Schmigadoon! Creator, Cinco Paul Discusses Making the Show With All Of His Heart

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Perhaps known best for his decades-long collaborative screenwriting partnership with Ken Daurio, which has produced, among other hits, the incredibly popular Despicable Me film franchise, Cinco Paul has dreamed a dream all his life of writing a movie musical.

Through a fantastic series of fortunate events (more on that later), he was able to actualize that goal with the television sensation of the summer, the magically marvelous musical series, Schmigadoon!

Speaking to TV Fanatic by phone from Massachusetts, where he was making a real effort to take some downtime, Paul was wonderfully forthcoming about his quest to create this world.

Cinco Paul Headshot - Schmigadoon!

Paul wore many hats throughout the show's journey from inception to premiere. He not only came up with the idea, but he also helmed the writers' room, wrote the songs, assembled the team, and was showrunner throughout the production.

Schmigadoon! boasts a mind-blowing cast of stars, as well as original music inspired by the music embedded in our cultural consciousness through the Golden Age musicals of the 40s and 50s.

But it's also a completely bonkers concept -- a modern couple becomes trapped in a world that runs on the principles and is populated by the archetypes of movie musicals -- that manages to be heart-warming, empowering, and hopeful.

Paul recognizes that Schmigadoon! was a long shot from the very beginning.

"I will say it is a miracle this show got made because it is weird, so weird. It's so different, and there's so many times that people could've said no.

Cast of Schmigadoon!

"The thing that's amazing to me is that people kept saying yes every step. Lorne [Michaels] said yes. Apple [TV+] said yes. Then Keegan, Cecily, Kristin and Alan, Jane. People just kept on saying yes. And it was incredible.

"It really was a dream come true for me in every sense of the word because, as you know, I had the idea so long ago and didn't know what to do with it.

"Finally, the world changed. The TV landscape changed in a way that a show like this could actually exist. And then, unfortunately, COVID happened, which was horrible.

"For a while, I thought, 'Oh, we're not going to be able to make this show at all.' But when we figured out a way to safely do it, all these talented people were available because theatres were shut down. So it was amazing."

While Paul has been planning for this show for much of his life, the actual timeline for creating Schmigadoon! seems relatively short, almost magically quick. It helped that some key gatekeepers bought in early on.

Schmigadoon! Key Art

"First, it was Lorne and the people that work for him at Broadway Video, [specifically] Andrew Singer. That was probably 2018. Fall of 2018. And then we took it to a few places. I think Apple was probably the third place we took it to. And when they said yes, that was amazing.

"They basically had us write two scripts, the first two episodes. Based on reading those, they said yes to a complete season.

"But then, we had to wait to try to get our talent attached so they would greenlight the whole show. There's all these steps along the way, as anybody who works in TV knows. Maybe there's some times it's easy, but that's not been my experience."

When Kristin Chenoweth spoke with TV Fanatic during a Schmigadoon! virtual press day, she mentioned that she was working when the Schmigadoon! script first came around to her. It was a year before she was able to sign on to the project.

Paul was able to add some details on how they could secure the formidable Mildred Layton for Schmigadoon!

Cinco Paul with Chenoweth - Schmigadoon!

"Just to clarify, that was when we were doing table reads in New York with our writers' room. Because Kristin was the target for Mildred Layton from Day One -- I mean, her picture was literally up in the writers' room -- we tried to get her to do one of these table reads, and she wasn't available to do it.

"That's what Kristin is talking about because then, a year later, we made the offer. The script came with an offer to actually do the show, and then she was available and able to do it. She [just] wasn't available to do the table read."

Schmigadoon! was filmed up in Vancouver, BC, Canada, during the fall of 2020, a peak time for COVID numbers globally.

"It was fortunate. It was [director] Barry [Sonnenfeld]'s choice because he had shot A Series of Unfortunate Events there [for] three seasons.

"Early on, we had been thinking New York, and he really gave us a big sales pitch on Vancouver. Y'know, he knew the crew there and everybody, and so we said, 'Sure, let's do it.'

"Then, COVID hit. And [being in Vancouver] ended up being very fortunate because they were doing much better than we were here in the States. And it was very helpful for us. We were able to get amazing people in Vancouver."

The Broadway musical theatre community is a close-knit one, as Ann Harada mentioned during her press day interview. Paul's cast and production team came to the show with many established relationships already in place.

"Kristin and Alan are really, really good friends. And so, they were a connection. They were almost like a joint deal. Like, 'Ooh, let's get both of them, Kristin AND Alan Cumming. That would be incredible.'

"Obviously, there's Lorne's connection to Fred Armisen and Jane Krakowski and Cecily. I leave Cecily out [sometimes] because she was attached so early on. We wrote it for her. But Lorne's connection to Fred and Jane and Marty Short was incredibly helpful too."

Of course, Ariana DeBose and Keegan-Michael Key appeared together in last year's film, The Prom.

Also, Dove Cameron was doubly connected to the cast before Schmigadoon! as well, having played Kristin Chenoweth's daughter twice (on NBC's Hairspray Live! and Disney's Descendents) and Jaime Camil's daughter in the Hollywood Bowl's 2017 live production of Mamma Mia!

Having a cast that knew each other was a nice extra leg-up starting out, but Paul sensed that they grew together even more as the production started rolling.

"I think that definitely did help, but, also, I think, really the biggest connection was the love everybody had for musical theatre. [There was] just this feeling of, 'How lucky are we to be getting to do this now?' and, 'How much does the world need something like this now when they can't get it anywhere else?'

"So I think that also really bonded everybody."

While the 6-episode length of Schmigadoon! Season 1 is a practically perfect length (in that binging the season is exactly like sitting down for a staged musical). It has whetted the public's appetite for more.

The final number, "This Is How We Change," is particularly tantalizing, as it not only describes but demonstrates the evolution of the music (and thus, the town) through its shift to the more modern style of song.

All this leaves the door open (at least in the minds of the legions of fans screaming "Encore!") for another opening, another season.

"All I can really say right now is sort of what I said when I tweeted that Q&A thing [see embedded tweet thread above], which is I absolutely -- before we even started writing the first season -- I had a vision for multiple seasons and how that would all work. And so I am still hopeful that we'll be able to do that."

If a hypothetical Season 2 were to become a reality, Paul has a wishlist at the ready of musical theatre icons he'd love to be able to include.

"It would be amazing to involve Chita Rivera or Julie Andrews or Shirley Jones. That was always something I thought about, but because of COVID and because of shooting in Vancouver, it was just not possible.

"But if we got a chance, it would be great to be able to do more cameo-like fun things that we weren't able to do because of the situation."

Even without a greenlight (yet!) for Season 2, it's clear that Season 1 has been both a personal and professional accomplishment. It's rare for the production of a show to be as joyful behind the scenes as it appears on-screen.

It's only natural that Paul would hold onto mementos by which he can remember that journey, souvenirs from the set and production.

"Well, here's what I have. I have the Josh and Melissa heart rocks which I love.

"I also have the sign, the Welcome to Schmigadoon sign. I said, 'I want that for sure.' I'm not sure what to do with it. I have it wrapped in my office. So I need to figure out something, some way to do something with it.

"I have Larry the Fireman's fireman hat. And I got the newspapers that Kristin was holding during "Tribulation." I've got campaign buttons." (All together now: Because who doesn't like buttons?)

"And then I have all the original title cards from the title sequence of the show, which are just beautifully done, and I love."

Every Broadway show has the iconic souvenir kiosk in the lobby mobbed by audience members on post-show endorphin highs.

While there are no plans (again, yet!) for a physical product line, Paul is open to the idea.

"We need all that sort of merch that you would get after seeing a Broadway show. The t-shirts... And I would love for there to be a physical album, soundtrack. A cast recording. We'll see if all that happens, but that would be great."

The social media promotion of Schmigadoon! has been a bit of a phenomenon in and of itself.

Obviously, Apple TV+ has done its part, but it's been Paul and the cast members who have really stoked the love for the show through their interactions on various social media platforms, demonstrating their genuine love for the show and each other.

"I think it shows the enthusiasm the cast has for the show. I think that rubs off on everybody. I think you see it in their performances, in the joy of that final number, y'know when everybody is just dancing together.

"They love each other. And they love and support each other, and I think that really helps.

"I've tried my best to interact with the fans in ways to answer their questions and those sort of things because I've been on the other side of that.

"I'm a fan of shows myself, and it's been so amazing that every once in a while, I'll get a response from someone that I really admire. I think everybody really feels that.

"I think Ariana really feels that responsibility. Jaime's really good about interacting and... everybody! They care about the show, and so they support it and each other."

Much of the appeal and popularity of Schmigadoon! stems from how it masterfully utilizes the musical style and theatrical tropes that are accessible to a wide audience.

The songs, characters, and plotlines of The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, and Carousel are core elements to our cultural consciousness, as easily referenced as Shakespeare or Dr. Seuss.

So, if Paul, a life-long musical theatre lover, could introduce audiences to one or two of the more little-known shows, what would top his list?

"Would you call She Loves Me a little-known musical? I think She Loves Me is pretty perfect. That's one of my absolute favorites. I love that show so much."

"Also, I love the songs from Fiorello. I've actually never seen the production of it, but the songs ... that's Harnick and Bob, the guys who did Fiddler as well. But those are two shows I don't think people are as familiar with, and they're both great."

An aspect that has endeared Schmigadoon! to many lovers of musical theatre is the clear calling-out of the poor writing of female characters in those early shows.

When TV Fanatic spoke with Dove Cameron, she noted that her character, Betsy, was an exaggerated product of the male gaze.

Also, Kristin Chenoweth noted that it was something that had she herself had questioned in the past when working on shows like The Music Man and Promises, Promises.

In having Cecily Strong's Melissa, a strong, independent woman with a solid knowledge of musicals, enter the world of Schmigadoon, Paul was able to write directly to the issue.

Josh: By the way, that girl is apparently much younger than she looks.
Melissa: Yeah, I tried to warn you. Have you not seen 'Sound of Music'? Liesl's sixteen going on twenty-nine.

He even embeds some beautifully hyperbolic lines, illustrating the ridiculous tropes foisted on the female roles in musicals, into the ensemble's lyrics in the song, "Cross that Bridge."

As entertaining and humorous as the commentary is, Paul recognizes that the problematic representation of women in Golden Age musicals is still a going concern for young theatre enthusiasts today.

"They're still regularly done high schools, but they never address those issues. I can imagine a lot of young women feeling uncomfortable doing those shows.

"Wanting to perform and wanting to have the lead, to be part of it, but still feeling uncomfortable with the way women are portrayed."

Schmigadoon! has also proven to be an on-ramp for many viewers who might not have thought of themselves as musical theatre fans because its messaging is modern, and its lesson is universal.

Mother and Son - Schmigadoon! Season 1 Episode 6

There has long been (and probably always will be) a discussion in theatre circles as to whether musicals are reflections of their time or whether they influence the culture they are written into.

"I feel like there's always an attempt to influence behind it. For the better in most cases, right?

"But, in so many ways, they more often reflect it than influence it. That would be my take, but, boy, I'm certainly no authority on the social background to all these musicals. But that would be my short answer."

Honestly, looking at the outpouring of affection for and emotional connection to this show, it feels like Schmigadoon! might actually influence our television landscape through its innovative reflection of our world.

It's tapped into that shared need -- in these challenging times and circumstances -- to feel so deeply that spoken words just aren't enough.

In short, Schmigadoon! makes us want to sing again, perhaps for the first time in a very long time, and we have Cinco Paul and his vision of a weird, wonder-filled world to thank for that.

All the episodes of Schmigadoon! Season 1 are available to binge (and sing-along to!) on Apple TV+.

Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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