The Goldman Identify star Adam Christie, as seen in one of the pilot’s pre-filmed segments. Photo from the project creators’ website, Fun Time Internet.
If you’ve ever said, “You know what would be a great idea for a TV show…” and then explained your idea for a TV show to your roommate, you can now count yourself about three steps and a thousand bucks behind Geoff Webster and company.
On Sunday night, Webster and his co-writers Dave Hodgson and Jeremy Mersereau walked away from Comedy Bar‘s second annual Pilot Week with the grand prize: the aforementioned $1,000 and a chance to enter into a development deal with presenting sponsor Insight Productions, the production company behind Battle of the Blades and The Jon Dore Television Show among many other Canadian television hits. Their pilot for The Goldman Identity—an action-comedy about a “hapless schlub who is mistaken for an international superspy”—took the top honours, beating out two other finalists, 19 other pilots, and more then 150 total submissions.
“My dad has looked down on me for so long because of what I think is funny,” says Webster moments after the announcement. “Now I have something to rub in his face, so I’m quite happy about that.” The Toronto trio are some of the creators of FunTimeInternet.com, a website that hosts their various comedic creations including short films, man-on-the-street interviews, animations, and the good old-fashioned written word. (Full disclosure: this author has contributed to the site in the past.) Their pilot is just the latest project added to their impressive body of work. Says Mersereau: “I feel really happy to have our sense of humour validated in whatever small way.”
Indeed, their zany style and focused plot made The Goldman Identity stand out. Of the three finalists, TGI‘s writing was the sharpest, their premise the most refined. The story—drawing elements from NBC’s spy comedy Chuck and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne film trilogy—follows Theodore Goldman, a self-declared loser who for reasons unknown suddenly finds himself being pursued simultaneously by federal agents, Russian Terrorists, and the evil-yet-bumbling CEO of a secretive private military corporation. Despite the complexity and Hodgson’s claim that their intention was to write “the most confusing show ever,” the script never gets bogged down. Webster explains they wanted to keep the story constantly moving forward and make the jokes come from the plot and not in spite of it.
The writers credit their success to surrounding themselves with the most talented comedians they know and letting them make the roles their own. They cast Adam Christie as Goldman, Tim Gilbert as his oblivious sidekick Chester, John Hastings as an ineffectual federal agent, and Chris Locke as the PMC CEO, reprising a role played by Eric Nagler (yes, that Eric Nagler) in the preliminary round earlier in the week. Bo Swidersky, Kat Letwin, and Webster rounded out the cast with Hodgson reading stage directions. Loading the show with top local talent and including a handful of pre-filmed clips helped wrest the most laughs from the crowd.
The other finalists were deserving of praise as well. Bad Brother by Marty Adams (a.k.a. Vince from the City of Toronto’s “We Want It!” ads) is a classic odd couple set-up that follows an uptight hydrogeologist besieged in his own home by his titular bad brother, Vance. Workin’ it Out by Steve Dylan is about three lost-in-life friends who open a gym for some reason a la It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Both were funny but sometimes leaned too heavily on cliche and lacked the original punch of the winner.
Though the laugh count was clearly on TGI‘s side, audience reaction wasn’t the only criterion the judges weighed. They were looking for signs that what was being presented live could translate into an honest to goodness television show, and making TV is something the judges know how to do. The Pilot Week panel consisted of various producers and executives from Insight Productions as well as Comedy Bar proprietor Gary Rideout Jr., who is currently writing and starring in Comedy Bar, a web series for Bite.ca.
For the finale they brought in two special guest judges: Canadian actor Patrick McKenna (The Red Green Show, Traders) and legendary Simpsons writer Mike Reiss (he ran the show in Season 4, which Entertainment Weekly called “the greatest season of the greatest show in history”) He also co-created The Critic and has written for It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, ALF, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Reiss echoed the other judges, explaining he was looking for potential longevity from the pilots he was judging. “Can I see another one coming out of this? Can I actually see 70 of them?”
Whether The Goldman Identity even makes it to its first episode remains to be seen. But both the winners and judges contend that the real prize isn’t the money but rather the exposure and opportunity to have their work noticed by industry professionals. “If they did this in Los Angeles, people would be murdering each other to get on,” says Reiss. Despite host Sean Cullen’s facetious quip that Insight is mining the poor, starving comedians of the city and giving them a very bad deal, Mersereau echoed Reiss’ sentiment, saying it’s a unique chance to break into the entertainment industry. “If you’re a comedian in this city and you have any sort of ambition and you aren’t submitting ideas to this, what the fuck are you doing, man?”