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'Almost Heroes:' success built on brotherly love Special

By Andrew Ardizzi     Jul 21, 2011 in Entertainment
Toronto - There's no greater relationship in television than the magnetic bond shared between two brothers. For Jason and Ryan Belleville, creators of the comic book store-based Canadian sitcom "Almost Heroes," that bond is constant both on and off-screen.
The eight episode series, which debuted earlier this summer, is a fast-paced, single camera comedy about two brothers who run a comic book shop together. One of the brothers, Terry (Paul Campbell), is a former Harvard business school student who moves back home after their father's death. The other brother, Peter (Ryan Belleville), stayed behind instead of going off to school to help their dad run the store until his passing. Although the two brothers rarely see eye to eye on how the business should be run, they quickly find that they need to work together and that they can't run the store without each other.
"There’s definitely a parallel between (Peter and Terry and) me and my brother. Jay has always been more of the 'keep things on track kind of guy' and I’ve always been a bit more manic and ADD and all over the place. This of course is turned up to the millionth degree," Ryan Belleville – series co-creator, executive producer, writer, and co-star of the series – told Digital Journal. "And my brother is a total stick in the mud."
Jason Belleville, Ryan's older brother and series co-writer, co-creator and executive producer, told Digital Journal the show is in some ways very much like an odd-couple story.
"Ryan and I have always wanted to do brother stories because that's the dynamic we know best and the one that's important in our lives," he said. "It's just one of those dynamics that we love because you can have all the falling out in the world but you are still sort of going to make up in the end. And that gave us a heart to the show."
After wanting to do a project together for some time, Jason and Ryan pitched what would become Almost Heroes two years ago to Showcase, who immediately picked up the show and commissioned development of the series. The season premiere aired on June 2 as part of network's summer lineup.
The elder Belleville said the support Showcase has shown for the show has been colossal and that he's never had another experience in Canadian television where a network was as supportive.
"I don't even know anyone south of the border who's had the same experience with a network either," he said. "They're completely willing to let you take a risk and hopefully it'll work out for them and hopefully we'll get to do many seasons with them. It was a joy working with them."
The younger Belleville agreed, saying they've worked in the business for a while and understood the importance of having a network behind any project, underscoring their appreciation of Showcase's involvement and encouragement from the moment they came on board. For the Bellevilles, this lead to some of the season's more memorable moments.
"They gave us a lot of rope to hang ourselves, like in episode five they let us build a giant cannon and we shot a massive fireball out of it and our set caught fire accidentally," he said. "In a lot of productions, and I've worked on shows in the States, they would never let one of their stars and executive producers light themselves on fire for a joke."
Despite having Showcase behind the show, debuting in the summer line-up posed its own challenges.
"A lot of people aren't watching TV (during the summer) and if they are they're doing it in different ways," he said, referring to the possibility that viewers may be watching the show online or PVR-ing it and watching episodes weeks later after missing the original airings.
He said one of the positive aspects of airing during the summer is that it offers the show the opportunity to find its footing without the pressure of competing with the major networks' heavyweight programming during the fall schedule.
With that considered, the show has done remarkably well in its Thursday night time slot, consistently putting up strong numbers in its 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. airings once the NHL playoffs ended.
"The June 30 episode at 11p.m. got 118,000 viewers, which puts us right up there at the height of Kenny vs. Spenny or Trailer Park Boys," said the elder Belleville. "Most of the time we hold our lead-in and do slightly better than what's after us . . . apparently some people are actually watching us, which is great."
The modest brothers have watched viewership for their brainchild increase over the course of the series' first seven episodes, helped along in part by the comic book community.
"I think we had a lot of the comic book crowd off the bat, I think they came in and generally embraced it," said the younger Belleville, who also acknowledged the power of social media as another tool they've used to promote the show. "We’re really asking all our friends and anyone who really likes the show to Twitter about it and to spread the word because this is really a word-of-mouth show."
Being a smaller Canadian show, Almost Heroes didn't have much of an advertising push behind it, forcing its creators to proactively engage the online community through intensive promotion and social networking.
“It’s been a huge part of it, from partnering with iTunes, to giveaways, to trivia contests online to doing an extensive Facebook and Twitter presence, to trying to build an online community," the elder Belleville said. "Everyone on the show is on Twitter so we can actually have access to people so the fans are not just writing to @AlmostHeroesTV, they’re writing to myself or Paul Campbell, Ryan Belleville, Colin Mochrie, Lauren Ash, or Meghan Heffern. We’re all on there all the time and I think that has really helped people.”
He said he was ecstatic when he learned Almost Heroes had cracked iTunes' top 20, and hopes the social networking and iTunes push combined with the backing of Showcase both on TV and online will help strengthen the show's case for a second season.
He added the future of television depends on being able to find an online audience, noting we live in a society where content is as important as how it's delivered and it's crucial to gear your product towards that reality.
Although the show has received positive critical buzz and has a steadily increasing viewership, the brothers are waiting on bated breath for a decision on the series' future.
"I hope it's soon because my fingers are tightened from how long I've had them crossed," the elder Belleville mused.
Regardless, the brothers look back on the experience – a project that was but a pipe-dream two years ago – with absolute fondness.
"Almost Heroes was a job of pure passion and I think we succeeded and I think we’ll only get better," said the younger Belleville, whose adoration for the show was shared by the crew, from the actors on through the entire production team.
The older Belleville said he was grateful to have such a ready and willing team who loved the show as much as he and his brother did.
The Almost Heroes crew poses for a group photo on the show s Toronto set.
The Almost Heroes crew poses for a group photo on the show's Toronto set.
Courtesy Almost Heroes
"Right now so much of the crew – and hopefully we get picked up – is currently passing on other work so they can sit and do our show again. We’re talking tons of people, who could work tomorrow on a different show, are saying no to gigs waiting for a decision on the sitcom's future, which is a tremendous amount of pressure for us," he said. "We’re really hoping it comes back, because they were so good to us and we want to help pay that back. The crew was awesome, they were the best crew, I don’t know, in the history of time? I don’t know if that’s going too far."
The love for the show was no clearer than during the final moments of filming for episode eight when the cast and crew gathered around the set for the season's final shot, a scene which both Bellevilles call one of their favourite memories of the season.
"During the last scene of the last episode on the last night of shooting, we were out by the sign and this huge bank of fog rolled in. The whole crew was gathered around and waiting restlessly for this last shot and it was just magic," said the elder Belleville of the crew, who had helped build the little strip mall from the ground up. "I think the last moment of the last shot at night, with all the stores we built lit up and all the crew cheering as we sort of finished the last shot knowing that for all the things we maybe didn’t do perfectly this year, that we had made the show we wanted to make which is something not very many people get to do. Which is, we actually got to make a show that made us laugh and the show we wanted to watch."
The younger Belleville agreed.
“It was a really powerful moment. All the writers came out, all the actors – it was just a Peter and Terry scene – but everybody hung out and watched it, and then everyone applauded and was really happy and we partied all night long in our strip mall. It was a very beautiful moment," he said.
With the final episode of the season airing July 21, the Bellevilles think it's a really great opportunity for the people who always talk about there being a lack of quality comedy in Canada to watch a show with some really funny Canadian actors on a program written and produced by Canadians.
"What can it hurt, check it out," the elder Belleville joked.
For those worried the show isn't their cup-of-tea based on its premise, he assures viewers it's very accessible.
“It does take place in a comic book store, but it’s a really wide target of an audience. You don’t have to know anything about comics, you don’t have to know anything about fantasy, science fiction, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’ve seen Spider-Man the movie, or Star Wars, you’re going to catch all the jokes and anything you don’t isn’t going to get in the way of the story," he said. "At its heart it’s about two brothers who are very different, but they’re better together than they are apart and that’s a very simple, gettable story."
And that's really what the series is about. Stripped down, the show is about two brothers coming together, much like how their real life counterparts came together for the series.
“Anything to do with my brother, that at any moment I could turn around and see my brother there, it was pretty great. Even though he’s a jerk,“ he joked.
Although the final episode of the season aired July 21, past episodes can be watched online or purchased on iTunes.
The network will re-air the season beginning July 28.
More about Ryan Belleville, Jason Belleville, Almost Heroes, Showcase, Andrew Ardizzi
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