TBS’s Pittsburgh-set sitcom “Sullivan & Son” returns Tuesday night at 10 for a slightly expanded third season – 13 episodes this year instead of 10 as in previous seasons – airing back-to-back episodes for premiere week.
Star Steve Byrne, a 1992 graduate of Hampton High School, said this season the show will delve more into the relationship between his character, bar owner Steve Sullivan, and best friend Melanie (Valerie Azlynn), who’s always seemed like a potential love interest.
“We always teased and hinted that he’s liked her, that he looks at her as more than a friend,” Mr. Byrne said in a recent phone interview from the show’s Burbank set. “They are best friends but we’re filming a pretty big episode that deals with that now. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s a new dynamic in the show. We finally got to a point where we’ve established the other characters and we wanted to get this right and earn the moment.”
Among the relationships established is the bizarre one between Owen (Owen Benjamin) and his mother, Carol (Christine Ebersole), that verges on incest.
“It just keeps getting weirder,” Mr. Byrne promises. “It’s something all of us enjoy writing. Because we are what we are and when we are on, we can get away with a lot more. We always keep trying to push boundaries and wait to see if we get letters [of complaint], and we never do. We think, this one we’re going to be offending somebody but no one ever is.”
Mr. Byrne said the character he most often hears about from fans is Ok Cha (Jodi Long), Steve’s Korean blunt mother.
“They always say, ‘That reminds me of my mother’ or ‘I can’t believe your mother says those things.’ They either relate or they are transfixed that there’s a human being out there who operates that way,” Mr. Byrne said. “Then when people meet my real mother, she’s just like Ok Cha. It’s scary because she’s pretty dead-on. It’s nuts.”
Several guest stars return for season three, including Ken Jeong (“Community”) in tonight’s season premiere, Kunal Nayyar (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Swissvale native Billy Gardell (“Mike & Molly”), whom Mr. Byrne used to tour with before they both landed on successful sitcoms.
“He plays Lyle Winkler. and he’s almost my adversary,” Mr. Byrne said of Mr. Gardell. “We have a great rivalry, which couldn’t be further from the truth in real life.”
This season Lyle tells Steve he wants bygones to be bygones – then he opens a rival bar across the street.
Mr. Byrne and several of his “Sullivan” co-stars — Ahmed Ahmed, Mr. Benjamin and Roy Wood Jr. — will once again go on a comedy tour this summer in support of their sitcom. They’ll be in Pittsburgh at The Rex on the South Side on July 17. (Ticket details at www.tbs.com/shows/sullivan-and-son/comedy-tour/schedule/.)
“I cannot wait to get back. We’re already talking about going to Primanti’s as soon as we land,” Mr. Byrne said. “Pittsburgh is one of the few tour stops where we’re spending the next day in the city just to hang out and enjoy it.”
Mr.Byrne said Pittsburgh, which he considers his hometown, is “one of the cities where it really feels like we’re on television.
“We’re getting noticed and asked for pictures,” Mr. Byrne said. “The show resonates with that city and it’s important to me. I want people to be proud of this show. I want to exemplify Pittsburgh in the best light we can.”
Mr. Byrne promised this season the show will have more references to Pittsburgh landmarks, especially restaurants.
“I always think, can we sneak in a reference, but I graduated from high school in ’92 so I’m always calling Billy Crawford or Randy Baumann [from WDVE-FM] and saying, ‘I need a great restaurant we can pay homage to,’” Mr. Byrne said. “It’s usually a hurried phone call at 4 in the afternoon and Randy and Billy have been great press agents for the city of Pittsburgh and help me a ton when trying to get athletes on the air.”
This season the show hoped to use Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, but then he became a free agent. Offers to a few other Pittsburgh sports figures didn’t pan out, and NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski filled the role instead.
Viewers can look for some aspects of stories on the show to carry over across multiple episodes this season.
“In the past, everything resolved in 22 minutes,” Mr. Byrne said. “This season we build to something and leave questions for – knock on wood – next season to a degree. We’re not ‘Lost,’ we know we are a summer sitcom, but we still want to have an arc to it for it to lead somewhere.”
A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.