South Philly’s list of famous residents got a little longer two years ago when Rob McElhenney stepped into the sunlight — literally. As the third season of McElhenney’s "It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia"makes the move from summer into FX’s fall lineup, the 30-year-old will certainly get hit with a few more warming rays.
Formerly of Moyamensing Avenue and Dickinson Street, McElhenney is proud of his hometown, no doubt apparent in the sitcom that follows the gang who runs Paddy’s Irish Pub. Many scenes are filmed on location, including the exterior of Mac’s — McElhenney’s character — home, shot next door to the house he grew up in on Moyamensing and Dickinson, although his mother no longer lives there.
Upon returning to the area Monday for a stop on the Sunny Road Trip Experience tour, which was a coast-to-coast jaunt where fans could meet the cast, McElhenney said he was glad to be back despite a packed schedule that included a radio interview and an appearance at the University of Pennsylvania with fellow cast members Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton.
With West Coast and on-location shooting in Philly, the cast and crew are well-traveled — and the City of Brotherly Love always lives up to its nickname.
"Everyone loves shooting in Philly,"FX publicist Dominic Pagone said. "The entire cast always gets treated extremely well."
Hometown boy McElhenney agreed. "I love coming back to the East Coast. It’s always great to be back here,"he said from inside an RV fashioned to look like Paddy’s Irish Pub, adding it’s important to keep scenes looking and feeling true to the location.
Now living in Marina Del Rey, Calif., McElhenney — who wrote the pilot several years ago and filmed it on a $200 budget with two camcorders — writes, directs, stars in, produces and edits the episodes with help from several cast members, including Kaitlin Olson.
After a successful first season, McElhenny wanted to "up the ante"and, after learning "Taxi"star Danny DeVito was a fan, McElhenney arranged an interview. After an hour of convincing, DeVito — someone Howerton describes as "the biggest star on TV right now" with the rest of the gang agreeing — said yes to becoming a regular.
Premiering in August 2005, the series is set to kickoff its third season in a new time slot tonight at 10. Quick to push the envelope on topics like religion, race and politics with a sense of humor that appeals to its largest audience — the college crowd — the latter was a main factor in the switch to fall.
"When we found out a huge part of our fan base is college kids, we wanted to make sure we could take advantage of that by having the show on when the kids could watch it," McElhenney said, adding Nielson boxes to track ratings are popping up in dorms. "Plus we felt that we’re just as funny, if not funnier, than everything else that’s coming out in the fall on TV and that’s when people are watching television."
Channel-surfers during "Sunny’s"time slot will find dramas like "Men in Trees," "Without a Trace"and "ER"– a plus for a show that has viewers grabbing tissues for tears of laughter.
"Usually the networks at 10 o’clock go to drama so we don’t really have any direct competition that I know of,"McElhenney said.
So far, the most common tag for the show — and putting it in some smart company — is "Seinfeld on Crack."When asked about the popular Internet description given to his comedy, McElhenney and the cast only laughed.
"We don’t really like being compared to other shows because what we’re doing is totally different,"he added.
Tuning in for only a few minutes of tonight’s two episodes proves this, with a shocking discovery in "The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby"and an Eagles tryout in "The Gang Gets Invincible,"which boasts, according to McElhenney, an appearance by quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Despite the move to fall, McElhenney says nothing’s changed about the show. "We’re still focused on what we do. The major difference is in the first season we had seven episodes, the second 10 and now 15. The workload doubled, but we spend just as much time on each episode."
As for settling into a more competitive time slot on a ramped-up fall schedule, McElhenney is confident the show will continue to succeed.
"I don’t really think we’re taking a gamble because we have a good following,"he said. "And as long as we keep that, we’ll be good. If we get more fans, that’s great."