It was exactly a year ago that the producers of ‘Sons of Tucson‘ got the good word: Tyler Labine (then of The CW’s struggling ‘Reaper‘) had signed on to front their Fox comedy pilot about a slovenly slacker recruited to play “Dad” to a trio of troublemaking boys whose actual pop was in the pen for a white-collar crime.
But how Labine ultimately landed in ‘Tucson’ (which premieres this Sunday at 9:30/8:30c) is a story in and of itself.
First things first: Despite all appearances, the ‘Sons of Tucson’ producers were not looking for a Jack Black type to play Ron Snuffkin, a big-box store stock boy who lives out of his car.
“We met with the complete opposite, actually,” executive producer Justin Berfield (aka ‘Malcolm in the Middle’s Reese) tells Fancast. “And personally, I think Tyler is better than Jack Black.”
Labine also brought a special something to the role, that being a pitch-perfect blend of con man and potential family man.
“We saw a lot of obvious types, people who either read it wrong or came in and were conscious scum,” says executive producer Todd Holland (‘Malcolm in the Middle,’ ‘Wonderfalls’). “They didn’t have any wit in their scam.”
Alas, just as ‘Sons of Tucson’ set its sights on Labine – Joel McHale, the first funnyman to land in the producers’ crosshairs, had elected to star in the pilot for NBC’s ‘Community’ – stock in ‘Reaper’s Sock started soaring.
“The very next day after we met Tyler,” says Holland, “CBS tried to get a talent holding deal with him. The whole town went, ‘Holy s—t, that means ‘Reaper’ is dead.’ And suddenly he had three offers.”
But wait, the outlook gets even bleaker, as Labine gravitated to not ‘Tucson’ but one of the two rival projects.
What were Holland and Berfield to do, as the clock ticked loud and their date to present final casting to Fox crept closer?
“I called Tyler,” Holland relates, “and said, ‘Let me tell you a story about a movie I directed that ended up being a terrible, scarring experience for me and my career. When I got to the end of the journey, I looked on the back of the first draft of the script I ever read, and all I had written was ‘I didn’t hate it.'”
“‘If you don’t love that other show,'” Holland counseled Labine, “‘just make sure you’re thinking about that.'”
That well-chosen anecdote effectively altered the series’ fate. Heeding the cautionary tale, “Tyler changed his mind,” says Holland.