Eric Charbonneau/SHOWTIME

Schitt’s Creek is undeniably one of the hottest shows on TV right now (see famous fans like Nicole Kidman, Busy Philips, and Kelly Clarkson.) But in its early days, before it was streaming on Netflix and had found its way to audiences around the world, there was one person behind the scenes who always knew it was something special: Pop TV president Brad Schwartz, who greenlit Dan and Eugene Levy’s pitch when other networks weren’t interested.

“We quite literally ‘bought it in the room,'” recalls Schwartz, who had been hired to run the newly revamped TV Guide channel, which became Pop TV in 2015 at the same time Schitt’s Creek came out.

“Dan Levy and I had worked together at MTV Canada, and I knew before anyone did, his great talent, passion and commitment. I had bet on him once and we won together, so it was quite a simple decision to bet on him again.”

  • Read more about Schitt’s Creek and it’s final season in the new issue of PEOPLE, on stands now

So is Schwartz surprised by the sudden, overwhelming success of the show? Not really.

“You never know how big a show will become, but we had done a lot of research, and this show was a perfect fit for what we wanted to be, and the white space we saw in the market,” Schwartz says, noting that at the time, most networks were concentrating on dark dramas or reality progamming. He adds, “The fact that comedic legend Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara were involved also didn’t hurt.”

Credit: Steve Wilkie/Pop TV

Schwartz says that he was really interested in buying a show that was scripted, but also fit into pop culture conversations. “Dans idea was born out of asking what a Kardashian-type family would do if they lost all their money,” he says. Schwartz thought the premise was great, but it was really his relationship with Levy that sealed it. “It was betting on and trusting Dan, his vision of heart and humor, his instincts, his pitch to be something smart and premium in the way Veep was, to be character-driven and not punch-line driven,” he says.

As for what Schitt’s Creek has done for their network, Schwartz says “It has meant everything.”

“Every successful network has their turning point,” he says. “That show that made everyone take notice. Mad Men on AMC. Queer Eye For the Straight Guy on Bravo. House of Cards and Orange is the New Black for Netflix. It’s the show that sets the audience’s expectations, and that is what is has done for Pop and its DNA. It will be a part of us forever.”

Schwartz adds, “To think, in the challenging and changing media environment, that in less than five years Pop TV has gone from being a TV Guide Listings channel to only the second basic cable network in history with a best comedy series Emmy nomination is quite something. Schitt’s Creek has led the way, and now we have an incredible slate behind it that people are eager to know about.” (See Anna Paquin’s public relations drama Flack, the One Day at a Time reboot starring Rita Moreno, and Florida Girls.)

Plus, he says working alongside Levy and O’Hara — undisputed legends in Hollywood, but truly in legends in their Canadian homeland — was unbelievable. “You pinch yourself quite honestly,” he says. “They are legends, and they are even better human beings than their immensely legendary talent. It’s a masterclass, what they pull off in the show, and behind the scenes they are just so lovely.” He says that the rest of the cast are just as equally wonderful.

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“They are all such a sweet and funny and talented bunch, and I love spending time with them — Annie, Emily, Noah, Sarah, Dustin — all of them are going to have incredible careers,” he says. “Not just because they shine through on screen, but because people will love working with them.” And as for Dan Levy, whom he considers one of great friends?

Schwartz says, “Five years ago he had never run a show. He’s now proven to the world that he could be among the greats.”

Schitt’s Creek airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Pop TV