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'The L.A. Complex' Director/Writer Martin Gero: This Is Not A 'Degrassi' Spin-Off

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It's no secret there are a ton of aspiring Canadian actors toiling away in Hollywood. After all, before they become the next Ryan Reynolds or Rachel McAdams, they've got to start somewhere. CTV/MuchMusic's latest show, "The L.A. Complex," follows the lives of six aspiring Canadian entertainers living in a run-down apartment-style hotel in La-La Land. The dreamers range from girl-next-door actress Abby ("Degrassi"s Cassie Steele) to nerdy nice-guy comedian Nick (Joe Dinicol) to bitter acting vet Raquel ("Firefly"'s Jewel Staite).

The show is already generating a ton of buzz, and has even been picked up by US network The CW. We caught up with executive producer/director/writer Martin Gero ("Young People F**king," "Bored to Death") to find out how the show differs from "Degrassi," what it's like working with director Stefan 'Snake' Brogren from the original "Degrassi," and how "Bored to Death" fans can get their favourite show back on the air.

How did you initially get involved with "The L.A. Complex"?

Epitome had just done "Degrassi Goes to Hollywood" and [former CTV president] Ivan Fecan said he's always wanted to do a show about Canadians living in L.A., considering there's probably more Canadians living in L.A. than there are in Halifax or Regina. For whatever reason, he was like "Why don't we get that "F**king" guy?" [Laughs] I hope he meant the movie!

So they asked me if I was interested. I was kind of reticent to do a show about the entertainment industry, but when we got our heads around the fact that they didn't want it to be"'Glee" or "Entourage," I thought, well, the most interesting thing for me is the years before
"Entourage," the times where you're operating with no wisdom. I worked at Starbucks for two years when I was in my 20s, and I perpetually felt like I was a week away from being able to quit. That was such an exciting, crazy time in my life.

I read that it was originally supposed to be a "Degrassi" spin-off?

It was talked about very briefly at the beginning. I never wrote it as a "Degrassi" spin-off. I think people just got their wires crossed because it had grown out of the "Degrassi Goes to Hollywood" special. But for the most part we wrote it as its own thing. It comes from the same producers. It's a much more adult show.

Do you think there are any similarities to "Degrassi" at all, besides the obvious connections of Cassie Steele and Epitome?

Yeah. What "Degrassi" does so well is they're able to cover a lot of great issues in a way that doesn't make you feel like they're dealing with issues. It's just organic to the storytelling. I hope that we've done that to a certain extent on the show. I don't know. I haven't watched a ton of "The Next Generation," so I'm a bad barometer for how the show differs from it. I know I loved the original "Degrassi" a lot.

What's it like for you, as a fan of the original, working with Stefan Brogren?

It's great. He lets me call him "Snake" all the time! I ask him questions about The Zit Remedy, like who was the real songwriting genius behind The Zit Remedy songs, was it just Joey, or was it more of a group thing? Because they were like our Beatles! No, it was great. He's come so far. He's developed an enormous amount of skill, both as a producer and a director.

Are any of the characters inspired by real people?

Yes. All of them.

Really!

The experiences are so universal, even if you're not in the entertainment industry. Almost every actor that came in and auditioned said, "You have no idea, I've never been so close to a part!" And you're like yeah, ya think? It's an unemployed actor trying to get a job -- that's pretty close to what you are, probably.

So are the people that inspired the characters people that you know, people that have gone on to become famous or kind of a mix of both?

Yeah, both. I've been lucky enough to know people that have gone on to great fame and fortune, and people that haven't. And they all have great stories. Somebody like Jewel [Staite], who I've been very good friends with for four or five years, although she's not the basis for Raquel, there are a lot of similarities with the experiences that she's gone through, and that our friends have gone through. I think the show has a painful reality to it that's a lot of fun. [Laughs]

Do you have any favourite characters yet?

Well I'm partial to the Raquel character. I'm 34 and making a TV show with a bunch of 20-year-olds. That character's exhaustion with the perky youth is a little bit shared by me right now! [Laughs] The great thing about this show is that in a way it felt like we were making six different TV shows because there are six leads. Although there is crossover, they all have their own stories.

Can we expect any cameos?

Well, no! [Laughs] I don't want to give anything away! There's one real quick funny one in episode 6, and then Paul Tompkins and Mary Lynn Rajskub in the first episode. Aside from seeing someone at a restaurant, it's all outside the world of the show. Maybe in subsequent seasons as the show hopefully gains a bit more success, it'll make more sense to bring people in. At this point it'd be weird if Ted Danson showed up.

I've heard that you've got a pretty cool set here. What's it like filming a show about Canadians in Hollywood in Toronto?

It's a challenge, certainly. The stuff we've been able to build up here has been amazing. We've built a fully functioning 23-room hotel, with a giant pool and a parking lot. We bussed in palm trees from Florida to make it look authentic. We've kind of converted a lot of the "Degrassi" sets. Like the "Degrassi" high school hallways, we turned into a hospital for our show within a show, "Critical Unit," which is the show Connor stars on. The funniest set that nobody will probably ever know is a set, but we built a 200 x 40 foot Hollywood backlot set. Because our soundstages just look like shitty brick buildings in the middle of North York, which is what they are.

I was shocked to hear that "Bored to Death" wasn't renewed. Do you think it might be revived if there's enough of an outcry from fans?

I hope so! I really think our last season was the best season we've done. I think the show really hit its stride. It's crazy to me that HBO doesn't want those three guys on their network for two months of the year! They're just so, so fantastic. HBO has a good problem, which is they have so many shows right now, and they really only have one night of programming. I feel like we just got squeezed out a bit. But you never know, people are asking if they should start petitions. But if you want a show to come back, you have to buy the boxed sets. That's what brings shows back. When you talk about "Family Guy" and "Futurama" and stuff like that, they weren't brought back with petitions. They were brought back with hard numbers. Go to iTunes and if you want "Bored to Death" back, buy all the seasons and we'll see what happens! Maybe a movie.

"The L.A. Complex" premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV and MuchMusic.

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