Cult fave 'Sunny' moves to fall

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"You came on the craziest day," actor Glenn Howerton says as he moves through a sound stage, bare-chested in pants and a leather trench coat.

He's searching for a quiet corner to talk, away from the production hubbub of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," FX's irreverent comedy about five self-absorbed friends running a pub.

Former child actor-turned-director Fred Savage is setting up a scene involving two dozen extras sipping nonalcoholic beer, while Danny DeVito paces about with a water hose in one hand and a revolver in the other (we'll explain later).

The single-camera series begins its third season Thursday, Sept. 13 (10 p.m. ET), with back-to-back episodes. One story line has the gang discovering a baby in a Trash bin, which they then try to exploit for personal gain; another has them all trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles football team.

In the episode shooting this chilly morning, Dennis (Howerton) is trying to wow Charlie's (Charlie Day) new girlfriend, which explains the Lorenzo Lamas look, while Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Frank (DeVito) attempt to keep a crowd of pub crawlers in the bar by inciting a wet T-shirt contest -- or by force (thus the hose and gun).

Think that's mean-spirited? So be it. "Always Sunny" isn't supposed to be bright and cheery.

"If you look at what is popular in entertainment, people don't want nice,"' says McElhenney, the 30-year-old creator, executive producer, star and sometime director of "Always Sunny."

"'American Idol' is pulling in numbers like the Super Bowl because of Simon Cowell, who's not a very nice person, but he's honest," McElhenney continues. "That's what people respond to, that it's real."

After two season running in the summer, "Always Sunny's" move to fall this year is quite a gamble for the show, a cult fave -- particularly among the campus set.

"We are all for it," says McElhenney of the move, "because that gives us the opportunity to have the college kids watch it and then hang out and talk about it, as opposed to in the summertime when people aren't having those water-cooler moments."

While not expecting "American Idol" numbers, McElhenney says he's "happy so long as we get enough viewers that keeps my ability to come to work every day."

And, during production, that can be literally every day of the week, with McElhenney, Howerton and Day sharing acting, producing and writing duties.

But don't expect them to complain. They know what it's like wanting steady work in Hollywood and not getting it.

For 10 years, McElhenney, a Philadelphia native, struggled to get film and TV roles. Frustrated with his restaurant job, the lack of acting opportunities and escalating debt, McElhenney wrote what became "Always Sunny" -- his anti-"Friends" buddy comedy and homage to his hometown.

"It was just supposed to be for fun," McElhenney says. "I'd never directed anything before and I'd never seen anything acted that I wrote, and felt, 'Well, that would be really cool."'

Shot with a camcorder at a cost of $200, he enlisted the help of his equally frustrated thespian pals Howerton and Day. Once they finished it, "we thought it was really funny. I thought this could really be something," McElhenney says.

As the trio began shooting a second episode, their manager shopped the pilot around. It ended up at FX, where network chief John Landgraf immediately ordered seven episodes.

"There's nothing I have more fun with in my job than working with really talented, inexperienced people. There's not this sense that you can't do that, and we're bringing them along," says Landgraf, who gave the show a 15-episode order this year.

"There's a freshness about it, a spirit to it," says DeVito, who joined the cast in the second season because it was "a great opportunity to be around young people, talented writers, spirited, who are running a show; workaholics who I relate to in a big way."

"They have a respect for each other that is amazing," co-star Kaitlin Olson says of the producing trio. "They are able to argue and listen to each other without getting defensive ... and that makes it a really comfortable place to voice your own opinion and offer ideas."

For Savage, it was a plus having the show's stars also be its writers and producers.

"When we're doing a scene and someone says, 'Hey, why don't we try this?' we didn't have to go back and get permission. There was no oversight because it was just them," says Savage. "From take to take to take, it would just grow and change so much. ... It was very energizing, like you were these little guerrilla filmmakers shooting whatever you wanted."
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