Emmy-winning actor Sean Hayes has become quite the force to be reckoned with as a producer over the last five years. Hayes, through his company with Todd Milliner, Hazy Mills, currently has five shows including "Hot in Cleveland" and "Grimm" on the air at two networks.
"I got my drive and ambition from my mom, who raised five kids by herself on a check of barely anything. I live my life out of fear because I grew up in not the best conditions," Hayes revealed during a visit to the Universal lot set of his latest production project, "Sean Saves the World," which premieres on NBC Thursday night. "It is better to control your own destiny in this business than let it be controlled. So why not do as much work as you can to reach that point where you can guide your own career?"
Luckily, his business plan included a return to working full-time in front of the camera, and we're happy to report that Hayes the actor hasn't forgotten how to let loose, be silly, and go for the laugh at all costs on his first primetime leading-man gig since "Will & Grace" ended in 2006. In fact, after spending the day with him and his sitcom's motley crew — made up of a couple of comedians, a Broadway babe, a sitcom legend, a teenage newbie, "Mad About You"/"My Name Is Earl" writer-producer Victor Fresco, and a snarky cockatiel — it appears that this wacky bunch is having more fun on set than any new series cast in town, and it carries over into the show about a single gay who has gone from good-time weekend dad to full-time father of a teen daughter just as he gets a new and very demanding boss who couldn't care less about his workers' private lives and familial responsibilities.
"The cast came together fairly easily, and we just knew when we saw the pieces together that it was the right mix, and Sean and Linda are great in front of a studio audience, so [this series] feels like comfort food," Milliner explained, as Fresco swore that the chuckles heard in the pilot came from live humans and not the laugh track they've been accused of using. "But it also feels fresh because there aren't many comedies that have workplace and home — a lot of [shows] pick one. We wanted to balance a lot of different things, like everybody in the country. It's pretty accessible. I think we can safely say that if you like 'The Voice' or football, you'll love it. We are also targeting people over 80."
"Yeah, that's the sweet spot," Fresco added.
See, even the suits brought jokes that would make Jack McFarland proud. The following are six more highlights of the press day that should convince you to tune in:
1. Hayes on Parenting
Hayes sees the show as wish fulfillment. "As the youngest of five kids and [the uncle] to nine nieces and nephews, I've observed lots of parents parenting their kids, and [we] adapt what people do right and wrong, good and bad. I get to pretend to have a child yet don't have to have a child [to see] how I would discipline, what would I say." Despite thinking his show daughter is adorable, the show has not triggered Hayes's biological clock. "I want to want kids, but for me right now I don't want to contribute to the already insane world by bringing new life into it that I'm unsure of wanting. By the way, I'm on board with the concept that people should fill out an application to be a parent, because people sometimes don't think it through. Kids are so much work."
2. Pranks on the Boss
It wasn't even noon and Thomas Lennon, who described his bad-boss character, Max, as a cross between "Col. Klink from 'Hogan's Heroes' and Pepé Le Pew," had already stuck a Twinkie to his forehead for a Vine video, rubbed a microphone on his man parts after deducing that Linda Lavin ("Alice," "Barney Miller") would be holding it to her mouth later, and tried to rope co-star Echo Kellum ("Ben and Kate") into pranking their boss and leading man. "Let's pretend like I died by the craft services table later just to see how sad Sean gets, if at all," joked Lennon, a "Reno 911!" alumnus. "Then we can fill his car with rattlesnakes. Imagine the look on his face when he gets into his car. That'd be amazing. He'd be like, 'Those guys are crazy.' He might die, but the look on his face would be worth it. [After all], I'm the villain because of the mustache. So many people are saying I look like Hitler these days."
3. Mustaches Abound
Speaking of mustaches, Stacy Keach will guest as Lennon's dad. "It is a perfect storm of mustaches," Lennon told us. "If you're into surly dudes with mustaches, it'll be like a porno." It might be just that for the show's elder stateswoman Lavin, who plays Sean's outspoken mom. "I do him a big favor and go to dinner with Stacy so that Sean can get in better with his boss. He's a possible conquest, which is what it would have to be, because I can't stand his character," Lavin said. "He's going to be back, so I think it's a relationship that is going to be pursued, but she also talks about a handsome man [played by Lavin's real-life husband] she meets in the elevator but only sees with younger women. But you will see her with men. It's our chance to show who else [she] is besides [his] mother. I'm also somebody with full-blown desires and dreams. I think it is hard for grown children to see their parents as people."
4. Dancing and Flashbacks
Producers promised to combine flashbacks and dance routines in the same upcoming episode. Characters will be doing the mambo and the cha-cha at a community center. "It was like 'Dancing With the Stars,' only not, but the costumes were adorable," Lavin said. The current-day rug-cutting causes Sean to think back on his embarrassing memories of getting down with his guardian. Lavin continued describing the flashback scene. "It's 1985, so we're doing the hustle, and what's funnier than the hustle? The costumes are fantastic. It is one-piece, very shiny, multicolored, and I have this wig that is curly and down to my knees. I look like a Cher look-alike. It's fun to go back and look at that era and realize, 'Oh my God, did we really look like that?'" The wig also shows up in a flashback surrounding the commercials Sean starred in as a youngster for Mom's mattress store.
5. Singing On and Off Camera
Megan Hilty ("Smash," "Wicked"), who is thrilled to be playing Sean's BFF Liz instead of "the vindictive, crazy, backstabbing lady," hopes that singing isn't far behind, considering the group is packed with Broadway vets and talented vocalists. "It's kind of inevitable that we'll do a musical. We burst into song every once in a while. We started singing 'Les Mis' earlier today. Tom Lennon knows all of the lyrics to everything. He'll start singing my favorite, 'Sweeney Todd,' I'll start singing, and it's just mayhem."
Watch a clip of Hilty on "Sean Saves the World":
6. Theme Park Perks
Samantha Isler, Sean's onscreen offspring Ellie, has already taken part in the time-honored tradition of sneaking into the Universal Studios theme park next door for a free adrenaline rush. "During the pilot, we snuck out during lunch and went up there and went to the front to ride the Transformers ride," Isler revealed. "But karma struck and the ride broke down, so maybe no more sneaking in." Unfortunately, the convenient location works both ways. "The tram always goes by just when I'm getting out of my car, and I look like a mess," Hayes said of working on the lot. "Half the tram is like, 'Oh my God," and the other half is like, 'I have no idea who he is.'"
Watch a trailer:
"Sean Saves the World" premieres Thursday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. on NBC.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Sean Hayes
- Linda Lavin
- Thomas Lennon