EXCLUSIVE: Jack Burditt assumed he had the blessing of Tim Allen when he was first asked to adapt The Santa Clause franchise for Disney+. But that wasn’t exactly the case.
Flashback to May of 2020, when a studio executive reached out to the Emmy-winning sitcom writer to see if he could find a way to bring Allen’s Scott Calvin, aka Kris Kringle, to the small screen. Naturally, Burditt wanted to know if Allen was on board, especially given the way they last parted ways. Burditt created Last Man Standing for Allen in 2011 but walked away from the then-ABC comedy during its first season after a death occurred in his family.
“Tim has always been nice to me since, but in my mind you’re usually not eager to work with a person who jumped ship the last time you worked together,” recalls Burditt, who never returned to the hit sitcom that ended up lasting until 2021. But the executive assured Burditt that Allen liked him doing it.
Cut to two years later when production finally began on The Santa Clauses, which follows Scott (Allen) as he begins the search for a worthy replacement so he can retire. That’s when Burditt discovered the real truth about the show’s mysterious beginnings. “I heard that at some point Tim was told, ‘hey, Jack Burditt has this idea to do Santa Clause as a series. And he was like, ‘really?’ I don’t quite know the timeline, but Tim and I might have been played by Disney. I mean, each of us hearing the other was on board before either one of us was actually on board? That’s Hollywood.”
Though he may have been creatively misinformed at the start, Burditt never really questioned whether The Santa Clause could make a good series. “It’s been 28 years since the first movie so he would be right around 65 when most of us think about retirement,” said Burditt, who used to watch the 1994 film every Christmas with his family. “I thought, that’s interesting. That’s what got me hooked. Where is Scott Calvin all these years later?”
Here, Burditt explains how he depicts Santa in the 21st Century, what Allen was like to work with, and why it was so important to bring back Bernard to The Santa Clauses, which begins streaming today on Disney+.
DEADLINE: Santa has his own mythology. No one really thinks that Santa retires, right?
JACK BURDITT: Yeah. But before the first movie in this franchise, nobody thought that if Santa falls off your roof and dies, someone can put on his coat and become him. So the franchise has played with the mythology from the start. I found this out as I was going about writing outlines and getting a writer’s room together and working on scripts — Tim has spent a lot of time in the last 28 years thinking about Santa Claus. He has a lot of thoughts. We’d write things and he’d go, ‘No, no, no. That’s not how this works.’ So we constantly had to go back and redo some things. But it was a fun writer’s room when you have debates about whether an elf would actually say this or that. During the entire production, there was a lot going on with a lot of people’s lives. My mother was dying during the entire production. There was something nice about having that escape, to go to set and actually be in the North Pole for a little bit and having elves run around doing stupid things. We all felt it. It was a unique experience doing this show and honoring this franchise.
DEADLINE: Who did you write this for? Who did you think your viewers would be?
BURDITT: Early on Disney was like, ‘this is a four-quadrant show.’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, yeah. What’s four quadrant?” The two groups we had most in mind were kids and people who grew up loving the franchise. The scary thing about diving into that world is you don’t want screw it up. You don’t want to go on social media and have people saying, ‘you ruined my childhood.’
DEADLINE: You stuck with children playing elves.
BURDITT: Yeah, that was one thing we wanted to keep. That question did come up at some point, but there was never a thought that we were weren’t going to stick with kids. I think it’s one of the brilliant things that the movies did. And this is Disney. Nobody finds greater kids who can do some heavy lifting than Disney does. Our casting director, Bonnie Zane, looked everywhere and the kids she brought were incredible. I can’t believe the cast we got. I feel so fortunate.
DEADLINE: How did you figure out the age of Scott’s kids?
BURDITT: At the end of The Santa Clause 3, which was 16 years ago, Carol (Scott’s wife, played in the movie and in the series by Elizabeth Mitchell) gives birth to a son. So I’m like, ‘well they have one kid who’s 16 when this show begins.’ Then I thought it’d be nice if there was one more, and we can do some stories about what happens to kids who grow up at the North Pole. That’s gotta be a weird place for kids to grow up. So we gave them a daughter.
DEADLINE: Let’s go back to the Santa mythology. There’s a scene where the elves question whether the term naughty is appropriate to use these days.
BURDITT: Part of what we were trying to figure out was if we were picking up this series 16 years after everyone last left it, things have changed in the world and we should be talking about it. The naughty and nice list would probably be looked at differently this time around versus when everything was black and white.
DEADLINE: You also have Scott saying that the phrase “Merry Christmas” has become problematic. That’s a bit of a lightning rod. Did you go back and forth on that?
BURDITT: Yeah, we did. This is something that I just think is silly but then I’m like, I don’t know … I mean, look, we also had a joke at one point where Santa is on his rounds, they’re going in for a landing and somebody’s shooting something up at him. And Noel the elf [who rides with Santa], says something like, ‘A war on Christmas!’ I’m like, yeah, I don’t wanna go that far.
DEADLINE: Speaking of Noel, you gave Santa a travel buddy?
BURDITT: Noel [played by Devin Bright] kind of wiggled his way into going on the rounds with Santa. He has a special position because he’s best friends with Santa. What’s nice about this is that Scott has someone to talk to when he is on the rounds.
DEADLINE: You included several pop culture references in the series.
BURDITT: Yeah, absolutely. As someone who watches so much content with kids, I always appreciate when things are thrown in for adults, even if the kids aren’t laughing at it.
DEADLINE: You brought back Bernard, played by David Krumholtz. Does that pretty much cover the original cast members? I mean, was there part of you that wanted to get Judge Reinhold for a cameo?
BURDITT: Sure. I mean, Judge is great. We had six episodes and we couldn’t bring back everyone. We talked about Judge, we talked about Wendy Crewson, we talked about Aisha Tyler and Kevin Pollak, all of them. We just had to start whittling it down. What story are we trying to tell? Who fits in where? But we knew 100% that we had to have Bernard in at least one episode or people might get angry.
DEADLINE: What’s it been like working with Tim?
BURDITT: It’s been great. I mean, it’s so much different from working with him on Last Man Standing. Something happens when he puts on the Santa suit. He just becomes a different person. You don’t feel like you’re working with Tim. You’re working with Santa Claus. He’s fun on set, he makes a lot of jokes but he gets crankier by the end of the day because it’s a lot of makeup. And then there’s the fat suit. [Laughs].
DEADLINE: How did you get Peyton Manning to appear as a possible applicant for the job?
BURDITT: I first met him doing the NFL Honors and the ESPYs and we kept in touch. I was in New York last year and ran into him. I told him I was doing this thing and just asked him. He goes, ‘I love The Santa Clause.’ To me, in the real world, who would you want to be a Santa Claus? Peyton is one of those people. He seems organized and brings joy.
DEADLINE: Could the limited series go to another season?
BURDITT: We did not make it impossible to make a second season. I do think we give a good beginning, middle and end to the season, but we did not close any doors.
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