14 Frank Facts About It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
There’s only one reason to compare the largely amoral bar keepers that populate FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with the serene ‘50s vibe of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: With its 13th season premiering on September 5 and a 14th season already ordered, It's Always Sunny will soon tie Ozzie as the longest-running live-action comedy sitcom in the history of television.
Before that milestone, the gang of Paddy’s Pub still has a 13th season to get through without succumbing to the effects of sniffing gasoline. Check out some facts on the show’s history, its alternate-universe Dee, and how the production almost killed national treasure Danny DeVito.
1. THE PILOT COST $100.
Series leads Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day were unknowns when they produced a pilot in 2004 titled It’s Always Sunny on TV about three struggling actors competing for the role of a cancer patient. Intended to be more of a calling card than a polished production, the shot-on-video episode cost less than $100 to make. After shopping it to different networks, they found a supporter in FX president John Landgraf: he gave them $400,000 to shoot a proper pilot with an actual crew. (The setting was changed to dive bar Paddy’s Pub in Philadelphia.)
2. ROB MCELHENNEY CONTINUED WAITING TABLES DURING THE FIRST SEASON.
Despite FX’s endorsement, Sunny still had just a third of the budget of a typical network sitcom and was so strapped for cash that the actors shared a trailer. Rob McElhenney made such a meager salary for the season that he continued waiting tables at a West Hollywood cafe after he finished shooting for the day.
3. THERE WAS A DIFFERENT DEE.
The original camcorder pilot was missing both the bar and actress Kaitlin Olson, who plays “Sweet” Dee Reynolds—the prototype Dee was played by Jordan Reid, then-girlfriend of McElhenney, who was expected to continue on when the series was picked up by FX. But according to Reid, her break-up with McElhenney led to her being recast on the show. Saturday Night Live actress Kristen Wiig was considered before the part went to Olson—who later married McElhenney.
4. DANNY DEVITO SAVED THE SHOW.
After a brief six-episode first season, Sunny was neither a critical darling nor a commercial success. Low ratings prompted FX to mandate that the show cast a “name” actor in order to attract attention for a second season. Danny DeVito knew FX’s Landgraf and agreed to meet with McElhenney; after talking about the show—and noting his kids were fans—DeVito accepted the role of absentee dad Frank Reynolds.
5. HULU ALSO SAVED THE SHOW.
While DeVito provided a stay of execution, the ratings were still mediocre. It wasn’t until FX released episodes on DVD and on the streaming service Hulu that people were able to sample the series, leading to the show becoming one of the service's most watched offerings. Demand for reruns eventually grew so popular that Comedy Central shelled out $33 million for the rights.
6. THE LIVE MUSICAL HAPPENED BY ACCIDENT.
For a loose stage adaptation of a season four episode titled "The Nightman Cometh," the cast toured six cities in 2009. A kind of Always Sunny: The Musical, Day performed several original numbers the trio had written for the episode where his character, Charlie, attempts to seduce the otherwise-unnamed Waitress (Day’s real wife, Mary Elizabeth Ellis) with song. The tour came about after a West Hollywood nightclub erroneously advertised the group would be doing an entire production as opposed to just a couple of numbers.
7. MCELHENNEY’S PLAN WAS FOR EVERYONE TO GET FAT.
As regular Sunny viewers are aware, the normally-fit Rob McElhenney decided to cultivate 50 pounds of mass for the show’s seventh season as a response to his theory that everyone on television gets progressively better looking. He ate 5000 calories a day—most of it from nutritionally viable sources like chicken and vegetables, some of it from ice cream—to achieve his smooth, seal-like appearance. McElhenney’s original idea, however, was to have the entire cast add bulk while DeVito would lose a dramatic amount of weight. No one was on board with this plan.
8. FRED SAVAGE DIRECTED SEVERAL EPISODES.
Betraying his wholesome The Wonder Years roots, actor/director Fred Savage has directed several episodes of Sunny; he’s also listed as a producer. Savage sought out work on the show, he told NPR, because he saw his own “worst qualities” in the characters; McElhenney hired him because he “needed to know if he really loved Becky Slater or if it was just Winnie all the way.”
9. MCELHENNEY AND KAITLIN OLSON OWN A REAL BAR IN PHILADELPHIA.
After a few of McElhenney's high school friends floated the idea of buying a bar, he and Olson agreed to fund Mac’s Tavern, a sports bar in Philadelphia that opened in 2010. Dishes include Mac's chili and Sweet D's turkey BLT. In 2017, bar management Facebook-shamed a couple that left without paying for their meal.
10. THERE’S A REAL GREEN MAN.
Or men. Charlie Day told Vice in 2010 that his character’s habit of dressing in a green Lycra body suit for sporting events was inspired by a friend of McElhenney’s who did the same thing for Philadelphia Eagles games. The show went on to inspire at least two Vancouver sports fans to show up at hockey games in the same outfit.
11. GLENN HOWERTON WANTED TO BE SUPERMAN.
Before Sunny premiered in 2005, Glenn Howerton made the usual audition rounds. One of the casting calls was for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, the 2006 film that eventually starred Brandon Routh. In addition to pursuing the role of Clark Kent, Howerton told CHUD.com he also auditioned for the Peter Quill role in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. He's now on the NBC sitcom A.P. Bio, which led to speculation that Dennis might be missing from future episodes of the show. Ultimately, he's set to appear in the majority of the 13th season.
12. THERE’S A RUSSIAN ADAPTATION.
It’s Always Sunny in Moscow is a Russian remake of the show first discovered by Reddit and Philadelphia’s City Paper in 2014. The latter ran the landing page of the show through Google Translate and provided a summary: “Four young heroes …They went to school together. They have their own business—a pub ‘Philadelphia.’ But revenue it almost does not work. All their hopes and plans—love and money—are crumbling, when confronted with reality. The reason for this—their selfishness, laziness, and stupidity.” The faithful adaptation aired for 16 episodes.
13. THEY ALMOST KILLED DANNY DEVITO.
DeVito has made it clear he rarely says no to anything the show asks of him, from being stuck in a playground coil to emerging naked from a sofa. Being so agreeable has sometimes led to problems, as in the case of a scene for season 11 when the cast was depicted holding hands under water. Described as "buoyant" by Charlie Day, DeVito needed to be weighed down so he would sink. After the scene was complete, the cast was able to rise to the surface: DeVito remained stuck halfway down and needed to be assisted up by safety divers. He was apparently so upset he left for the rest of the day.
14. THEY'RE SHOOTING ON THE SEINFELD LOT.
For a decade, Always Sunny shot on a Fox studio lot in California. (Exteriors are shot in Philadelphia.) For the 13th season, the production went to a lot in Studio City, California, where McElhenney pointed out that their stage was once the home of Seinfeld. In an Instagram video, McElhenney featured a plaque that hangs near the entrance to commemorate the history of the location.