How Fox's new comedy, 'Sons of Tucson,' was created
Q: What do you get when you cross a teen heartthrob with an environmental scientist?
A: The new Fox comedy, "Sons of Tucson," of course.
Well, maybe not of course, but it's still true.
Actor Tommy Dewey ("The Mountain" "Seventeen Again") and his college buddy, Greg Bratman, who is working on his PhD in environmental science, have been writing partners since they both graduated from Princeton University and worked on improvisational comedy shows together in New York City.
In 2002, Dewey, 31, and Bratman, 34, both writers and actors in college, decided to try their hand at scripted writing and created a two-man show, "Natalie!" for the New York International Fringe Festival. When they brought the show to Los Angeles, it got the attention of prominent TV types and Dewey was offered a guest spot on The WB's "What I Like About You," which led to a leading role on that network's "The Mountain."
"He got cast as a heartthrob and I went back to New York to do comedy in front of 20 people," Bratman quipped during a recent phone interview. "Tommy started working a lot in TV and I began to dive seriously in environmental science." Bratman, who says he's "always been repulsed by urban sprawl," is studying new approaches to conservation.
"While I was saving the souls of teen America, Greg was saving the Earth," Dewey joked.
As Dewey became more entrenched in the TV industry, the partners began writing single-camera comedy spec scripts under the mentorship of Harvey Myman ("The Pet Detective"). They wrote four or five scripts (they can't recall exactly) before they landed on the idea for "Sons of Tucson" in late 2007.
The show, which premieres Sunday at 9:30 p.m, is an offbeat family comedy about three young brothers who hire a lovable, scheming slacker (Tyler Labine of "Reaper") to stand in as their dad when their father, a lying, cheating banker, is sent to prison and they want to avoid being placed in foster care. The boys are played by Matthew Levy, 16 ("The MisInventions of Milo Weatherby"), Frank Dolce, 13 (Broadway production of "Billy Elliott"), and Benjamin Stockham, 9 ("Criminal Minds").
"The tiny theaters of the East Village were a great development lab for our sensibilities," Dewey said. "We always started with a character and on the stage, each of us played all the characters. You're just studying that thing in three or four dimensions. Even though our writing style changed over the years, we always get excited about finding specific characters and putting them in the most interesting worlds imaginable. With 'Sons of Tucson' we were able to find a way to do family comedy without losing our voice or our angle."
Con men and liars had always interested them as storytellers, Dewey said. But there were other bizarre factors that helped shape the idea for the show.
"Before we had an office, we met at coffee shops for years and we would see kids taking meetings at Urth Caffe with themselves," Bratman said. "Twelve- and 13-year-olds would pour over their papers over stuffed Portobello mushroom sandwiches. And you'd see them ordering their parents around and we thought, 'There's got to be something here to make it a concrete thing. And then Tommy read a freaky article."
The newspaper article was about a diminutive woman who had posed as a fourth-grader to scout children she would later kidnap.
"Somehow that led to this idea of children as con men." Dewey said. "It's not a direct connection but somehow it led to something. And I just want to say that luckily that woman has been arrested and is not a threat."
Fox and its sister studio, 20th Century Fox Television, were interested in the project from the first pitch.
"It seems like we came out of nowhere but we've had plenty of rough pitches along the way. This ended up being the perfect storm," Dewey said.
Do the boys have a mother? It's not addressed in the first season at all. Hopefully, if she surfaces, she won't be played by a kitchen mop like the leading role in "Natalie!" was.
Inspired by painful breakups Dewey and Bratman were both enduring at the time," "Natalie!" was played with aplomb by a hairy mop.
"I wish I could say it wasn't true, but it is," Dewey said.--Maria Elena Fernandez (follow me on Twitter @writerchica)
Video: Clip from the "Sons of Tucson" pilot. Credit: Fox
Photos: From top, Tommy Dewey; Greg Bratman. Credit: 20th Century Fox Television