Brian Gallivan’s new comedy “The McCarthys” revolves around a gay man named Ronny in Boston who’s surrounded by a sports-obsessed family. It’s a situation Gallivan knows well, having grown up in the same circumstances himself.
But Gallivan, a veteran of lamentably canceled ABC series “Happy Endings,” cautions that the new series — which stars Tyler Ritter, Joey McIntyre, Laurie Metcalf and Jack McGee, and premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. — isn’t a carbon copy of his own experience.
“Any press opportunity, my mother says, ‘Tell them I’m not like Laurie Metcalf’s character,'” Gallivan told TheWrap.
TheWrap spoke to Gallivan about autobiography versus fiction, whether gay characters on television are as big a deal as they used to be, and what “Happy Endings” fans should like about his new show.
TheWrap: How much of “The McCarthys” is based on your real life, and how much of it is fictionalized?
Gallivan: There are a lot of details that are true. I’m the only gay son in a big family and everyone loves sports a lot more than I do. But I actually have five siblings, and my mother is quite lovely and not so meddling. And I have two sisters who are nothing like the sisters in the pilot. So there are a lot of things that have changed, but overall it’s this family, and the way they relate is pretty autobiographical, through jokes and making fun of each other. And my dad was a very successful basketball coach. He never asked me to coach for him — that was sort of a what-if scenario that I pitched to my siblings. I asked, “What if Dad had to choose me to be assistant coach?” and they all started laughing and said, “That’s a good idea for a show.”
How central will Ronny’s sexuality be to the character?
We’ve had some fun in that maybe half of the episodes we’ve shot involve him dating or trying to date a guy, and how it sort of gets either messed up or helped out by his family. And then sometimes we’ll film a whole episode and be like, “Oh, I wonder if we’ve even mentioned that he’s gay?” Tyler’s character is who he is, and certainly has a point of view that’s consistent throughout, but there are certain episodes where it’s like, “Oh, we didn’t even mention it this week.” But I think it’s good that we’re able to use it, but it doesn’t have to be the main thing every week.
Overall in TV, do you think the medium’s at the point where having a gay character is unremarkable in a good way?
I think so in some ways. It’s definitely so much better than 20 years ago, say when I was first coming out, and I would get very excited if there was a gay character. Now it’s definitely less of a big deal, but I also have lived in Chicago and Los Angeles and worked in the improv and comedy worlds where it’s not that big a deal that you’re gay. So I forget that there’s whole other parts of the country that it is still a big deal to see a gay character. So to me it doesn’t seem that big a deal, but maybe to some young gay guy in middle America, maybe it’s a bigger deal than I realize.
Were there any discussions or apprehensions from CBS about including a gay character?
No, there was never too … pretty much, they just knew it was part of the pitch and there was never too much push-back like, “There’s too much gay material.” Often the notes would be like, “There’s too much basketball. We don’t get this joke about boxing out.” And I’d say, “Well, if I get it, then I’m assuming a lot of people [would].” But then they would say, “Well, you’re from a basketball family.” So it was more of a basketball tonnage issue than gay.
In the past, it seems like there’s been a pretty big gulf between the sports community and the gay community, and now we’re at the point where there are openly gay athletes in the major leagues. Are you surprised at how far things have come?
It’s weird; I think I end up being surprised, but then also surprised that it’s taking so long for a professional player to come out in each sport. It is funny — I think some people have said, “It’s dumb that they’re playing this gay guy as not knowing sports and not liking sports,” but there is this huge gap between homosexuality and professional sports. For me it’s just an honest thing. I’ve liked sports, and when my dad was coaching or my brothers are coaching a team, I love to go to their games and I get really caught up in it and I enjoy it. But if I had grown up in a different family I probably would not have had that. So for me, there is always some gap — I’ll only speak for myself — between me and sports.
Can you talk about some of the guests you have coming up?
Friday night just taped an episode with Jean Smart, who I’ve loved for years and years. Not to get stereotypical again, but I’m a gay man who loves “Designing Women.” She actually is playing the mother of a character played by Jessica St. Clair from USA’s “Playing House.” She’s somebody’s that I’ve improvised with at UCB over the years, so it’s been fun to have her. She plays somebody who Joey McIntyre’s character is dating, who the family does not love. Which I’ve told my brothers’ wives, “She is not based on any of you.”
Do you end up doing a lot of explaining along those lines to your family?
Yeah, there’s a lot of that. Any press opportunity, my mother says, “Tell them I’m not like Laurie Metcalf’s character.” Which she’s not. So I’ve done my job there.
A lot of “Happy Endings” fans were devastated by the show’s cancellation. How did you process the cancellation?
I loved [“Happy Endings”]. I was there for Season 3 as a writer and I loved it. I loved the actors, the writers — I was a fan of the show before I even started working there, so I was definitely very sad when it was canceled. I will always want to get some of those actors, but they’re all so good that they’re all so busy.
Is there something in “The McCarthys” for fans of “Happy Endings”?
One thing that I took from that, because I wrote the first draft of this pilot while working there, is pops. Popping to things — flashbacks, little funny things. So even though this is a multi-cam and taped in front of an audience, we often pre-shoot little quick pops that we play for the audience and see how they react to them. We keep trying to make that a part of “The McCarthys” — it’s not just scenes in front of the audience, we will do those fun, “Happy Endings”-type pops.
What would you say to someone who isn’t a fan of family comedies to sell them on “The McCarthys”?
Hopefully it’s specific enough. Boston gives it a slightly different feel. Laurie Metcalf, who I love and is amazing as the mom, keeps talking about how she enjoys the quirkiness of the writing, that it goes in weird little directions and little tangents that you don’t expect. And maybe that’s partially from my time at “Happy Endings” where we love the tangent and we love a quirky joke or line. So I’m hoping there’s enough quirk. All I’m hoping for in reviews of the show is, “This is not as bad as you think of it is!”