With a bar setting, a cast of colorful characters and former “Cheers” show runner Rob Long among its executive producers, Steve Byrne’s July 19-debuting TBS “Sullivan & Son” won’t be able to avoid comparisons to its mighty predecessor of the 80s and 90s.
But Byrne is quick to insist that the similarities between his show and that vintage favorite are merely on the surface. “‘Cheers’ is ‘Cheers’ because of Cliff, Norm, Sam, Diane, Carla…It’s the characters that make it ‘Cheers’. The bar is just the setting,” he says. “Our show is a lot edgier — it’s a cable show, not a network show, so we do get to push the envelope a little bit.”
Also, notes the popular standup comic, who has a Korean mother and an Irish-American father on the show — as in real life — “I hope that America sees that it’s reflective of America itself. It’s a diverse cast without trying to be about diversity. These are my real friends, and they just happen to be a black guy, an Egyptian, and a goofy white guy.”
In fact, Byrne will soon be setting off on a “Sullivan & Son” promotional comedy tour with his barfly/comic pals Roy Wood, Ahmet Amed, and Owen Benjamin. “We’ll be in a different city each of the 10 weeks the show is on,” says Byrne. Jodi Long, Dan Lauria, Christine Ebersole and Bryan Doyle-Murray are also in the series’ cast.
“Sullivan & Son” wouldn’t exist without exec producer Vince Vaughn, Byrne says. “It all starts and ends with him. He’s been so supportive of my career, and as a friend. He saw how hard I was working on the road as a standup comedian and he said, ‘Why don’t you create something for yourself?’ I’d never done anything like that before, but he said, ‘Oh, you can do it.’ The conversation lasted for about two minutes and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.'”
Byrne spent months studying books and honing his sitcom-writing skills. He created a pilot script, and then he and Vaughn met with writers and he wound up collaborating with Long — flying back and forth to L.A. to write with Rob each week, doing comedy gigs and seeing his wife at home in Chicago.
It was Long’s idea, he says, to move the show’s setting from its original placement in a diner. “He said, ‘Why don’t you make it a bar? I think it’s a little more accommodating if you put it in a bar.’ And I said, ‘You know what? If you sign on, and you worked on one of the most iconic bar shows — one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time, if you feel comfortable putting it in a bar, then, yeah, let’s put it in a bar.”
Vaughn, he says, read every script along the way. They had something written for him to appear on “Sullivan & Sons,” but, “He had to go start his movie, ‘Interns,’ in Atlanta. I think he’ll be on the show at some point if we go on a second season.”