21CF Chats: ‘The Mick’ exec producer Dave Chernin on picking the show’s lead, writing on FX vs. writing on FOX, the show’s voice

21CF Chats: ‘The Mick’ exec producer Dave Chernin on picking the show’s lead, writing on FX vs. writing on FOX, the show’s voice

TV

Having written for FX Networks’ long-running, irreverent comedy series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Dave and John Chernin have embarked on a new path by creating their own show on FOX – and they’re taking Sweet Dee with them. The brothers are the creators, executive producers and writers of the new show “The Mick” (special premiere on Jan. 1, at 8/7c on FOX), which stars Kaitlin Olson, known to many as Dee Reynolds on “It’s Always Sunny.”

The show centers on Kaitlin’s character Mackenzie (aka “Mickey”) visiting her estranged sister and billionaire brother-in-law in Greenwich, Connecticut, only to stumble into assuming guardianship of their three children.

I talked with Dave about where the idea for “The Mick” came from, the transition from writing a show on FX to writing a show on FOX, what the writing process for the show looks like, and more.

Where did the idea for "The Mick" come from? How long was it in the making?
It was an idea John and I had in the backs of our minds for years. We actually did a pilot a couple years ago with a comedian we really liked and this was the idea we originally pitched him, but we ended up going a different direction. When we revisited the idea, we wanted to make it a network show, and it hit us that it might be better with a woman at the helm. Originally, Mickey was in the supporting role that the character Jimmy (played by Scott MacArthur) is now in, and Jimmy was kind of the star of the show. Then we flipped those roles and that's when it really started clicking for us.

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" has its own tone, brashness and freedom on FX, so what has the transition been like going from writing a show for FX to writing a show for FOX? What do you see as the biggest differences?
On "It's Always Sunny," there's very little interfering from the network, and I think part of that is because it's on cable and especially because it’s FX. They really let you do what you want. But also, 12 seasons in, that show’s such a well-oiled machine now that they really just stay out of the way. FOX is different, but at the end of the day they really let us make the show we want to make. There's nothing we've been told we cannot do. There's definitely some areas that made them squeamish, but they've always been supportive. The biggest difference is just that there's a lot more checking in, whereas at FX we kind of work more in a bubble.

As a fan of "It's Always Sunny," I expect it will be strange for me at first to see Kaitlin Olson as anyone other than Dee – to see her go from being the butt of a lot of jokes to being the protagonist of a show. From a writing perspective, did you similarly struggle with that idea?
Just by virtue of it being Kaitlin, who's played such an iconic character in Dee for over a decade, there are always going to be comparisons. No matter what she does, it'll be compared to Sweet Dee, but we definitely approached the writing very differently.

How so?
I think the biggest difference is the confidence of the character. When we write Sweet Dee, that's a character that's driven completely by insecurity, and all she wants is to be accepted in this group of guys that refuses to accept her. Whereas in “The Mick,” she is always unapologetically herself. While a lot of people might see similarities – and I think there's no escaping that; there will always be similarities just because it's Kaitlin – we definitely approach the writing differently. I think Kaitlin's done an amazing job at separating the two characters in a very nuanced kind of way.

Is there a certain character on "The Mick" that you've found to be the most fun to write for?
I love writing for Mickey, and I've always loved writing for Kaitlin. She's just so funny and game for anything, so half the fun is putting her in situations where we get to torture her, which is probably a reflex that we go to a lot on "It’s Always Sunny." I also love writing for Chip (played by Thomas Barbusca). He's the easiest to write for us because he's such an asshole. I would say, ultimately, Sabrina (played by Sofia Black-D’Elia) is the character that's the most difficult for us to write but also the most rewarding to write for. When we find that that character's working, we really think the whole show comes together. At the same time, the angsty 17-year-old girl is a challenge for John and I to write for sometimes.

Why is that?
Probably because she is the least defined character, and I say that in a good way. She doesn't have as clear a hook as the other characters. She can be the smartest or dumbest person in the room at any given time. With Chip, you instantly go to the conservative douchebag hook, where I think Sabrina is far more nuanced and complex a character than that, which makes it difficult. I think every day we're finding her a little bit more, and that's a great feeling because in a lot of episodes she's going to become the fan favorite.


Dave and John Chernin, the creators, executive producers and writers of the new show “The Mick” (special premiere on Jan. 1, at 8/7c on FOX).

Going from the characters to the overall show and story arc: What does the writing and creative process look like for you guys?
We have a writers' room of seven very talented writers who sat in there for around three months before we started shooting. It starts with very broad one-sentence, sometimes one-word ideas that'll get put on a notecard and posted to a wall. We did that for a few weeks at the beginning of the season and we started picking the ones that we liked and penning them together. We have multiple writers working on every draft of the script, and ultimately it'll land on John's and my desk and we'll be the final pass on each script. At FX, whatever we put on the page gets put up on screen, so we’re not used to table reads. But the scripts are constantly evolving especially as a result of the table reads. We'll hear it out loud and the network will have notes, the actors will have notes and we'll have our own, so we always end up doing a pretty extensive rewrite of each script in the week leading up to shooting it.

From your experience, how does a show find its voice?
I think that's always going to evolve. It's something we learned on "It’s Always Sunny," which changed drastically over the years. There were certain rules in the early years of that show about not doing certain stories, and we ultimately ended up breaking them because when you do enough of something, you have to keep it exciting, especially for the writers. You want to keep the audience guessing, but you also want to keep the job exciting.

And what about for “The Mick”?
Because we had this idea knocking around for so long before we actually executed it, I think we kind of had a jumpstart on the voice of the show. John and I knew it really well. We talked about each character at great length, so I think we really hit the ground running a little more than usual. I think we're learning things about the characters with each episode that we write. For example, we'll see that Chip can do this thing that's very funny, so we'll start writing to that more. I don't think you ever fully land on the exact voice of your show, but I think we're off to a great start. Each character is very well-defined and they'll continue to change – especially with kids. They're going to change so much if we're lucky enough to get a few seasons. Jack Stanton [who plays Ben] is 7, and in five years he’ll be an entirely different human being.

Turning from the show to you and your brother, I was wondering how you'd describe your working relationship. Has it changed over the years?
We've always had a pretty strong working relationship. I think the fact that we're brothers allows us to cut through the bullshit faster than you would with other people. We're able to have blowout fight one day and show up to work the next day, and we've completely forgiven each other and we're right back in it. I wouldn't say one of us does one thing more than the other. I think we trust and depend on each other to pick up the slack in any department at any given time.

So how are you feeling in the days running up to the pilot?
I feel calm. I'm ready for it to premiere. It's been a long road, so I'm excited to finally put it out there. I'm really proud of it. I think we've taken a premise that is pretty familiar in a lot of ways and we've really separated ourselves from other shows in the execution of that premise. Whether people are going to like or watch this show, I truly have no idea, but I think we did a great job and we're very proud of it.

What do you hope people will say or how do you hope they'll react after watching the pilot?
Well, obviously I hope they'll like it. It's one of those shows I hope kids can watch with their parents. That's kind of how we got into it. I remember when we were growing up, every Thursday night we'd sit down as a family and watch "Seinfeld"; we did the same thing with "Malcolm in the Middle" for a little bit. And now we feel like you don't hear about that anymore, so I really hope that “The Mick” is a show that kids and adults can all connect on.