Sean Hayes, star and executive producer of the new sitcom Sean Saves the World, is playing a character type he insists he has never seen before on TV: a single, gay father.
That was the first thing about the show’s premise that grabbed him.
“To me, television is about characters you haven’t seen and relationships you haven’t seen,” the former Will & Grace star says. “So I thought that was interesting.”
But now, as the show is about to premiere, at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC, Hayes is re-thinking the significance of one part of that character description.
The fact that Sean the TV character is gay, he says, “should be the fifth most interesting thing about this character.”
In other words, Sean Saves the World isn’t trying to make a political or cultural statement, certainly not in the aggressive way that The New Normal attempted last season and not even in the gently subtle way that Modern Family has done it during four Emmy-winning seasons.
This show isn’t meant to be groundbreaking in any way — “unless it’s groundbreaking for being extra funny,” Hayes says. “There is no agenda here other than to be funny.”
Sean the TV character has a very full life running a company and being a devoted weekend dad to a teenage daughter. But now his life is about to get much more complicated.
The company’s new owner (Thomas Lennon, formerly of Reno 911!) is a demanding boss who insists Sean and his staff should work longer hours. Which is a problem because weekend fatherhood has just morphed into a full-time gig with 14-year-old Ellie (Samantha Isler) moving in.
Sean’s the type who never wants to do anything halfway. But how’s he going to juggle all of this?
Hence the title Sean Saves the World.
“I love the irony of my character thinking the weight of the world, quite literally, is on my shoulders,” Hayes says. “It just seemed that the title fit the show perfectly for what my character goes through every week.”
It’s hard to believe, but this is Hayes’ first starring role on TV since his glory days as Jack McFarland, Will’s scene-stealing buddy on Will & Grace (1998-2006).
After Will & Grace wrapped, the actor did pop-ins on such TV shows as 30 Rock and Smash, co-starred as Larry Fine in the movie The Three Stooges and made his Broadway debut in the 2010 production of Promises, Promises, for which he earned a Tony nomination.
He also has carved out an impressive second career as an up-and-coming TV producer.
Hayes and his producing partner, Todd Milner, formed Hazy Mills Productions in 2003. The company now produces such hit shows as Hot in Cleveland, Grimm and The Soul Man.
Hayes says he turned to producing toward the end of Will & Grace’s long run just in case the next great acting gig didn’t come his way.
“Once the show was over, I needed to know what my place in this business was,” he says. “Producing was sort of my Plan B, which has now turned into a Plan A1. But I still love acting.” Acting, he says, will always be Plan A.
It has been awhile since the days of his over-the-top “Just Jack” antics, but Hayes still has a flair for physical comedy. He says he’s having a blast doing it again, even if the new character isn’t as flamboyant.
In many ways, Sean Saves the World feels like a throwback to the bygone era of multi-camera, studio-audience, laugh-track sitcoms, because that’s the style in which this show is made.
“I think people miss the sensibility of Frasier and Will & Grace and Cheers and Seinfeld and all those NBC comedies,” Hayes says. “And I think, if you’ve missed that sensibility on television, you’ll hopefully get it again with Sean Saves the World.”