Viewers who have been longing to turn on their TV sets and visit a place “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” as the “Cheers” theme song says, may find what they seek when TBS premieres “Sullivan & Son” Thursday, July 19.
Stand-up comedian Steve Byrne calls on his background as a guy who’s half Korean and half Irish to star as Steve Sullivan, a Wall Street corporate attorney who returns home to Pittsburgh with his sophisticated New York girlfriend for the 65th birthday of his Irish-American father, Jack (Dan Lauria), the owner of a neighborhood bar, which he has run with the help of his Korean-born wife, Ok Cha (Jodi Long).
Jack is about to retire and sell the bar, but Steve decides to stay and help run it.
Also starring are Owen Benjamin as Steve’s best friend, Owen; Christine Ebersole as Owen’s mom, Carol; Vivian Bang as Steve’s younger sister, Susan; Brian Doyle-Murray as gruff barfly Hank; and Valerie Azlynn as Steve’s former (and possibly future) love, Melanie.
“He hears all these testimonials being given to his dad from all these funny bar characters,” executive producer Peter Billingsley tells Zap2it. “It’s this Island of Misfit Toys, but they love his dad the bartender. He’s been a friend, an alibi, a mayor, all these great things to them.
“And Steve has this great epiphany: ‘Nobody will ever say that about me.’ He reads 400-page documents and finds two words that need to be changed — that’s his job.”
Along with Vince Vaughn, the other executive producer is Rob Long, who worked on “Cheers,” the quintessential bar-based sitcom. Byrne had originally conceived the show as being set in a diner, but Long made the case for it to be a bar.
“I love bars,” says Long, “because people hang out there. It’s kind of a living room, but it’s not. People seem to be coming back to that idea. There was a period when no one did that, but they’re coming back to the idea where they do want to go to a place and have a drink and watch the game or not.
“These are people who are your friends, but they don’t live with you. That kind of a neutral social space, I like it. It’s like Twitter with real people. I think people are realizing that real people are interesting.”
Says Byrne, “We serve a different kind of food. It’s another guilty pleasure.”
And Byrne believes that he’s created an authentic setting.
“This is a South Side bar in Pittsburgh,” he says. “This is more a neighborhood bar, not a dive bar. It’s very reflective. I’ve had some friends from Pittsburgh come by. Billy Gardell from ‘Mike & Molly,’ he came to see the pilot, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, this is a South Side bar.’ That was like getting the stamp of approval from the unofficial mayor of Pittsburgh.”
But Byrne also thinks the rest of the nation will be able to relate, saying, “I think Pittsburgh is very reflective of the Midwest, of blue-collar mentality, of Midwestern values. It’s a mentality and a relationship that people have, that’s like most of the country. I think it’s reflective of the United States of America.”
Since “Cheers,” sitcoms have gotten more urbane, more experimental, more high-concept than just the idea of folks gathering in a neighborhood watering hole. While many of these shows have been successful, Byrne says he thinks there’s room for a more traditional sort of comedy.
“A lot of the shows on TV now,” he says, “are more clever and smart. Being a comedian, touring for 14 years, I just think people want to laugh. People want funny. Networks have gone away from that and tried to be more clever or smart or cute. People just want to laugh.
“This show, when people find it, they give it a chance, they’ll see, they’re going to laugh. It’s a damn funny show. It’s something I’m proud of.”