Tuned In: Steve Byrne hopes for Pittsburgh flavor in 'Sullivan and Son' bar setting

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Former Pittsburgher Steve Byrne, a stand-up comedian, is about to have his own prime-time sitcom, TBS's "Sullivan and Son," which is set in Pittsburgh and will air this summer. He also has a fellow Pittsburgh comic to go to for advice: Billy Gardell, star of "Mike & Molly."

"He gets on 'Mike & Molly,' and then my show went to pilot, and we're both on the Warner Bros. lot, which was really hilarious," Mr. Byrne said last week from his home in Chicago. "Just a few years ago we're two guys eating chicken fingers, hopping from hotel to hotel, and now he's on a hit show on CBS and I'm hopefully getting a show."

Mr. Byrne, 37, toured with Mr. Gardell on the Jameson Comedy Tour six years ago. The "Sullivan and Son" pilot filmed last fall and was picked up to become a weekly series earlier this month.

"It's just really surreal. He was really great with reading the script with me," Mr. Bryne said. "I'd go over there and read it over and over again and get the lines out. ... He's been a great mentor and a great friend."

The decor of Mr. Gardell's dressing room also didn't hurt: "You go into his dressing room and you'd think you're in a South Side bar. All he's missing is a tap."

"Sullivan and Son" is set in a bar that has a look that would be at home on the South Side, Mr. Bryne said, but he imagines it more as a neighborhood bar elsewhere in the city. Mr. Byrne stars in the show as a corporate attorney who returns home to Pittsburgh from New York and takes over the bar that's long been run by his father (Dan Lauria, "The Wonder Years").

"Billy Crawford, who's on the WDVE morning show, would open for me, and I invited him to be an extra [in the pilot], and he walked on the set and said, 'Dude, this is like something you'd see on the South Side,' " Mr. Byrne said. "If he thinks that since he goes out to all these bars -- that was a huge relief off my shoulders. I hope we capture the essence of what is Pittsburgh."

Mr. Byrne makes his home in Chicago because of the large number of direct flights from Chicago airports that enable him to get anywhere in the country easily for stand-up gigs. His wife, Jessica, is due to give birth to the couple's first child this summer.

Mr. Byrne was born in New Jersey but moved to Western Pennsylvania in fourth grade and considers Pittsburgh his hometown. He's a 1992 graduate of Hampton High School and previously has appeared on TV in stand-up specials on Comedy Central.

"I wouldn't even consider myself an actor," he said. "I've always been a stand-up comic first, and no matter what happens I'll continue to do stand-up. I love being a comedian."

That's true even when he doesn't feel the love when he comes home.

"It's really weird, Pittsburgh is the one city I've never done well in," he said, noting that the Homestead Grays Bridge en route to the Improv at the Waterfront always seems to be under construction when he comes back to perform. Another bad timing experience: Sometimes his shows have been scheduled on a night the Penguins are in playoff competition.

"I draw well in Des Moines, and I have no connection there but I do well," he said, noting he's eager to break through with Pittsburgh audiences, and he hopes to have a local "Sullivan and Son" premiere this summer. "I'm from Pittsburgh and I love it. It's a huge part of who I am so I'm hoping maybe this show will change my fortunes in Pittsburgh."

'Community' returns

"Community" fans, rejoice. The comedy series returns to NBC's lineup on March 15, reclaiming its 8 p.m. Thursday time slot. "30 Rock" will shift to 8:30 p.m. and "Parks and Recreation" will take a break until "Up All Night" finishes its season, with "Parks" returning at 9:30 p.m. April 19.

NBC also will introduce three new comedies on Wednesday nights: romantic comedy "Bent" (9 p.m. March 21), hidden-camera show "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" (8 p.m. April 4) and "Best Friends Forever" (8:30 p.m. April 4). "Are You There, Chelsea" and "Whitney" will have completed their season-long runs.

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" will take a break beginning March 7 as "Rock Center With Brian Williams" moves into the 10 p.m. Wednesday slot. "SVU" will return April 11.

Channel surfing

Spike TV has canceled its comedy series "Blue Mountain State". ... Comedy Central's "Ugly Americans" returns at 10:30 p.m. March 14. ... The disappointing Starz miniseries "Torchwood: Miracle Day" debuts on DVD April 3. ... Fox will air reruns of Univision's "Q'Viva! The Chosen," a docu-series that follows Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony as they search for new Latin music and dance stars, at 8 p.m. Saturdays beginning March 3. ... Discovery Channel's "Gold Rush" has been renewed for a third season; the second-season finale airs tonight at 9. ... Lindsay Lohan will host "Saturday Night Live" March 3 with musical guest Jack White. ... Fox's "Glee" will not have a concert tour this summer as it has in the past. ... TBS has renewed "Conan" through April 2014.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "The Firm," "Ink Master" and "Downton Abbey." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on MTV's "It Gets Better" special, "Fred: The Show" and "Survivor." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes a conversation about comedy-of-the-uncomfortable shows, "Glee" and the season finale of "Downton Abbey." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news. First Published February 24, 2012 5:00 AM


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