“My mom was a big Christmas freak,” Daytime Emmy-nominated writer, director, and producer Ron Oliver recalls his youth in the small town of Dundalk, Ontario, a two-hour drive north of Toronto. “We would build on it all year round. To this day, I have childhood memories of our main street – the shops, the snow, the trees, the twinkling lights. All the classic Currier and Ives Christmas. Every time I make these films, I strive to have these moments. “
It would be more than four decades for Oliver to turn his passion for everything Noel had inherited from his mother into a candy cane-colored career. First he had to move to Southern California – both to escape the bitter winters of his homeland and to work in Hollywood. Oliver and his 10-year-old husband Eric Bowes have lived in Palm Springs since 2001, and at his request we met at Reef, a tiki bar in Caliente Tropics, a resort hotel on the south end of town. The funny, personable 61-year-old wears Bermuda shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and sips neither eggnog nor mulled wine, but a margarita.
“I’ve done all sorts of things – thrillers, horror, kids, comedies,” says the man who got his first experience in show business while performing as a teenage magician in high school and who was a member of LA Magic Castle for more than a quarter of a century. “None of this found the audience response that my Christmas films have.”
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Here is just a selection of the Christmas titles he has written and / or directed since 2005: “A Dennis the Menace Christmas”, “Angel of Christmas”, “Romance at Reindeer Lodge”, “Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade” and a Untitled Lindsay Lohan’s project was filmed in Utah and is coming to Netflix next year.
One of Oliver’s newer favorites started out as a joke. In April 2019, he posted a picture of himself sipping champagne at the bar of a famous New York City landmark on social media and commented that he was researching a piece of jewelry called “Christmas at the Plaza”.
“Monday morning,” remembers Oliver, “I got a call from my manager at Hallmark who said, ‘If you’re serious and you can do it, we’ll make the film. Here’s your budget. ‘”Seven months later it went on air with a lot of noise.
Next up for Oliver is the recently completed “Real Housewives of the North Pole”, which will be streaming Peacock’s first foray into the genre on December 9th. “It’s the story of two best friends who live across the street,” he says of the film, which is not made at the North Pole, but in the fictional hamlet of North Pole, Vt. plays. “Their friendship is being tested and collapsing,” so they decide to compete in the annual Christmas decoration competition. In doing so, they learn a little about what the essence of friendship really is and how much they really need each other. “
The top of the hat for the insanely successful reality television franchise is no coincidence, and in a casting genius, actor Kyle Richards of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” will compete against “Breaking Bad” breakout Betsy Brandt. A few other Real Housewives doyennes are making happy cameos.
“Kyle is a great actor, but what amazed me is her weird timing,” notes Oliver. “Of course, Betsy brought her usual brilliance with her. The on-screen yin and yang of their relationship created this perfect comic and dramatic chemistry. “
The genesis of these “housewives” goes back to a dinner producer Brad Krevoy – CEO and Chairman of the Motion Picture Corporation of America, who has produced more than 50 such confectionary products for various networks, cable channels and streamers since 2013 – with the experienced vacation picture writer Neal. had H. Dobrofsky, Tippi Dobrofsky and their son Spyder, who all share the authors of the new film.
Kyle Richards (left) and Jearnest Corchado in The Real Housewives of the North Pole.
(Fred Hayes / Peacock)
“It was a breeze,” says Krevoy of the team’s place. After previously working with Oliver on “A Christmas Detour” and “Every Christmas Has a Story” – two titles that were # 1 for Hallmark – he knew he had the perfect helmet for the project. “Ron was my first call because he loves these films, understands them,” says Krevoy. “Every day he comes to the set in Christmas clothes that create a good mood.”
“My husband is a huge Real Housewives fan,” adds Oliver, who admits he immediately found the concept brilliant. “When I told him this was imminent, the very first words out of his mouth were ‘yes’, ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.”
Knowing that the entire package was tailor-made for NBCUniversal – owners of the Bravo network (home to “The Real Housewives”) and Peacock – Krevoy took it there first. The rest is vacation history.
“Peacock didn’t give me a mandate,” says Oliver. “You were great. They just wanted a good looking movie that was funny and had a heart. If anything, the rules were a little looser. Here, for example, we have Santa Claus, who does something at Hallmark that you would never expect from him. Peacock wasn’t so committed to tradition. Disrespect is the perfect word for it. They had a disrespect for Christmas movie tropes. “
Regardless of which channel his work is broadcast on, Oliver remains true to his Christmas TV philosophy: “Make it beautiful, make it nostalgic, make it romantic and in the end give them a little love.”
Speaking of love, you might think that a man who has had his entire career – and whose wedding day deliberately falls on December 25th – would want to do the same-sex vacation movie to end all same-sex vacation movies. One would be wrong.
“To be honest, I don’t,” admits Oliver. “I wish I had. Part of me feels bad about it, but I can’t speak for every gay man, and sometimes when you make a movie like this you are burdened with that idea. You are suddenly responsible for that To be the mouthpiece of all LGBTQ people. “
That said, Oliver’s next project prominently features a queer couple as best friends of the male protagonist. “I prefer the idea – and we’re seeing more and more of it – that gays are only part of the mix,” he says. “The interesting thing about this one is that while I was writing I thought, ‘I need the friend at work and the friend’s significant other.’ My first reaction wasn’t husband and wife. There were two husbands, because that’s exactly how it would be. “
As the sun sets over the desert, I ask Oliver why he’s so good at this genre. “I think it’s because I understand that behind all of the ridiculously commercialized nonsense, bright colors and twinkling lights that we wrap the holidays in, it’s always the heart. Every Christmas story boils down to someone telling someone else that they love them. “
If Krevoy from MPCA is right with his reading of the mistletoe leaves, Oliver will be able to create his enchanting Christmas greetings for the foreseeable future. “We’ll be in this cycle for at least the next five years,” says Krevoy. “With the explosion in streamers, there are opportunities because everyone wants to be in that space. It’s a very good time for content creators. “
“I’m just a kid from a small Canadian village,” concludes Oliver, polishing his cocktail. “The fact that I’m allowed to do anything in Hollywood is still a Christmas miracle for me.”
“The housewives of the North Pole”
When: Anytime, starting Thursday, December 9th
Evaluation: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for small children)