Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
It was announced earlier today at TCA that FX’s comedy Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been renewed for two more seasons to become the longest-running live-action comedy on basic cable, with creators/executive producers Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day’s company signed to a production deal valued at $40 million-$50 million. It caps a remarkable rise for the trio who, as struggling young actors, walked into FX with a $200 video they had shot in their backyard that was inspired by the British Office, which they though looked very cheaply shot with 2 cameras. “They had no experience, literally no experience writing, no experience producing or directing or doing anything, but they were talented and ambitious and eager to learn,” FX president John Ladgraf said earlier, noting that McElhenney didn’t quit his job as a waiter until Season 2. “And what they needed was a little bit of structure, a little bit of support, and somebody to believe in them.” Day gave FX credit “for looking at a group of young guys who weren’t in television, but we’re just young actors who had an idea for a television show, and trusting their ability to create their vision, as opposed to, you know, forcing us to work with a senior showrunner who had done a million generic sitcoms, or something. So, you know, you have to give credit to FX for letting us operate in a bubble and the fact that it worked. And I think audiences found it refreshing to see a sitcom that didn’t feel as though it had been through that network machine and gotten watered down.” Added McElhenney, “Also affording the creators a lot more ownership of the show helps a great deal. It incentivizes you to keep the costs of the show low, and to — because you are an owner, it incentivizes you to obviously make the best show you can for the cheapest amount.” Howerton agreed. “It’s a pretty smart business model, too, when you think about it,” he said. “If a stand-up comic can stand on stage by himself with no set at all and make people laugh, then why can’t you just stick people in a room together and have them talk to each other in interesting ways and make them laugh? That doesn’t have to be expensive.” But in the end, “I don’t want to do everything super cheap,” Day said. “Let’s all make some money, right?” With a substantial ownership stake in the series, which has been sold in syndication, and a rich new deal, the trio is guaranteed to do that.
The success of their show also opened the door for other comedy series, like Louie, The League and Wilfred, all made using the business pattern FX first tested with Sunny – a low‑cost production model that involves giving creators less money upfront in exchange for a large ownership piece while affording them more creative freedom, less pressure on ratings so they can build an audience. That last element proved crucial to the success of Sunny. Speaking about why the inexpensively produced comedy has been able to survive for so many years, the creators said the fact that the show was so slow to be discovered has led to its longevity. In fact, they said, many have discovered the program only recently from reruns playing on Comedy Central and WGN America. “A lot of people who (love) the show came to it last year,” Day said. “We are just sort of hitting our stride (creatively) … it doesn’t feel like we’re dragging the show through the mud.” In terms of the decision to continue for at least another two seasons, he said: “We had to talk about our personal lives, and it making financial sense for everybody. … I think I speak for everybody that we really enjoy each other’s company, and there’s not reason not to keep making it if people are enjoying it.”
As the Emmy Awards approach, the producers, who also star in the show, were asked why they’re still not getting any Emmy love after all these years. “Your guess is as good as mine,” cracked Howerton. Added McElhenney, “Our audience skews very young; ultimately, that’s a hurdle when it comes to Emmys.” He also said that people often don’t understand that the show is a satire. “There are a lot of preconceptions … that really holds us back, unfortunately.”
McElhenney also addressed his physical transformation in Season 7, for which he gained 50 pounds (he has since lost half of it.) “I tried to look as ugly as possible, basically,” he said. “(The idea) came when I was watching a very popular sitcom, and I noticed the people were getting better and better looking as the seasons were going on. I always thought that what we were trying to do on Sunny was the deconstruction of the sitcom.” The weight gain also helped keeping the show real, Day added. “The reality of five people in a dive bar in Philadelphia is that they won’t get better abs,” he said.
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