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Bilal Baig in Sort Of.Michael Gibson/CBC

Nothing lasts forever, as much as some television executives may wish it would. Which is why, as Canadian television wraps up the 2023 season, creatives have clicked off the cameras on three homegrown success stories.

In December, Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo wrapped a three-season run of CBC comedy Sort Of. A couple of weeks later, Jared Keeso moved out of Letterkenny after one final six-pack of episodes on streaming service Crave. And early next year, Joseph Kay will close the doors to York Memorial Hospital on CTV’s Transplant after four seasons.

In each case, the creatives were the ones to pull the plug on these series, despite solid fan bases, Canadian Screen Award wins and eager international partners. (Transplant is distributed by NBC Universal Global Distribution, Sort Of streams on Max in the U.S. and Letterkenny has been considered a Hulu original since Season 7.)

To many showrunners, it makes more sense to end at a natural stopping point rather than continuing indefinitely and fizzling out creatively.

“There’s always a bit of, you’re on TV and it’s hard to get a green light and get things going. So when you say we’re feeling the end, everybody kind of feels it,” Filippo says. “But we were incredibly supported and given all the scariness around shutting down a show, everybody kind of felt what we felt – that it was the right time in the story.”

Executives deferring to creatives on when to end a successful series isn’t a new trend, particularly in Canadian television. Some of the country’s most notable shows have wrapped when the creators felt it was time, including Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience, Corner Gas and Orphan Black.

That hasn’t always been the case in American television. The final season of Gilmore Girls forged ahead without Dan Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino; Superstore remained open for Season 6 without creator Justin Spitzer; Seinfeld lasted two more seasons without Larry David; and Supernatural continued for 10 installments after Eric Kripke wrapped his initial vision for the show.

One theory for Canadian creators being able to end projects on their own terms is because in Canada, the most successful shows are the ones with the most distinct voices and concepts. It would be disingenuous to have someone else come in and pick up the reins.

“Buyers have discovered there is general appeal in specificity,” says Kay, whose concept for Transplant always involved a four-season arc. “Audiences are interested in specific stories about people’s experiences that are unfamiliar to them.”

That certainly seems to apply to this trio of series: a story about a non-binary millennial with Pakistani roots, a medical character drama revolving around a Syrian surgeon starting over in Toronto, and a small-town comedy starring hicks, skids and hockey players.

“Bilal and I have talked about how some people will never want to watch our show and that’s just the reality of what we did here,” Filippo says. “We put it out there and made it as gentle and inviting and as warm and funny as we could as artists. But how ready is the world for a show like Sort Of? Much more ready than I ever anticipated, frankly. It’s been celebrated and people of all ages and walks of life have reached out.”

Letterkenny is loosely based on Keeso’s own experiences growing up in Listowel, Ont. The actor wanted to take control of his career so he launched Letterkenny Problems on YouTube in 2013. Those shorts went viral, leading to the 2016 show that helped launch Crave. When it premiered, Letterkenny outperformed “library” shows such as Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory on the streamer.

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When Bell Media announced the end of Letterkenny after 12 seasons, it had already renewed spinoff Shoresy for a third round.Crave

“The agreement has always been, whenever Jared was ready to hang up the skates and had told every story he could with Letterkenny, that would be the right time to end it,” says Mark Montefiore, president of one of the companies behind the show, New Metric Media.

“It’s very few times in this business you actually have control of that opportunity, of that timing.”

Ending a series on a high note also comes with pressure, particularly for creatives who know what a show means to viewers who haven’t always seen their stories represented onscreen. Who will fill those voids, how successful those shows will be and when they will finally premiere are all questions to consider.

“I don’t have a sense of what’s coming down the pipeline for Canadian content and I am a little nervous,” Baig says. “I don’t want us only to exist in this wormhole-type place. I want to see what the impact of a show like Sort Of has on the Canadian industry in the years to come.”

For networks, solidifying deals with these creatives for future projects takes some of the sting out of ending a successful show. Jennifer Kawaja, the president of scripted and feature films for English content at Sphere Media, reveals she is already looking at impending work with Baig, Filippo and Kay. Her company produces both Transplant and Sort Of, and also serves as the worldwide distributor on the latter series.

“We feel incredibly proud of both shows and the Sphere teams who worked hard to help make them a success, and of course sad about the end of both shows,” Kawaja said in a statement to The Globe. “... As shows go on, strong communities are created and friendships formed with the incredibly talented actors and crew. But hopefully those relationships can also continue.”

When Bell Media announced the end of Letterkenny after 12 seasons, it had already renewed spinoff Shoresy for a third round. A few weeks after both of those announcements, Bell Media and New Metric Media unveiled an exclusive 49-episode deal with Keeso that encompasses a new series and more Letterkenny spinoffs for Crave.

“I’d be not as thrilled about the show ending if we didn’t have Shoresy,” acknowledges Justin Stockman, the vice-president of English content development and programming at Bell Media.

“It made it less scary, knowing the day Letterkenny ends might come. I would be happy to have more, but if Jared feels this is the end we can support that – especially because we do have other irons in the fire within the Letterkenny space.”

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